This is the slightly edited version of a comment I wrote in response to this National Review article by cuckservative Kevin Williamson.
It may be the case that nothing in this world is truly unlimited, but one thing that certainly appears to be close to unlimited is the capacity and variety of human desire. What do we want? More. More and better material things, bigger and broader experiences, more extravagant and rarefied leisure, more more. If I were a betting man, I’d bet on our finding some use for all that energy that’s supposed to be sitting around doing nothing, and for all that labor, too.
I wouldn’t. There’s an unlimited desire for more and better things, but there’s not an unlimited desire specifically for human labor. People have a desire to trade up for a fancier car, but the fancier car does not necessarily require more labor to make. People have one TV, and they might decide to buy another TV for the bedroom, but if the TV is mostly produced by machines, the effects on increased employment will be minimal.
There’s no special quality about human labor that will make it always in demand. A robot burger flipper could flip burgers faster than you could, and unlike you it can’t spit in the burger. On the supply side, too, employers have a strong incentive to supply people with the product they demand without hiring any workers. Business owners don’t like paying wages, nor do they like the regulations and possibility of lawsuits that come with having a human workforce. And it’s not like only burger flippers should be worried, much of white collar work is also automatable. Only a small number of us have jobs for which our humanness is vital.
What will those jobs look like? Nobody knows, any more than the Reverend Malthus could know what a modern farm would look like. In the 1950s, my father was employed as a butcher. If you could go back in time and explain to him that in 2016 there would be such a thing as a “celebrity butcher,” or that the smart and chic young things in Brooklyn and Los Angeles would spend their generous allowances on a chance to spend an evening with one, he’d have thought you insane. He probably still thinks that’s insane. But in the 21st century, we have a major industry based on the odd fact that men in white-collar jobs like to go home at night and watch men do blue-collar jobs, in automotive shops and pawn brokerages.
How many people are employed as “celebrity butchers?” One? Two? Ten? I don’t know, I hadn’t heard of the concept until now. How many people are employed as butchers? 139,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The “jobs we can’t imagine” argument doesn’t apply to our own age. Only a small number of people work jobs that people in 1900 couldn’t have imagined.(Computer programmers are one example.) Most people work jobs that existed in 1900, now they are just aided by new or different machinery.(The stagecoach driver and the taxi driver do the same thing, just with different machinery.)
You can never have an economy based on celebrities, celebrities are by definition rare. And many of us have nothing to offer, really. I’d bet those “celebrity butchers” are significantly smarter and more personable than the average butcher. I suppose you could have an economy where the government pays everyone to produce paintings, the group of which, as in kindergarten, will all be beautiful. But that is not going to arise organically.