by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright August 2016
The "I'm living from paycheck to paycheck." lifestyle is common in the US in the 2010's. It has been a common lifestyle choice for people for centuries. It is going to be even more common in the Total Entitlement State (TES) communities of the 2050's because getting paid is going to become even more disconnected from working in the traditional meaning of work.
The question in the TES environments of the 2050's becomes: What is this "next paycheck" these people are living for? What is the paycheck to paycheck lifestyle going to be like?
This is the topic of this essay.
Ever since there have been paychecks there have been people who live from paycheck to paycheck. This style is particularly common in young adults who like to party hearty when the paycheck arrives, but many others indulge as well.
As a community offers its members more and more social safety nets this lifestyle gets even more common. It is supported by both the instinctive thinking to celebrate good times when they happen and all the advertising a person encounters which is encouraging them to spend on luxuries of all sorts. That plus family nagging to get a real life becomes less and less meaningful. The converse lifestyle -- saving a lot for future-oriented activities such as house buying, expensive luxuries, more education and child raising -- is a learned skill, not an instinctive one. It used to be widely taught as Home Economics classes (now called family and consumer sciences classes), but these have fallen out of style and are now optional, not mandatory classes.
So paycheck-to-paycheck living has become common, and, as I pointed out above, as social safety nets get more pervasive this living style gets easier and easier to sustain. And TES lifestyles are all about social safety nets.
So... what is it going to be like in a full and stable TES environment of the 2050's sort? (There will be many different TES environments in the 2050's, not just a single monolithic one.)
As pointed out in previous essays, I envision the TES world to have three styles of money, and these will be difficult to interchange.
The first style is Necessity Money. This pays for what the safety nets are providing. (One of the 2010's equivalents is SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- what used to be called Food Stamps.) Necessity Money is handed out to every community member in some fashion, but there are likely to be many different ways it gets handed out. (see more in the next section) There will also be lots of constraints on what can be bought with this style of money -- this is money with lots of strings attached.
The second style is Luxury Money. This pays for what ambitious people who earn money want to buy. This is paid out to people who still have a job in the 2010's sense of that term. And they can use it to buy things with a lot fewer strings attached than those that come with Necessity Money.
The third style is Investing Money. This pays for maintaining and building the manufacturing and service infrastructure of the community. As an example this pays for the conventional forms of streets, farms and factories we are familiar with in the 2010's. (Conversely, artisanal forms of farms and factories will get paid for in different ways such as using luxury money to support a hobby or small business.) I envision this Investing Money being controlled mostly by the cyber of the day. These cyber are the entities which are making the choices in how to run, maintain and grow the manufacturing and service infrastructures of the various communities of the world. Investing Money will not be used as a savings tool by humans -- it will not be the equivalent of today's financial and stock markets. It will be a further evolution of the exotic finance forms being created in the 2010's such as unicorn financing.
Paycheck to paycheck is going to be mostly about how Necessity Money is spent.
Taxing will be mostly invisible. This is because so much of the financing that produces Necessity Money will come from cyber-dominated services and industries -- Investment Money domain. Most of the taxes levied in the Luxury Money domain will be of the VAT sort, and mostly low-profile -- they just happen, they aren't part of a human's spending strategies.
The exceptions -- the taxes that do stay visible -- will be those that sustain rituals. Ironically, one of those is income tax in the US in the 2010's. Tax preparation is an annual ritual activity -- exemptions and refunds stroke the "system gaming" and "something for nothing" instinctive pleasures. Because it is so ritualized it may endure in some fashion clear into the 2050's. If it does then the "Tattoos and T-Shirts" phenomenon says it will be even more ritualized in its 2050's incarnation. It will become part of personal expression.
Given the TES environment, how will Necessity Money be doled out? This is the kind of money that will be used most commonly for paycheck-to-paycheck living styles.
Some will be just handed out into accounts that can be used to purchase various kinds of necessities such as food and shelter. To the recipients it will just magically appear and then disappear again as things such as rent are automatically paid for. Necessary medical care will also be covered by Necessity Money, and the routine parts will be treated like food and shelter. The surprise parts -- accidents and unexpected ailments -- will be handled by a different routine, but also be part of the Necessity Money environment.
Much of Necessity Money will come with nagging in various incarnations. Along with the money will come constant advice on what activities the recipient should be engaging in. In this it will be much like Medicare in the 2010's. As an example, a recipient decides it's time for lunch. He or she goes to a restaurant and looks up and down the menu. As they are looking they get a reminder on their personal communicator that (for good health) they should either order a small portion, or go out and do some jogging first and then come in and order a bigger portion.
Beyond the bare minimums money, a large part of the Necessity Money will come when a person goes through hoop-jumping to get it -- "You want [X] money, fill out this form and talk to this person."-type activities. This hoop-jumping will be a style of work in this TES environment.
Related to hoop-jumping will be system gaming -- activities which act like hoop-jumping but are supposed to be "sneaky" in some fashion, not routine. The cyber handing out the Necessity Money will see them as a form of hoop-jumping but the humans doing the activities will see them as gaining them something-for-nothing-style rewards. This will bring deep satisfaction to the humans engaging in the activities. It will also bring upon them the risk of social shaming if they are discovered by the wrong other humans to be doing these activities -- the 2010's equivalent is being revealed to be a "welfare queen".
What are Necessity food and shelter going to be like? What self-destructive habits will TES young adult folk engage in? (As in, what will be the "sex and drugs and rock and roll" lifestyles of 2050's?)
Because of widespread automation Necessity Food providing is going to be centered around fast food style restaurant food choices rather than those centering on home preparation. Home preparation will become something artisanal rather than Necessity. A person will go into a restaurant and look at the menu, or look at the menu on their internal communicator, and order. While they are looking over the menu their internal communicator will be informing them about which choices are available to them because they still have enough "paycheck" to afford them, and be advising them as to which choices are good for them based on their current state in their daily health regimen. The person makes their choice, chows down in the restaurant or has it delivered somewhere, and goes on with their life.
Personally preparing food will transform into an artisanal activity. Purchasing what is needed will be paid for with luxury money rather than necessity money. I say this with a "yes, but...". Because food is such a core topic for instinctive thinking, how it is treated will have a lot of emotion wrapped in it as well as rationality. Because of this some food preparation that should be artisanal will be treated as necessity "to help the poor", or as "a right" that necessity money should be covering.
That said, much of necessity food is going to be the burgers and fries of the 2050's discretely modified to be healthy eating for the basement dwelling gamer types who are the core of the TES lifestyle. Luxury money will buy whatever "organic food" is called in the 2050's. It too will be discretely modified to be healthy for whomever is consuming it. With both Necessity and Luxury foods, what is on the label is not likely to fully describe what is in the package.
The trend towards adult children living with their parents will continue and strengthen -- multi-generational family living will become more widespread. Likewise the trend for people to gather into just a few very large urban areas will continue. As a result in 2050 there will be:
o a handful of large mega-cities which hold most of the human population -- Shanghai, Seoul, New York City and a dozen or so more "where it's at" places
o between these will be many large-to-small cyber-inhabited cities -- these will be mining, manufacturing and farming company towns
o some resort-oriented cities -- some will be necessity-oriented such as Disneyland, some will be luxury-oriented such as Macao and Hilton Head
o places where small groups of people are living various alternative culture lifestyles -- the equivalents of 1960's Hippie communes
o Neolithic Parks
Neolithic Parks are places where the inhabitants are deliberately living Stone Age lifestyles and are deliberately isolated from other humanity. This is an insurance policy. They are doing so so that if a world-wide disaster destroys civilization as we know it there will be some people who can still survive in primordial conditions, and who can then thrive, spread and rebuild humanity.
In the mega-cities there will also be gentrified neighborhoods where young adults cluster together to have good times with their own age groups rather than living with parents.
Also mixed in with these other groups will be those who choose to live as homeless people. These homeless types won't go away because social justice warrior instinctive thinking will pay for people to keep indulging in the homeless/begging lifestyles. Begging will be one of the professions that survives and thrives in the 2050's. These people will be called the 2050's equivalent of homeless, but they won't be without adequate food and shelter -- TES will be providing for them. But looking homeless will be their version of cosplay. And they will be paid to do it in the same way homeless with signs on street corners are paid in the 2010's.
The instinct to party hearty until it makes one sick is a strong one in late teenage- and young adulthood. It's not going away. However, wearable technology is going to dramatically change how the hearty partying is done, and how much both short-term and long-term damage happens as it is being indulged in. This is going to be a big revolution in the lifestyle. Party Hearty is not going away but it's going to be very different.
Because the harmful effects are diminished it will become one of the centers of TES lifestyles. The partying can go on long and strong for days... weeks... months... years even. This will become a core TES lifestyle.
And along with it another, "Yes, but...". The instinct to socially shame those who are indulging is also strong and won't go away. This conflict between indulgers and shamers will be similar to the War on Drugs conflict of the 1960's through 2010's -- the shamers will be saying "This is dangerous, don't do it." and the indulgers will be saying, "What danger? The danger is miniscule. And this is so much fun."
In addition to the lowered risk of indulging doing health damage because of the wearables, there is another lowered risk factor as well: The lowered risk of human lifestyle in general. Humans don't have to routinely do risky activities such as driving or operating other machinery. They don't have to drive home from a bar or wake up on a Monday morning thinking, "Oh God! I have to get to work."
But the activities risks are not gone entirely. Those who engage in physically-oriented artisanal activities as their work choice -- greenhouse farming -- and vigorously physical dilettante activities as their pleasure choice -- gymnastics -- can be engaging in risky activities. Those engaging in entertainment performances are an example of activities which often involve risk and "show must go on" feelings. These kinds of risks will still be around.
In sum, self-abuse is going to remain an activity which many humans spend a lot of time at in the 2050's. It won't be as dangerous as it is in the 2010's. But even with the reduced danger, the moralizing and social shaming associated with it will stay strong.
Advertising for goods and services bought with Luxury Money is going to be a straightforward evolution from the 2010's practices. Advertising for goods and services purchased with Necessity Money is going to be something different.
First, let me define what I see is the goal of advertising: The goal of advertising -- when expressed from an optimistic point of view -- is to inform potential customers that a product or service exists, help them decide if it matches their needs and desires, and finally help them find a place to purchase it.
The different challenge connected with the Necessity Money world is: Who is paying for the advertising, and related, who is creating it and deciding where it gets placed? Compared to what is happening in the Luxury Money realm this is going to be strange and different.
It may be so strange and different that humans stay involved -- this may be an aspect of TES that cyber can't handle well. If that is so, what will happen is that cyber will take on the first steps in designing the goods and services they provide, and then come to humans to do the pre-introduction tweaking of the designs and handle the promotion of what is created. (once the product is on the shelf, cyber should be able to handle customer feedback as well as humans can) Advertising, like science and engineering research, may be an arena where there is lots of human-cyber interaction in doing the research and innovating activities.
How people get paid in the TES environment is going to be very different. How they spend is going to be quite different as well. One of the big differences is that Necessity Money spending is going to be accompanied by constant nagging as the money is handed out. The recipients are going to be constantly reminded of how they can be better citizens as they are forking out their unearned cash.
The issue of how a human living paycheck-to-paycheck makes choices in their Necessity Money spending is going to be an interesting one. How will they find out what they can spend on? (advertising) How will they know what they have left to spend at any given moment, and when is the spigot going to open again? (some kind of advice given by their cyber muse) How much additional benefit can they gain from hoop-jumping and gaming the system? These are all interesting questions that each form of TES will have to answer.
The World of TES Living is one that still has a lot of research to be done.