MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Why Are There Any Jobs Still Left?

Technology eliminates jobs, not work

TechUnemploymentieetAfter two centuries of relentless automation, why are there more jobs than ever? Certainly, tens of millions of jobs have been lost. Whatever happened to the myriads of hostlers, blacksmiths, coopers, sucksmiths, millers, tallowmakers, wheelwrights, sicklemen, puddlers, telegraphers, stockingers, fellmongers, saddlers, ploughmen, knackers, bleacherers, weavers, thatchers, and scriveners? Most of these jobs have been either wiped out entirely or largely taken over by machines.

The advance of massively more productive machinery has clearly not led to mass unemployment. The number of people employed in advanced economies has never been higher. For example, since 1950 the number of Americans employed has nearly tripled, rising from about 58 million to nearly 149 million today. During that time the proportion of adults in the civilian workforce rose from 55 percent in 1950 to peak at 65 percent during the dot-com boom in 2000. The ratio has now dropped to 59 percent, but the lower rate is widely understood to reflect the fallout from the Great Recession, Baby Boomer cohort retirements, and younger individuals spending more time in school.

Given this history, why are so many professors, pundits, and politicians worried that this time it's different? That automation, chiefly ever more effective and productive information technologies, will soon produce vast unemployment?

In 2013, the Oxford University futurists Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne warned that 47 percent of all jobs in the U.S. are at risk of being automated over the next 20 years. Sounds frightening—until you consider what percentage of jobs has been automated away in the recent past. Jobs in manufacturing and agriculture, which accounted for 33 percent of American employment in 1950, are now down to 12 percent. The number of U.S. manufacturing jobs peaked at just below 20 million in 1979 and has fallen to under 12 million today. Many went offshore, but many more were automated away.

American coal production has doubled since 1950 while the number of coal miners fell from 483,000 then to 123,000 today. In 1950, about 16 percent of the U.S. labor force was employed in agriculture; that has dropped to below 2 percent today. As late as 1930, nearly 19 million horses and mules were used to plough fields, compared to fewer than 1 million tractors. In 1960, when the U.S. Census stopped collecting data on draft animals, the number had fallen to 3 million animals while the number of tractors had grown to 4.7 million. Meanwhile, farm productivity has tripled.

Despite all these jobs and more lost to automation, U.S. employment continued to steadily rise. Why? Because technological progress is a "great job-creating machine," argue Ian Stewart, Debapratim De, and Alex Cole, three economists at the business consultancy Deloitte. The trio argues that "the current discourse is biased towards the job-destroying effects of technological change due to the relative unpredictability of its creative aspects."

Analyzing technological and employment trends over the past 150 years in the United Kingdom, the three find that while machines have eliminated millions of jobs, they have also conjured into existence many more. Even better, living standards dramatically improved as the technological destruction of old jobs proceeded.

How? First, technology substitutes for labor, thus raising productivity and lowering prices. Since 1950, the percent of British incomes spent on food and clothing has fallen from 35 and 10 percent to 11 and 5 percent, respectively. In addition, the real price of automobiles has been halved. In 1948, a television in the U.S. would have cost the equivalent of $12,000 in today's money. Since then, the price of a TV has since fallen by 98 percent

Second, the sectors that are the sources of innovation expand, boosting the demand for labor. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of people working in computer systems design and related fields rose from 400,000 in 1990 to over 1.5 million in 2011. Similarly, the number of people employed in life sciences (biotechnology, pharmaceuticals) increased from 174,000 in 1990 to 1 million in 2012.

Third, technology improves outcomes in areas such as medicine, leading to increased demand for labor in those areas. Consider that the annual death rate for cardiovascular diseases in the United States has fallen from 805 per 100,000 in 1963 to 236 per 100,000 today. Five-year cancer survival rates have risen from 50 percent in 1970 to 70 percent today. Meanwhile, U.S. health-care employment rose from 2 percent of the workforce in 1950 to 9 percent today—that is, from 1.2 million to 13.4 million workers.

Fourth, technology lowers the cost of production and prices, enabling people to shift their spending to other goods and services, thus boosting demand for labor in those areas. For example, the demand for more personal services has greatly expanded. While the percent of their incomes Americans spent on food fell by nearly half since 1960, the percent of their food budgets spent on restaurants more than doubled from 20 percent to 43 percent. Consequently, the number of eating establishments since 1990 in the U.S. increased from 238,000 to nearly 1 million. Jobs in food service grew from 6.4 million to over 15 million now, nearly doubling as a proportion of the labor force. The number of people working as massage therapists has increased from 128,000 in 1996 to over 300,000, also nearly doubling as a fraction of the workforce. According to the Deloitte economists, since 1950 the percentage of the British workforce employed as barstaff has tripled and the percentage working as hairdressers has doubled.

As the MIT economist David Autor has shown, automation has taken over a lot of the routine physical and intellectual tasks that once were done by middle-income workers. This process has resulted in a more polarized economy, where highly skilled workers in such fields as infotech and biotech are richly rewarded while a greater proportion of the workforce toil at relatively lower-paying service jobs. Will this continue?

Autor doubts it, because he foresees a rising demand for services, involving non-routine tasks in which workers have a comparative advantage over machines—ones requiring interpersonal interaction, flexibility, adaptability, and problem-solving. Work, he argues, is evolving away from assembly-line rigidity and back toward a more pre-industrial paradigm populated by "new artisans." Perhaps more chefs will prepare fine meals in the homes of clients, dramatists devise elaborate virtual environments as entertainment, tailors create one-of-kind bespoke garments. Who the hell knows?

The Deloitte economists agree with Autor: "The work of the future is likely to be varied and have a bigger share of social interaction and empathy, thought, creativity and skill." They add, "The stock of work in the economy is not fixed; the last 200 years demonstrates that when a machine replaces a human, the result, paradoxically, is faster growth and, in time, rising employment." As Harold Bowen, chairman of the National Commission on Technology, Automation, and Economic Progress, observed way back in 1966, "The basic fact is that technology eliminates jobs, not work." That is as true today as it was then.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    But there's no denying that sexbots will put hookers, girlfriends and, yes, even wives out of work in the near future.

  • Hugh Akston||

    And robocops will break down doors to deactivate them for cyberprostitution.

  • See.More||

    And robocops will break down doors to deactivate them for cyberprostitution.

    Only the "male" sexbots. "Female" sexbots will be determined, as artificial beings (toasters w/ simulated vaginas), to be incapable of consent and, therefore, their male "lovers" will be arrested and prosecuted as rapists. Females with "female" sexbots will get a pass as long as robocop gets to watch.

  • Brochettaward||

    Feminists will go into a full uproar with the sexbots and push for their banning. Governments will most definitely ban sexbots that resemble underage humanoids or other species.

    I look forward to the next frontier of kulturkampf.

  • Illocust||

    Can you imagine when they get realistic enough, though. Sure moral scolds will scream and try to ban, but we might essentially eliminate whole fields of crime. Who wants a real child when you can have a never aging perfect type that won't get you thrown in jail and reacts exactly how you want them too. Who needs messy drunken one night stands when you can screw your dream guy/gal and get back to the internet. It's going to be amazing.

  • Zeb||

    Maybe. But isn't half the fun supposed to be giving pleasure to another person? Or does that make me some kind of a wuss?

  • UnCivilServant||

    You're othering the uggos for whom the choice is alone or not at all.

  • Zeb||

    I'm sure sexbots will have their place. Just seems like some people think the only point of sex (for men) is to stick your dick in something vaguely warm and moist.

  • Brochettaward||

    No, but currently people who do think that have to jump through hoops to get it. Those with weird, unacceptable, or violent tastes in particular.

    I really do think we'll see a lot of weird arguments in he next century.

  • Illocust||

    I didn't mean to imply that. I was specify one night stands because I was trying to differentiate between meaningless sex because you want to get laid and other types of sex. I highly doubt sex robots will have an effect on sex within relationships anymore than any other type of sex toy does.

    Also, cest my post wasn't clear, when referring to a never aging child as opposed to a real one, I was speaking about for pedophiles not parents.

  • Zeb||

    Even in the case of an ill-considered one night stand, I think half the fun is that you are actually with another actual person. Even if your sexbot perfectly simulates the sort of things a real person would do, you know it's not. Maybe it's just me. I've never been one to go out with the purpose of just getting laid. I'm one of those much maligned "nice guys".

  • Jerryskids||

    Warm and moist? Woohoo, look at Mr. Picky over here!

  • Brochettaward||

    Stop othering me Zeb!

  • Harold Falcon||

    I suspect virtual reality sex will take prominence over robot whores.

  • Citizen X||

    This is basically the plot of Charles Stross's Rule 34. It also mentions a cannibal club in England who use home cloning kits to grow human steaks from the cells of club members - they all get arrested and then nobody knows what to charge them with. The future is rapidly becoming nuts.

  • Jay Dubya||

    cheap ripoff of transmetropolitan and the movie that David Cronenberg's kid made

  • Win Bear||

    I look forward to the next frontier of kulturkampf.

    That would imply that the Catholic church will end up defending the use of sexbots against government restrictions. I somehow don't see that happening...

    In fact conservative Christians, and foremost the Catholic church, are little different from progressives.

  • DarrenM||

    Right. Until some poor schlub gets electrocuted trying to "use" one.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    It will transfer his sex consciousness into the cyberspace and watch out! Hit 1996 blockbuster movie!

  • Don'tTreadOnMeChipper||

    If they don't leave gobs of hair in the shower I'm in.

  • Illocust||

    It's the problem of human imagination. We base our expectations around the world we live in, we can only imagine so many differences from our world and still fully understand how it would work.
    It'd be like telling someone in the 1500's that someday even the beggars would be able to read. They'd laugh you out of the room, because everyone knows that some people are dumber than others (true), so it's ridiculous to imagine a world where everyone has skills that only the most educated in society possess.

  • MokFarin||

    There is some of that, but you also have the current reality that the entire population could be cared for by less than 10% of said population. We already have enough of a food surplus to feed the entire world without any issue - the reason we don't is political. The same is true for infrastructure installation. And there will come a point, probably in the next century, where robots can repair themselves and humans won't have to work.

    A lot of transition has happened since just the 80s in terms of change. Of the workers in those changed industries, we ask that they somehow change into another profession, because "progress." And each time the people who are purged have to find something close enough to get into at the same level they were kicked from, restart at the bottom in a new industry, or, worse, take on a huge load of debt to retrain for another industry. We have created a huge pool of poverty in the name of progress, and the debt load from these transitions sitting on the shoulders of individuals is simply not sustainable. Even now our collegiate debt is staggeringly massive. Can we as a culture handle that?

    That is where this question should be: A change is happening. What do we need to do - not only as an individual or society but both - to embrace that change without causing a catastrophe of suffering?

  • Sheriff Bart||

    The only thing standing in the way of progress is...the progressive.

  • UnCivilServant||

    involving non-routine tasks in which workers have a comparative advantage over machines—ones requiring interpersonal interaction, flexibility, adaptability, and problem-solving

    These are not skills which most workers demonstrate today. The assembly line was so attractive because it required no thought. Most people don't like to think, and can't be taught to enjoy it.

  • Illocust||

    What the average worker is capable of doing has grown and probably will continue to grow. At some point there will be a cut off on what they can do, but there is no reason to believe this is it.

  • UnCivilServant||

    I have just spent the day dealing with the rank and file bureaucracy. These people can't keep the statuses of three separate projects separate. Sadly, they were also project managers.

  • Illocust||

    But they can read and add two plus two. Imagine telling Huck Finn that that would be so common of a skill as to be taken for granite (sp?).

  • UnCivilServant||

    Citation needed.

    If they were able to comprehend what they 'read' they wouldn't have conflated three separate projects.

  • SusanM||

    You can't take it for granted that just because someone can add they can process abstract information.

  • Illocust||

    Neither can you assume that just because the average modern worker can't do something that a couple generations down the road it won't be common.

  • UnCivilServant||

    And you can't assume that it will be.

  • SusanM||

    I know, I was just correcting your spelling.

    What has to be taken into consideration with automation and technical progress in general is how fast and how radical the changes are. People here joke about "so we should have stopped cars to save the buggywhip people" and all that but the thing is that the transition from horses to autos was so slow that normal attrition cushioned the change. Even until the 50's, cars really weren't that common so established tack producers could still remain profitable while fewer and fewer went into the business.

    I guess the question is would a switch to an automated economy happen too fast to absorb those impacted?

  • Illocust||

    That is a big point that I haven't been able to find an answer for. Even assuming everything goes well, I have no clue what the higher automation economy is going to look like. It's going to have jobs that we haven't thought of yet, and some sectors that are luxuries now are going to be common then. Without knowing what shape it will take its hard to judge how fast it will develop and where people are going to fit into it.

  • SusanM||

    Life finds a way. As a life-long techno-fan I'm looking forward to see where the next 25 years takes us.

  • lafe.long||

    You don't even have to go back very far... I started in the printing industry in the late 1980s.
    I started out shooting 4-color separations on a big-assed horizontal camera, and stripping negatives onto flats. That was replaced by a quarter of a million dollar drum scanner and electronic pre-press... by the time I got out of it (around 10 years later), it was down to a $100 scanner and direct to press, eliminating a bunch of different jobs (camera operators, film developers, film assembly, typesetters, platemakers, scanner operators) within a *very* short time span. I have no idea what my coworkers ended up doing.

  • lafe.long||

    ^^^ this was in reply to:

    I guess the question is would a switch to an automated economy happen too fast to absorb those impacted?
  • fredtyg||

    That's just one of many examples of jobs already lost, and at a quickening pace. It's not hard to think of many others that probably won't be around after some years.

    The author seems to dismiss artificial intelligence which might well take the place of many people working in the tech industry right now. With the combination of robotics and artificial intelligence, I'd say many jobs are at risk. Perhaps most?

    The author points out supposed gains in employment but doesn't seem to consider some of that can be attributed to an increasing population. Most of the increase is jobs in the service sector. Many of those jobs simply won't pay well as there will be too many service sector workers fighting for the same work. And many of those service sector workers will be replaced eventually with both artificial intelligence coupled with robotics.

    I predict this will be a big issue in the years to come. Perhaps not hitting crisis stage in my lifetime (60 years old), but eventually. We're already seeing the start of it.

  • Cytotoxic||

    I love dealing with rank and file bureaucracy all day! When nothing gets done, none of it is my fault. I get paid to bullshit about conversations I had with other people.

  • SusanM||

    Ah, you're in politics.

  • UnCivilServant||

    We got our work done. We were then trying to explain what we did and what's next to be done to the "interested parties".

  • Harold Falcon||

    But in a decade we'll all have brain implants that will keep track of the separate projects for us. No problem.

  • Zeb||

    The assembly line was so attractive because it required no thought. Most people don't like to think, and can't be taught to enjoy it.

    What reason do you have to make this claim? Seems to me that the assembly line was attractive to workers because is was steady employment and to industry because it was efficient. It's not as if it came about because some farm hands and laborers decided one day that life would be better if they could just do the same thing over and over every day.

    I find that I am more often surprised at how smart and interesting people are than at how stupid they are.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Where do you find these smart and interesting people? I keep running into people who manage to dumbfound me with their stupidity.

  • Zeb||

    Maybe I just have a kind and charitable disposition. But I think you can have an interesting conversation on some topic with just about anyone.
    Hard to say. There certainly is a lot of evidence that people are fucking idiots. Maybe i just forget the stupid, dull people that I meet.

  • Procrastinatus||

    "Where do you find these smart and interesting people?"

    Will Rogers once said "Everyone is ignorant on different subjects". I guess being pretty well educated now but coming from a white trash family I see that a lot. People tend to learn most what (they believe) contributes directly to their survival and prosperity, whether that's something like programming or rebuilding starters.

    My big brother is pretty embarrassing on facebook with his typical socon arguments and misspelling everything, but the guy can and has rebuilt engines, transmissions and even cars from the ground up and is a good enough body man to consistently win state wide car shows. It's amazing what he knows off hand about mechanics.

    He's smart, and he lives comfortably even if most would think he's just an ignorant hick. I've got several old friends who are similar and know all kinds of shit about farming or ranching or whatever. There's a lot of smart and interesting people out there if you care to look.

  • retiredfire||

    "I find that I am more often surprised at how smart and interesting people are than at how stupid they are"...until I see the results, after election-day.

  • Paul.||

    Why Are There Any Jobs Still Left?
    Technology eliminates jobs, not work

    Wouldn't it be the opposite, it eliminates work, but not jobs?

    Technology does more "work" for me than ever, but it has also created more jobs than ever.

  • Free Society||

    Right, the amount of work that machines take over frees up human labor and creativity for other "jobs". One thousand years ago, 98% of the population toiled in the dirt just so they and half of their children could survive. Once the agricultural revolution came into being, suddenly we could have more philosophers, playwrights, jurists, philanthropy, doctors, architects et cetera.

  • Brochettaward||

    People are ignorant of history. Even recent history. I've had leftists argue that having more 'local' food production would be good for the economy and empowering. Organic food production is a job creator!

  • Mr. Flanders||

    I had someone tell me that we should transition to having only local food and farmers markets.

    I asked him: Is having a more varied diet healthier for you than having a limited diet?

    Then I asked him: How many different things do you think can be grown in this particular location?

    I'd rather be healthy. I'd also rather my fellow neighbors and friends be healthy. I'd also not like half of the population to die of starvation.

  • Citizen X||

    No way, dude. Eating nothing but pickled cabbage, old potatoes, and salted pork all winter rocks.

  • Akira||

    "I had someone tell me that we should transition to having only local food and farmers markets."

    Do they ever think that maybe, just maybe, the jungle of regulations on food production is somewhat of a hindrance to small-scale, family-owned agriculture operations?

  • Free Society||

    You sound like a crazy person. Actions have consequences? Get out of here.

  • Brochettaward||

    You just haven't had the wonders of food gardens and horticulture explained to you yet. I mean, if it weren't for big agriculture suppressing this knowledge, we would totally have a more sustainable and profitable food production system by now...

    So the argument I've heard goes. These people don't care about reality or evidence. They really think they have the wonder solution and that they can get better yields, have more food variety, and do it with less energy than industrial agriculture. Which begs the question of why no one is doing it. They don't understand markets or economics so they resort to conspiracy theories.

  • Zeb||

    Yeah. I grow a vegetable garden every year. It would take a fuck load of time and work to grow anything close to what I'd need for the year.

    But no, it's only because of Monsanto that farmers have specialized. Or something.

  • Mr. Flanders||

    I've never had any of these people say they want a more "profitable" food production system. In my experience, they usually associate profits with evil. But, yes, I agree. Most of these types of people end up saying some variation of "big business is suppressing these ideas from the masses!"

    At that point, its impossible to argue with because you know you're truly confronting what the person believes to be a logical tautology. To them, its true because its true. No evidence needed.

  • Zeb||

    Which is funny since farm workers get paid fuck-all.

    I think more local food production is great. But for purely aesthetic/taste reasons.

  • Mr. Flanders||

    Its ironic that in my daily interactions I find that the philosophers tend to hate technological progress the most.

  • Free Society||

    Probably because most philosophers are squishy little sophists and court intellectuals, thanks to our government polluted academic system.

  • LarryA||

    Philosophers live in a world of what ought to be. Whether something actually physically works, or not, is irrelevant to them.

  • Not a Libertarian||

    Although I believe that these dislocations will sort themselves out over time, to be the "Luddite" advocate, what if the rise of automation comes more quickly than in previous labor shifts?

    Today's bus driver, factor worker or sales clerk is not necessarily going to be tomorrow's philosopher, playwright or architect.

    How does society deal with a generation of millions not only unemployed but unemployable workers?

  • Free Society||

    Let necessity drive them to employability.

  • LarryA||

    People can, and often do, switch careers. Hence the rise of middle-aged or elderly "nontraditional" college students.

    Learn something every day.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Correct.

  • Zeb||

    I think it means that it eliminates particular jobs. Which is true. The people who might have held those jobs still work for the most part.

  • Rhywun||

    STEVE SMITH EMPLOY SUCKSMITH LONG AGO, WHAT HAPPENED NOT TELL

  • Brochettaward||

    I have to confess - I don't know who the hell people are referring to with the Steve Smith jokes. Steve Smith, the NFL WR?

  • STEVE SMITH||

    COME WITH STEVE ON WALK. GET KNOW STEVE BETTER.

  • ||

  • SugarFree||

    Ah, man. I really miss Art-P.O.G.

  • Citizen X||

    Hahaha holy shit. I forgot that Warty tried to pin the STEVE SMITH RAPE meme on me when he was the one who created it.

    Those were such innocent times.

  • AlmightyJB||

    This might help. Ongoing meme about steve smith liking to rape hikers been going on for years

    http://reason.com/blog/2010/05.....d-the-stev

  • Microaggressor||

    As long as there are unmet human wants or needs, there will be jobs to meet them.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    APOCALYPSE PORN

    Here’s the thing: It wasn’t just weird. It’s not just “an unusually hot and dry season.” You can feel it in your very cells: this is all part of a increasingly vicious, mean-ass vortex of accelerating evidence that the planet and all its animals – of which we are merely one – are under a potentially fatal stress like no other time in modern history.

    ---------

    The very tone and timbre of life is changing. The air is shifting, the light. As ecosystems collapse, as animals either hatch in bizarre megaswarms or vanish completely, as forests whither and thin out, the planet’s increasingly palpable failure to hold itself in some kind of equilibrium is going to creep into your very spine, shake your dreams. Don’t believe it? Just wait.

    ---------

    This is what we have yet to realize: it’s not just about preparing for more severe weather. It’s far more about what’s about to happen to the experience of life itself, how we navigate our terrifically spoiled, entitled daily lives and with what newfound combination of panic and kindness – all amplified, to a rather terrifying degree, by the realization that the more we refuse to change our gluttonous ways, the more nature is going to step in and change them for us.


    We're all gonna die!

  • Rhywun||

    For once, I agree that we need common-sense gun control laws in order to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally unbalanced.

  • UnCivilServant||

    What diagnostic criteria are to be used to differentiate the harmless crazy from the violent crazy? How do you propose to prevent abuse of the system?

  • Rhywun||

    *whoosh*

  • ||

    How about keyboard control instead?

  • Rhywun||

    A keyboard is just a gateway weapon.

  • ||

    I tried to read some of that but it is so fact free and overladen with emotional appeal I could barely keep from gagging.

  • Dr. Fronkensteen||

    Valar Morghulis

  • Jerryskids||

    the more we refuse to change our gluttonous ways, the more nature is going to step in and change them for us.

    So what's the problem? You're concerned that people are 'gluttonous' and if they don't voluntarily stop being gluttons they're going to be forced to stop being gluttons - so therefore they should voluntarily stop being gluttons? I'm going to whack you in the head with this stick unless you agree to let me whack you in the head with this stick. How does that make any less sense?

  • MJGreen - Docile Citizen||

    SCIENCE!

  • AlmightyJB||

    Oh I think sucksmiths are still around.

  • AlmightyJB||

    As are the saddlers

  • Rich||

    Indeed.

    But, do you know what a *real* sucksmith did?

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    We call them progressives now. Don't be so insensitive!

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Steve Smith, the NFL WR?


    STEVE SMITH NO CATCH.
    STEVE SMITH STRICTLY PITCHER.

  • ||

    I larfed.

  • onebornfree||

    "Given this history, why are so many professors, pundits, and politicians worried that this time it's different? That automation, chiefly ever more effective and productive information technologies, will soon produce vast unemployment?"

    Why? Because :

    1] They are idiots/dunderheads.

    2] Because they all want to run _your_ life , according to their [imagined] superior knowledge.

    See: "Do You Suffer From "Dictator Syndrome"? [Join the Club!] ":
    http://onebornfree-mythbusters.....drome.html

    Regards, onebornfree
    onebornfreeatyahoodotcom

  • DavidKMagnus||

    We'll all be anguille borkners in a few years...

  • Akira||

    A dedicated progressive I know told me that there should be a "tax" on automation that would then be paid out to workers who were "displaced" by said automation. He said that this is necessary to prevent "all of the wealth going to 1 percent of the population".

    It's kind of scary that socialism seems to be their goal, and that they'll use any excuse to justify it.

  • ||

    So we tax the UAW to pay the saddlers, wagoneers and buggy whip manufacturers?

    Sounds good.

  • Almanian - Trump's Woodchipper||

    *gazes out over the ~400 Skilled Trades we have to keep all our automation running, and the engineers who design it, and the companies that build the equipment....*

    Yeah, fuck - how does ANYONE have a job any more? ESPECIALLY in manufacturing??!!

  • Almanian - Trump's Woodchipper||

    PS I've personally overseen the hiring of ~800 people at my plant in the three years I've been here. We're not at about 2500 total population.

    And we're not done.

    Everything we have is made using some sort of automation and assembly equipment. People are there to make sure the machines continue to work, and we keep them fed with parts to make.

    But there are no jobs in manufacturing. And all the people we've "displaced" as we keep putting in new machines....the humanity....

    Stupid motherfuckers. I hate people more and more every day. Every. Day.

  • Zeb||

    Maybe someday the automation will install, repair and run itself. But we are very far from that. Automation creates lots of jobs directly. It also creates wealth, which means people can do new things. So much of this kind of idiocy is based on the obviously wrong assumption that everything is static.
    Automation is what will allow good paying manufacturing jobs still to exist in places like the US and Europe and Japan.

  • BearOdinson||

    +1 Von Neumann machines

  • Xiver||

    I hate people more and more every day. Every. Day.

    Is that why you keep replacing them with 'automation'? /jk

  • Almanian - Trump's Woodchipper||

    Well played, Xiver - well played....

    *finishes gin and tonic, whips orphan slave for not having another ready*

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Come on, Almanian- think how much better everything would be if exhaust manifolds were all sand cast by hand, or tap-tap-tapped out by blacksmiths working under a tree.
    Your insensitivity to the glorious traditions of the craft guilds sickens me.

  • Almanian - Trump's Woodchipper||

    I closed a casting plant in 2010. What a fucking environment - like hell, every day. Fire and molten steel and sparks and casting sand and dark and loud and dangerous as FUCK....

    ...it was SO cool : ) If you're a manufacturing guy, you live for places like that. But, yeah - all that shit we get from Mexico, China now. The good money's in machining, finishing and assembling, so that's what we do.

    Then after we closed it, I got to watch for a year and a half while we demolished the place. There was so much scrap steel from the demo that we MADE MONEY tearing the place down. It was fucking cool - what an experience! Not that I ever want to close another plant...launches are much more fun.

  • Edwin||

    // If you're a manufacturing guy, you live for places like that.

    As a soon-to-be machinist, and lifelong total-nerd, but the kind that isn't a pussy, I can confirm this.

  • mtrueman||

    ""The stock of work in the economy is not fixed; the last 200 years demonstrates that when a machine replaces a human, the result, paradoxically, is faster growth and, in time, rising employment."

    The more automation, the more work? And this is a good thing? The America of Tom Sawyer valued slacking off and avoiding work. Seems that modern day Puritans have won the day. Not surprisingly, Libertarians side once again with the Puritans and those who are little concerned with the loss of autonomy and independence that comes along on technology's coat tails. Same goes with the intensified bureaucracy and hierarchy that technology brings.

  • Zeb||

    If you can find a way to slack off and avoid work without forcing anyone else to support you, go for it. And good for you.

    Many people actually like being busy and productive, though.

  • mtrueman||

    "Many people actually like being busy and productive, though."

    If you are going to go Puritan on us, you can do better than that. You could tell us that being busy and productive is the way to glorify god and besides it's good for your soul.

  • ||

    Actually, he's saying you can do whatever you want - he doesn't care.

  • Gozer the Gozerian||

    Actually, he's saying you can do whatever you want - he doesn't care.

    I do, however: I hope (vainly) that mtrueman finds something more productive to do.

  • mtrueman||

    "I hope (vainly) that mtrueman finds something more productive to do."

    And the Puritans just keep on coming.

  • Zeb||

    And that too. I was being serious in the first paragraph.

  • mtrueman||

    "Actually, he's saying you can do whatever you want - he doesn't care."

    I understand. Very tolerant, very admirable. If he wants to hone his Puritanism though, he should try to copy Gozer the Gozerian.

  • Zeb||

    I could, but I'd be lying.

  • Krieger's Waifu||

    Says the guy who uses the internet.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Not surprisingly, Libertarians side once again with the Puritans and those who are little concerned with the loss of autonomy and independence that comes along on technology's coat tails


    Innovative efficiency gains are bad.
    Whatever.
    Nobody is trying to keep you from growing your own tomatoes.

  • mtrueman||

    "Innovative efficiency gains are bad."

    Less autonomy and more bureaucracy are good.
    Whatever.

  • Not a Libertarian||

    Have you ever felt the urge to gambol?

  • bluecanarybythelightswitch||

    I did so in the wabe. Twas brilig.

  • Gozer the Gozerian||

    +1 vorpal sword

  • mtrueman||

    "Have you ever felt the urge to gambol?"

    Who hasn't? But as a good Libertarian I put those unwholesome work interfering urges aside.

  • Brian||

    I can think of no one more independent than an Irish potato farmer.

  • ||

    I recently finished reading John Fremont's narrative of his explorations of the American west in 1842-43. He observes with pity that the natives living west of the Rockies spent absolutely all of their time and energy scouring the landscape for enough food to fend off starvation, often failing.

    Now *that's* independence!

  • Almanian - Trump's Woodchipper||

    Whyte Injun approves

    Is he not free to gambol???

    *looks off wistfully*

  • mtrueman||

    "I can think of no one more independent than an Irish potato farmer"

    Finding yourself a nice landlord is the first step to Libertarian independence.

  • maryrivera878||

    Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do...... ✹✹✹✹✹✹ www.Wage-Report.com

  • toolkien||

    But a HUGE chunk lf "work" as we now know it comes in the form of health care, social work, engorged institutions of "higher" education or other "service" type jobs. And very many of these people are the ones with idle time on their hands, or should I say idol time on their hands? People whose "work" is to craft peoples' behaviors and programming. Not enough real jobs that use mental and physical labor to make greater from lesser.

  • toolkien||

    I guess I forgot to complete my thought, that all these "thinky" jobs preserve their place in the hierarchy from forbidding these real jobs through public policy.

  • Cloudbuster||

    We currently have the lowest labor force participation in decades -- possibly in human history, as it wasn't too long ago that the concept of "labor force participation was alien." There were, roughly four choices: you worked, you were your society's equivalent of a lord, you starved, or one of the lords or workers provided for you (children, the elderly).

    More interesting, the labor force participation rate is astoundingly low, but everything is more or less humming along fine, except that those of us participating are often not thrilled with supporting the anonymous legions who are not participating. We're doing it anyway, through vast wealth transfers in all modern Western welfare states.

    There are entire African nations that are essentially giant masses of economic non-participants, living on decade after decade of foreign aid.

    None of those non-participants is strictly necessary to the machinery. Few of them have any hope of becoming participants.

    The optimism of this article is nice, but I counter it with Stein's Law: "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop."

    Why would I think that, globally, the number of economic participants is poised to rise?

    I can see it happening locally, in some places. Places that are such economic, cultural and political backwaters that simply getting their shit together and stopping killing each other would totally change the economic landscape.

    ...

  • Cloudbuster||

    We are not living in a world with a smooth progression from earlier times that speaks of an unending growth in job opportunities.
    But when, here, at the very top societies in the West, we have growing permanent non-participant classes, and we've gotten so good at getting along without their help, what sorts of innovations will be providing meaningful work for those people? Exactly what will all those inner-city gangbangers do for a living? Certainly something could arise: realistic terraforming of suitable planets and moons in the solar system. Something game-breaking like that.

    What does it even mean to compare unemployment rates post 1913 to those pre-1913?

    What, exactly, did it mean to be an unemployed person in the 19th century? It was a far different thing than to be unemployed in the 19th century, and before the government realized it could make so much money and peddle so much influence by taxing and tracking us to death, the government had no idea how most individuals were living their lives.

    ...

  • Cloudbuster||

    What we are living in is a world in the midst of a series of world-transforming technological events over the past 200 years that are unlike anything in history before them.

    It's completely new ground.

    I see the great underclass in my day-to-day life, both the rural and urban varieties. Maybe more than most people here. The world is leaving them behind.

    Ironically, here in Appalachia, many of the middle class jobs depend on providing services to the vast underemployed underclass. I'm pretty sure that's a growth industry, but it's an entire industry of middle men, shaving their pay off the transfer of wealth from the rich to the hopeless poor.

  • Almanian - Trump's Woodchipper||

    cool story, bro

  • Napoleon Bonaparte||

    Well, at least one libertarian agrees with him.

  • DarrenM||

    I don't think it's technological advance so much as the speed of that advance that is the real issue. The faster it is, the harder it is for workers to adapt to the necessary new work skills. This would probably be even more of an issue in underdeveloped countries since advancement just means copying what more developed countries do, which takes much less time than having to figure it all out for yourself.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    You have nothing to lose but your sabots.

  • Almanian - Trump's Woodchipper||

    Sabots

    Interesting

  • Not a Libertarian||

  • Don'tTreadOnMeChipper||

    What if what we needed was produced more inexpensively by machines? What if fewer people had to 'work' or worked fewer days a week or 'retired' earlier? Is this a bad thing? Am I a judge?

  • John Galt||

    You're "a judge"?

    The judge who operates Mr. Bonestripper out of his courtroom?

  • John Galt||

    "Why Are There Any Jobs Still Left?"

    In my county, city, county and federal employees account for over 60% of the workforce.

  • Chip Woodier||

    The major issue is that there is no realistic barrier for robots to completely dominate the service industry. That's never been remotely possible. Now it seems almost inevitable.

  • buybuydandavis||

    Lots of horses used to be employed in productive work in the US. You have about the same number now, but the vast majority are basically pets.

    People have had a competitive advantage because they were smarter than machines. When they're not, where is their competitive advantage?

    Emotions? Computers will be able to play us like fiddles with supraphysiological emotional feedback.

    When your only possible job is as a pet, and people have better and more satisfying pets to play with, what job do you think you'll be getting?

  • Christophe||

    One of the heuristics you could use is look at time-consuming pastimes, things that people enjoy doing, and that generate some value for others, but aren't sufficient to support someone.

    As the cost of living drops, some of these occupations are going to become viable careers.

    All of science, for a very long time, was something either the independently wealthy did in their free time, or pursued on the side by people with well paying day jobs. This was also true of a lot of the humanities.

    Professional sports players used to have a second job to make ends meet.

    Nowadays, some people can make a living off of selling crafts on Etsy, blogging, or playing video games. 20 years ago we'd have laughed at anyone suggesting these would be jobs.

  • Sevo||

    "Nowadays, some people can make a living off of selling crafts on Etsy, blogging, or playing video games. 20 years ago we'd have laughed at anyone suggesting these would be jobs."

    We are an extremely wealthy nation, regardless of the left's efforts. Our food is supplied dirt cheap (if you will) regardless of Alice Waters' statements that the poor should have to pay more. And in spite of Bernie Sanders' hopes, we have 23 varieties of tooth paste available for cheap.
    That wealth, from innovators, allows us to pay for frivolities that, in years past, would seem somewhat 'immoral'; those who see those opportunities find a way to make a living.
    And I'm not gonna gripe.

  • ant1sthenes||

    There are currently lots of people out of work. If technology was going to save them, it would have done so.

  • Sevo||

    "Why Are There Any Jobs Still Left?"

    Obo's not finished yet.
    (Am I late?)

  • Jonathon||

    Jobs? Who needs a job?
    In the past individual needs and wants were acquired as a result of the value the individual presented to his/her employer and/or the value the individual presented to his/her family, friends, neighbors, or other charitable sources. Today, politicians/political parties, have found that elections can more easily be won by defining many wants to be needs and all needs to be entitlements.

  • PaulW||

    The ratio has now dropped to 59 percent, but the lower rate is widely understood to reflect the fallout from the Great Recession, Baby Boomer cohort retirements, and younger individuals spending more time in school that the entitlement and welfare state has ballooned to the point that you can live a comfortable life on the government dole and never have to get up at 5am to go to work.

    FTFY

  • aida567||

    Start making cash right now... Get more time with your family by doing jobs that only require for you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home. Start bringing up to $8596 a month. I've started this job and I've never been happier and now I am sharing it with you, so you can try it too. You can check it out here...
    www.onlinejobs100.com

  • aida567||

    Start making cash right now... Get more time with your family by doing jobs that only require for you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home. Start bringing up to $8596 a month. I've started this job and I've never been happier and now I am sharing it with you, so you can try it too. You can check it out here...
    www.onlinejobs100.com

  • gordo53||

    In the past, automation has largely been a replacement for human labor. What is coming and soon is a replacement for human thought and that replacement will be "cheaper, better, faster" than humans at their best. That is, or should be the cause for concern.

  • Chip the Chipper||

    The next huge frontier for automation and machines is construction especially for residential construction. There is already 3D printing for houses and a brick laying robot. More robots and automation in construction could lead to much more affordable housing for all. That is, until zoning boards, elites, and progressives kill it with their fucking nonsense.

  • marya896||

    Start making cash right now... Get more time with your family by doing jobs that only require for you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home. Start bringing up to $8596 a month. I've started this job and I've never been happier and now I am sharing it with you, so you can try it too. You can check it out here...
    www.onlinejobs100.com

  • Duelles||

    So all the leftists idiots that wish to go back to 1950 when the highest tax rates were over 90% and everyone felt good about our economy might also wish for a healthcare industry with only 2% of the population keeping us healthy rather that the 9% of today. . . And why not return to only a 50% survival rate for cancer. That would create more openings for middleclass workers, no?

  • Dr. Faustus||

    This analogy is deeply flawed.

    Artificial intelligence ("AI") is nothing like the steam engine, or the cotton gin. AI will transition into something more akin to a slave economy - just not in the moral sense of the term. Prior to its fall, Rome possessed a vast number of slaves which displaced thousands of domestic workers. AI will be more like that.

    It seems we're all laboring under the impression that AI will be a specialized thing able to do one repetitive task well, like a machine. But that's not the true power of AI. True artificial intelligence will be able to do a multitude of unrelated tasks at the same time, near flawlessly. It will be able to balance accounts, cook, order from amazon, and drive the car all at once - forever. It will prioritize and re-prioritize tasks on the fly, and with little human input.

    Yes, there will be human "work." But this idea of returning to a merchant-artisan like economy will bring the same issues those economies faced centuries ago. Human work will likely entail doing tasks that machines and software can not yet do or tasks that would entail to robot (i.e capital) losses. But how long will that last? Certainly there will be people who prefer contact with other people, but enough to keep employment at 5.5%?

    The solution to this, which magazines like "Reason" are unlikely to endorse, is a shift in attitudes about work, ownership, and production. We are on the cusp of something profound and a real "age of plenty." But for whom?

  • Herpes Trismegistus||

    All of this fearful blather over the supremacy of machines omits one ultimately salient truth: our "robot overlords" will have to be designed, programed and engineered by the very same humans who are too incompetent to survive in the first place.

    It's incredibly arrogant of the same sweaty meatbags who shit out Chrysler K-cars, devours McDonald's and can't even take a piss on the moon will create a supreme intelligence that will see through our bullshit and do the universe a favor and snuff us out.

    Half of the fucking robots will jerk-off machines, food dispensers, and scanners anyway. Instead of being hunted down by self replicating terminators we will be beaten to death in the streets with vibrating rubber penises, pelted with cans of tofu soda, blinded by rogue barcode readers and crushed in the self-lubricating cybernetic maw of an automated twat.

    Luckily, we'll have blown the place to Hell waaaaaay before any of that shit happens.

  • gordo53||

    Actually, intelligent machines will soon be designing and programming new machines. Any and all activities based on discreet logic will be the bastion of intelligent machines. What will be left for humans is anybody's guess.

  • Herpes Trismegistus||

    You don't know what any of that means, do you? Were you beaten with the collected works of Philip K. Dick as a child?

    Logic gates aren't new or exotic and the current concept of an "intelligent machine" is already being blurred if not rendered obsolete by wetware and DNA computing.

    Self replication is still in its infancy. Fifty some years of robotics has given us machines suited to repetitive tasks and even fully autonomous robots haven't exactly been exciting much less scary.

    In fact the scariest thing a robot has done was put unskilled laborers out of work, which has national security implications as disenfranchised hungry people tend to get testy and make violent demands of society.

    All I was saying is that people will tear everything down well before "our robot overlords" even realize we're a virus with shoes (apologies to Bill Hicks).

  • gordo53||

    For the record, Phil passed away the same year I received my degree in computer science. I spent better than 20 years as a software developer. I am not in the camp predicting a "robot apocalypse", but rather one who has first hand witnessed the tremendous rate of progress in the IT industry. If that rate continues, intelligent automation will surpass human capability in all but a few endeavors within the next 20 years. Getting computers to develop software is not all that complicated. Program code is almost never created from scratch, but rather is a collection of existing routines organized in a way that addresses the application requirement. This sort of activity is well within the reach of today's machines. Given the high personnel costs in the IT industry, you can't help but think it's coming and soon. Society will adapt to the coming changes, but we will need to rethink how we value and compensate human work, among other equally pressing issues.

  • Cloudbuster||

    And LeShawn in the 'hood and Bubba in a poor rural backwater are going to be learning to do AI programming when they can't even do LUA or Ajax today? Tell me another story.

  • rebecca584||

    Start making cash right now... Get more time with your family by doing jobs that only require for you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home. Start bringing up to $8596 a month. I've started this job and I've never been happier and now I am sharing it with you, so you can try it too. You can check it out here...
    www.jobnet10.com

  • Edwin||

    am I the only one who's annoyed that that one dude's name is "Autor", so damned close to "author"?

  • Stephen54321||

    Autor...foresees a rising demand for services, involving non-routine tasks in which workers have a comparative advantage over machines—ones requiring interpersonal interaction, flexibility, adaptability, and problem-solving.

    That's the rose coloured view. It really only applies as long as machines don't have intelligence coimparable to a human being's. If that ever happens then a more likely reality will be that, over the longer term, there will be not one job a human being does which a machine with such an intelligence cannot also do. If that happens, then the question which will arise is whether the comparable advantages machines will have will outweigh those of a human For example machines won't need to be paid, or take time off (in fact there is nothing to stop their employers putting them to work 24/7), need expensive child care facilities, or go off to work for some other firm taking their skills (and the company's secrets) with them.

    One further point. Not every human is great at such skills as "interpersonal interaction, flexibility, adaptability, and problem-solving". What happens to those who aren't good at any of those?

  • Ryius||

    When I commented last about jobs going away, I was referring to lower to middle class careers. We are talking about financial analysis, human resources, educational workers, restaurant service workers, grocery store attendants, accountants, etc. I believe the government will try to offset this by "creating" jobs to perform menial tasks. The government, who should be working to automate, will find itself creating industries (like the "green" industries) in order to stay in power: to gain votes. Essentially, those not lucky enough to get these jobs, will receive "mincome" checks to live their daily. Eugenics will probably take hold again as a way of limiting less motivated people from creating large families. If you think this is nuts, check out how Sweden is reintroducing eugenics laws.

  • kristin567||

    Start making cash right now... Get more time with your family by doing jobs that only require for you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home. Start bringing up to $8596 a month. I've started this job and I've never been happier and now I am sharing it with you, so you can try it too. You can check it out here...
    www.jobnet10.com

  • lfstevens||

    The loss of those manufacturing jobs left whole regions in despair. They weren't replace by higher-paying jobs, but by lower-paying ones or none at all. The #1 job category for American males is now driver, which is about to go the way of the worker-operated assembly line. Will we turn truckers into nurses? Artisans? Seriously?

  • vincentblack133||

    I think that the level of development of our society doesn’t correspond to the level of development of technique. Unfortunately we are not ready to have a system where people just get money without any work done. However with every year we have more and more work done by robots and automation. People are becoming less necessary in the production and other spheres of services. That is why today we get a bad consequences of such development, when people have to deal with best online payday loan company UK for monetary support, as there is no appropriate work.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online