Election 2020

Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang Is Wrong About the Future of Work

If the past is any sort of guide to what comes next, his fears about a jobless economy (and his policy prescriptions to fix it) are completely misplaced.

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Last evening, I attended a rain-soaked rally in New York City for long-shot Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, a 44-year-old entrepreneur who is running on a platform based on three main ideas: a universal-basic income (UBI), Medicare for All, and what he calls "human-centered capitalism." He's funny, smart, and forward-looking. Although he has effectively zero chance of becoming president (then again, who thought Donald Trump would ever win?) and his vision is built upon flawed premises (more on that in a moment), the conversation he's trying to start is worth taking seriously, if only because his fear of a jobless future resonates with many people.

Although Yang's campaign said that over 5,000 people RSVPed to the rally, held at Washington Square near New York University, there were maybe a few hundred people in attendance. The rain, heavy at times, doubtless depressed turnout, but the mood was ebullient, with followers holding up signs that said everything from "Math" (a nod to the idea that the candidate's numbers on his policies check out) to "Foreskin for the Win" (the Taiwanese-American Yang told The Daily Beast that he's skeptical of routine circumcision of male babies).

Over about 20 minutes of comments, the candidate hammered home his main themes. "How did Donald Trump become our president in 2016?" Yang asked at one point. "The explanations go something like Russia, Facebook, the FBI, maybe a dash of Hillary Clinton thrown in there. But I looked at the numbers…and Donald Trump is our president for one simple reason: We automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, all of the swing states that Donald Trump needed to win."

Anxiety over an increasingly jobless future is the motivating concern of Yang's campaign. He thinks his version of a UBI, which would give every American between the ages of 18 and 64 $1,000 a month in cash, will provide people enough of a cushion to alleviate the stress and anxiety of economic dislocation without undercutting the desire to work and be productive. Indeed, he says that having basic needs met through a UBI and tax-provided health insurance (Medicare for All) will actually spur people to be more creative and entrepreneurial without reducing their zeal for employment. The jury is out on all of this, especially since the one existing program he keeps pointing to is Alaska's Permanent Fund, which gave residents there just $1,600 for the entire year of 2018. Alaska simultaneously boasts the second-highest labor force participation rate and the nation's highest unemployment rate, so go figure. Given the lack of truly relevant, long-term experiments, it's far from clear what the outcome of a UBI might be.

That said, it will be costly—around $3 trillion a year (the current federal budget is $4.4 trillion). Medicare for All is also expensive—around $32 trillion over 10 years—and it's not immediately clear how Yang would pay for all this. His campaign website talks about eliminating some federal spending, instituting a value-added tax (VAT) of 10 percent that would squeeze big tech companies more. He also says that his UBI would "permanently grow the economy by 12.56 to 13.10 percent," which seems precisely like the sort of exact-sounding rosy scenario that doesn't pass the smell test. Whether Yang's budget math adds up it's at least slightly heartening that, unlike, say, Bernie Sanders, he at least makes a gesture toward paying for his governing vision (Sanders resolutely refuses to explain in any detail how he's going to pay for his version of Medicare for All).

Let's leave aside for the moment the question of paying for Yang's plans. Is he right that the biggest problem facing America is a jobless future, one in which automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning consign more and more of us to the reserve army of the unemployed?

Yang talks a lot about the coming revolution in self-driving trucks, call-center bots, and the like to paint a future in which fewer and fewer people between 16 years old and 65 years old have meaningful work to do. What has already happened to manufacturing jobs is about to happen to the retail sector and the few remaining blue-collar professions, such as trucking. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the labor force participation rate since 1950 peaked in 2000-2001 at around 67 percent. In 1950, it was around 60 percent and so far in 2019, it's about 63 percent:

A slightly different story appears when you break the rate down via gender. Male labor force participation rate peaked in the early 1950s at around 86 percent and has been steadily declining ever since, to around 70 percent (the decline has flattened somewhat in the past few years, though it's hard to know if that's a new normal or a temporary cessation).

Meanwhile, female labor force participation rate grew steadily from about 33 percent in the early 1950s to a current level of about 57 percent (down slightly from a peak a decade or so ago of 59 percent).

Encouragingly, job tenure—the length of time an employee stays with the same firm—has been constant over the past decade. The BLS found that between 2008 and 2018, the median tenure of workers with the current employer has stayed stable at a little over four years (that's also about what median tenure was in 1983). Over the same period, the percentage of workers with 10 years or more with their current employer actually increased, from 31.5 percent to 33.2 percent. This shouldn't be happening if the labor market is being emptied out or massively disrupted due to automation.

Red line is percentage of manufacturing jobs as a percentage of U.S. labor force. Click through for more details.

Yang's animating concern is ultimately misguided in two profound ways. One concerns the pace of change. At least since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, critics have always worried that technological revolutions will wipe out whole industries overnight, causing a huge amount of human suffering and social dislocation. But that is essentially never the case. Consider manufacturing jobs. The share of factory workers as a percentage of the labor force peaked in 1943, at around 40 percent. Since then, it's been a steady decline for decades. When it comes to contemporary fears about things such as autonomous vehicles and trucks, self-interested hucksters such as Elon Musk can easily gull reporters and others with predictions that we're just a couple of years away from never having to touch a steering wheel again. But as Reason Foundation's transportation guru, Robert W. Poole will tell you, we are in fact multiple decades away from such technological marvels becoming commonplace. Even disruptive economic change unfolds at a pace to which we can generally adapt.

The second issue with Yang's grim vision of the future is more conceptual. Predictions of jobless futures have a long history and a perfectly failed record at being correct. At least since Queen Elizabeth I of England refused in 1589 to issue a patent for a type of knitting machine, people have always worried that technology will destroy the need for human workers. However, as Reason's Ronald Bailey documented in a 2017 article, MIT economist Daron Acemoglu and Boston University economist Pascual Restrepo

report that the number of jobs lost due to robots since 1990 is somewhere between 360,000 and 670,000. By contrast, last year some 62.5 million Americans were hired in new jobs, while 60.1 million either quit or were laid off from old ones, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The impact of robots, in other words, is quite small, relatively speaking. Moreover, when the researchers include a measure of the change in computer usage at work, they found a positive effect, suggesting that computers tend to increase the demand for labor.

Another Boston University economist cited by Bailey, James Bessen, notes that even jobs heavily impacted by the spread of computers and automation—think supermarket checkouts, paralegal work, and bank tellers—are employing more people than they did before the rise of labor-saving machines. The number of bank tellers increased along with the number of ATMs because ATMs "allowed banks to operate branch offices at lower cost; this prompted them to open many more branches, offsetting the erstwhile loss in teller jobs."

As economic historian and Reason columnist Deirdre McCloskey has written:

Consider the historical record: If the nightmare of technological unemployment were true, it would already have happened, repeatedly and massively. In 1800, four out of five Americans worked on farms. Now one in 50 do, but the advent of mechanical harvesting and hybrid corn did not disemploy the other 78 percent.

In 1910, one out of 20 of the American workforce was on the railways. In the late 1940s, 350,000 manual telephone operators worked for AT&T alone. In the 1950s, elevator operators by the hundreds of thousands lost their jobs to passengers pushing buttons. Typists have vanished from offices. But if blacksmiths unemployed by cars or TV repairmen unemployed by printed circuits never got another job, unemployment would not be 5 percent, or 10 percent in a bad year. It would be 50 percent and climbing.

It's conceivable that the future will be different than the past when it comes to automation and its effect on work. But it's also highly unlikely and suggests that Andrew Yang's policy platform is built on a foundation of fear that is thankfully mistaken.

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84 responses to “Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang Is Wrong About the Future of Work

  1. Maybe.

    Or maybe when the self-driving cars arrive and put all these cabbies and truckers out of work, they won’t be able to get new jobs, because the new national living minimum wage will price them out of the market.

    And there aren’t any gig/sharing economy opportunities because they were all re-classified as employer/employee relationships (see above.)

    At that point the only people who will have jobs are the ten of millions of illegal aliens who work in the underground economy where their sub-minimum skills are a match for their sub-minimum wages.

    Libertarian Moment!

    1. See? Because of these inescapable market failures, we must have a UBI.

      1. People aren’t just going to stand around and starve to death

        At a very basic level, welfare is what keeps the poor and jobless from deciding they have nothing to lose and killing the better off.

        1. wat? That’s completely retarded.

          1. It would make a bit more sense to say that they would kill themselves.

        2. Your neighborhood doesn’t have any killers? Oye, we’ve got the hoity-toity here.

        3. Jeremy Rifkin is that you?
          It sounds like your brand of bullshit, anyway.

    2. Then why couldn’t those cabbies and truckers join the illegal aliens in the underground economy?

      1. Some will.

        Others will fake disability claims and go on SSDI.

        Others will resort to crime.

        Some will find legal jobs.

        1. The rest just live in a tent under an overpass and do meth and horse all day.

          1. I wish that’s all they did. Often times I’ll return from work and be welcomed by an untidy bed, missing soap, and a panoply of smells. Myself and some of my neighbors have banded together and created a group with a mission to defend our homes from the street trolls’ incursions.
            May God save us all.

            1. I wish that’s all they did. Often times I’ll return from work and be welcomed by an untidy bed, missing soap, and a panoply of smells. Myself and some of my neighbors have banded together and created a group with a mission to defend our homes from the street trolls’ incursions.
              May God save us all.

              On the sidewalk in front of your house or in the spare room behind the kitchen?

            2. Maybe it’s just your past self sneaking in.

  2. […] If the past is any sort of guide to what comes next, his fears about a jobless economy (and his policy prescriptions to fix it) are completely misplaced. Source link […]

  3. OT: We’ve finally identified the worst person to have ever written for Reason.

    https://twitter.com/willwilkinson/status/1128717355645849600

    1. Bashing Will Wilkinson is never off topic. Indeed, it’s a disappointment not to see more of it. Rarely has the world of political punditry seen such a face that so passionately begs for a fist.

      1. I do my part but I’ve been slacking lately.

  4. So, the the correct response to the worry of technology replacing labor is to implement policies that make labor more expensive and technology more affordable?

    I guess we have always been at war with Eastasia.

    1. At least with the UBI, the future 20 percent unemployed will have money to buy coffee and snacks while they sit around all day and text each other.

  5. The problem is that automation never rally existed to the extent it does now. Blacksmiths might not have been needed, but people to make cars were. Cart drivers might not have been needed, but car and truck drivers were.

    Ironically, it might be manufacturing (where robots were first introduced) that might have jobs the longest. Retail is on the way out thanks to Amazon, and Amazon is probably 10 years away from having fully automated warehouses.

    1. Let me get this straight. Over the last 200 years automation and efficiency improvements have turned the US economy from being 98% agricultural workers to 2% agricultural workers. Through *automation and efficiency increased*.

      Yet we don’t have 90%+ of the population out of a job.

      Why? Because there have always been other human needs that automation couldn’t satisfy.

      And there still are.

      And when there aren’t – then there’s no need for anyone to work anymore.

      1. You can’t automate or outsource plumbing repairs.

        1. Well, yes you can.

          In fact *you already outsource plumbing repairs* every time you call a plumber.

          1. But there isn’t a robot that can do the work. You have to hire an organic carbon unit plumber.

      2. I don’t think anybody is saying there won’t be a single job left… But the question is as the percentage of unemployable people rises dramatically, it can create some REALLY big social problems. Imagine if 20% more people were structurally unemployable because they simply didn’t have the ability to do any of the jobs that were left. That’d be a big issue. You can see my longer rant I will likely write below if you want more details…

    2. “The problem is that automation never rally existed to the extent it does now.”

      The return of Ned Ludd.

      1. My money is on Jeremy Rifkin. Maybe he could re-issue his stupid book from the 90s.

  6. How can there be a jobless economy if there are no jobs?
    Who would be the buyers of the goods and services being produced by the machines?

    If we had infinite productivity with something like Star Trek replicators then we would have no need for jobs but that would be OK as everything anyone would want/need to live would be free. People would have 100% free time to do whatever they wanted to do.

    1. It’s the in between time that’s the problem. When it gets to 100% it’s heaven on earth… When only 40% of people are employable it’s hell on earth…

  7. Why would anyone fear a jobless society unless they feared prosperity itself?

    If there are no jobs then all possible human wants are satisfied – so there is no need to work.

    If all possible human wants are not satisfied – then there’re your jobs.

    1. As someone who’s sick of working (been doin’ it almost 35 years) the prospect of having my current lifestyle and not working for it is attractive. Very attractive, but I think there’s something to be said about the human condition that drives towards work– of some kind.

      Probably because human wants are never satisfied.

        1. Perhaps I might say, “An activity from which the individual derives a certain amount of meaning, and which gives him or her the sense that they’re providing for themselves or their family.”

          Further, an activity which also gives the individual a feeling of progressing, moving forward etc.

  8. I would have liked to see you acknowledge and address the data from the McKinsey Global Institute that support’s the argument Andrew Yang makes. They’ve been studying and reporting on the automation movement for some time now and predict 73 million US jobs automated by 2030. That seems extremely high and I am skeptical but let’s say even 1/3 that number is possible. Where are 24.3 million jobs going to come from, with the low level work automated?

    1. That doesn’t support the argument Yang makes.

      Yangs argument is that *automation will destroy people’s livelyhoods*. The data doesn’t support that. It only says that 73 million *existing* jobs will be automated out of existence. It says nothing about what new employment opportunities will arise.

      Where will those jobs come from? Same place they always have. Human ingenuity, and human response to incentives.

      Sure, you might not have a cushy retail job anymore – so go learn to braid hair. Or paint houses. Or do landscaping. Clean houses. You just need to find some value you can provide someone else and that’s how you make your living.

      1. You don’t think being unable to find work will destroy livelihoods? I wish I held your optimism but I don’t think you can pay rent and put food on the table braiding hair in a community where people aren’t working. Side note: there’s machines that can paint houses and walls now. Saw it on DigitalTrends.

        Have a great evening 🙂

        1. Are you flat-chested? Asking for a friend.

        2. “You don’t think being unable to find work will destroy livelihoods?”

          You should read what is written and not respond to the voices in your head.

        3. You don’t think being unable to find work will destroy livelihoods?

          1. If there’s work to be done you’ll find work.

          2. Please tell me where it says you’re entitled to continue to work at your current profession throughout your life.

          3. If automation is so great that the vast majority of Americans are working at braiding hair then that means things like rent and food are also amazingly inexpensive – thanks to that automation – that yes, they will make a living braiding hair. Or doing handstands. Or juggling. Or magic. Or making Youtube videos.

          4. If people in that community are not working it is, just like it is now, either a choice they made – because welfare provides enough of a safety net that they can be comfortable not working – or because government violence has put in place a wage floor preventing them from working.

          1. This ignores a lot of real world bits.

            It won’t be EVERYBODY losing their jobs. It will be certain people doing it, likely low skilled people. There will then be more competition for the low skill jobs left, driving down wages. If Joe Programmer is still making $150K a year, the cost of living might not actually come down much.

            Sure, new nearly pointless jobs might come into existence with the flood of cheap low skill labor (can anybody say dog walkers!), but will those jobs be ENOUGH in number and ENOUGH in pay to replace what is being lost?

            I don’t think we can say for sure that it will. I suspect we will see an erosion in the labor force participation rate. It won’t be overnight apocalypse, but if structural unemployment rises by even 5 or 10 percent, that will have MAJOR implication for the economy and society at large.

      2. I think where Yang is useful is he’s at least talking about real phenomenon happening in society and is attempting to address them as we bridge that gap. Yang recognizes the gap and I think it’s a mistake to not acknowledge it because yes, the gap will be naturally bridged through the wisdom of crowds 20-50 years from now.

  9. More people need to read science fiction and get a sense of optimism about humanity’s future.

    We can, and will, do wonderful things in the years to come that will open new frontiers and lead to technology and jobs that we cannot even imagine today.

    1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

      1. Nope. They dream of robotic tranny hookers with 14 spinning dildos.

    2. But I like my science fiction horrifically dystopic. Like in Dr. Adder or The Men in the Jungle or worse.

  10. I never understood why every other “job-eliminating” new technology that came along in the past has actually given rise to previously undreamed of jobs (most recently with the internet and increasingly sophisticated business software) but this time it will be different. It’s typical politicians’ BS fear-mongering.

    1. Whereas all prior industrial innovations replaced human muscles, we’re now in the process of replacing human MINDS. And because these minds are written in silicon, the cost(and therefore speed) of developing and deploying them is orders of magnitude cheaper than the machines of yesteryear.

      For a good summary, check out CGP Grey’s “Humans Need Not Apply”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Pq-S557XQU

      1. As a translator who was told 6-7 years ago that the replacement of my essentially cognitive occupation by machines was still far off in the future, but has since seen 75-85% of my business lost to intelligent software – and precisely the more lucrative routine work at that – I can confirm that the “Humans need not apply” video is spot on. The former idea that software “could never replace a human translator” fundamentally overlooked the fact that, as true as that was/is, the part of my work that it cannot replace is the type that is generally rare (doctoral dissertations, museum exhibitions, works of literature), extremely difficult/research-intensive, and (therefore, on an hourly basis) relatively low-paying. A lot of people who at present believe that they cannot be replaced are in for a rude awakening, because the thing about AI is that once an effective algorithm is developed for one application, it can be tweaked and reapplied to hundreds of other activities. Expansion of technology in the 21st century is occurring much more rapidly than in previous industrial revolutions, while humans are economically and mentally less adaptive (the days of subsistence farmers who left their homes lock, stock, and barrel and took their families to the city are over). We will adapt, surely, but the question remains: how much disruption and, potentially, violence and suffering, are we going to permit to define the transition.

  11. Automation is as much about substituting other labor as capital – can’t pay $3 an hour for service work in the US, but you can play $3 an hour to build the machines to automate it in China. Arbitrage finds a way.

  12. The day we have a jobless economy will be the day we have solved the problem of scarcity. I am pretty confident that no one living today will live long enough to see that happen if it ever happens at all.

    1. It will never happen, even with “star trek replicators”. The idea that even in a world of star trek replicators that goods will be distributed 100% equally is bogus– and even Bernie Sanders probably knows it.

      So to tilt that distribution slightly in your favor, there will be work… ie “jobs” to try to acquire more of that distribution for yourself. Whatever that good might be.

      1. And then there’s the Space Jews–sorry–Ferengi who are just one example of MARKETS IN SPACE.

    2. It’s not the happy ending that’s the problem… It’s the decades of low levels of employment in between.

  13. At least since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, critics have always worried that technological revolutions will wipe out whole industries overnight, causing a huge amount of human suffering and social dislocation. But that is essentially never the case.

    I think there’s an error of scale and time here.

    That is and has been the case. Yes it’s true that over time society adjusts and displaced workers eventually age out of the workforce. There’s no question about it. But what Yang is pointing at is a particular set of circumstances in the here and now.

    There are essentially two arguments at work here. One is pure, dry economics. That argument is on the side of libertarians. They (we) are right. These things will sort themselves out in an unending cycle of economic reallocation.

    The second argument is one about the human condition– ie, the political question. there are periods of time when large numbers of workers are in fact displaced and can no longer provide for themselves or their families, leaving that forces outside of their control: Welfare, government programs, or hope that the factory jobs will come back. That does in fact lead to “human suffering and dislocation”.

    So the question becomes, is there… or should there be something that government does to minimize or deal with that suffering and dislocation?

    1. So the question becomes, is there… or should there be something that government does to minimize or deal with that suffering and dislocation?
      Automation and technological advances tend to reduce prices; thus the cost of living should be reduced per individual. So it should become easier for people to live off a lower income. However, healthcare and housing are two big exceptions to this, and government is certainly not helping their affordability.

      1. But that’s far from a 1:1 ratio. If you’re flat unemployed, you’re not going to do much participating in the economy just because the price of flat screen TVs are cheaper than they were five years ago.

    2. This is indeed an issue… Let us say for the sake of argument it eventually all works itself out in the end… What if there is 20-30 years in between where we have structural unemployment rates of 30 or 40 percent?

      The fact is people won’t stand for this, they will demand UBI or something be done. The industrial revolution DID cause mass unemployment and dislocation, and extreme poverty and social problems. Dickens anybody? What if this time around is twice as hard and twice as long?

      I’m not saying it’s guaranteed, but it is far from a zero percent chance.

  14. A jobless economy?
    Try some Marxist state.
    They have jobless economies except for the army, the secret police, prison guards and other State security officials.

    1. Can they take Vox with them?

  15. There is a point of diminishing desire for more stuff. Some people will put up with a job in exchange for enough money for food and housing. Once those goods become affordable, they can choose between a difficult job that allows them to afford expensive entertainment and a simple job that gives them the time to hike more often.

    Americans are shifting from high cost states to low cost states. Companies are starting to follow them. They might thrive better in their new locations if they keep costs down and implement a 4 day work week. In the free market, they can experiment with that. Policies designed to increase GDP will go against the demotinization of the economy. Policies designed to allow maximum economic freedom might result in shorter work weeks.

  16. Nick Gillespie wrote: “It’s conceivable that the future will be different than the past when it comes to . . .”

    Wow, is that profound or what!

    Anyone who attempts to predict the long-term future of anything complex has lost touch with reality.

  17. I for one welcome our new robotic overlords.

  18. Yang is wrong about most things, and what is his fascination with foreskins about? He won’t make the cut.

    1. ZING!

      When I first read up on the circumcision thing, I got PISSED. A metric fuck ton of your nerve endings are in that little bit of skin. I feel like I got fucking cheated by having mine lopped off.

      My father apologized for it when we ended up talking about the subject one day, but he just didn’t know any of this stuff and kind of went with what the incorrect doctors told him was best. Unless you’re a filthy animal and don’t bathe there are no negative health problems, we were designed to have the damn things after all, and you’ll probably have better orgasms and shit!

      It SHOULD NOT be a default thing to do. It should only be done if it is a medical necessity, which rarely comes up. Religious reasons are valid I guess, but still stupid.

  19. For most of human history most people never saw a paycheck. But then again, nobody was complaining about the lack of running water, electricity, access to health care or the internet, affordable college, a second pair of pants, or 2-ply toilet paper. Stuff gets cheaper, people demand more stuff. William Lee knew you don’t get rich making silk stockings for the queen, you get rich making silk stockings for the scullery maid.

  20. Bringing back the 1,000 dollar bill would be a good idea. They used to have them. Now the biggest is a 100, which is about what a 20 was when I was a kid.

    1. At least $500 bills at a minimum. $5000 and $10,000 notes would be useful as well. I routinely carry $1000+ in $100s and $50s in my wallet and I’m still anticipating access to bank branches and totally free ATMs.

  21. Although I agree with the author’s contention that society will likely adjust to the current round of technological changes, I don’t, in fact, read Yang’s campaign as suggesting that it won’t, or that he thinks we should prepare for a jobless future. What he seems to me to be saying – and he’s done so many long-form interviews, one can get a better sense of his ideas than any other candidate’s – is that the transition promises to be at least as difficult as the ones that caused huge displacements and disruptions (complete with rioting, destruction of property, and death) in the past and that it’s not unreasonable to suggest that we might do something to manage it. In the past, technological revolution has always resulted in the replacement of one form of physical/unskilled labour (e.g. farm work) with another (e.g. factory work), while people were more mobile than they are now. By contrast, in the current scenario, the jobs being created require entirely different skill sets and are located in distant places that are often prohibitively expensive to move to. UBI would indeed help ease that transition, and would do it in a fairly libertarian-minded way – one that avoids both disincentives to work (such as those associated with disability and welfare), and the administrative costs associated with means testing, and that can even be used to phase those things out. To my mind, trading in the welfare state for an empowering dividend that gives people more financial stability and physical mobility to ride the transition is actually an intriguing idea.

    1. “is that the transition promises to be at least as difficult as the ones that caused huge displacements and disruptions (complete with rioting, destruction of property, and death) in the past and that it’s not unreasonable to suggest that we might do something to manage it. ”

      That’s been my take away. Thing is I don’t know that a UBI is the way to go… But ignoring that this is a real possibility and keeping a close eye on it is pretty foolish too. If it doesn’t happen, awesome! But if the job losses DO come too hard and heavy for things to adjust without massive problems, a UBI beats cities being burned to the ground.

  22. So as somebody who has probably kept up on this issue a LOT more than Nicky boy, I want to chime in.

    First, past performance does not guarantee future results!

    There are legitimate reasons to think this time may be harder and faster. One, new technology is in fact rolling out faster than ever before. Studies have actually shown this to be true, not just anecdotal.

    The time factor alone is VERY important in terms of job churn. If the average person needs to change professions (profession, as in industry/skill set, not just jobs) twice in a lifetime, that’s not really a big deal. If the average person needs to change professions 4 times, that’s rough, but maybe doable. If it’s every 5 years because one thing after another is falling to automation in rapid succession… That is a MAJOR problem.

    The other most important aspect IMO is that we’re not JUST automating labor this time… We’re automating human thought and intelligence. There has been VERY little of that in the past. The implications of this could be huge, and might be the bit that really tips the scales from being like past creative destruction cycles and turns it into a whole new beast. Automating away white collar jobs that above average intelligence people do is a different kind of hit than making a factory more efficient.

    One of the assumptions is that really high skill jobs will largely survive, and grow, along side random physical jobs in unpredictable environments. Think programmers and plumbers.

    If this ends up being the case, and we’re mostly hollowing out repeatable jobs whether cognitive or physical, what we’re doing is essentially leaving a more limited number of low skill jobs, and adding high skilled ones…

    If this is true, we have a problem. Displace low skill workers will often not have the intelligence to move up the ladder, because their IQs are too low. NOBODY ever wants to talk about this, because it’s not egalitarian… But it’s true. A guy with an 85 IQ just can’t be a programmer or scientist, period.

    This leaves a lower number of low skill jobs being sought by a vastly higher number of low skill employees. What will happen is janitors jobs will end up probably getting taken by people with IQs over and above what a janitor might have now, because their slightly higher skill job got automated, and the dumber people will be pushed completely into unemployment forever.

    Thus you end up with an ever increasing percentage of dumb people who can literally never find a job, because the 95 IQ guys whose job got automated away has been pushed down the ladder and displaced them. There will be a shortage of super high IQ people to fill the jobs at the top too, and oodles of useless people who can’t do them, but need to be fed.

    If structural unemployment levels get too high, we will have MAJOR social problems. If even just 10% more people than now could NEVER find a job, imagine the problems. What if that got to 20%, or 30%. Now imagine even the remaining jobs have their wages pushed down because of this, so even the employed are disgruntled. Big problem.

    What about scenarios where this doesn’t happen? Things to mitigate it?

    We can increase consumption like woa. This will help. If you double productivity, but people consume twice as much, you still have the same number of jobs! I think there are limits to this type of stuff at a certain point though, but we can definitely buy more crap from where we’re at now. There’s lots of room for growth in the developing world here too.

    We will probably also create more borderline useless jobs. Baristas and dog walkers are the kind of near pointless jobs we didn’t really have room for 50 years ago. More stuff like this will pop up. Every middle class family could also go back to having a servant or two like in 1800s Britain. But will it be enough? Maybe, maybe not. People can only consume so much near useless labor done by other people, and there may only be so many highly paid high value workers to go around to do the hiring. This may go over fine in Asia, but in the entitled western world taking people that live in nice houses, feel independent, and turning them into essentially man servants is going to breed a LOT of resentment.

    Likewise, people might CHOOSE to buy inefficient things just cuz. Think handmade this or that, artisan bread, etc. We’re already seeing the beginning of this trend. People could also choose to go to the coffee shop that uses people vs the robotic one just because. This will dull the effects compared to what it could be if everybody went for maximum efficiency.

    Finally, if our social values ever become functional again, we might see a large scale return of the 2 parent household where one parent stays at home. This would only work for the high income people of course, as the poor won’t make enough money to do it.

    Because of all these reasons and more, I don’t think we’ll have a total apocalypse… But as I mentioned above, even a 10-20% increase in the structural unemployment rate could have MASSIVE effects.

    We should take a wait and see approach, no UBI needed at this point if ever… But to hand wave it all away as being impossible is NOT a good idea. This time COULD be different.

    1. You make very good points which I mostly agree with.

      I think you missed a few points.
      – the change to automation is actually a lot slower than we think, and most businesses may never even make the leap. (because like you said require higher IQ and money to hire the higher IQ workers to contract the automation)
      – the increase of population or expansion of cities and businesses will open more employment opportunities regardless of automation
      – the contract work is being taken over by India, and this is a huge problem, maybe even bigger a problem than automation and will exaggerate the impact it has on the economy. – India has over a billion people and is a poor economy, resulting in many flocking to other developed countries, and the workers are not even that high of IQ but they have IT education for whatever it is worth.

      1. Yeah, well one can look at it on a national scale or global.

        In the USA we’ve got kicked in the nuts harder by outsourcing than automation, SO FAR. But I don’t know that it will hold true. As wages continue to rise around the world automation will hit everybody. We have to contend with automation AND outsourcing, whereas poorer countries only have to worry about automation for the moment.

        As far as the speed, things seem to be getting ever faster. As I said studies have shown that new innovations are being rolled out to higher percentages of the population faster than in the past. New tech might take 20 years to become standard 100 years ago, now this is often happening in 5 or 10 years.

        You do make an interesting point though… If there aren’t enough high skilled techs to actually maintain the automation equipment, that could actually limit how widely it is used. I’ll have to think on that one a bit.

        Total population is going up for now, but ultimately what we’re looking at is the percentage of the population that is employable. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking 10 people or 1 billion, the percentage is what counts.

  23. Sounding like FDR’s policies to save the family farm jobs. We are still paying for that fiasco and those farm jobs are all gone. The machinery replaced them and everyone is better off for it and surprise to all the New Dealers and to Yang, more people are employed than ever in better jobs than walking behind a mule with a plow.

    1. This is why Yang isn’t focusing on saving the jobs of yesteryear, but rather putting in place a financial buffer to help people transition to whatever comes next.

      And for everyone who’s generally against government handouts, let’s be realistic. When the modern day Okies lose their livelihoods to self-driving cars or the like, a significant number of them are not going to just roll up their sleeves and ‘learn to code’. They’re going to demand the government do SOMETHING. Do you want that something to be more of the current welfare regime, which intrudes into people’s private lives and disincentivizes them from returning to work? Or Bernie Sander’s federal job guarantee, which would put the government in a position of not only funding the vanishing labor market, but also dictating the very nature of the labor market?

      If we assume there will be some form of government band-aid as jobs are shed en masse, is there an option equal to the task that would maximize freedom more than UBI?

      1. As I said above, one of the key mistakes is to assume many of these people CAN learn to code. They cannot.

        For the most part people are already segmented in employment by their IQ. Most people doing low skill jobs are low IQ, and most people doing high skill jobs are high IQ. There is overlap in what the minimum IQ required for a job is vs the minimum to be good at it, but mostly people are already sorted.

        AKA almost zero people driving trucks today are not actually smart enough to be competent coders even if they wanted to be. Everybody leaves this out because it’s mean… But it’s true. An accountant that loses his gig to automation may be able to learn to be a moderately competent coder, but not so much for most truck drivers, burger flippers, etc.

        This is why in reality we DO need to consider these facts when making policy… We’ve essentially already lost too many of our low IQ jobs to foreign outsourcing, leaving millions unemployable right now in many ways. If we have another massive wave of this type of stuff we will see some REAL social problems.

  24. As someone who works in the industry of business process automation (like automation of desk jobs), I can say that I can pretty much do everyone’s work. And, it’s already making an impact on jobs.

    However, there are few other things to consider with this…

    – The free open market is resulting in startups that provide tools to make even lower IQ employees capable of doing automation. I truly think people can learn it.

    – As more and more automation is deployed, more people need to support it. However, the problem is that too many people are flocking from lower income countries such as India and taking these support jobs. I think Americans are not being exposed enough to the potential of jobs in automation that isn’t necessarily computer programming (because you don’t need to be a computer scientist). – the education could improve as RPA expands.

    – Most local businesses may never get into automation, unless it is run by a tech savy person interested in making their life more enjoyable. Then again, if it’s in certain industries, they may get swallowed up by bigger companies with automation.

    – With automation means that companies get more money, meaning salary increases or more people will be hired to make other jobs easier on their employees, just because they can. More money, also means expansion which opens jobs.

    But, anyway, those are just a few added thoughts. It isn’t completely wrong that Andrew Yang pushes on certain ideas around automation. However, he doesn’t see the entire picture either.

  25. Fears about a jobless economy?

    If there’s anything humanity should be working for, it’s universal leisure. Leisure is good. Leisure is the best way to spend the short time we have on this planet. Anyone who says different is a moral busybody trying to impose an arbitrary, nanny-state ethic on you.

    Let AI take over the menial work. I’m sorry if that means we have to use governments to distribute the resulting wealth among everyone, but nobody forced you guys to adopt strict Calvinist work ethic bullshit about everything, did they?

    1. “I’m sorry if that means we have to use governments to distribute the resulting wealth among everyone, but nobody forced you guys to adopt strict Calvinist work ethic bullshit about everything, did they?”

      Fuck off and die, slaver.

  26. (then again, who thought Donald Trump would ever win?)

    A lot of people smarter than Nick Gillespie, apparently.

  27. Meanwhile, Nick, living large off the Foundation, will be out the door by 5 today and inaccessible all weekend. Not exactly executive material.

  28. “If the past is any sort of guide to what comes next …”

    And if it’s not? If something fundamentally different is happening?

    What could be different now?

    Well duh. Intellectual tasks that used to be the exclusive domain of humans are increasingly the domain of computers. That’s only going to continue and *accelerate*. Computers get smarter every year by a *lot*. You don’t.

    That wasn’t happening before. It used to be our muscles got replaced by machines. That was fine, because our minds were still unrivaled. If the productive capacity of your mind gets similarly replaced, what’s the remaining competitive advantage for you to have a job?

    It’s basically sentiment. Someone wants you as a pet to maintain. Like a horse you want to ride on the weekends.

    The collapse of the male labor force participation rate is an indication of an increasing proportion of men, who do not have the same opportunities to collect government dependency checks from the state as women, nor the same societal sanction to not work as women do, being unable to find employment.

    Permanent unemployability is already happening. It’s going to continue. The curve for female labor workforce participation rates have turned downwards as well. Did they all move back to the fifties to tend the kids? I don’t think so.

    Reason writes the same tedious articles over and over, never addressing the well known objections to them.

    It’s propaganda, not journalism.

    1. “Permanent unemployability is already happening. ”

      Yup. The only question is how bad it will be… Manageable without changing anything fundamental, or will it require UBI etc.

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