The Big Squeeze
We are living in one of the most prosperous times in history, empowered by fantastic tools, well thought out processes, and connectivity that civilization has never enjoyed previously through the Internet. Yet with all of this unprecedented wealth and productivity, society seems to be suffering. Poor paying jobs, effective inflation that is far outpacing income, and unaffordable housing.
The Rise of 5 To 9
Rather than tackle the underlying issue of the divergence of employee value versus compensation, an insidious alternative has appeared over the decade. The rise of the gig economy and side hustle as a means to patch over the compensation issue in our primary jobs is a corporate dream. Workers (and governments) aren’t pushing for fair wages, so many workers take on additional underpaid, high risk work just to make ends meet. The glorification of working culture in North America takes this to toxic levels: a sort of self-imposed 9-9-6 work life. Work your normal 9am to 5pm then go home and work a 5pm to 9pm job, likely also working on the weekends.
Nothing demonstrated this symptom of late-stage capitalism better than the latest commercial from Squarespace, which features a rewrite of Dolly Parton’s 9 To 5. The song is a critical look at the abuse that workers suffer under capitalism. It was then perversely rewritten as a “modern rallying cry for all the dreamers working to turn an after-hours passion or project into a career” and packaged as the solution to feeling underwhelmed and unfulfilled in your primary job. Rather than look at the lack of fulfillment and compensation as a symptoms of a sick system, it encourages to you continue to sacrifice yourself on the altar of capitalismin the name of self-fulfillment.
As the world continues to automate jobs, there will be a growing segment of the working population who will no longer have meaningful jobs. And it seems that the best capitalism has to offer is the opportunity to work soul-crushing bullshit jobs, jobs that provide little value for your employer, and provide little satisfaction for yourself.
Governments could work to correct the inequality in the current system by significantly increasing the minimum wage and indexing it to a realistic inflation portfolio. This would lift a significant number of people who rely on the gig economy to have an acceptable quality of life. The main issue here would be the gradually reducing number of jobs available in a post-automation society. It also continues to rely on individuals, who have a decreasing share of overall wealth, to fund social and societal obligations. Rather, it should be those that hold wealth such as property, and means of production who contribute a larger share into the society from which they reap their benefits.
I think that Universal Basic Income (UBI) is inevitable – people should not have to toil away on meainingless tasks for the right to survive, and we should be able to claim back our days for creative and personal pursuits. It would shift the tax curve to the right, allowing for a typical individual to enjoy a simple condition-free stipend with no tax implications. For those who choose to work, the tax curve would be steeper with the introduction of additional tax brackets. This would promote a healthy common baseline, while allowing individuals to still compete and produce value. It would greatly simplify government program administration as there would be limited need to review, amend, and approve programs.