For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Technological unemployment, meaning in life, purpose of business, and the future of stakeholders"

by Kim, Tae Wan; Scheller-Wolf, Alan (2019)


We offer a precautionary account of why business managers should proactively rethink about what kinds of automation firms ought to implement, by exploring two challenges that automation will potentially pose. We engage the current debate concerning whether life without work opportunities will incur a meaning crisis, offering an argument in favor of the position that if technological unemployment occurs, the machine age may be a structurally limited condition for many without work opportunities to have or add meaning to their lives. We term this the axiological challenge. This challenge, if it turns out to be persuasive, leads to a second challenge, to which managers should pay special attention: the teleological challenge, a topic especially relevant to the broad literature about corporate purpose and governance. We argue that both the shareholder profit-maximization model and its major alternative, stakeholder theory, are insufficient to address the meaning crisis. Unless rebutted, the two challenges compel business leaders to proactively rethink the purpose of business for future society. Otherwise, businesses will be contributors to a major ethical crisis and societal externality in the coming society.

Key Passage

Many participants in recent public discussions about the coming workforce transformation focus only on the economic sustenance of displaced workers in our envisioned future society; there is a consensus on the need for a proper (re)distributive scheme to ensure societal stability. This will be some form of a basic income guarantee, usually defined as “an income paid by a political community to all its members on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement” (Van Parijs 2004, p. 8). In a similar manner, a “negative income tax” (people whose income is below some amount receive cash from the government instead of paying taxes), which differs from a basic income in specifics but shares many things in common, has also been proposed (Friedman 1962). We will not discuss the specific differences or merits of a basic income or a negative income tax, or which is the best way to address the potential economic repercussions of future technological unemployment. Although some form of a basic income guarantee may be necessary to help stabilize society in the face of the foreseen massive wave of technological unemployment, it may not be sufficient: It is another question altogether whether the second machine age—even if we assume it includes a solution to poverty and basic welfare problems—would be a satisfactory and fulfilling societal structure for those who systematically lack work opportunities. Will material security be accompanied by a crisis of meaning?  (p.322)


Automation, Technological Unemployment, Stakeholder Theory, Economics


Meaningful Work, Employment

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