Who will be identified as those in the "useless class?" You read that correctly.
A Guardian article a few weeks ago examining technology entitled, "The meaning of life in a world without work," used this terminology. Anticipating a group of people, by 2050, who are not only unemployed but also unemployable, the author, Yuval Noah Harari, who lectures at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote about a world where algorithms and robotics render most jobs obsolete.
Specifically, Harari declares, "The crucial problem isn't creating new jobs. The crucial problem is creating new jobs that humans perform better than algorithms." The piece posits the future task will be to "keep the masses occupied and content" to "engage in purposeful activities" in this widespread state of unemployment.
The discussion included the need for some type of "universal basic income" or welfare. It also explored the parallel of teenage boys who don't work and live happily with minimal needs in a virtual world of gaming to deeply devout men of orthodox religions who don't work, are dependent upon government sustenance and are content living immersed in a daily routine of ritual without work.
But, let's reject this "useless class" premise. Instead, let's understand who will be the "useful class" for sake of argument.
The useful class will be those who are employable; in other words, those who keep their skills current and who have the capacity to think critically. If the competition for work is a robot or a math formula, logic compels one to understand those who'll be working will be writing computer code, will be trained in operations of those machines, or will be in possession of skills and traits that are interactive for management, supervision or highly individualized jobs.
Candidly, if you aren't committed to lifelong learning, your earning capacity will reflect your decision. If you take the approach to life to do that which is minimally required and "just get by," then prepare for the commensurate outcome. With almost limitless resources for taxpayer-funded education, job training, skills certifications and the instant access of unlimited information via the internet, every person who makes the decision to pursue independence versus becoming a ward of the state must engage in learning in the workplace.
But, what is today's workplace trend?
CBSNews.com, in a January 2017 piece, cited data from the Economic Policy Institute that records the income of college graduates is 56 percent higher than high school-only graduates. Yet, nationally, only 36 percent of America workers have a college degree. And a growing number of jobs require specialty training available via certificate programs that provide good wages without a four-year degree.
The reality is that some type of post-high school education and training is mandatory for employment.
Two other factors will quickly eliminate folks from the ranks of the employed. In speaking to a global manufacturing company's spokesman last fall, I asked the greatest impediments to hiring. Without a pause, the response was a lack of training, failed drug tests or poor physical health preventing standing for more than 30 minutes.
In America, 36.5 percent of people are clinically obese, about 30 pounds over one's ideal weight. Add that to last week's Wall Street Journal reporting that one in 25 U.S. workers tested positive for an illegal drug in 2016 and you get an idea of hiring challenges.
America's workforce potential needs improvement because of individual decisions.
So whose future is brightest? Those disciplined in their choices to stay current in education and skills, pursue health and avoid substances that impair thinking seem to be ahead in the race toward being useful.
Robin Smith, a former chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party, owns Rivers Edge Alliance.