Following on from a previous article, Technology Can Make Man Obsolete, today we takes a further look at the affect of technological progress on man’s capacity to earn a living.
Advancements in engineering, science, and technology over the last century make the steam powered machines from the early stages of the industrial revolution look beyond primitive. Historians agree that the onset of the economic and social changes brought about by the industrial revolution is the most important since humanity domesticated animals and plants.
The new changes, however, are creating a divide in society where the middle class is slowly squeezed out of an economy marked by the few rich and the many poor. Two places where this egregious phenomenon is particularly visible are San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Wealthy, young tech workers are gradually pushing the less adequate part of the work force out of a city they can no longer afford to live in.
An obvious question to pose in this brave new world is: “is technology destroying jobs faster than it creates them?
Economic philosophers often conclude that the ultimate purpose of technology is to destroy all jobs and bring on a post-scarcity economy. Post-scarcity is a hypothetical form of economy or society in which goods, services and information are free; or practically free. It’s a utopia where humans are left to explore all their hopes and dreams while automated systems are capable of converting raw materials into finished products.
There’s a case to be made for this argument. It can often be seen in plain view written on placards and banners by those who have been directly affected by automation in their workplaces.
Those who argue against the destruction of work due to technological advancements blame the workers’ inability to adapt to the changes.
In a their report “Dancing with Robots,” economists Frank Levy and Richard Murnane show no concern regarding mass joblessness and argue that the subset of future workers who lack sophisticated skills to manage information will see stagnant or declining wages.
However, they don’t provide any prediction as to how big the subset of workers will be. The cure, Levy and Murnane recommend, is a transformation of the American education system so that more people will be better equipped with facing the challenges that lie ahead.
How poverty stricken parents are supposed to pay for increased tuitions is not explained or even considered.
As long as we rely on excessive profits to drive our economies we will be faced with the task of ensuring employment. This will certainly not be easy, as jobs are not only taken by robots but are often outsourced to countries where labor is cheap. Maybe the 21st century will be the one where we come to our senses before we render ourselves obsolete.