Must we work? Zero percent employment and a basic income

Every person must have at least one job. Of course.

But must they really?

I have asked many people and I ask you: What exactly is the idea behind requiring everyone to have at least one job? Why should we enforce such a rule?

Let me know what you think.

Is it to prevent freeloaders? Is it for ensuring a minimum standard where at least some food gets to everyone? Is it simply to maintain the institutions and infrastructure that has been developed to transport and process resources – does modern society require it?

It troubles me that in our current society it is taken as a fact of reality that everyone will spend the vast majority of their finite lives on this Earth doing something that they find so dreadful that they actually need to be bribed to waste precious limited minutes, hours and years doing it. In our society, people expect to have jobs that they hate and keep separate from their actual lives. Almost everyone being miserable for large chunks of their lives is not a trivial design flaw. If I purchased a society and it had such a massive, fundamental flaw, I would send it back for repairs. I don’t want everyone in my society mostly miserable with a sprinkling of leisure.

Only a small fraction of our current population actually works to produce food. The reason everyone is forced to have full-time jobs is not practical, it is ideological. It is not necessity, but ideology that swallows years of your life into a mandatory pit of tedium.

Most people accept this situation as a given – Obvious yet invisible like water to a fish. But we can no longer afford to leave these cultural assumptions unexamined.

100% of humans used to work to get food. But this number started to fall with the invention of agriculture and seems to be plummeting exponentially since the industrial revolution (According to World Bank data, the average for 2014 was about 30% of people working in agriculture globally, and you can see the sharp downward trend). Industrialisation and computerisation have been constantly eroding the number of human hours needed to achieve everything. First it was agriculture and manual labour, but every conceivable profession from science to art is likely to erode rapidly, thanks largely to machine learning algorithms.

Everyone assumes that everyone needs to have a job. Our culture even vilifies people who don’t endure drudgery, branding them as lazy parasites. You work, or you don’t deserve any guarantee of food, shelter, or quality of life. Everyone has to work.

What if they don’t?

What if we could support the lives of everyone, and maintain a high quality of life, without every single individual working 8 hours a day, five days a week?

Hypothetically, if that were possible, should we do it?

How might we go about implementing that?

One option is that we still make everyone work, but just divide up the work evenly, so that (for example), people only have to work two hours a day.

Another is that we take working in shifts, and the majority of the year for everyone is spent on “holiday” (free time), but for a few months each year, you take over someone’s shift, and work for a two or three months.

Another option is to have fewer people work more, and some people not at all. While we’re at it reinventing economics, we could decide who has a job based on some creative criteria other than merit or expertise. Some people like inventors, scientists and artists spend their “free” time trying to contribute to society anyway – they work for the common good out of passion, and don’t need to be assigned tasks. Other people do not. Maybe we should prioritise the latter kind of person so that those least likely to contribute in their free time are assigned jobs to do, and those that are most likely to contribute in their free time are given more free time. Some people derive purpose from their occupation. We could consider life satisfaction, and prioritise jobs for those people who derive meaning from their job.

If we could arrange society in any such ways, should we?

If the trends of automation continue then we won’t have much choice. Machines (and machine learning algorithms) may never replace 100% of jobs, but they don’t have to in order to cause high unemployment and for us to benefit from considering these questions. Imagine a possible future world where very high unemployment is simply an inevitable product of automation and yet political rhetoric and common public opinion still demonises the unemployed for their laziness and maintains the erroneous, dogmatic idea that, “Every single person must constantly work!”

Do we already live in a watered-down version of such a world?



“We have invented a mountain of superfluous needs. That’s a waste of our lives!

When I buy something, when you buy something, you’re not paying money for it. You’re paying with the hours of your life you had to spend earning that money.

The difference is that life is one thing money can’t buy. Life only get shorter.”

See also:



“When we feel that we are investing attention in a task against our will, it is as if our psychic energy is being wasted. Instead of helping us reach our own goals, it is called upon to make someone else’s come true. The time channeled into such a task is perceived as time subtracted from the total available for our life. Many people consider their jobs as something they have to do, a burden imposed from the outside, an effort that takes life away from the ledger of their existence. So even though the momentary on-the-job experience may be positive, they tend to discount it, because it does not contribute to their own long-range goals.”

“Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flow activities they have built-in goals, feedback, rules, and challenges, all of which encour- age one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it. Free time, on the other hand, is unstructured, and requires much greater effort to be shaped into something that can be enjoyed. Hobbies that demand skill, habits that set goals and limits, personal interests, and especially inner discipline help to make leisure what it is supposed to be—a chance for re-creation. But on the whole people miss the opportunity to enjoy leisure even more thoroughly than they do with working time.”

“Most jobs and many leisure activities— especially those involving the passive consumption of mass media—are not designed to make us happy and strong. Their purpose is to make money for someone else. If we allow them to, they can suck out the marrow of our lives, leaving only feeble husks.”

Czikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience, New York: Harper & Row, Publishers.


CGP Grey. (13/08/2014). “Humans Need Not Apply”. Retrieved 14/08/2014, from:


World Bank Group. (2015). “Employment in agriculture (% of total employment) | Graph”. Retrieved 27/04/2015, from:


Graeber, D. (2013). “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs”. Retrieved 21/08/2013, from:



Crash Course. (30/08/2012). “Coal, Steam, and The Industrial Revolution: Crash Course World History #32”. Retrieved 27/04/2015, from:



Crash Course. (26/01/2012). “The Agricultural Revolution: Crash Course World History #1”. Retrieved 27/04/2015, from:


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