Dystopia in the Outlook Section
Sunday's Outlook section had two pieces outlining pretty dystopic scenarios. The first was a back-to-the-land manifesto from someone who's building a self-sufficient farm in rural New Mexico in order to protect against the inevitable chaos of peak oil and resource wars and trade disruption and general technological collapse. I've never really understood that thinking. If humanity goes all state-of-nature, having a lush and self-sufficient farm is as likely to make you a target of the desperate many as a member of the privileged few. If trade doesn't survive peak oil, property rights probably won't do any better.
The second piece is by Gregory Clark, and it outlines something I worry quite a bit more about. Technological change, he says, will only accelerate. Whatever worries you had about outsourcing to China and India, that's "may be only a brief historical interlude before the great outsourcing yet to come -- to machines." In recent years, wages for America's unskilled have stagnated, and there's no real reason to think they'll pick up. "We may have already reached the historical peak in the earning power of low-skilled workers," Clark writes, "and may look back on the mid-20th century as the great era of the common man."
"How do we operate a society in which a large share of the population is socially needy but economically redundant?" Clark asks. "There is only one answer. You tax the winners -- those with the still uniquely human skills, and those owning the capital and land -- to provide for the losers." Clark doesn't argue in these terms, but his conclusion is that only socialism will be capable of saving capitalism. "In the end," he writes, "we may be forced to learn to live in a United States where, by stealth, 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his need' becomes the guiding principle of government."
Melancholy Elephants, a story by science fiction writer Spider Robinson, explores this topic pretty effectively. I thought his treatment was really profound when I was young and now think it's didactic and overly blunt. But it's still smart. Sort of like a Kilgore Trout novel. Robinson argues that we'll need some way to preserve human dignity in an economy when human beings are fundamentally unnecessary. As such, a large portion of the population will live on subsidies and handouts but register as professional artists. They won't be professionals in the sense that their work will earn money, but in the sense that they'll be able to lay claim to a pursuit that gives their life meaning and their days structure.
Posted by: phillycomment | August 10, 2009 2:25 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: patrick27 | August 10, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: phillycomment | August 10, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: thedavidmo | August 10, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: AgnosticTheocrat | August 10, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: tomtildrum | August 10, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: dugmartsch | August 10, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jkaren | August 10, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: serialcatowner | August 10, 2009 3:16 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: rmgregory | August 10, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: FearItself | August 10, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: sblaisdell | August 10, 2009 10:21 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: wldowning | August 11, 2009 7:51 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: jmwolgin | August 11, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.