“One other problem I see with the job guarantee is because I’ve got this focus on energy and the role of energy in production: what I see over time is that you need less and less labour to harness free energy. We can harness free energy more and more by increasing the complexity of the machines we use to turn that free energy into work. Now, we face a serious ecological crisis, possibly in the next decade, which is going to challenge all the certainties of how we think about production today. If we get through that crisis and survive all that, then with the trajectory we’re on, keeping with low-level artificial intelligence – I don’t believe high-level’s feasible, I could be proven wrong on that, but I’m not expecting Terminator any time soon! – but low-level AI, which is just using neural networks and other computer technologies to replace human thought in a wide range of things (for instance, medical diagnosis can be done better by neural networks than doctors) you can replace a wide range of human activity that way. Then with mechanisation going further, and particularly additive manufacturing – but it ultimately means that the people you need to control the machines that cut the metal won’t be there because you won’t be cutting the metal anymore. So, the end target is ultimately almost zero labour input to produce output.
Now in that case, the only jobs you could get are what David Graeber calls ‘bullshit jobs’, and I’d rather get away from that, and say that given we’ve managed to generate the capacity to produce relatively unlimited amounts of output, let’s allow people do something creative rather than waste their time in a bullshit job. The other thing is that in a planetary sense, to survive the amount of energy we consume to produce output, ultimately the only way to do that – and I’m talking the timespan of millennia – is to take production off-planet. Now, if we managed to do that, you can forget about talking about going to work each day. It’ll be a minority of people working in space with highly complicated technology, dropping the stuff back on the planet, however that’s done. We won’t need labour to produce anything, and after degrading the planet, the whole idea would be to try and turn it back to a form of what it was before we hit it with the Industrial Revolution. So, in that sort of world, a job guarantee doesn’t make much sense. What makes sense is society organising collective labour to some extent, but people making a creative use of their time, rather than being bored out of their brains – either not working, being on welfare, which is one way that job guarantee people look at UBI [universal basic income], or working in a bullshit job.”
An interview with Steve Keen in P. Armstrong (2020), Can Heterodox Economics Make a Difference? Conversations With Key Thinkers, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, p.362-3.