nice work if you can get it

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Noticing that the Tate Gallery was advertising for a ‘Head of Coffee’ on the princely sum of £39,500, that required “extensive experience of cupping and espresso quality assessment” made me consider the fate of the eventual incumbent at his first post-appointment dinner party. More often than not “what do you do for a living?’ is the icebreaker of a question in any semi-personal exchange, and exactly how long would it take for the enquirer to ask they had ever shown any interest in tea-bagging as well as the humble coffee bean! Boom-boom, I’m here all week.

On a serious note however, I’d advise you not to enjoy your job too much as the robots are coming to a place of work very much like yours in the very near future. A report by the think-tank, Onward, has identified no less than fifty areas where automation is decimating low-skilled jobs and, just before you settle into your comfortable office chair, Automation 2.0 is doing the same to the highly-skilled ones. Technologies using the combination of machine learning (artificial intelligence as it’s more cunningly named) and big data, will soon consign swathes of accountants, lawyers, management consultants, surveyors, architects and journalists to the scrapheap of professions long since passed.

In reality, the economies with the highest levels of automation are unlikely to markedly suffer as Germany, South Korea, Japan, the US and UK all experience higher levels of both manufacturing and services employment. The real problem is global economic stagnation, marked by lower rates of investment and growth and hence, higher rates of unemployment. A slowing pace of overall job creation is the symptom of decreased development. The ‘Age of Labour’, defined by relatively easy-to-find secure jobs and characterised by full employment, is arguably coming to an end and factor in a slowing world economy and wide-reaching lower GDPs and your long-term employment prospects may be facing a double whammy.

Before his stint in Reading gaol, a young Oscar Wilde dreamt of a world without work, where society was “liberated from the drudgery by the machine and enjoying cultivated leisure.” Either way I think there’s going to be less work to go around in the future and only by implementing radical, somewhat revolutionary high-tax-funded, wealth redistribution ‘social income’ policies could western governments seek to achieve Oscar’s vision. Needless to say, I’m not holding my breath on that one and I suspect it’ll be left to the individual to figure out what it means to live a meaningful life without the prospect of continuous employ and all that goes with it.

Back to the grind at the Tate and upon seeing the advert, artist, potter and long-term exhibitor, Grayson Perry, was forced to comment “I give up, they’ve won.” To my knowledge, he has yet to produce a limited-run of espresso cups and, if he had, I hazard a guess that we’d all be able to hear the tinkling of broken china from his city studio.