Education ‘To Earn a Living’ Will Become an Anachronism

R. Buckminster Fuller? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: In recent years the discussion of artificial intelligence and robotics replacing human workers has resurfaced. In addition, economic ideas such as universal basic income have been proposed to ameliorate societal dislocations. I am reminded of discourses from the 1960s.

The controversial pathbreaking inventor and futurist R. Buckminster Fuller believed that large-scale automation was going to render obsolete the requirement that each person ‘earn a living’. Instead, he thought individuals would engage in life-long education based on self-selected goals and desires. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1961 Southern Illinois University asked R. Buckminster Fuller to share his ideas about building an entirely new college campus. Fuller delivered a lecture which was turned into a book titled “Education Automation: Freeing the Scholar to Return to His Studies” published in 1962. Fuller touched upon the following theme several times during his career. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Much of the educational system today is aimed at answering: “How am I going to survive? How am I going to get a job? I must earn a living.” That is the priority item under which we are working all the time—the idea of having to earn a living. That problem of “how are we going to earn a living?” is going to go out the historical window, forever, in the next decade, and education is going to be disembarrassed of the unseen “practical” priority bogeyman. Education will then be concerned primarily with exploring to discover not only more about the universe and its history but about what the universe is trying to do, about why man is part of it, and about how can, and may man best function in universal evolution.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1963 Fuller published an “Inventory of World Resources Human Trends and Needs” for the International Union of Architects which included a discussion of education: 2

As we effectively dis-employ man as a mechanical worker and pay him to return to his studies this will bring about profound changes in our concept of education itself. Education ‘to earn a living’ will become an anachronism.

In September 1963 Brooks Atkinson of “The New York Times” reviewed Fuller’s book titled “Education Automation”: 3

The acceleration of history, which filled Henry Adams with despair a half century ago, fills Mr. Fuller with enthusiasm. Thanks to automation, the problem of “how are we going to earn a living?” will become obsolete in the next decade, he declares. As an economic society we will have to pay our whole population to go to school and stay there to become realistically literate in understanding the universe.

Fuller’s 1969 collection titled “Utopia or Oblivion: The Prospects for Humanity” contained a chapter on “Prevailing Conditions in the Arts” which included this passage: 4

. . . “If humanity receives universal fellowships—all expenses paid plus a comfortable bonus, would humanity not stop asking itself, ‘How can I earn a living,’ and start asking, ‘What is it that I’m interested in, and what could I do to help make the world work more satisfactorily, more interestingly?'” This used to be a stupidly altruistic question. It suddenly becomes a very logical one.

In 1970 “New York” magazine published an “Environmental Teach-In” which included remarks from Fuller: 5

We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian-Darwinian theory, he must justify his right to exist.

In conclusion, R. Buckminster Fuller repeatedly presented the idea that future computerization and automation would obviate the individual’s need to ‘earn a living’ via employment. He believed that society would become wealthy enough to offer material support to each person. He thought this would occur within a decade of 1962.

Image Notes: Illustration of a human finger and robot finger touching from geralt at Pixabay.

Notes:

  1. 1962 Copyright, Education Automation: Freeing the Scholar to Return to His Studies by R. Buckminster Fuller, (Text based on a talk delivered by Fuller on April 22, 1961 to the Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville Campus Planning Committee), Quote Page 43, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, (Verified with scans)
  2. 1963 Copyright, World Design Science Decade: 1965-1975, Five Two Year Phases of a World Retooling Design Proposed to the International Union of Architects for Adoption by World Architectural Schools, Phase 1 (1963) Document 1: Inventory of World Resources Human Trends and Needs, Research Group Members: Research Professor: R. Buckminster Fuller; Research Associate (Executive Director of Project): John McHale, Chapter: World Resources, Human Trends and Needs, Start page 35, Quote Page 44, Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, Illinois. (Google Books Preview)
  3. 1963 September 13, New York Times, Critic at Large: Buckminster Fuller’s Brave New World Is Found Wanting by One Observer by Brooks Atkinson, Quote Page 26, Column 4, New York. (ProQuest)
  4. 2008 (Copyright 1969), Utopia or Oblivion: The Prospects for Humanity by R. Buckminster Fuller, Series Editor: Jaime Snyder, Chapter 3: Prevailing Conditions in the Arts, Quote Page 151, Lars Müller Publishers, Baden, Switzerland. (Verified with scans)
  5. 1970 March 30, New York Magazine, The New York Magazine Environmental Teach-In by Elizabeth Barlow, Start Page 24, (Statement by R. Buckminster Fuller), Quote Page 30, NYM Corporation, New York. (Google Books Full View)