on jobs, automation, and the future of work (part 3)03 Aug 2016
now the fact of the matter is that companies will almost definitely automate that which can be automated. it’s just cheaper and easier to maintain machinery than human capital. and in the long-run, machines that can learn with minimal resource inputs will outpace the productivity of humans.
now, this assessment of our current reality (which is not original) could go one of three ways (1, 2a, and 2b):
- as a society, we could decide to prevent businesses from using machines (robots, algorithms, etc.) to replace human labor. this preserves jobs as we currently understand them. as in, you go somewhere for a prescribed number of hours per week to produce goods and services. this pathway is generally the advocated for by labor (i think).
- collectively and legally, we could do nothing to intervene. this allows individuals and companies to do whatever is in their best interests. this will (almost definitely) result in diminishing labor needs (this is happening for fast food; farming; movie theaters [think fandango + automatic ticket machines]; even doctors; 3-d printing). with all of these changes, it’s not that jobs won’t be created; it’s that low-skill jobs will be destroyed (or driven to even lower skill level) and/or be replaced with a smaller number of high-skilled jobs (and if you read part 1 and 2 of this series, you’ll know why that creates a problem for anyone basically older than 35). from here, we could go one of two ways:
(a) collectively, we could seek to create jobs. in the past, this could be driven by companies or government. however, if the robots have and are continually taking up more and more of the economy’s labor needs, government spending is the only way this can happen in the future.
(b) we could redistribute the productivity gains to a group of people larger than shareholders and stockowners of companies that decide to automate away their labor.
now, given the way the economy is changing, the government is unlikely to ever again (unless we get some more taxes and lord knows how unlikely THAT is in america) have enough cash to stimulate the economy enough to get anything back into a state of stasis.
so we could be terrified about how we’re never gonna be able to fix this. or, we could see the opportunity here and take advantage of it:
*cue the creative economy soundtrack*
ps - there also could be other pathways out here, but i haven’t heard of them…