A Government must Protect its Members


Brian Merchant at Gizmodo has been writing about automation and its human impact. It is, as you would imagine, the story of people losing their jobs because others are asked to automate them away.

Arguably, this is the story of civilization and work itself. From the moment someone hooked up a plow to a horse, folks have been losing menial jobs. Just because those jobs still exist does not mean most will in a generation.

There is a real human impact here, but what this article and most others don’t point out, is that the issue isn’t just folks losing their jobs, it is the tragedy of not having social safety nets to catch them when they fall. The expectation that the free market will always provide the jobs, health care, etc that humans need is not reality. Those who argue that it will all sort itself out in the marketplace are either being willfully disingenuous, or advocating for their own fantasy of the way they want the world to work.

If a government cannot keep its people alive and healthy, it shouldn’t exist.

What has always confused me is putting external threats in a separate category that deserves special attention. We spend trillions fighting against just a few “terrorists” that mainly don’t provide existential threats, while we let kids go hungry, whole communities fall into cycles of poverty and addictions, and don’t combat clear environmental threats to everyone.

If I die because I am shot due to social strife and easy access to firearms, how is my death different than if I died from a preventable terrorist attack?

I am still dead. And my government failed to protect me.

I would argue that a government that allows, for instance, for the willful pollution of our environment to enrich the few isn’t just useless, it should be replaced. Because if government cannot protect it’s weakest from roving corporate gangs, then it’s time for another type of governance.

Government cannot protect us from automation, the rise of AI, and the disruptions to come. But they can and should provide necessary services to let people live meaningful lives, eat well, and raise children in peace.

Because even if we build a new type of digital governance, the most vulnerable will likely not be a part of it. And to have a future where only the lucky and strong survive isn’t just morally uncomfortable. It’s genocide with extra steps.


  1. I think government DOES play a role in providing a safety net that not only catches those who lose their job due to automation but also underwrites the costs of upskilling those people so that they can once again participate in the job market.
    This retooling of the workforce is a cost for which business does not want to pick up the tab. Even though they are the recipient of the benefit of automation – lower labor costs. Non-profits and for-profit education programs cannot deal with the scale of need that will be coming as automation accelerates. That leaves the Government as the prime arbiter.

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