Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Imagine There's No Jobs

The other day, a study was published which said that machines would take over 6% of US jobs by the year 2021. Personally, I think that's understating things, but who knows? Anyways, this raises an issue that I've been tossing around inside my head for quite some time. What happens when there are no jobs because everything can be done by machines?

From the dawn of time until the present, man has had a love-hate relationship with technology. Technology makes life better. It lets us do things faster, easier and cheaper. It extends lives and makes us healthier. It makes us richer. But at the same time, technology causes problems too. In particular, it makes things obsolete and it wipes out jobs and the need for skills that make people necessary.

To give an example, we all know that the buggy whip industry died when cars became the norm and horses vanished from the streets. But do you realize that the word processor killed the typing pool and most secretaries? The robot arm killed the autoworker. The kiosk is now killing the waitress and the store clerk.

Some day, we are going to reach a point where there is no reason to have jobs anymore. Products will be made by machines, services provided by robots. They will probably even maintain themselves. The only things left for humans to do at that point will be arts and science pretty much. So what happens then? Well, let me ask some more specific questions:
1. What do we do about people for whom there simply are no jobs? How do they get the things they need?

2. Will money still matter? If it doesn't, what happens to the money people have? Without money, how do we buy things like land? And if it does, how do you earn it?

3. Assuming there is no money, how do people get their wants satisfied rather than just their needs? If I want a bigger car, how do I get it? Can I just have one or will there be rationing? And if there is rationing, is there a way for me to earn more or will I be SOL?

4. How do we motivate people to do the handful of jobs remaining? Artists... got it. That's desire. But science? Math? Teaching? What if for some freaky reason only a human can take out the garbage? How do we pay those people?

5. What will politicians promise?
This makes the head spin. Even more interesting, perhaps, what do we do as we approach that point but aren't quite there yet? What do we do when 50% or 70% of the public has no job, but the remaining jobs are critical.

The future could be a lot of trouble. Any thoughts?


EPorvaznik said...

Down with Eric Byrnes' lobbying for Robo-umps on the plate -- blue livelihood matters!!!

Critch said...

My neighbor next to my seed tick ranch has a robot in his $250,000.00 tractor that never takes a break or is ever late for work. It plows his fields perfectly, it builds the dikes for the rice paddies and the company that built it has a lifetime guarantee on it. He told me that he needs 20 fewer workers than what he did 10 years ago. So far they haven't adapted a robot to harvesting rice, it's coming. When I was outstationed at the local votech schools back in the mid and late 90s I told my students everyday, you need to have a hard skill,,,being able to work on robots, work with metal and build things are going to be the jobs in the future...those robots have to be built, designed and maintained,,that's where the money is.

Koshcat said...

Overall, I feel that we will take care of tomorrow's problems tomorrow. If we tried to do anything today, we are more likely to guess wrong. It is why we should promote solid education focusing on the classic 3 R's and not reduce, recycle, and reuse.

Money has been around for millennias so I don't see it going away. It may look different but it is still the most effective go-between for bartering.

tryanmax said...

Solving a problem is the definition of a job. If you aren't solving a problem--for yourself or someone else--you don't have a job. If you're getting paid to not solve problems, you're probably in management. 😉

So, if automation is only going to cause more problems, it follows that automation will only create more jobs. I suppose the real question is who will be ready and willing to fill those jobs?

AndrewPrice said...

Eric, Instant reply will slowly replace all referees sadly.

AndrewPrice said...

Critch, Labor jobs are definitely vanishing fast. Other jobs will follow. I had serious doubts that people would be willing to lose the personal contact of waiters, but the kiosks and those order things at tables in some restaurants are proving that wrong.

In terms of your neighbor's farm, that is impressive! I recall recently a demonstration of a Japanese robot that even picked fruit from trees. It's all coming and people need to know how to adjust to it.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, I agree about solving tomorrow's problems tomorrow, but this one is coming.

On money, let me offer this: the value of money derives from the stored labor people have offered. If we reach a point that labor no longer has value because it's all done by machine, then money may not have any value anymore either because there's nothing you can do to earn it. I suppose you could have a world were everybody just gets some amount each year to use and then the economy is based on that, but I'm not sure... kind of an allowance system.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, It's possible that scarcity of resources will keep this from ever happening, but we will still be facing a world where most people have no prospect of employment. It's going to be an interesting world.

BevfromNYC said...

What will we become? One word...Eloi. H.G. Wells was right.

Not only are robots replacing factory workers, but, with the invention of 3D printers, we are actually replacing factories. We have already replaced brick & mortor stores with virtually stores.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Yep. For you are tasty and go well with ketchup. Sad future.

AndrewPrice said...

BTW, you are right. 3d printing will soon eliminate most factories. Online stores will wipe out brick and mortar stores. Kioski will make fast food a person-free zone. These things we know. The rest we don't yet.

Anthony said...

1. They better acquire whatever skill sets are in demand.

2. Money always matters. No matter the means of production, costs are never going to be zero. Look at your examples. Cars wiped out horses and made travel a lot faster and cheaper, but it didn't make it free.

3. See 2.

4. There are people in almost all walks of life that love their work. I doubt motivation will become a problem, though going back to point one motivation might be a problem for people who find themselves forced out of the job they wanted into the job that was available.

5. Politicians will blame immigrants and free trade and promise to restrict both.

AndrewPrice said...

OT: I find it amazing that a black man is shot by a black cop in a city with a black police chief and yet the usual suspects scream racism.

"You keep use that word... I don't think it means what you think it means."

AndrewPrice said...


On point one, I think the real problem will be that we may reach a point where there simply isn't enough demand for labor. If machines can do anything except truly creative work, that wipes out most jobs. Even if everyone was retrained to do a job that was still needed, I don't see the demand for that number of engineers or artists.

On money, I suspect there will always be some form of trade/barter/money. The problem is going to be how people can get it if there's no real way to earn it.

On motivation, there will always be some people but I doubt love of job would be enough. In fact, I suspect they'll be looking at a pretty stagnant society if the profit motive vanishes.

Koshcat said...

I am more concerned about the shrinking work force with unfunded entitlements. That is going to get us into trouble far earlier than robot. The good news is we will become the slave/sweat shops for someone else.

I am not worried about your scenario. In much of the world, their farming and manufacturing technology is still pre-WWII. Those are the places with exploding population, i.e. Nigeria and India. In other parts of the world, their population growth is slowing down but still have a lot of jobs available and technologically still catching up, i.e. China. In the matured world their population is retracting so you will have fewer people available to fight for those fewer jobs.

What I wonder is what if we got so good and so cheap with robotic manufacturing that we didn't need to use China and India for basic things such as clothes? Their economies would collapse and then they would be irritable and probably fight one another. A good war that killed a couple hundred million might help solve your problem. Either that, no money = no food, which will solve some of this problem as well.

ArgentGale said...

I've been wondering about that myself, as well as worrying about it since the whole finishing school thing is taking longer than I hoped it would. I can't say I have answers for a lot of that, either, though I can see a push for some kind of socialism that will work as well as every other time it's been tried, but might make for an attractive sale for people displaced by machines. Some of that sounds bleak in other areas, though... While the kiosks might be more effective for places like McDonald's I know I'd miss the staff at Chick-Fil-A in particular and half the reason I enjoy going to one of my favorite local restaurants is because I know the staff so well (and it certainly helps that the servers are attractive and female >_>).

- Daniel

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