Perhaps it should be titled “how to survive in an early post-apocalyptic zombie-infested wasteland”, with chapters like “collaborative consumption” guiding the way to how to divvy up scarce provisions and “unprepared” showing the disconnectedness and naivete of a formerly sheltered set of people (and how quickly the naivete dissipates when said people are thrust headlong intro reality.) In many ways, the rise of disaster fiction dovetails nicely with the follies and problems of our age. Originally created as a critique of mindless consumer capitalism, zombie survival-horror as a genre perhaps is now more apt as both a warning for those who have yet to experience this new world first-hand, and set of training videos for surviving it. Both the resurgence of these genres and the creation of this book, in retrospect, now seem to have been inevitable.
The book deals with a many issues related to our “New New Economy” (and I recommend that everyone read the original “The New Job Security” book, which I read back in the early 2000s. It turned out to be prescient quite quickly.) “Share or Die” deserves a lot of credit for putting personal stories and names to things that have been studied and detailed in the broad strokes, via discussions of policies like deregulation, downsizing, offshoring, outsourcing, widespread automation, and upper-income-bracket tax cuts; ballooning student debt, and the associated peonage of its debtors, as well as the fact that degrees have gone from proof of competence to the most basic of HR filters; short-lived traditions like “jobs for life” gone, and at-will employment treated the way you’d expect based on the label; the shrinking or disappearance of health benefits, our lack of universal health care, or paid leave; the dog-eat-dog economy where the dogs are getting hungrier as the opportunities shrink with each passing day; and a landscape which differs from the rosy ”you can do anything if you only try” meritocratic fairytales pushed by our institutions, policymakers, teachers, and many others who grew up in an era (post WWII to Reagan) where standards of living seemed like they’d rise forever and opportunity for everyone seemed ever-present, and never-ending.
The book offers many ideas for coping – a few of which are worth entertaining – but are mostly just the ideas of people grasping for something, anything that will deliver us from this predicament. Unfortunately, the vast majority of ideas will not serve most people very well, or for very long. In this way, the ineffectiveness, indifference, or complete absence of societal institutions present in virtually every piece of zombie (and related disaster genres) fiction look like extremely fitting metaphors for our government, corporations, and charities. From the false promises of the “governments” of “Survivors” and “Threads” to their complete absence in “The Walking Dead” or “28 days later“, these pieces of fiction illustrate quite well the plight of those under 40, and increasingly, those over it, today. Those genres also shows what happens as the supplies run out, the crazy ideas which seemed to have a hope of working (the book) stop doing so, and the nerves are well past the frayed stage.
Share Or Die is an excellent, ground-level snapshot of our new age. An age without useful answers (only the same answers that have failed us for a long time), and without the promise of prosperity returning anytime soon. An age which, to someone transported here from only two or three decades ago, would seem like a radically futuristic place (and it many ways it is.) The powerful devices in our hands, the always-connectedness, the truly instant communications, self-driving cars, the nascent “cyborging” of humanity, the medical advances, and a great many other wonderful things. It also looks like those other futures – the ones with the walled fortresses, and black seas; poverty; despair; wealth concentration; a growing underclass; social unrest and outright rebellions; rising political divisions; and a widespread lack of trust of just about everything.
Lastly, there appears to be another parallel in the book to those movies and shows. At some point a few of the characters come to a terrible realization: that no help is coming.
Very interesting and important video. It starts getting especially interesting around 1:00:00 when Cowen and Ford start talking. A few things:
- The idea of "personal shoppers" being a growth area seems dubious. With recommendation and predictive desire systems getting better all the time, I think this is probably a no-go.
- Nannies might be a growth area for a few decades, but decent AI will likely obviate the need for these as well. I'd give this one 50-50 odds over the next 4-6 decades.
- Basically everyone on that panel endorsed the guaranteed income. The fact that people from so many different perspectives had their policy prescription converge to that is really striking.
- This also brings us back to the "how do we occupy the unemployed masses?" question yet again. Arts and leisure activities will likely not need much support from society, as they will just happen. Sports might (stadiums, etc.) Other things we'll probably be looking at will be extremely powerful, long-lasting, side-effect-free (or tolerable side effect having) drugs. That road of course leads to wireheading, but I think that denying that as a possibility now is extremely naive.
A cultural shift will be required, as several people in the video make clear. Having one's self worth (and respect of one's peers/society) be defined by a traditional support-one's-livelihood "job" is going to have to disappear. Demonization of those "lazy, ne'er do wells" is just not going to work in a future where much human labor is not needed.
Another thing this brings to mind is the effect on the labor market that does continue to function: a great deal less unemployment, at least for a long while. For those skills that are essentially not able to be automated any time soon (let's stay over, the next 50-100 years) those that stay in the labor market will not be doing much competing for open positions. It may in fact be an employee's market in those cases where someone is not simply their own business.
In regards to "Krguman and Wells, The Slump Goes On: Why?"
How do you deal with this when the problem is not economics, but culture? A culture that says that taxation is theft. A culture that says that the government spending "your" money = government telling you what to do with your money = elitism. A culture that has internalized "people are always rational"/Homo Economicus. A culture that believes, in the face of massive evidence, that markets always know better. A culture that accepts the idea that "process legitimizes outcome." How do you argue with people who (wrongly) believe that we live in an actual meritocracy and that messing with it is basically immoral?
This, of course, doesn't even scratch the surface of the other issues relating to weakness, incompetence, corruption - and even more importantly - the "not passing the necessary threshold" when we actually DO try to spend on public goods. What does this do? As a commenter noted elsewhere, it saddles Democrats with "all the stigma of big government with none of the results."
On top of all this, how can we get anything large done in a culture that is so short term-focused? What happens if a policy takes, say, 20 years to make the difference we /actually need/? In this country, you only get 2-4 or 4-8 years to prove your idea works; because of time lags, you may get voted out (and the policies changed) long before they make a difference.
We're slaves to short stints for elected officials (relative to how long certain policies take to work) and a "short termist" culture.