Posted 6 months ago on June 6, 2013, 9:01 p.m. EST by LeoYo
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After Your Job Is Gone
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Jon Evans is a novelist, journalist, and software engineer. His novels have been published around the world, translated into several languages, and praised by The Times, The Economist, and the Washington Post. His journalism has appeared in Wired, Reader’s Digest, The Guardian, The Globe & Mail, and The Times of India, and he writes a weekly column for TechCrunch.... → Learn More
Saturday, June 1st, 2013
Do you have a job? Do you like having a job? Then I have some bad news for you. The Guardian is worried “today’s technologies are going to remove people from economic activity completely.” Techonomy says “America’s real worker crisis is not immigration, it is jobs.” Om Malik asks: “People talk about robot-helpers and an army of drones, but…what is going to happen to millions of people who will be replaced by those drones and robots?”
Wrong tense: the right question is what is happening. Henry Blodget points out “Fewer Americans are working than at any time in the past three decades.” The New York Times observes “The jobless rate remains far higher than it typically would be this far into a recovery,” quoting a factory owner: “Because it is automated, we won’t have to add a lot of employees with the upturn in the construction industry.” It’s the same around the world. Western manufacturing jobs used to go to Chinese workers; now they’re increasingly going to Chinese robots, such as the million new robots that Foxconn is deploying. Think you’re safe because you don’t work in a factory? Guess again. “In a move that could put millions of teenagers around the world out of their first job, Momentum Machines is creating a hamburger-making machine that churns out made-to-order burgers,” reports Gizmag. A Cornell robot can learn how and when to pour you a beer. Well, never mind food service, how about social services? …Oh. Other robots have been shown “wiping the mouth of a disabled man and adjusting a blanket.”
Retail? Forget about it. Derek Thompson writes in The Atlantic:
Retail now employs fewer people than it did in 1999. And those people work significantly fewer hours, too … Walmart, of course, isn’t the biggest threat facing retail workers anymore. That would be the inexorable growth of e‑commerce … There is a worse scenario, in which the squeeze in retail work intensifies competition for other low-skill jobs, pushing down wages at the bottom and pushing some people out of the labor force entirely. This possibility should not be dismissed too readily.
Even lawyers, financiers, and surgeons aren’t safe. The Economist observes “Intelligent machines have reached a new social frontier: knowledge workers are now in the eye of the storm … teachers, researchers and writers are next.” And in the City of London, arguably the world’s primary nexus of finance, “analysts expect [banking] job losses to keep on coming, as technology replaces jobs that people once did.”
Oh, you work in tech? Oh, well, that’s different. For now. But never forget that you’re part of a fortunate minority: “Not so much anti-union as post-union, the tech elite has avoided issues with labor by having so few laborers who could be organized.” Meanwhile, Paul Krugman warns that “We are indeed creating a permanent class of jobless Americans.”
It’s like the global economy has forked into two tracks: tech, which boomed right through the Great Recession, and just keeps booming on, and nobody can hire enough engineers…and everyone else. It’s happening right in the heart of Silicon Valley. Colleen Taylor wrote a great piece entitled “The Other Silicon Valley,” which highlights homelessness and wealth disparity in the Valley. It in turn links to an AP piece which declares: “Simply put, while the ultra-rich are getting richer, record numbers of Silicon Valley residents are slipping into poverty.” In related news, The Atlantic notes: “Increasingly, there seem to be two kinds of stores—those in a race to the price bottom, and those closely guarding the patina of a shopping experience.”
It’s always hard to say whether economic changes are cyclical or structural, but I think it’s fair to say that there’s a slowly accumulating consensus that technology is now destroying jobs faster than it’s creating them, and that the resulting two-track economy is here to stay…and growing steadily more disparate.