In a recent article ( Are jobs obsolete? – CNN.com) , Douglas Rushkoff points out that the reason for the US Jobless Recovery is that technology is replacing humans at a faster rate than jobs can be created.
New technologies are wreaking havoc on employment figures — from EZpasses ousting toll collectors to Google-controlled self-driving automobiles rendering taxicab drivers obsolete. Every new computer program is basically doing some task that a person used to do. But the computer usually does it faster, more accurately, for less money, and without any health insurance costs.
We like to believe that the appropriate response is to train humans for higher level work. Instead of collecting tolls, the trained worker will fix and program toll-collecting robots. But it never really works out that way, since not as many people are needed to make the robots as the robots replace.
… am afraid to even ask this, but since when is unemployment really a problem? I understand we all want paychecks — or at least money. We want food, shelter, clothing, and all the things that money buys us. But do we all really want jobs?
We’re living in an economy where productivity is no longer the goal, employment is. That’s because, on a very fundamental level, we have pretty much everything we need. America is productive enough that it could probably shelter, feed, educate, and even provide health care for its entire population with just a fraction of us actually working.
…Our problem is not that we don’t have enough stuff — it’s that we don’t have enough ways for people to work and prove that they deserve this stuff.
…we are attempting to use the logic of a scarce marketplace to negotiate things that are actually in abundance. What we lack is not employment, but a way of fairly distributing the bounty we have generated through our technologies, and a way of creating meaning in a world that has already produced far too much stuff.
The communist answer to this question was just to distribute everything evenly. But that sapped motivation and never quite worked as advertised. The opposite, libertarian answer (and the way we seem to be going right now) would be to let those who can’t capitalize on the bounty simply suffer. Cut social services along with their jobs, and hope they fade into the distance.
But there might still be another possibility — something we couldn’t really imagine for ourselves until the digital era. As a pioneer of virtual reality, Jaron Lanier, recently pointed out, we no longer need to make stuff in order to make money. We can instead exchange information-based products.
We start by accepting that food and shelter are basic human rights. The work we do — the value we create — is for the rest of what we want: the stuff that makes life fun, meaningful, and purposeful.
This sort of work isn’t so much employment as it is creative activity.
Its a fun argument. And it has broader consequences, particularly for China.
Over the last 20 years a massive shift in manufacturing took place from the West (in particular the USA) to the east, (in particular China).
This was driven by cheap Chinese labour and protectionism by the Chinese government. The costs of making things in China was so low, it destroyed the competition.
So millions of factories have sprung up, leading to massive increase in wealth and power for China, but also an environmental disaster as it has become the global smokestack industrial plant.
What will happen when the West finds even cheaper labour than Chinese migrants from the interior? It is already happening: Robots.
We all know China is sustained by thousands of loss making companies kept afloat by endless credit from the central government. Their banks are in a worse state than those in the west. It needs to maintain 8% GDP growth to absorb the workforce and preserve social order, and that is its over rising concern.
But it will not be able to continue to cheat forever. And soon robot technologies will start to replace unskilled or semi-skilled humans. And one day there will need to be accounting for these endless loans. When that day comes we might see the mighty Chine revealed to be much less powerful than most think.
And the USA…now written off by the foolish…is resurgent (not that it was anything less than a hyper-power recently).
Check out “World power swings back to America” in The Telegraph:
The American phoenix is slowly rising again. Within five years or so, the US will be well on its way to self-sufficiency in fuel and energy. Manufacturing will have closed the labour gap with China in a clutch of key industries. The current account might even be in surplus.
Meanwhile, the China-US seesaw is about to swing the other way. Offshoring is out, ‘re-inshoring’ is the new fashion.
“Made in America, Again” – a report this month by Boston Consulting Group – said Chinese wage inflation running at 16pc a year for a decade has closed much of the cost gap. China is no longer the “default location” for cheap plants supplying the US.
A “tipping point” is near in computers, electrical equipment, machinery, autos and motor parts, plastics and rubber, fabricated metals, and even furniture.
“A surprising amount of work that rushed to China over the past decade could soon start to come back,” said BCG’s Harold Sirkin.
The gap in “productivity-adjusted wages” will narrow from 22pc of US levels in 2005 to 43pc (61pc for the US South) by 2015. Add in shipping costs, reliability woes, technology piracy, and the advantage shifts back to the US.
The list of “repatriates” is growing. Farouk Systems is bringing back assembly of hair dryers to Texas after counterfeiting problems; ET Water Systems has switched its irrigation products to California; Master Lock is returning to Milwaukee, and NCR is bringing back its ATM output to Georgia. NatLabs is coming home to Florida.
Boston Consulting expects up to 800,000 manufacturing jobs to return to the US by mid-decade, with a multiplier effect creating 3.2m in total. This would take some sting out of the Long Slump.
As Cleveland Fed chief Sandra Pianalto said last week, US manufacturing is “very competitive” at the current dollar exchange rate. Whether intended or not, the Fed’s zero rates and $2.3 trillion printing blitz have brought matters to an abrupt head for China.
Fed actions confronted Beijing with a Morton’s Fork of ugly choices: revalue the yuan, or hang onto the mercantilist dollar peg and import a US monetary policy that is far too loose for a red-hot economy at the top of the cycle. Either choice erodes China’s wage advantage. The Communist Party chose inflation.
Foreign exchange effects are subtle. They take a long to time play out as old plant slowly runs down, and fresh investment goes elsewhere. Yet you can see the damage to Europe from an over-strong euro in foreign direct investment (FDI) data.
Flows into the EU collapsed by 63p from 2007 to 2010 (UNCTAD data), and fell by 77pc in Italy. Flows into the US rose by 5pc.
Volkswagen is investing $4bn in America, led by its Chattanooga Passat plant. Korea’s Samsung has begun a $20bn US investment blitz. Meanwhile, Intel, GM, and Caterpillar and other US firms are opting to stay at home rather than invest abroad.
The American Phoenix. Like it.