The Tunisian Gardener

We've had predicted futures that are dystopian, apocalyptic, authoritarian, communist or even utopian. Few suggest a capitalist, post AI, 1950s-like tedium.
Thirty-six years ago, I went on a holiday to Hammamet, Tunisia, on the North African Mediterranean coast. The hotel and outbuildings were set in gardens with lawns, palms, trees and bushes. These were kept by a small army of gardeners in wide straw hats, white shirts and shorts, their skin turned almost black by the sun. This was a medium-sized hotel, far from crowded, and it had at least twenty gardeners working each day. Often they'd just sweep the paths in the grounds. There was a sprinkler system to keep the lawns green in the harsh North African sun.

At the time, Tunisia was one-party state ruled over by President Habib Bourguiba. And in the middle of a oil price decline, tourism was one of the few growth areas in the economy. Hotels, most owned by those close to Bourguiba, were encouraged to employ as many people as possible. In a regular capitalist ecosystem, at most four gardeners would be employed to tend the lawns and grounds. Around five times as many were working at this hotel in Hammamet. Bourguiba's capitalism may've been an unexpected future echo.

Given we overcome the existential problem of climate change, and the rise of populism is short-lived, we face a near-future shift towards AI, machine learning and automation. The professions and manufacturing will employ few. Clustering, where companies group together by location, a trend going back to the first industrial revolution, will become increasingly pronounced. The creative industries will be changed by technology in random, unexpected ways, as they always have.

Rather than the collapse of capitalism, we could see something closer to the 1945 post-war liberal consensus, with western governments providing a universal basic income supplemented by corporations who will be expected to provide jobs, no matter how necessary, as part of their social responsibility. Given this would be a system designed to dilute revolutionary change, conformity will be rewarded, but up to a point. Middle class mobility will be limited to minor promotions within a huge management structure, rather like IBM in the 1980s. Rebellion will be encouraged only in the arts, while disruptive entrepreneurism will be controlled by further changes to patent law and copyright.

We may have a dull, mildly-repressive, 1950s-like conservative future. Take away the flying cars, living in the clouds and the happy utopianism, and The Jetsons may have been more prescient than we first thought.