Will early retirement be the norm this century? With every passing AI headline, even the futurists among us are increasingly shaken. Rattled. Unsettled by news on the latest advancements in AI technology. In what reads like the Book of Revelation, we’ve been forewarned of an impending robot Armageddon.
Make no mistake, there is enough in the air that reeks of a slowly percolating paradigm shift. In fact, don’t be so hard on thee as the trepidation, that’s going around like some super-bug, follows. Who’s not to get anxious over an algorithm driven future where robots will take our jobs?
38% ! Some reports, have it. Thirty eight percent of jobs lost in the US . To robots. In as little as a decade! Alarmist? Probably. An exaggeration of the abilities of AI? Most likely. But even if just half of that figure holds, it still is wise to read the signs of the time and prepare for early retirement.
Indeed, the fourth industrial revolution; generational shifts in work expectations; gender/age trends on career anxieties; the death of pension plans; and the effect of globalization (especially on older workers) have conspired and consigned us to this fate.
Retired at 20? at 30?
Just the mere thought of loss of sustenance -at whichever age- is unsettling. Nonetheless, while some mull over how to escape the yoke of paid labor; still others contemplate on how they can retire early. Such is the nature of life. What’s consistent though is that like our parents, for more of us, the quest remains a life long vocation. Unlike them though, for us, the faster the first ‘o’ in vocation turns into an ‘a’ they more ideal: Early retirement is the life goal.
What the 21st century does with all this, frankly, often scary talk of AI and cyber physical systems is to bump the need to transition from vocation to vacation up hierarchy of everyday worries. As a result, a situation that would have been trepeditious to our parents — early retirement — becomes a matter of urgency.
So we ask ourselves: Will we work more or less? How will we find sustenance for ourselves, kin and kindred? and so on. Such are the questions.
Stay hungry, stay foolish
Said Steve Jobs. In this essay, we respond to this call by inviting you to help us dig around. Our aim is to raise enough intellectual dust; if only to tell fact from fiction. But hopefully, also, crystallize the questions to whom finding answers to might just temper the pressure of a fast-moving 21st century.
You have to agree that there’s too much new science bombarded at every turn. Most of it though, is bogus or sensationalized . Join us in plucking this one (insistent talk of joblessness and early retirement) from the flood of information hitting us. Together, lets pat it down, marinate, sit on it, then unpack it. As ever, you are welcome to help us build this conversation in the comments section.
First though, some house keeping issues.
For this discussion on early retirement, we’ve classified early retirement into two broad categories: unplanned and planned. We look for evidence that gives rise to each phenomenon and comment on trends that with an eye to the future.
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Unplanned early retirement: When it’s not your desire to retire early
Unplanned early retirement occurs when one doesn’t desire, but circumstances leave them with no choice but to retire early. By early, we refer to the whole shebang of metrics. Like instances where you liked the job and hoped to continue building a career driven on by the incentives that propels one up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Or, it could be that you hadn’t planned on staying on — a`la a our parents who held a job for a lifetime — but you were caught out. Essentially, unplanned early retirement means a potentially gruesome end given that your retirement plans were yet to crystallize, thus leaving you ill prepared — emotionally and financially.
Unplanned early retirement can be manifestation of personal inadequacies such as job incompetency leading to one getting summarily dismissed. Or organizational triggers such as unfair dismissal, company insolvency or industry-wide collapse for whichever reason.
At times, it could be the unfortunate sequel of systemic issues – these most of the time arise from geopolitical moves – that lead to the economy doing badly. Other times; just like that; shit hits the fan in your corner of the world. For a classical example of such a situations in contemporary times that put thousands at risk of unplanned early retirement, we look to an article on North American Free Trade Area deal that appeared in The Economist .
Unplanned early retirement: When politics takes your job
First up, NAFTA!
In the Economist article, the Classical Liberal publication paints a dire picture of a profession that employs many around the world. A vocation that’s easy to label as early retirement proof- if there is such a thing. The article delves into how farmers ( ironically rural Republican America) whose livelihood is under threat from renegotiation of a global trade deal i.e President Trump’s rewrite of NAFTA.
Politics of Sex: The fate of LBGT in the American Army
Closer to date, headlines tell of the unjust fate of transgender individuals currently serving the US Military. The liberal world is up in arms as individuals singled out for their sexual orientation, have their civil liberties, including the right to an acceptable standard f life, threatened. Through Pres. Donald Trump’s storm causing series of tweets, the fate of serving servicemen appears sealed. As The Independent reports, unplanned early retirement is in the offing:
The President said that the US will not “accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the US Military”, in a tweet. He said that allowing them to serve would lead to “tremendous medical costs and disruption”. (…) More dramatically, the tweets also suggest that transgender people who are currently serving in the army – or those that come out or transition during their service – will also be kicked out.
Unplanned early retirement: Rendered jobless by technology
Farmers, transgender troops, name them, are just but new arrivals to the jobless corner. A sorry, rapidly expanding enclave soon to overflow with casualties of automation of production. This Bloomberg inforgraphic paints the picture of at risk professions. As per the inforgraphic, If your job involves manipulation in tight spaces in the manner of oral surgeons then you are safe.
So are also those who require high levels of social perception like elementary school teachers or any type of nurse jobs. Highly repetitive tasks, make easily algorithmic work. This includes jobs like loan officers and information clerks who sit at the other end of the scale; ready to be replaced by machines.
The beauty of that distillation of scientific knowledge by Bloomberg is that it blows out of the water a key myths in the AI taking jobs narrative.
Nonetheless, the feeling of ‘it’s only a matter of time’ isn’t easy to shake. In my mind, never before have the words of that famous poem by German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemoller “First they came” bore meaning as at this moment in the 21st century.
Nonetheless, if we slow things down — marinate — as we had said we would, it matters little really. Slate takes the lead in clarifying issues by faulting both Mark Zukerberg and Elon Musk for their public tiff over AI. We take it further by emphasizing that It matters zilch if Elon Musk is mistaken in his assertion that AI could be the very end of man. Leave alone rendering half of us jobless in the near future hold,
Or if AI is the enabler as Mark Zukerberg contends. Our submission is that getting lost in such discussions – however important – should not denies us the resources to deal with what’s at hand.
That: Invariably, to whichever extent, as sure as the sun rises and sets, change is nigh. There will be new jobs, and just like in other periods of human advancement, other jobs will become extinct.
Will all this happen at a pace so furious that we literally get over whelmed and overran? That’s a question we pose.
Will all this happen at a scale so large that we become extinct? That, we will attempt to answer.
The role of population growth in yielding unprecedented unplanned early retirement in the 21st century
Simple logic, natural law if you like, places scale as a real risk. Simply because there are more humans now than during the transition into the industrial or even digital age. More humans means more time available to employ in activity A/B. All indications are that save for a major disaster there will be even more humans, therefore more human hours.
With all this human hours available. the dilemma therefore is three-fold. How to:
- Find meaningful engagement for new labor that is continuously being added on;
- engage those never employed with ‘yesterday’s’ skills;
- and find ways to match those in early retirement with the available jobs.
Any solution to this quagmire would do well if it acknowledges the reflexive nature of the relationship between science, technology and society. What such an acknowledgement translates to is the arduous task of matching the preferences of the workforce and the whims of the market.
Ideally, doing this whilst navigating through the preferences of the work force (hopefully articulated in retirement plans ) is the only humane way to go about it. Any other way, makes slavery (at worst) a real possibility and the violation of autonomy through unfulfilling jobs being the other option at best.
Then to all that, mix in societal needs (as spelt out in the social contract) and finally; what the market desires in terms of skills gap vi-a-vis what it can afford.
Taking personal responsibility: The possibility of mass unplanned early retirement makes retirement planning a must for all
Deeper into the 21st century, some say as soon as 5 years to come, as cyber physical systems take hold, disrupting the labor market, early retirement looms. If at a personal level, you’ve never thought of retirement planning, then this article should nudge you towards meaningful action.
At a policy level, as this tomorrow of early retirement fast approaches, discussions have centered on a universal basic income. That every one of us on the planet be entitled to stipend as a way to numb the social impact of robots taking over our jobs.
The romanticism of such a move is not unlike the populist times. The skeptic in me is reminded of the grotesque world of the film Metropolis: Humans slaving away in dungeons to prop up the elites. On this one, I think I need to let this one sit a little bit, marinate a little more, for a revisit some other day.
All the same, to date, understandably, the mechanics of such policy interventions remain experimental at best. Moreover,even if they were to solidify, they probably wouldn’t address the desires of an increasing majority: Those who chose to retire early.
Planned early retirement: The allure of the gig economy & quitting the 9 to 5
Forbes on what is Driving The ‘Gig’ Economy, asserts that: LinkedIn predicts that by the year 2020, 43% of the U.S. workforce will be made up of workers who freelance—that includes younger workers who love the flexibility of working that way and older ones looking to assert more control over their careers.
From blogging to Uber, TaskRabbit and Airbnb, the gig economy has been castigated — free riding on the welfare state; poverty wages; to comparisons of working oneself to death — as much as it has been seen to be innovative and a savior.
Whatever the eventual verdict on the gig economy, whatever the allure — control and create schedule; work/life flexibility; becoming own boss; trying something new; financial hardship or income while job seeking — not only will we see more people freelancing, but more hours will be dedicated to freelancing.
The final common pathway then and now, is some degree of early retirement. This will be characterized by bouts of work followed by periods ‘in- between’ work/contracts. While with this gig economy, the promise of work tomorrow muddies the picture; it remains very much early retirement like: sub-par income, absence of fitting health insurance plans; increasing difficulty of meaningful engagement; and lack of protections like maternity and sick pay.
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