Three decades from now: the year is 2054. The Earth is much warmer than it was in 2019, self-driving cars now mostly travel on the roads, and the food we eat is produced almost completely in the laboratory. But above all we work only 1% of our time. Or at least Casaleggio Associati, a digital consulting company founded by Gianroberto Casaleggio, claims.
Now rewind the tape. Whether overall you like this 2054 world or not, the prediction regarding work changes every reference of current life, so it is worth thinking over. Because if for some this will seem like a disaster, the picture outlined by Casaleggio is optimistic. What is this forecast based on? And above all (given that, in 2019, we still can't predict the future) will it really be like this?
On a website of the company, Casaleggio explained in a video which mechanisms should underlie the change. Let's try explain it in short: in 2054, with the evolution of ever more sophisticated technologies, the automation of production processes and the resulting extinction of many jobs will have reached levels such as to affect virtually any sector, from catering to healthcare. The concept of productivity will now have invested every area of human life. So what’s the problem? The benefits of every effort in this regard will increasingly go in the direction of capital and less and less in that of the worker.
All this will cause a growing and mass unemployment, especially in those countries that had staked everything on cheap labor. The concentration of wealth in the hands of a few will then lead to global protests, so it will be decided to tax the wealth produced by the robots to redistribute it among the population, establishing a universal basic income regime. We will not work, therefore, not only because many jobs will have become obsolete, but also because we will not need to work: the only uses will be those where the "human touch" is preferred over the work of a machine. Work, in 2054, will be to help others, or what was once called volunteering, explains Casaleggio.
It is true that the global trend of a reduction in work times is underway, but there is no basis for giving precise indications
On paper, the picture seems drawn with mathematical security. In reality, however, Casaleggio's vision has been deemed simplistic and inaccurate. Why should it be 2054? And why should we work 1% of our time and not 2 or 3%? “Similar analyzes have much more authoritative precedents than Casaleggio, starting with Keynes. It is true that the global trend of a reduction in work times is underway, and yet there is no basis for giving precise indications. If we want to have a serious debate, we can say that we will see the future only by living it. But we can help design it today. The future is not inexorable”, Andrea Garnero, economist at the OECD, explains.
If the numbers contained in the video are naturally symbolic and designed to tell in a synthetic but eloquent way the direction in which we are moving, however, Casaleggio's vision, according to Garnero, remains limited. Especially because it is based on an argument that looks only at one of three mechanisms, in particular "that of replacement, where robots perform functions that human beings previously performed, taking away their work".
In reality, however, the factors that influence the creation and destruction of jobs in the long run are far more numerous. Starting from the other two phenomena mentioned by Garnero: "The first mechanism is that of productivity, because automation allows the increase of productivity and wealth in the sectors that adopt new technologies", explains the scholar. The second mechanism, on the other hand, "is that of spillovers: productivity gains in one sector are poured into other sectors that do not have that technology, stimulating further productivity gains. These two mechanisms allow consumers to have more money and time to "invent" new needs and new questions ".
It is now known that technological innovation creates at least as many (if not more) new jobs as those that it renders obsolete. The real problem of the future, therefore, will not be the lack of work, but the lack of quality jobs. The expert explains in this regard: "Even before 2054 the labor market will be polarized: on the one hand, splendid and well-paid jobs, on the other, jobs that are not so. On the one hand there will be those who will have the chance to do these jobs, on the other hand those who don't have it ».
The problem is not technological unemployment, but the defense of the dignity of work, social mobility and investment in continuous training
If it is true that the advancement of increasingly complex technologies will contribute to increasing inequalities, on the other hand the mix between soft and hard skills and the increasing liquidity of the professions call for new figures to be spent in more areas, and for this they will have much broader and more complex skills than traditional trades. A key role, in this sense, will be played by training: "We can’t all be engineers", explains Garnero, so it makes no sense "to obsess over the need to have curricula that design the jobs we will have in twenty years. Leading people and informing them about labor market trends does not mean that everyone should have a job that is required today, but it means teaching a set of technical and cross-functional skills and above all teaching how to learn continuously ".
Contrary to what Casaleggio seems to suggest, therefore, not everything is reduced to that process of technological transition, which we are already witnessing today. “The problem is not technological unemployment, but the defense of the dignity of work, social mobility and investment in continuous training. How do we expect to grow when one out of three young people who want to work is actually employed? And what about women? We have a lot of potential, between human factor and capital, but still major cultural obstacles”, Garnero points out.
And a basic income won’t solve all the problems, neither today nor in 2054. Rather, we should focus on the most current and pressing challenges: “The challenge of public policies and social partners is not to try to pigeonhole the opposite categories of workers, employees or self-employed, in that gray area that has been created, but also to extend the social protection that today is reserved for employees even in the gray area”, Garnero closes. “Let’s scale our ambitions to 2025; we have important challenges, and the problem is not technological unemployment. If we can't get ready for next week, how can we talk about 2054?”