Automation and Rational Unemployment

Imagine that your industry was revolutionized overnight by some “you substitute” that cost 1/4 your yearly wage to produce and maintain. Tomorrow morning you wake up with the choice of continuing your work a 1/4 your salary or not. You’d probably quit, right? Now imagine this is happening on a weekly basis to various people in various industries. Do you immediately start re-training for a new job? Let’s say you do some research to try to train for a job in the field least likely to be hit. You’ll probably come up with unionized, government jobs that are politically well-connected and take longer to respond to market forces. So will your compatriots. When there aren’t enough of those jobs you will need to have more created for you. This is how libertarians see the shift from productivity to dependency.

Progressives blame greed and the businesses for squeezing workers for lower wages. But net greed has not increased.

Libertarians blame the government for enabling the workers to seek shelter in less productive jobs in exchange for political support. But government desire to satisfy constituents has remained constant.

Businesses would certainly like out of this hassle. They seek a low maintenance money-machine and the cogs that keep gumming up the works are made of labor. The prospect of an automated laborless (or labor-light) business strategy is on the horizon, not just for tech firms, not just in manufacturing and farming but in information and soon knowledge industries. We are running out of useful faculties that people value that cannot be replicated by far less annoying entities. This should be the dawn of the age of leisure but it isn’t clear that this all goes down so peacefully.

Given the unpredictability of the future of employment because of the phenomenon Brian Anders points to, isn’t it possible that investing in job skills is a dicey proposition with little long-term chance of success? Unemployed workers have just witnessed the destruction of manufacturing jobs and now look on as the college-educated wither under student loan debt. Now we’re told that the “second economy” of computer intelligence is only just starting. Which way should we turn? It is reasonable to choose less work if you see no future in it. Better to sit back and wait for something that looks more like a safe play.

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One Response to “Automation and Rational Unemployment”

  1. katherine Says:

    Yikesa. So, being a luddite is out?

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