As the last 40 years have seen us develop a worldwide interactive network of artificial intelligence and intelligent machinery, I think it’s time to start thinking about what the next 40 years might bring and find ways for this fantastic new source of information and labor to do our more tedious tasks without taking away our incomes and ruining our economy. The vast majority will still need to feed, clothe, house, educate and heal their families while the goods sold by international companies like Amazon, Wal Mart, and emerging Chinese giants will employ fewer and fewer laborers as automatic and/or scheduled deliveries make source-to-home and on-demand production easy, efficient and popular.
If we keep our current economic system, the trends of today will continue as worldwide monopolies and virtual monopolies make it impossible for the local manufacturer, distributor, or marketer to compete effectively. If we keep the current excessive rights of ownership, wealth will stagnate in deep pockets of second- and third-generation major stockholders who do nothing substantive to earn their massive incomes while the majority of the world’s people won’t have incomes with which to buy necessities.
In far less than 40 years, human drivers will become obsolete and, in all probability, illegal, as the traffic becomes regulated like internet access with on-demand intersection access and high speed thruways. There will be no cab drivers, truck drivers, bus drivers, or chauffeurs. Seat belts may become optional as traffic accidents drop dramatically. Automatic, centrally controlled cabs will pick up and drop off riders in an efficient and inexpensive 24-hour service connected to cell phones and the internet with electric vehicles lasting a half million miles with little down time.
The trend for major outlets to supersize and expand inventories will continue with warehouse-to-door delivery cutting out retail jobs, locations, costs and hassle. As information becomes international, advertisement and first-place internet search will strongly favor large, well-known merchandisers. The actual cost savings for a more efficient system will ensure monopolies or sparse and tepid competition.
Family farms currently have long work weeks using several million dollars of capital to earn a meager income. This will continue to get worse with climate change making insurance a necessity that will take a significant margin of their small profit away from the already beleaguered small farmer or rancher and ruined crops, buildings, and equipment will drive many small, indebted farmers out of business, selling their land or having it repossessed by the bank.
Houses may be increasingly prefab with intelligent manufacturing creating integrated plumbing, electricity, electronics, insulation, heating, and cooling. With international trade increasing, the options for prefabs using luxury materials and designs will make foreign prefabs highly preferable to locally designed custom installations in quality, cost, and speed of installation. And custom 3D printers may make customizing your home unique and individualized while requiring centralized manufacturing with huge assets and expensive machines.
In electronic hardware, the major costs are in the ultra-expensive equipment needed to manufacture purified semiconductor material, requiring a large, well-funded company. Once the equipment is amortized, prices will drop and smaller competitors will get weeded out. Eventually, the remaining large manufacturers will expand by acquiring subsidiaries and extending capabilities and capacity.
And in software, companies like Apple and Microsoft will continue to dominate the market as their profitability is almost a direct function of the size of their customer base with development costs relatively fixed. As in the past, owning the operating system and bundling with various hardware manufacturers while designing the software to provide a selling platform and strong preference for their products will continue to keep monopolies in place. The only way around these mammoth companies is coops and free or almost free software that provides a better and more efficient service and considerable cooperation and coordination of the effort. If this alternative shareware becomes successful, the monopolies will undoubtedly try to thwart their efforts with regulations and sabotage. Digital warfare is a distinct possibility between countries AND international competitors.
New, innovative startups will continue, but when they become successful, the economies of scale make it almost inevitable that they are bought out by a larger company or merged with a competitor.
A few extremely smart, lucky, or frugal individuals might join the “owners,” but the vast majority of mankind will remain primarily consumers, artists and/or entertainers, with intense competition for the few well-paying jobs.
If on-line schooling catches on, schools will get bigger and more efficient, particularly in less populated areas that still have internet. Of course, we could decrease the student-to-teacher ratio,but at some point, this, too, will become far more efficient and employ less people. The number of online tutors may increase, but their pay will most likely be low.
This means fewer and larger international companies, less necessary jobs. This will create a fairly stagnant economy where there are plenty of goods and services, but fewer incomes with which to buy them. Whole communities may dry up and blow away – as we saw during the Great Depression and again recently. Printing more money can only help as a short-term solution. In the long run, we’ve got to change property rights, levy much higher taxes on the extremely wealthy and close the gaping loopholes.
Before you get riled up, I’m NOT seeking to abolish all property rights or tax the wealthy into poverty, but to create laws which share both profit and loss and gradually level the playing field. We need to return to inheritance taxes. While being born into a wealthy family may still mean something, it doesn’t have to entitle an individual to massive wealth merely by the accident of their birth, especially when it doesn’t improve their lives. In the diversified portfolios of the wealthy, it doesn’t have to guarantee them and their children centuries of dominance within the society merely because an ancestor took more than his or her fair share of the world’s resources which might have rightfully belonged to us all. While the dirty deeds of the past may not be entirely correctable, there is no reason that society cannot slowly and carefully ameliorate the harsh conditions for descendants of the victims; especially if it doesn’t create a harsh injustice for those it is applied to.
We need an upper limit on individual wealth. There is already a Billionaires Club of extremely wealthy people who recognize that their excess wealth is needed in the rest of the economy.
We must completely remove corporations and businesses from politics! It seems far fetched that they have more rights and more power and more persuasion than people do. As recent events show clearly, propaganda has created anger, doubt, and confusion where there used to be facts that created meaningful discussion and compromise. Vast lobbying warchests have perverted democracy close to the breaking point. It is obscene that the National Rifle Association (which is financed and run primarily by gun manufacturers) can put $30,000,000 into a single campaign and run unlimited and uncensored attack adds so they can blackmail any Congressperson into voting against the will and welfare of their constituents or be vastly outspent in the next election.
And we need unbiased sources of information with which to vote intelligently. The League of Women Voters used to do this. As news sources find niches, the readership dictates the slant and tenor of the news source. Cults spring up where only one side of an issue is supported and prejudices and points of view are solidified — both right-wing and left-wing — so that compromise becomes more and more difficult and neither side of an issue understands or respects the other side.
We need to make education a right that can be earned by every student without indenturing themselves. This does not mean an absolute “right” to go to any college. It means that, if a student can graduate high school, they have a right to begin a college education without undue economic hardship and that if a student doesn’t fall below minimum academic standards, he or she has a right to continue that education. This doesn’t necessarily mean excessive budgets or massive building programs. It might mean dorms and cafeterias or laptop computers, on-line teachers and monitored in-person testing.
We need to make health care, food, clothing, safety and security more important than profit or national prestige. We need an international navy to police international waters. National navies should remain within national waters and national armies should remain on home soil; on soil where they grew up and where their families live and work, defending their rightful place in the world rather than abusing the lives and liberties of others for excessive personal or national advantages.
We need to stop secret projects and extensive interference in foreign affairs. It is blatantly obvious to me that the existence of secret and top-secret projects do not keep the world safe but magnify the danger and distrust that characterized the world’s and the American mindset during the Cold War and made the population that was supposed to guide this country’s policies ignorant and malleable while doing irreparable harm to our youth as well as innocent people in other parts of the world.
Right now, the poor, the middle class, and the wealthy ALL stand to lose big time. Let’s find a way for all of us to win. It will require us to think outside the box and actually put in practice that ideal which signaled this country’s founding: All Men [and women] [in every nation] Are Created Equal.
©David Ney Dodson, Phoenix, May-September, 2020