People are losing jobs to robots and technology at an accelerating rate. Have you used one of those self-serve checkout stands lately? One was installed at my local CVS only 3 months ago. Awkward at first but seems like old hat now. The manager there told me the new system allowed him to let two full time clerks go. Two jobs lost to robots and their technology that will never reappear. Here’s just some of the other jobs that are suffering the same fate as retail clerks:
- Fast food workers
- Assembly workers
- Bank tellers
- Stock traders
- Warehouse workers
- …and there is more
Technology alone changes the employment landscape. Objects like the iPhone have the consequence of laying off Kodak workers, as well as workers in the mapping, printing, alarm clock and record industry.
I recently listened to an interesting podcast (all Radiolab podcasts are interesting!) about work in a shipping warehouse for online mega-providers, such as Amazon. If you thought stop watches were banned in the workplace at the beginning of the last century, guess what – they’re back! Technology, along with its gamification, is reducing worker output to a competitive logarithm using the most minute of performance indicators.
Years ago Buckminster Fuller (otherwise known as “Bucky”) surmised that the rise of computers and technology would bring use to a place where it is inefficient to have full scale employment. It would actually be cheaper to pay people to stay at home. And we are getting there. Even in a “good” economy we have 7% unemployment. And we are being asked to pay for those folks who have to stay at home…because there are no jobs. This has more to do with the macro-economics of production than it does anything a politician can influence.
While Bucky believed that less is more, most folks don’t think that way. In their idleness they will want to be serviced, entertained and otherwise cared for, by a growing service class economy. So the fantasy of growing the middle class back to where it was before all these technology changes is a pipe dream. A political football divorced from reality. There will be a continued division between highly paid knowledge workers and low paid service workers. Sooner or later we will end up paying service workers to stay home or do some form of public service.
As we march forward you will either be a highly paid knowledge worker who cannot yet be replaced by a machine or a low paid service worker who cannot yet be replaced by a machine. That’s true for your kids’ future too!
FYI – Looks like John Henry would be out of a job today. Now trains lay their own tracks http://www.wimp.com/traintrack/