The Industrial Revolution has introduced Daylight Saving Time as a means to save energy and exploit human labor. It has left us with sleep patterns which have a negative impact on our overall health and our ability to think straight. Thoughts on reclaiming time.
Monday, March 27th. Its 5:45 am and my alarm tells me to prepare breakfast for our daughter. Its again pitch dark outside and I am all but ready to rise from my cozy bed. Its only two weeks since we have moved out of morning darkness and into a more blissful period of the year: rising with the sun instead before and being aligned with the natural rhythm of daylight.
This is the third spring that I experience the painful switch from wintertime to summertime after many years living in Asia where all year-round time does not change. Every year it is the dark winter season which reminds me in the most unpleasant way of my own years in school. Daylight Saving Time and the pressure of having to conform with an industrial system of setting our morning alarm like machines to rise before the sun is without doubt the most disturbing element of Western culture that I have identified in my reverse culture shock experience.
So, what’s the story of Daylight-Saving Time or short DST and why is it important that I tell it as a human being that has – on the contrary to most people I know - experienced both, a life with it and a life without. Let’s try a longitudinal perspective of a subject which is most fundamental to education and work and which has shaped our cultures more than anything else in the course of the industrial revolution: sleep.
The Nature of Sleep
Matthew Walker, a British neuroscientist, has devoted his life to the study of sleep and published in 2017 one of the most comprehensive accounts on the subject. While it should be common sense that sufficient sleep is beneficial to overall health, Walker goes at great length to look at sleep and its impact on our wellbeing from various perspectives. Here are same bullet points, which highlight his findings:
Sleep, so Walkers conclusion, is the preeminent force in the health trinity with diet and exercise: the physical and mental impairments caused by one night of bad sleep dwarf those caused by an equivalent absence of food or exercise. Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to rest our brain and body health each day. So, why do we pay so little attention to our sleep? Why is it that our cultures seem to be all geared towards sleep deprivation? The answer is most likely greed and FOMO. Greed on behalf of all the entrepreneurs like Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz and FOMO on behalf of all the consumers who crave for another waking hour for the next pleasure kick making them forget their isolation and loneliness.
In February I read a great in depth article on the global 50 billion USD business of energy drinks by Bee Wilson. The business of keeping us awake and away from somber sleep is on my radar since at least ten years, if not longer. The uptake in coffee consumption in China was one of my favorite anthropological observations in 2013. China’s embrace of coffee has contributed substantially to the 45 billion USD market for roasted coffee which translates to a 500 billion USD market for the coffee industry.
Massive changes in our diet choices are only one reason of why we sleep less. Another one is surely to be found in the nature of corporations which compete for our time and attention. Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings openly declared that the company’s main competitor is not facebook or television, but the human need for sleep. The phenomenon of shadow work as described by psychologist Daniel Levitin is another cause for being always on. Companies large and small have off-loaded work onto the backs of consumers. Things that used to be done for us, as part of the value-added service of working with a company, we are now expected to do ourselves. And last but not least the eroding social fabric which has converted large families and communities into single households forces us to do more and more chores alone and in a collectively inefficient manner.
Industrial Revolution and Daylight Saving Time
The rationale behind DST is an interesting one, because it is a center piece in human evolution from stone age to singularity: while agrarian or pre-agrarian societies followed daily routines which are governed by the length of daylight hours and by solar time, industrialized societies usually follow a clock-based schedule which does not change throughout the course of the year. In other words: the human being turned machine in the course of the industrial revolution, a fact, which Charlie Chaplin made into a famous 1936 movie: Modern Times.
It is also quite surprising that the German and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire were the first jurisdictions to introduce DST in 1916 nationwide. The reason was of course WW1 and the need to save energy for the war. Thinking about it now, should make any sane human being shudder in horror, but since we are still in the grip of such a belligerent political mindset, its better to focus on the immediate abandonment. The US introduced DST in 1918 and many other countries followed during WWII or the 1970s energy crisis. Most countries tried DST but abandoned it again, leaving up to this day a few jurisdictions still using it which resemble strangely the NATO block or Americas’ closest allies.
Enlightenment is not necessarily a daylight related process. Enlightenment is however without question deeply related to Daylight Saving Time. The historical reason for its introduction is not only the national level saving of energy to have more energy for warfare, but the overall exploitation of human resources to squeeze more energy out of workers and employees. DST is a genuinely capitalist invention which has contributes probably like no other to deprive us of our human and animal nature – which is different from machines. With the emergence of machine learning, artificial intelligence and advanced robots, DST turns now more than ever into a cause for social unrest which touches subjects ranging from the universal income to the taxation of land and infrastructure instead of labor. Can modern democracies afford to keep DST?
They probably can. South Korea observed DST from 1948–51, from 1955–60, and from 1987–88. It is the country with the highest density of installed industrial robots and finds itself in a row over maximum weekly working hours. While European nations have adopted or discuss 35 or even 32 hours weekly working time, the South Korean government intends to increase the maximum working time from 52 to 69 hours because business groups claim that they can't meet deadline.
Deadline. This word gets a completely new connotation: while the employer might manage to deliver ordered products, employees die. Japanese have long ago coined the term karoshi which literally means death by work, describing the many cases of overworked corporate men who suddenly die in their 40ies of heart attacks, brain strokes and other physical failures despite superficially good health.
The world needs to learn from Far East Asian economies where the Confucian work ethic paired with regional competition from oversized neighbor China extracts from employees supernatural devotion and loyalty. Is life only about work or is there also time to loaf as Chinese novelist Lin Yutang once wrote?
South Korea has positioned itself as the worlds most advanced manufacturing country with almost 1 industrial robot for each 10 human workers. One would think that a higher number of industrial robots installed would mean for the human workforce more idleness and loafing, but quite on the contrary it seems that more machines seem to generate also more work for their human counterparts.
DST and Climate Crisis
The energy saving rationale of DST opens another dimension connected to the climate crisis. If we continue with DST, we implicitly agree with saving energy for the purpose of warfare. A new documentary which is currently in the making sheds light on how warfare contributes to climate change. The US Empire with its expansive war machine, Military Industrial Complex and junior partners and its main adversary, the Chinese Empire are not only primary contributors to climate change, but the central entities that imperil life on Earth.
There is a little bespoken urgency to stop war and dismantle nations which compete for regional or even global hegemony. Most climate crisis campaigns aim at consumers, inflate their responsibility, and try to sell them new and questionably more sustainable products, while the true culprits of ecological devastation continue their business as usual. And, they leave us with the legacy to get up an hour earlier for the sake of saving energy.
DST and Education
What is true for the adult world of work, is of course also true for the child and youth world of education. We are as societies on a trajectory of acceleration and alienation. Our children must comply with curricula which force feed knowledge but make it increasingly impossible to retain true insights or even life wisdom. They need to manage different digital platforms and often struggle with handwriting because all assessments are typed on keyboards. But despite these “advancements” over how education was implemented several decades ago, we continue to make children rise early and deprive them from their sleep.
Neuroscientist Matthew Walker writes that a century ago American children started school at nine a.m. As a result, 95 percent of all children woke up without an alarm clock. Now, the inverse is true, caused by the incessant marching back of school start times – which are in conflict with children’s evolutionary preprogrammed need to be asleep during these precious, REM-sleep-rich morning hours.
The Stanford psychologist Lewis Terman, famous for helping construct the IQ test, confirmed that sufficient sleep is one of the factors for a child’s intellectual success. Terman found that no matter what the age, the longer the child slept, the more intellectually gifted they were. He further found that sleep time was most strongly connected to a reasonable (i.e. later) school start time: one that was in harmony with the innate biological rhythms of these young, still-maturing brains.
Considering these psychological and neurological findings, time as a principle of education, changes in dimension. Most teachers and policy makers think of time normally in terms of a) weekly hours or b) length of lesson, but what Walker and Terman suggest is a paradigm change: adapting the start of school all year round to about two hours after sunrise to allow for more and better sleep.
The only reason why we haven’t eliminated DST and adapted the start of school to the natural and according to geographical location different rise of the sun, is of capitalist origin. A labor force which, in particular in the booming service industry, requires adults to rise early and work long shifts. It is quite common to start at 6am or latest 8am and our capitalist machinery has put society on a self-destructive autopilot. We prefer to force adults to start work early and thereby force their children to start school early. DST and early working hours are the most obvious and most ignored signs of modern slavery and lead – according to neurologists like Matthew Walker – to a continuation of class struggle.
Sign A Petition
There are several national petitions under way which push for the elimination of Daylight Saving Time. While it is only the start of a general change of a more deeper adaptation to the natural cycles and rhythms, it is worthwhile to support them now. On April 17 an Austrian petition which is connected to an existing EU proposal will be available for signature. Reasons for initiating the petition are:
- Adverse effects on the biorhythms of humans and animals
- Negative effect in various fields of work
- High financial as well as time expenditure
- Purpose of energy saving is no longer fulfilled
- Better light utilization ("one hour more sunlight") in the evening hours and thus more
- "Jet lag" like effects will be eliminated
Dooming climate chaos, statesmen turning warlords and upcoming regional elections make me ponder on how a more dynamic form of democracy can be the foundation for a solution to the multiple crisis our world finds itself in. The solution must come from within. We need to live by example in a manner which others want to imitate. Nuclear warheads did not win the cold war. It was blue jeans. Leopard tanks will not win the war in the Ukraine. A conditional basic income will. Join me in this essay in a vision of agile democracies, where power, wealth and responsibilities are truly shared.
Being sort of new to democracy after two decades in China’s one-party system, I am appalled by its wastefulness and surprised by the system’s ability to avoid a public discourse about the topics which really matter. It’s again ballot time. Although it feels as if it was only yesterday that a new municipal government was elected in the town, I call home these days, the province which surrounds it casts votes for a new state government on January 29th.
Upon my return from a few days inspiring exploration of Morocco, where I tried to escape the European bubble of fixing the climate crisis with high-tech investments and also tried to get a fundamental understanding of Islam in one of its native countries, the bill board posters which cover the entire province reflect how much, indeed, democracy has left the path of purposefulness.
The saying goes, that democracy is the smallest evil amongst social orders. But as I ask our ten-year-old son, when he tells us after a school exam, that most of his classmates got lower grades than him: “Why don’t you compare yourself with somebody better or strive for something better? I remind everybody that there is much space for our democracies to improve. In almost every regard. There is no point in comparing one’s own society with those which fare worse.
So, what messages do we learn from the campaign posters, which create a visual cacophony all over the country? Three out of four mainstream parties reflect as a meta theme their inability of transforming themselves. Their slogans and their wording is not dynamic but static and will prolong the operation of a system which is clearly failing us. In a situation where more of the same will not bring about any improvement, we ought to recall what smart people tell us about progress and problem solving. Albert Einstein said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Viktor Frankl said the same from a perspective of personal and collective dilemma: When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
The Christian conservative party, which rules with an absolute majority in Austria’s largest province, is widely known as the workers union for millionaires. Like a chameleon this party has dropped its native color black for the colors of the state flag: yellow and blue. The change of color is program: “here we have the say” (hier haben wir das sagen). What voters could understand: we don’t want immigrants to dictate the terms of how we live. What voters should understand: here we rule, and we are not thinking about sharing power or even stepping down, despite rampant misgovernment.
The Social democratic party, which has an absolute majority in the provincial capital ever since, is in a coalition with the conservatives. Empty minded billboards communicate a similar lack of agility. An aging generation of politicians that does not understand the challenges which lie ahead regurgitates the same slogan over and over again: That’s us (so sind wir). Considering that social mobility has been eroding since the 1990s, there is nothing the socialists can be proud of. Whatever they have contributed to a more equal society after WWII, has almost entirely evaporated, generating graphs which remind of – sorry for not being politically correct – African dictatorships.
According to Teach for Austria, an initiative which tries to create better opportunities for economically disadvantaged children, 289 thousand children and youth live in families with incomes below the national poverty threshold; considering that there are 1,7 million under 20 year-olds in the country, this number amounts to almost 17% of Austrian children living in relative poverty. Moreover, educational achievement is highly hereditary: Austria has the lowest social mobility in the EU, in other words: Austria is the EU society, in which it is most difficult to improve one's lot. The question which immediately comes to my mind: will more readily education be a real solution to such deeply ingrained systemic inequality? Not only in Austria, but also beyond its national borders? Education, as we shall see, is only one factor in a more complex equation.
The most striking example of pathological rigidity delivers the nationalist party. The club secretary proposes to close the borders and safeguards national security by turning Austria into a fortress (Festung Österreich), despite a demographic reality which is in dire need of immigration to keep the economy in operation. The provincial lead candidate offers a cryptic “better for you, better tomorrow” (besser für euch, morgen besser), without telling the voter how. I am strangely reminded of China’s Great Wall and a long history of wrong Sakoku policies. Ok, so back to Dark Middle Ages. That’s the way to go.
The Green party, which deserves my endorsement in this smallest evil of social order, disappoints with an empty “tomorrow” (morgen) and a focus on expensive climate technology, which is almost impossible to scale globally, and will remain for years to come a luxury only small fractions of the world will be able to afford. Sure enough, investments in green technologies will keep the national economy if not booming then at least afloat, but does investment into high tech sectors like mobility and energy really solve this multiple crisis?
The Greens appear as capitalist conservatives who lack – at least on their billboards - a distinct social dimension. The lack of this social dimension and this blind focus on green technologies could serve as a text book case for the black swan theory. The solution to the environmental crisis is to a large extent a social one. Having it not prominently on the political agenda, and I mean hear whipping up the electorate with core messages about a new social agenda, makes me miss political vision and wisdom.
Its usually much easier to criticize others than to work out an alternative. So, I thought, what would I put on my billboard posters, if I were to participate in a political campaign. Here we go. I think there are three elephants in the room: Shared power, shared wealth and shared responsibility.
Which part of society can still make productivity gains to make it more efficient and (if necessary) competitive against other systems (like Putin’s Russia)? Nobody dares to speak about a far too expensive political system which hails from the18/19th cty when industrialists and landowners wrested political power from aristocrats. We need another transformation of our democratic machinery which distributes power to every citizen in form of dynamic citizen councils instead of relatively static elected political assemblies and make use of modern communication technology to create widest possible participation in decision making on local, regional and if people believe that we still need nation states also on national and supranational level. 
If we don’t, we jeopardize democracy itself. If we don’t, the western civilization will fail as a model in competition against the Confucian model which has been modernized by China through upgrading its system with communication technology and adaptive governance during the last decade. If we don’t, we threaten the survival of our children because the established system reacts too slow to act efficiently in the face of climate change and biodiversity collapse. If we don’t, we admit that politics doesn’t understand how to deal with ecology.
We need to talk about an overhaul of democracy which means that many politicians must sacrifice their jobs for the survival of the next generation, and financial and commercial elites must share their wealth with others in order to create spheres of justice like legal philosopher Michael Walzer once famously wrote. Those in power are mostly not ready.Since those in power are mostly not ready, a braveheart-like revolution seems to be a viable alternative to climate collapse. That’s why we witness the emergence of organizations like Extinction Rebellion or Fridays for Future. Are there no other strategies to follow?
2. SHARED WEALTH
How should we share wealth and use this shared wealth to create social cohesion which translates to environmental protection? Statistics and qualified literature show that wealth is being concentrated increasingly in the hands of a few; not only globally but also within societies which once were considered equal and fair. Social mobility declines strongly and during COVID19 tech driven corporations have made billions with the hardship and isolation of the people.
We operate our economies in vastly complex taxation systems which require armies of well-paid government officials, lawyers, tax consultants, CFOs and accountants in order to tweak numbers while genuine contribution to society’s well-being in education and health care, is not paid fairly or not at all. Those corporations which gross profits acquire climate certificates to greenwash themselves and create a general perception as if everything is ok. Its not.
We create a labor market for the youth which is absolutely unattractive or guides them into a lifelong trap: working for profit and power instead of purpose and passion. Shouldn’t we build a civilization by rewarding the jobs which we think are meaningful rather than allowing professions which generate little or no social and environmental benefits by hauling in fortunes? Why are the products of three of the five richest Austrians detrimental to human health and social wellbeing?
Red Bull founder Dieter Mateschitz made billions with a sweet energy drink and high risk sporting events shaping a culture of mindless acceleration. Novomatic founder Johann Graf made billions by automating and spreading gambling addiction. Signa founder Rene Benko made billions carving up public and corporate real estate assets in prime locations and thereby driving housing expenses for the average population into unaffordability.
These examples can be replicated in any given democracy showing that democracy is failing us in the promotion of progress and development. What does it take for public policy to make wise and far sighted decisions, to guide entrepreneurs to add value to society, to guide youth to invest their lives into collective growth rather than destructive narcissism? When will we start to reward with a conditional basic income our individual contributions to a better society and make it impossible for ruthless capitalists to burn the fabric which connects us?
The technological productivity gains of the last 50 years must translate into a conditional basic income which rewards social and environmental contribution; and people need to be motivated to stay in jobs by paying them fairly. This is only possible when we start to fine those who destroy society with their behavior, products and services. While Germany has adopted a minimum salary of EUR 12 per hour, Austria is devoid of this basic form of economic fairness.
There is no law which regulates a minimum salary, but there are industry specific directives which have been negotiated by the federal chamber of commerce with respective industry representatives. As a result, the monthly minimum salary for most employees is EURO 1500 gross or about EUR 1200 net if paid 14 times a year. This translates to an hourly minimum salary of EUR 11.4 gross or 9.1 net on the basis of 1840 annual working hours. In reality, however much lower salaries are being paid.
Recent inflation has increased the monthly expenses for a family with two children to around EUR 4000 and high demand in real estate has made it almost impossible to own a home. So, shared power, shared wealth and shared responsibility are the three subjects for an empathetic campaign. Political parties which don’t have these three issues in their program or on their posters are not a real choice. They will only extend the status quo but won’t bring the transformation we dearly need.
I am of the deepest conviction that a conditional basic income which connects shared wealth with shared responsibilities will help us to create common ground for joint action. As long as social welfare payments and services are not being used to motivate sustainable behavior, it will be difficult to create the economic incentives which support a transformation towards sustainability and, effectively, survival.
How did Carl Sagan once write in Cosmos:
Human history can be viewed as a slowly dawning awareness that we are members of a larger group. Initially our loyalties were to ourselves and our immediate family, next, to bands of wandering hunter-gatherers, then to tribes, small settlements, city-states, nations. We have broadened the circle of those we love. We have now organized what are modestly described as super-powers, which include groups of people from divergent ethnic and cultural backgrounds working in some sense together — surely a humanizing and character building experience. If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth. Many of those who run the nations will find this idea unpleasant. They will fear the loss of power. We will hear much about treason and disloyalty. Rich nation-states will have to share their wealth with poor ones. But the choice, as H. G. Wells once said in a different context, is clearly the universe or nothing.
We have a shared responsibility, which is both local and global. Countries like Austria which have a long history of democracy are called upon to drive the transformation towards “agile” democracy, a system in which everybody is a potential politician, and everybody is an empowered agent of change. Our present democracies create a feeling of helplessness. What we need are empowering co-creation spaces, in which I and you can make a difference.
 Director Alexander Payne gave an answer to this question in his 2017 comedy drama Downsizing
 its ten years ago that I reviewed national elections and wrote a brief history of Austrian party history and the prolonged decentralization of political power: https://www.darkmatteressay.org/analyse-nr-wahl-2013.html
 as proposed by Helene Landemore in her book Open Democracy: https://politicalscience.yale.edu/publications/open-democracy-reinventing-popular-rule-twenty-first-century
 Aldous Huxley, The Politics of Ecology
 On the suffocating effects of outdated bureaucracy and institutions: https://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_our_loss_of_wisdom
 Emile Durkheim on Anomie, Francis Fukoyama on Social Capital
 Thomas Piketty, Capital in the 21st Century
 many have written about the loopholes for the rich in the democratic fabric, Oliver Bullough has produced two excellent accounts: Moneyland (2018) and Butler to the World (2022)
 Carl Sagan, Cosmos
 compare Martin Seligman on Learned Helplessness
THE EVOLUTION AND FUTURE OF WORK
The future of work was the most discussed topic in Anglo-Saxon media in 2017. Rightly so, because that year people had become increasingly aware of the consequences of artificial intelligence on human work, and not only thought leaders began to ask questions whose answers are not yet, or not easily, forthcoming. What is the future of work? When will it occur? How do you prepare your children for it? What education does the future of work require? This article attempts to summarize observations of the last decade and provides answers.
“The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” [Winston Churchill]
If we want to approach the topic of the future of work, it is necessary to take the so-called longitudinal perspective, because it is common to look only at the present and the recent history. In the longitudinal perspective, we look at a specific topic from its beginning to its imaginable end and thereby gain - loosely based on Winston Churchill - a better understanding of a possible future.
Work is, among other things, a subject of anthropology, which can be roughly divided into four major phases: that of hunting and gathering, that of agriculture triggered by the Neolithic Revolution, and that of mechanical production and electronic information processing, each triggered by the Industrial Revolution. Anthropology gives us an important first insight: homo sapiens has spent by far the largest part of his history as a hunter or gatherer, namely, depending on when one puts the Neolithic Revolution, until about 10,000 years ago. In particular, the changes of the past 250 years are an anomaly that may again be followed by a long period of continuity.
Work saves a man from three great evils: boredom, vice and need. [Voltaire]
Economists, on the other hand, have given us the commonly known image of the three-sector-hypothesis, which is limited to the last 250 years or so and divides labor into a primary sector of agriculture, a secondary sector of industry, and a tertiary sector of services. The three-sector-hypothesis is a now repeatedly falsified but extremely useful theory from the 1930s that differentiates the national economy into resource extraction, resource processing, and services.
The three-sector-hypothesis has helped to describe a transformation of the labor market caused by technological progress as such: The industrial revolution has increasingly eliminated the need for human labor in agriculture and absorbed this increasingly specialized labor in manufacturing industries. Progressive automation in turn led to the release of labor in industry, which was absorbed predominantly in the service sector. Germany, an economy with an exceptionally strong industrial base, reported the following shares in 2014: primary sector 1.5%, secondary sector 24.6% and tertiary sector 73.9%.
In summary, with regard to the three-sector hypothesis, economists, unlike anthropologists, describe a changing market rather than a human activity. Traditional economists are mainly interested in productivity gains and map them in the context of nation-states. Labor markets are therefore, on the one hand, much larger than the work environments observed by anthropologists, and on the other hand, they are limited to national territories and therefore contradict the globalization of the labor market, which has been significant since the 1990s at the latest.
With paid employment, economists also give us a concept that is very different from the definition of work before the industrial revolution. People participate in an anonymous labor market in order to make a living. Thus, economics bridges to sociology, which gives us a third perspective: that of interpersonal organization. The German sociologist Friedrich Tönnies introduced the differentiation between community and society, and thus demonstrated a central transformation for work as well.
It is commonly assumed that human organizations were small communities until the Neolithic Revolution, and that only agriculture enabled the emergence of societies in the form of principalities, empires, and religions. Societies differ from communities in that they can bind a larger number of people and the larger these groups, the more anonymous they are. In particular, the increase in productivity due to agriculture freed up labor to be devoted to other activities such as specialized crafts (the precursor of today's industry, science and research), art and culture.
Through this ongoing enlargement of the organizational form, however, one thing above all has occurred: The work concentrated around a community has been alienated from the community and communities increasingly collapsed. If it was unthinkable for man for eternities not to contribute with his work to the survival of a community, with the emergence of society this contribution has significantly moved into the background – and again on a longitudinal perspective: almost abruptly. Covid-19 has revived something of this archaic idea of contribution with the concept of system-relevant occupations, even if it is still related to anonymous societies and thus not easy to understand psychologically.
By looking at the contribution made to the survival of a community, a fourth central perspective on the nature of work emerges, which is still not sufficiently emphasized: that of ecology. Work must make sense for oneself, for the community at large, and for the ecosystem as a whole. A look at the professions that are not relevant to the system shows how much work our meaningless societies generate and thus waste not only raw materials but also human resources unnecessarily.
The fact that it is possible in modern societies to have a large number of people engaged in gainful employment that offers no added value for society can be explained by the detachment of the economy from ecology. Whereas in hunter-gatherer communities it was necessary to operate within a limited ecosystem, it is only now, as a result of the climate crisis, that we are slowly becoming aware that a global labor market alienated from the carrying capacity of the earth is just as unsustainable as an economy that does not subordinate itself to ecological framework conditions.
Human employment is in direct competition with automation. [Peter Joseph]
The world long thought that politics produces progress, but it is increasingly apparent that technology is the driving force of change in human labor, and that politics only follows technologically induced changes. Technology helps us to a fifth key insight: that the sectors of the labor market described earlier are each transformed and nearly eliminated by different technologies.
In the primary sector, the early industrial revolution through steam power, electricity, and mechanization replaced animal and human labor, so that in a modern economy only 2 percent of the labor force is employed in agriculture. Industry reached its climax in the West during WWII, when it employed as much as 50 percent of the labor force in some economies. Since then, it has been gripped by a mechatronic transformation that has replaced human labor with robots and, most recently, in "smart factories" with the Internet of Things.
The service sector, which was always seen as the salvation from mass unemployment caused by technological progress, has been experiencing miraculous growth since the invention of the computer, silencing all critics who did not persistently look into the technological future. Since the early 2010s, however, there it can’t be denied that the fifth wave of the industrial revolution will destroy the service sector to the same extent that agriculture and industry were previously destroyed.
While the imagination of screenwriters knows no bounds, the carrying capacity of the earth as an ecosystem shows us clear limitations and thus provides us with a framework within which we must design a future of work. The designer Friedrich Börries distinguishes between survival, security, social and self-design and declares design to be a political instrument. He believes that each of us has to take responsibility and pursue change by design instead of by disaster. In other words, in the face of the climate crisis, career choice and thus self-design becomes survival design.
Philosopher Thomas Vasek takes a more relaxed view of the question of the right job and assumes, with the spoiled perspective of a Central European, that one may wish for the ideal job. For Vasek, in comparison to Börries, it is less about fulfilling a duty through one's own work by contributing to the survival of the species and therefore taking up a system-relevant profession, but rather he sees a right to "good work", which in his opinion should fulfill the following parameters:
Vasek's analysis should be enshrined in every constitution, but he overlooks a small detail: life is not about choice for the vast majority of humanity, which, for example, manufactures fast fashion in Bangladesh or Pakistan and thus participates in a global labor market that exploits people and planet. Thomas Vasek focus is the right to good work from a rather European world view, while Friedrich Börries emphasizes the duty to contribute to survival – a perspective which requires the understanding of the planet as a single and fragile ecosystem.
The future of work, if it can and must be designed as Boerries thinks, thus is in a field of tension between ecological and social conditions, which a labor market that assumes paid employment and regards both the planet and humans as a resource to be exploited aggravates even further. The concept of the labor market is a product of capitalism, which needs a fundamental transformation in order to be able to design the future of labor in a meaningful way.
Visionary author Martin Ford has described this tension as a perfect storm, meaning that technological unemployment and environmental impacts develop roughly in parallel, reinforcing and perhaps even exacerbating each other. He sees the greatest challenge of our time in shaping a future that provides broad-based security and prosperity, and believes that understanding education as a public good that must not be influenced by competitive profit or power maximization is the key to finding that path.
In this context, it is worth mentioning the French economist Thomas Piketty, who showed, based on historical data, that the current concentration of wealth is back to where it was before the WWI. He explains that there is only one cause for this, namely that the return on capital is greater than economic growth and therefore, in simplified terms, leads to an increasing inequality of wealth distribution. Thus, Western capitalism, with its immanent rules, steadily extracts wealth from those individuals who can only contribute their labor. It sooner or later must lead to inequalities, which are enlarged by new technologies.
Both may have arisen simultaneously in Japan as a result of the affinity for nature that persists in Shintoism as well as one of the world's highest rates of urbanization, and have found an inspiring expression in the half farmer / half x movement. Originally proposed by Naoki Shiomi in the mid-1990s, the concept is based on the premise that by determining their "X factor," people can leave behind the 20th century style of mass production, mass consumption, mass transportation, and mass waste disposal while striving for a happier life and a sustainable planet. Not only do rural dwellers embrace this lifestyle, but so do many people who grow food on balconies, rooftops, weekend plots, and in community gardens.
Shiomi recommends setting the bar as low as possible for people to start farming: People should do what they can, whether it's balcony gardening or rooftop gardening, in places they love. If you set loose rules, like 30 or 40 minutes a day to work with the soil and plants, it becomes easier for more people to start farming. I think a lot of people feel that getting into farming is too much of a challenge.
The half farmer / half x concept also helps us to take the thoughts of Friedrich Börries and Thomas Vasek to the next level, because there is no doubt that food or the contribution to food production is a contribution to survival and thus meaningful fulfillment of duty, which has the pleasant side effect in times of climate change that unnecessary greenhouse gases are avoided by the transport of food. The half x component reflects the right to occupy oneself with those things that perhaps serve self-fulfillment rather than fulfill a contribution to the community. In as such, Börries’ and Vasek’s ideas are aligned and define a future of work which has different dimensions and is most likely different from a 8-5 job.
Applied to the three-sector hypothesis, the half farmer/half x concept means that more people are again participating in the primary sector and thus in the extraction of raw materials. They no longer do this in paid employment, but rather in the form of a leisure activity and similar to flexitarians in freely chosen intensity, but through this time they not only receive food and an added health value, but also a direct confrontation with the ecological situation of our planet and thereby consciously or unconsciously increase their understanding of systemic changes such as climate change.
If half farmer / half x represents a future of work that is viable for many and in harmony with the carrying capacity of our planet, then the only question that remains to be answered is how the basic income required for this must be structured. Because one thing is certain, at least in an agriculture flooded by EU subsidies: the average citizen will not be able to earn his living with balcony gardeners, which gives him the opportunity to dedicate part of his time to x.
Martin Ford argues that a basic income should not be unconditional, but should imply certain obligations, especially those related to education. He shows that an unconditional basic income is a perverse incentive that leads to dropping out of education and thus deprives young people in particular of the motivation to strive for constant self-improvement. Basic income is thus not only the fulfillment of the social contract dreamed of by Rousseau, but also potentially a danger of turning well-fed but meaningless individuals into the emblem of postmodernism.
Learning therefore has an enormously important place in the discussion of the future of work, one that has received little interest to date. Indeed, learning will take up a large part of the duty that every citizen has to fulfill as a contribution to community and society. This leads however to a paradigm shift of a dimension not to be underestimated, which Martin Ford has already indicated: Education must not only be seen as a public good, but system-relevant education is - probably never ending - work of the individual for which he has to be paid.
We repeat the assumption that in a few years 70% or more of the jobs known today will be done better by machines or algorithms than humans can do and that only a few areas of today's labor market such as education and health will be spared from automation because machines cannot replace interpersonal contacts. We repeat the assumption that it is nevertheless more productive to replace humans with machines and that only a few workers will be paid because they still contribute to the productivity of an economy in a measurable way. What is to be learned under these changed conditions?
Philosopher Konrad Paul Liessmann discusses how the classical educational canon of the 19th century, i.e. the study of Greek, Latin, Schiller and Goethe, could be replaced by a normative European educational canon of the 21st century. His thoughts are extremely worthwhile reading - because educated - but they perpetuate the division of society into educated and uneducated and completely omit an economic and thus social, as well as ecological and thus sustainable dimension. Furthermore, the memory of a European educational canon is not sufficient in a global world. It is time to discuss a global educational canon.
Education must be a public good that minimizes social differences or at least creates a starting point for eight billion people, regardless of their social or ethnic background, to make a living without conflict with the limited resources of a finite world. The future of work is therefore a learning that can be well described with the Triple Focus: the focus on and understanding of one's own emotional inner life, the focus on and understanding of interpersonal relationships and the focus on and understanding of ecological relationships.
The ecological and social framework of the Anthropocene therefore dictates that we no longer speak of a labor market, but rather of a world of work in which we have recognized that the compulsory learning content of the industrial age is obsolete and what was once considered complementary has become compulsory: empathy for oneself, others, and the planet constitute a new global educational canon, while the STEM-heavy content of our current curricula are complementary subjects - for which no basic income should be paid.
By making education about emotional resilience, empathy, and neighborhood responsibility compulsory, we are not only preparing children and youth for the challenges of climate change, but also initiating a paradigm shift that is once again changing the nature of work. Management philosopher Peter Drucker has described just such a change in work as an event that may transform civilization like no other, which is undoubtedly exactly what we need right now.
Very few events have as much impact on civilization as a change in the basic principles of organizing work. [Peter F. Drucker]
A renewed and final look at the longitudinal perspective shows us a non-obvious connection between demographic development and the principles around which mankind has organized work. A highly simplified attempt to classify the changes shows that since the Neolithic Revolution, work has become increasingly organized by an orientation towards power and profit, and as a result, more and more people have lost the joy in their work.
The ecological turning point that we have undoubtedly reached could herald a post-industrial understanding of work, which on the one hand is again more self-organized, but on the other hand takes the worker into responsibility and asks him to organize his work according to social and ecological impact. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, our planet offers enough to satisfy the needs of every human being, but not their greed.
The change from hunter-gatherer, to farmer, to worker, to information worker, could therefore really result in a "half famer / half x impact worker": a person who, within a healthy economic framework, must ask himself where he can meaningfully contribute to strengthen the local community and the global ecosystem. This change will be a long-term one, as indicated at the beginning, marking a new stage of cultural evolution in which work may once again be understood as a playful vocation - not only by a happy few but by the majority of mankind.
there is too much negativity in our world. although i have stopped reading daily newspapers many years ago. it is difficult to seal oneself off. climate change and social disruption are problems which permeate all levels of society and one needs to be blind to not see their effects without following news outlets.
we are in a deep consciousness crisis. there is no doubt about this. but we need to find a positive narrative to get out of this dead end. it has to be a personal narrative which connects to a larger collective narrative, in which nationality, religion, ethnicity, gender, etc. don't matter anymore; one in which we simply are children of one large family which lives in a single home. this is a narrative in which the original meaning of economy and ecology make again sense: the law of the house and the teachings of how to organize that house.
i have started yesterday a new 21 day experiment on changing (mental) habits and call it the rainbow board. Every evening i reflect on the past day and write down 3 good moments. As a proficient trello user who puts down & executes every day 3 MIT (most important tasks), i use trello also for this exercise. the inspiriation came from from a review of two books on positive thinking (see references).
I am usually not much in favor of life coaching because it tends to overlook the systemic realities which are the root cause for the maladies which we experience in our world. About 5 years ago I embarked a third time on a PhD project looking into the causes for growing mental illness around the globe. One of the sources I looked into was Learned Optimism by the father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman. He promotes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to pessimistic and depressed people.
I already then came to the conclusion that Seligman has certainly a point in shifting one’s mind towards a positive outlook on life; but its essentially a perspective and therapy which only works for members of the affluent West. An Indian farmer who is part of a nationally and globally oppressive agricultural system cannot make use of CBT. He needs a miracle or commits, like it is the sad reality in far too many cases, suicide.
However, being an individual part of the system at large, I need to start with myself and concentrate good vibes in my hands. There is only this much I can do; and I need to start in my immediate environment. Our social reality tends to direct our focus in regard to both problems and solutions to the far away corners of the world. Everything is better in New Zealand than back home and war in Ukraine turns into a tragedy which happens right before our own house. The truth is though that our media supported focus on these far away conditions undermines our mindful awareness of what we could improve in the here and now – and what we ought to be grateful for.
the rainbow board is my new magic wand to initiate a shift in perception.