So, something has been bothering me lately and I'm wondering if I'm just tramping on a well covered path or if this genuinely is a new (or at least not heavily discussed) concern.
My thought is this. In the past, people could produce nowhere near enough goods and services to meet all their wants and needs. Most people didn't even think about buying goods to service simple desires as they were struggling to even meet their needs for food and shelter. Those few luxuries society did produce were concentrated on a few people. This massive shortage of goods created a demand for continual population growth, as it was easy to blame lack of manpower for the deficit. The same deficit also controlled population growth, but over time advances in farming and so on allowed populations to grow. There were also deficits in the amount of raw materials required to produce the goods, and in the skill sets required for some things. In addition, many people were required for 24 hour childcare and housework.
We then moved on from that, into a phase where suddenly the amount of goods which could be produced shot up and we became much closer to producing as many goods and services as everybody wanted. One person could produce one persons worth of goods and services, and so we trended towards full employment. As technology advanced, people just wanted more stuff, and the cycle of demand matching supply continued since demand grew as supply did.
However, is it possible that we are no longer in such a phase. Not because we have infinite raw materials, but because our technology has advanced to the point where there is no longer any need for many of the raw materials and processes we used to require to fulfill our 'wants'. We no longer require so many people as 24 hour carers because we created schools. We now produce vast amounts of food, millions of calories more base food (grain and the like) than we could possibly eat. Yes, we now have 100 times as much stuff that we want, but when almost all that stuff can be delivered to a single multipurpose electronic device using no more than a few watts of electricity what use is someone who used to make tape drives, or pack widgets into boxes. Where once you needed a million singers to entertain a nation, and then you needed 1000 singers and 100000 guys making records and tapedecks, now you can do the same with 100 engineers, 1000 workers and 1 singer and a whole pile of iPods. And those iPods are also fulfilling their needs for movies, board games, long range communication.....
Now, this might seem like a good thing, lots of stuff for everyone but we live in a capitalist society. Striving for more stuff, and it creating more jobs and wealth is the base motivator of how things work. If a person in the workplace can now produce (on average) enough stuff for say 1.5 people then what do we do about all the people who are simply unneeded by the new economy. Furthermore, we can't solve the problem by contracting the population, since that would just lower overall demand and make another x% unemployed. Could it be that the idea of 'full' employment is a thing of the past. Are we moving into an era where technological growth has rendered it impossible? Even if we aren't there today, what about tomorrow when people might start to take virtual reality trips as fuel grows pricier? Each step forward with technology makes it easier to produce the stuff we want, meaning we have more stuff, but require less workers. Yes, we need energy and it will grow more expensive without major breakthroughs but will that mean more employment considering we'll have robots and so on to do so many of the tasks.
In short, how does Capitalism survive in any kind of equitable form when all you need to entertain 10 million people for months is 100 guys making farmville.