Billions of people in the world work for pay these days. Who would ever have thought this would happen?

For most of the first 50,000 years of human existence, people have worked, but seldom for pay. Initially people hunted and gathered food, built shelters, treated their illnesses, made love and made war. Later they farmed and tended domestic animals. All of this was work, but not for pay.

When money first came along, people added selling and buying to their list of activities.

If work for pay connotes working for others, then that also has a very old human tradition. After a battle the captured soldiers were generally turned into slaves, working for the victors, but not for pay. And when people began developing highly skilled arts and crafts, there were plenty of apprentices working for others; not only did they not work for pay, but they frequently paid to work as apprentices!

In the early part of the 19th century the industrial revolution started. Farms were getting crowded because of good public health - more children survived to maturity, the population grew, and it was no longer feasible to carve the farms up any smaller (in some parts of the world). At the same time, factories were being designed which called for human workers, so began a significant period of working for pay. This period has grown and accelerated. In some parts of the world huge numbers of people are still leaving lives of agricultural sufficiency to work for pay in cities. In other parts, there are very few people left doing agriculture anyway.

A second revolution began in the middle of the 20th century: robots and computers now do a lot of work and they are doing more work all the time. What's more, robots and computers work faster and better than humans. Once they are paid for, they also work cheaper. This trend towards total automation is accelerating. We will soon be at the point where nearly every job performed by humans can be performed better by a robot or computer. Of course humans will still be specifically desired for certain personal services.

People have resisted talking, even thinking about this, because it is scary. It means that virtually all of the work for pay is about to vanish. In other words, almost everybody is soon going to be unemployed. Work for pay will disappear as suddenly as it appeared, a short chapter in human existence.

But actually there's nothing scary about this concept, because the jobs done by computers and robots will be excellent, enabling higher quality goods and services for all.

Many humans (i.e., many children and retired persons) are already happily unemployed; they're happy because they have adequate money, either in the form of pensions, savings or parental care.

In order to keep the economy churning along, governments will have to make payments of money to the armies of unemployed so that they can continue to spend, generating revenue for businesses and taxes for government. As the voting majority, the unemployed will insist that their cash stipends be adequate for a decent standard of living.

Some people will have a difficult time shedding a value system which is founded on the work for pay ethic. But it shouldn't be that hard if we bear in mind that work for pay has been a very short chapter in human existence.