What Will the Average Person's Life Be Like in 2040?

Our definition of the good life may have to change.

Posted Jun 23, 2019

USDA, Public Domain
Source: USDA, Public Domain

There's a near consensus that automation, offshoring, and part-timing will result in a significant net loss of jobs in the coming decades.

A generous universal basic income may not be the answer, because even if you tax successful corporations and fat cats at 100 percent, there might not be enough money to provide a livable income for the many millions of Americans and billions of people worldwide who won’t be able to sustainably find and keep decent-paying work. Besides, giving cash instead of work ignores that people need work to feel of value. At a minimum, staying busy avoids excessive worry and troublemaking. As the old saw says, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”

The foundational solution may lie in creating a less materialism-based society, in which people find more of their life’s value in creative output, relationships, and recreation. But that’s a radical change in mindset, perhaps unrealistic to accomplish in adults. So we may be wise to begin by educating kids and parents about the wisdom of that.

That would increase the chances of the public of 2040 accepting a very low level of universal basic income, some in cash and some by making available very low-cost housing, food, medical care, etc. I envision apartment buildings with tiny apartments, communal, cafeteria-style eating, on-site, nurse-centric health care — not unlike at even prestigious colleges. Those mini-communities would be located in walkable areas and near low-cost mass transit. To reduce the chances of the mini-communities turning into the slum highrises of earlier decades, there would be a rich program of social activities to build cohesion and pleasure in the mini-communities. Such a plan might be affordable with heavy but not eviscerating taxation of corporations, the wealthy, and the middle class.

Of course, many other people will be able, with their income and family support, to live a higher-level lifestyle, but I predict that within the next two or three decades, most Americans will live as described in the previous paragraph.

What might a typical week in the life of such a person look like? As today, s/he’d get the kid(s) off to school and then to a 20-hour-a-week job, perhaps a single-position in the private, non-profit, or government sector. Or it could be a patchwork: some hours in such a job, some in simple self-employment, for example, helping wealthier people with a newborn, child care, personal assisting, computer tutoring, elder companionship, etc. More of their life would be spent on avocations, perhaps sports, creative outlets, or being with friends or family.

I’d guess that on average, people will be happier and healthier in such a society than in our current American dream: keep-up-with-the-Joneses; s/he who dies with the most toys wins. And the poor should do better: With the available work distributed more broadly, everyone will have some sort of work for 20 hours a week, even if it is a government-created Work Projects Administration-type job.

Of course, I could be dead wrong about all this. For example, the cost of all that could eat our seed corn, leaving no money for corporations, the wealthy, or the government to create jobs, produce products, and provide services. Twenty hours of work per week could leave too much time on people’s hands, leading to the aforementioned mischief. Most decent-paying jobs could be beyond the many millions of people who lack the wherewithal to be, for example, high-performing knowledge workers. The bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you syndrome could result in social unrest if not downright insurrection.

But even if the posited scenario is wrong, it seems important that we start talking about the issue now, when there’s time to prepare, and when, during today’s time of record low unemployment, more of us can be more rational and less desperate. So, what do you think of what I predict here? Want to propose a different scenario or solution? Your comments are most welcome.

I read this aloud on YouTube.