I often spend time thinking about how I’d like to have the world arranged — what sort of utopia I might consider acceptable or better. There are many failed utopias and visions of earthly societies that are entirely unworkable, and I’d like to avoid those. But I have some vague ideas that I think might work, assuming we have automation available for pretty much everything. If we get a massive AI construct to run the planet, this is what society we build on top of it.
The first component of my utopia is limiting the domain of capitalism. Today, people must have a job in order to live, to a first approximation. Those who don’t are called lazy, indigent, or shiftless; they live on the sufferance of others, and their lifespans are much shorter than if they had good access to shelter, food, and health care. Basic necessities should not be bought and sold. They should be freely available.
But capitalism gives people directions and goals. It tells people not to stay home all day playing video games and watching television. So luxuries and upgraded versions of basic necessities will require money earned by working. You can get all the food you can eat for free, and it’s of normal quality — better than soylent, certainly. But if you have a hankering for black krims from your favorite vendor at the farmers’ market, that will take money.
So we’ve stated our purpose for keeping capitalism (to keep people doing something productive), and we’ve said how we’re going to accomplish that (all luxuries require money). But what sorts of jobs will people need to go into? I want it to be, pretty much, whatever the hell you want, so long as it’s productive. You need a manager, and you’re expected to be someone else’s manager — your managerial chain will likely be a cycle. Your manager is there to encourage you to stay on track and stay productive. Ideally you’re working on the same or similar projects, but you can switch projects at times, so that’s not guaranteed over time.
Your manager okays projects for you to work on. They have your best interests in mind — you’ll feel more fulfilled if you are making progress on that novel you always wanted to write than if you just stayed home watching Seinfeld reruns for the hundredth day in a row. They won’t knock you for doing anything productive. They’re just there to make sure you aren’t choosing bullshit assignments and ideally to keep you somewhat consistent.
You can switch projects after the first month, if you have come to hate that line of work. You can abandon a project when your manager agrees it’s not going to work out. If you have a compelling new idea that you want to start going after instead of what you’ve been doing, your manager talks to you to make sure that you’re not going to get three months in and then have another idea that leaves this one in the dust, uncompleted — they don’t want you to end up with a series of half-completed projects when you could finish a smaller number and write the ideas down for later.
Walking down the street, you’d likely see a coffee shop with a dozen people working on laptops: it’s the local chapter of the Dystopian Sci-fi/Fantasy Writers Co-op. Above them there’s an office where half the people are working on standing desks and everyone has dual monitors; a trio are working on a sequel to NoX with the help of a couple graphic designers half a continent away, and a team of six are trying to make a third person RPG a bit like a cross between Thief and Wastelands 2. Across the street is a pottery club, and a few blocks away there’s a tailor workshop specializing in SCA garb. Every one of these people is working to make money.
We’ve just largely redefined “work”. Let’s tackle a related concept: the work week. Right now, a “standard” work week is forty hours. Typically, breaks are removed from that number, so you’ve got a nine-hour span, plus travel time, when you’re at work. That takes up five days each week. I would shorten that by one day or shorten each day. You get full wages for working a thirty hour week. I suspect most people would work more than that.
Retirement is a period during which you stop working at a job and wait to die. That has no place in my world. I have nothing against a time in your life when you don’t need to work — technically, I’ve already said that should be your entire life. But there’s a difference between not dying and having a reasonable standard of living.
I’m not sure of the exact ratios, but I would give everyone a pension. Everyone earns X weeks of pension per year of work. Maybe you get to spend half your adult life on pension. Maybe 80%. Maybe a quarter. And you can go on pension at any time, leave it at any time. You’re in control.
Oh, and as for waiting to die? Nope. Death is not appropriate to my world. Suicide should be an option, but aging and dying? No. That’s cruel and inhumane. So a pension is essentially a long paid vacation; you go to work afterward.
There are other reasons to stop working. Pregnancy is a big one. Injury, illness, disability — those entitle a person to an appropriate period of paid leave. I don’t want to allow disabilities in my world, but insofar as they exist, I’m not going to force someone with one to play by the same rules as more able people. Similarly, I’d rather make pregnancy non-invasive, but if I failed at that somehow, nobody will have to work while heavily gravid. And new parent bonding time won’t be optional.
People can make a good living in my world by being productive. This productivity doesn’t need to supply the products that people are consuming. Who creates those products? That has to be left to a non-human entity capable of high quality manufacturing and farming. Similarly for service jobs — some people might want to be baristas, and I imagine there will be no few chefs, but who wants to haul trash? Even for jobs where some people want to do them, there’s no guarantee that there will be enough workers. This also needs to be automated.
The economic situation is unsustainable. A person can get a full salary for producing the most loathsome sophomoric poetry in my world, and nobody’s going to buy it. We need a source for people’s salaries, and if we want to avoid runaway inflation, we need a money sink of some sort.
Land is a scarce resource, and housing and work space consumes land mass. While this isn’t an issue in the near future, it’s still an eventual problem.
I’m sure there are many other problems, but these are the immediately obvious ones.