A new social contract

Il·lustració © Maria Corte

The digital revolution, robotics and artificial intelligence are changing the way we work. The crisis facing the world of work is just the prelude to the major changes that are yet to come.

In 1930, John Maynard Keynes was invited to travel to Madrid to give the lecture “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren”. He didn’t like making long-term forecasts, but he predicted that, in one hundred years, thanks to rises in productivity, per capita income would increase four to eight fold, and that sufficient wealth would be created that we could earn a living by working only 15 hours a week. The first part has come true, but fulfilling the second prediction would call for wealth and work to be distributed much more equitably. And what is happening is precisely the opposite. Wealth is increasingly concentrated and work is losing its role as the main tool for integrating people in economic and social life.

The world of work is in the midst of a fully-fledged transformation. Artificial intelligence and robotics are in a position to take on much of the repetitive and onerous tasks that humans perform. Digital technologies will destroy many jobs, but just like in previous revolutions, new ones will also be created. We still don’t know what the bottom line will be, but we do know that we are on the verge of a new work ecosystem and that the major challenge is to distribute work and wealth in order to guarantee everyone a decent life.

For the time being, when trying to predict the future of work, there is more cause for concern than for hope. The prospect of a secure job for life is fading: not only will we have to change jobs several times, but possibly professions too. Job insecurity and precariousness have taken root in the life of a large swathe of the population. The production system is being shattered in an endless fragmentation of tasks, and outsourcing and relocation processes are changing the face of companies. The new system is excluding millions of workers from social protection networks linked thus far to work. Turned into commodities and increasingly isolated, they come to be considered the only culprits of the job failures that they cannot avoid. It is becoming increasingly clear that, if we want to build a future characterised by decent and fair work, we need a new social contract. 

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