Millions of men are opting out of the labor force and society around the world, living off of disability benefits, overdosing on opioids, spending all their time in their bedrooms playing video games and watching porn (hikikomoris of Japan), consuming garbage junk food media (eg. TikTok, Mr. Beast Youtube videos), etc.
This Twitter thread sums up the problem in the U.S
Before I suggest my solutions to the problem, I want to make it clear that I don’t see opting out of wage labor itself as a problem and it annoys me when it’s framed that way. People can contribute to society without being wage laborers. As technology advances, human wage labor will increasingly be made obsolete and replaced by robots and AI. As that happens the nature of human work will shift from mostly menial wage labor (eg. truck driving, service jobs) towards skilled labor (eg. those who program the AI, the trades) and entrepreneurship. In an ideal world we’d all be entrepreneurs in the sense of being our own bosses, working on whatever we want, having ownership over our work (equity) and capturing the full value of what we create.
I also don’t believe that in an abundant society everyone must be working all the time, from 9am-5pm, 5 days/week, and 40 straight years with 2 weeks of vacation every year until you retire with back problems and then pass away. I’m a big fan of sabbaticals and taking time off to explore and pursue one’s interests, and love the concept of “mini-retirements” introduced by Tim Ferris in his book “The Four Hour Work Week”. I think people should be able to have freedom over their work to work on whatever they’re passionate about, and it’s a disgrace that most people are stuck in jobs that they hate (wage slaves). It is a competitive world so if one wants to be one of the greats, then they do need to work hard, but not everyone needs to aspire to be the best of the best. A healthy society also needs a degree of balance.
That being said, there’s a clear problem if significant percentages of the population are opting out of working, hopeless, depressed, and unwilling and/or unable to contribute to society.
I believe that the cause is a combination of many things such as:
- The labor force becoming more competitive due to technological advancement, automation, economies of scale + greater consolidation/monopoly (eg. Walmart and Amazon replacing small businesses), etc. People lose their jobs and unable to find work that gives them a sense of dignity (eg. not flipping burgers at a McDonald’s for poverty wages), and decide to opt out
- The welfare trap problem where people on social benefits are often disincentivized to work because any monetary gain from working a minimum wage job would be offset by a reduction in social benefits. Why work your ass off for 40 hours/week wearing a McDonald’s hat if you can make the same money sitting on your ass all day collecting disability benefits?
- Increasing wealth inequality and unaffordability in terms of housing, education, healthcare, and basic living causing people to say “screw this” and opting out.
- Decline in social fabric and community. High divorce rates and people unable to find and stay in relationships. Decline in communities. The decline in community is a fascinating one to me, and if I were to guess caused by dual parent households becoming the norm, social media and screen time replacing human interaction, and in the U.S the lack of walkability.
- The rise in people isolating themselves in front of screens (computers and phones) on the internet, playing games, watching porn, watching TV, etc.
- The rise in depression due to the aforementioned decline in social fabric + community and increase in social isolation
- People basically just seeing how f*cked up society is, and deciding to opt out
Obviously there’s no magic pill solution here because the problem is multifaceted.
Here’s what I’d do though:
First of all as a society we need to get rid of this stupid capitalist free market fantasy that everyone is completely responsible for themselves and can get a job on their own and everything will be alright as long as we keep taxes low enough and regulation minimal enough.
Technological advancement is eliminating most jobs, and raising the bar for the dwindling jobs that remain. You can’t just retrain 3.5 million truck and Uber drivers in the U.S into software engineers. It’s not going to happen. And now even skilled work like that of artists is being made obsolete with AI like Stable Diffusion, Dreambooth, and ChatGPT.
The main cultural problems I see in the U.S are the “every man for himself” mentality and the worship of money. These are both toxic and destructive mentalities responsible for the country’s decline.
Step 1 – Treat people well and give everyone a chance
Abled people getting disability benefits to support themselves is pathetic. Cut that crap and just have the government ensure that everyone has enough to survive – ensuring everyone can get a room to sleep in, food to eat, and a modest amount of money (basic income) to survive or even invest in themselves. People struggling to survive will not rise beyond that.
There are so many problems and contradictions with the “omg but why should people make money for doing nothing” argument that I won’t get into here. But at the end of the day it’s not even just a question of morality, it’s a question of practicality. Taking people off the streets and treating them with dignity will save lives, reduce crime, help people get off their feet, and make people more inclined to want to serve the community and participate in society. When rich people look down on you and blame you for being poor, well it’s not surprising that many of these poor people opt out or even worse resort to crime to “stick it to the man”.
End the “Cycle of Abuse”
Much of our societal problems stem from the “cycle of abuse”. This is where when a kid is abused by their parents, they’re likely as adults to abuse their own children.
Similarly when a government mistreats its people such as by making healthcare, education, and housing outrageously expensive and not taking care of people out of a job, then people get dejected and end up screwing each other over. These are the countries where corruption tends to run rampant, with selfish crooks stealing public money to line their own pockets, screwing over their fellow citizens and perhaps not even feeling any sense of remorse, thinking it’s a necessary evil because that’s just how business is done.
On the other hand when people act kind to one another, that kindness is more likely to be paid forward. If your car breaks down on the side of the road and someone stops to help you fix your car, then you’re more likely to do the same if you see someone else in such a situation. People are significantly more likely to litter if there’s already trash on the street.
If a government takes care of its people such as with affordable healthcare, education, and work, then people are more likely to want to pay that forward. This is more the vibe I get in countries like Denmark and Sweden where education is free and nobody is poor. Although people have their differences, they’re generally happy with their governments. Meanwhile in the U.S almost everyone seems to feel pissed off, unrepresented, and screwed over. The U.S perhaps invented modern democracy but has the worst democratic system of any first world country.
Universal Job Guarantee
I think we should consider implementing a universal job guarantee. The key of course is in the implementation. We should not be paying people to shuffle papers or clean sidewalks that don’t need to be cleaned. Instead we should have people in high tech and research train the scientists and engineers of the future.
A lot of people reading this will probably question the seriousness of what I wrote. JSavage did you really just suggest giving all the unemployed people the opportunity to be paid to contribute to high tech and research?
Yes I’m dead serious. If we want to solve this lack of purpose crisis, then give everyone a shot. If they underperform, then demote them to more menial jobs and give them the opportunity to try again.
Humans need a purpose. People opt out of the work force because they cannot find work that aligns with their purpose.
If we want people working and contributing to society, then we need to give them the chance to work towards fulfilling their purpose.
That’s why I’ve been so repetitively adamant about universal basic income for almost a decade. Basic income is venture capital for the people, or tenured professorship for the people.
But even I admit that basic income alone cannot fix a cultural problem. If people feel like they cannot contribute and would rather opt out and genuinely leech off society, then that is a cultural problem.
Cultural problems don’t have simple solutions, but we can stars with ending the cycle of abuse and treating people with kindness. Some with take advantage and continue to leech, others will pay it forward. Luckily due to technological advancement, we won’t need as much labor to pay it forward.