Exploring possible societies: Childhood’s End

I recently reread a science fiction classic:

Clarke, Arthur C. 1953. Childhood’s end. New York: Ballantine Books.

If you haven’t read the book, Wikipedia has a good synopsis. Part of the book describes a golden age of humanity prior to a leap in human evolution. Here is an excerpt from the book that probably would have led to its banning in 1950s America if it had been nonfiction (Apologies for non-gender neutral language. Childhood’s End was a product of its time.:

People could indulge in such whims, because they had both the time and the money. The abolition of armed forces had at once almost doubled the world’s effective wealth, and increased [robotic] production had done the rest. As a result, it was difficult to compare the standard of living of twenty-first century Man with that of any of his predecessors. Everything was so cheap that the necessities of life were free, provided by a public service by the community, as roads, water, street lighting and drainage had once been. A man could travel wherever pleased, eat whatever food he fancied – without handing over any money. He had earned the right to do this by being a productive member of the community.

There were, of course, some drones, but the number of people sufficiently strong-willed to indulge in a life of complete idleness is much smaller than is generally supposed. Supporting such parasites was considerably less of a burden than providing for the armies of ticket collectors, shop assistants, bank clerk, stockbrokers and so forth, whose main function, when one took the global point of view, was to transfer items from one ledger to another.

One of the special powers of science fiction is that it can explore subjects otherwise off the table of normal discussion. In some ways this is as true now as it was in 1953.

With technological unemployment growing, I think it might be time to dust off these paragraphs and really consider the sort of society we might have if human work for pay becomes rare.

If you are aware of books with non-standard economic systems, whether liberal or conservative, please feel free to comment.

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