“A man working on a craft project at a table with tools and pieces of plastic” by m0851 on Unsplash

Grandparents, Plant Sales, and Automation

Look for the future in your neighborhood

How does a group of grandparents at a Saturday yard sale relate to the automation of jobs? The future of work and a very different economy has been evolving around us for years. It’s not only millennials who are figuring out the gig economy.

Needless to say my wife drug me into this but that is nothing new. I realized that while we, and many others, having been doing this stuff for years we have been building a model for our future economy. We are constantly presented with the problems of millennials having been forced into a new world of the gig economy as their primary income. At the same time this is also known as a side hustle for those who have a traditional job.

These are all part of the day to day reality of living in an era of complete social change. People don’t talk about that, usually, at yard sales but that is what this is about. The common link is a declining economy that no longer supports people adequately demanding innovation and change.

While gig economics is a problem for millennials it is also both similar and different for people who are in the traditionally retired age group. Many people who have retired have discovered that, even with careful planning, your retirement income runs short or even runs out. This is not another add for “retirement planning” that is usually a scam for someone else to make money. It is a reality as the old economic system decays for all but a tiny fragment of the super wealthy.

I don’t have any good figures on this but there is a large and growing economic reality that produces endless, garage, yard, neighborhood, and art sales each weekend. The tradition of the garage sale goes back to the high point of American culture in the 1950s as moving sales or the spring cleaning project to sell the junk in the garage and back bedroom. It includes selling the kids stuff that they have outgrow. An old and proud tradition of recycling and sustainability. But it’s a lousy way to make a living.

So let’s deconstruct this a bit.

The automation of work


On a very basic level this graph shows that the percentage of people in the US workforce peaked about 1999. It’s been going down seriously since then.

I will provide links to an excellent article with graphs and data at the end but the point now is that number on the graph above is not going up. It’s going down and with self driving cars, trucks, and robotic manufacturing it just stared to fall.

As we all know the average income in the US has been flat for the last forty years. And, while we are at nearly full employment, incomes have not changed for the middle class. Globally the middle class has been eaten away by automation. The initial cost of automation makes sense to focus on replacing more expensive jobs. That is what has been happening for the last fifteen years.

The jobs that remain are very difficult to automate as they are creative or people intensive or require very high skills in hardware or software design, for example. The middle class is eaten away first and then the manual labor jobs go next. We are starting to see that with self driving trucks that will eliminate one of the largest basic job categories that requires no special education.

While high tech jobs remain and are unfilled, several decades of cost cutting in education has reduced the chances of making it into those jobs. Our problems are not immigrants but our internal policies and greed.

The low unemployment rate is for work that pays lower wages than in the past. And the best of those manual jobs are being removed by the month.

The point is that we are seeing this, not just for the youth or those with minimal education, but across the entire range of age and social status for what was once the middle class.

This is the economic driver behind the steady increase in farmer’s market, craft sales, yard sales, garage sales, online sales through various sites all as people work to pick up the losses of automation and the siphoning of national and global assets to the super rich. The futre is very grim indeed for making a living.

Universal Basic Income

The economic reality leading to the gig economy and yard sales with hard working grandparents is both a warning and a nice preview of our UBI future. The grandparents are the last generation to have a shot at retirement although many of them are hard pressed. As a rule they have at least a lifetime of social security and pensions if they are lucky. That means they are working primarily for pleasure and extra income.

There is a huge difference between struggling to buy food, pay for a car, and take care of kids and having the basics covered. While there are millions of people in their seventies and eighties working our of necessity and many struggling from gig to gig while sleeping in their car, if they have one having enough for housing, food, and Medicare makes life possible. This is what a Universal Basic Income does.

A growing number of pilot projects around the planet are showing the same great benefits for people with a basic, guaranteed income. One of the largest benefits is the rise of entrepreneurial success. Just as many grandparents now learn new crafts for the pleasure of doing something they want while making an incremental improvement to their income, many others take up full voluntary work for their families and communities. That’s what people do.

It’s good to know. We can ignore the people who make horrible claims that people should starve or they won’t work. Drive around your neighborhood next Saturday and take a look at what people who have the time are doing for themselves and others.

Here is an excellent article on UBI and a good statistical representation of the future of work.

Educator, CIO, retired entrepreneur, grandfather with occasional fits of humor in the midst of disaster. . .

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