Three weeks ago Nick Srnicek (author of Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work) and Cllr Joe Goldberg (Cabinet Member for Haringey Council) spoke to the Young Fabian Technology Network about the effects of technological change on the future of employment.
Their perspectives provided an insightful summary of the different positions in the debate on how to respond to the increasing automation of work - Joe Goldberg argued a focus on education, training and investment (particularly in STEM fields) will provide people with the skills to adapt to these changes and retrain, whilst Nick Srnicek suggested trends such as automation and robotics will eventually replace most of the human labour required by our economy and we should attempt to build a society where income is detached from work.
Although these two viewpoints aren’t necessarily contradictory in the short term (state investment in science and technology are necessary for either), Srnicek argued capitalism in its current form has “run out of steam” and no longer produces growth - one reason why technological change will not create jobs to replace those destroyed as happened in the last industrial revolution. This, alongside recent data showing many of the fastest growing employment sectors don’t require a degree, suggest an increasingly low wage, low skill economy. Joe focused on generational changes such as having more geographical mobility than our parents, which, combined with few millennials having mortgages, means the next generation will have the freedom to change city and jobs far more frequently than their parents.
A large portion of the discussion centered around the idea of a Universal Basic Income. Goldberg proposed a version of basic income that replaces the current benefits system and protects people from the potentially devastating effects of economic and cultural changes that the next industrial revolution will bring, but rejected the idea of a “post-work” society; with the huge global shifts occurring across the world London’s attractiveness as a global hub is as much threatened as the economy would be if people were to stop working with innovative ideas and businesses. Both speakers agreed that other issues such as tax and housing reform would need to happen before a basic income would be possible.
Despite differences in their predictions for the future, there was an acknowledgement on both sides that capitalism has changed and the Labour Party must change with it, with Goldberg noting that the left’s traditional solutions are industrial solutions, unsuited to a post-industrial world.