- Paris Metro issues ‘politeness manual’ to improve passengers’ behavior
- Justin Bieber, crew detained at Australian airport in drug search
- Lee Rigby trial: Muslim who machete-hacked soldier calls it ‘humane’ kill
- GM ending Chevy sales in Europe to focus on Opel and Vauxhall
- Putin’s U.S. diplomats busted for living high life off $1.5M bilked from Medicaid
- Happy Meal: Couple goes to McDonald’s, leaves with bag packed with cash
- Boehner: It took me 3 to 4 hours to sign up for Obamacare
- Oh my God! Costco lists Bible as fiction, Ron Burgundy memoir as gospel
- Sarah Palin responds to Martin Bashir’s resignation, praises media
- Obama to send 2 Gitmo terror suspects back to Algeria
Will smart machines create a world without work?
In the early 1980s, at the beginning of the personal computer age, economists thought computers would do what machines had done for two centuries _ eliminate jobs that required brawn, not brains. Low-level workers would be forced to seek training to qualify for jobs that required more skills. They’d become more productive and earn more money. The process would be the same as when mechanization replaced manual labor on the farm a century ago; workers moved to the city and got factory jobs that required higher skills but paid more.
But it hasn’t quite worked out that way. It turns out that computers most easily target jobs that involve routines, whatever skill level they require. And the most vulnerable of these jobs, economists have found, tend to employ midskill workers, even those held by people with college degrees _ the very jobs that support a middle-class, consumer economy.
So the rise of computer technology poses a threat that previous generations of machines didn’t: The old machines replaced human brawn but created jobs that required human brains. The new machines threaten both.
“Technological change is more encompassing and moving faster and making it harder and harder to find things that people have a comparative advantage in” versus machines, says David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has studied the loss of midpay jobs to technology.
Here are the three scenarios that economists and technologists offer about jobs in the future:
_THE ECONOMY RETURNS TO HEALTH AFTER A WRENCHING TRANSITION
It has always happened before. Europe and the United States endured repeated economic and social upheaval during the 19th and early 20th centuries as their agricultural economies transformed into industrial ones. Columbia’s Stiglitz argues that such pressures led to the collapse of the world economy in 1929 _ the cataclysm we call the Great Depression.
The mechanization of farming caused agricultural production to soar worldwide in the 1920s _ and prices to plunge. In the U.S., crop and livestock prices fell by 50 percent between 1929 and 1932. American farmers, who accounted for a fifth of the U.S. workforce, lost purchasing power and also struggled to pay their mortgages and other loans. As their debts went bad, banks began to collapse, squeezing credit and spreading panic. The economy went into free-fall.
Only World War II _ and the massive rearmament program it required _ restored the U.S. economy to full health. The experience was traumatizing. And today only 2 percent of Americans work on farms.
“Economies don’t make these transitions well,” Stiglitz says. People in the dying parts of the economy can’t afford to invest in the education or retraining they need to find different work. “So you get workers trapped in the wrong sectors or unemployed,” he says.
Peter Lindert, an economist at the University of California-Davis, says computers are more disruptive than earlier innovations because they are “general-purpose technologies” used by all kinds of companies. They upend many industries instead of just a few. The mechanized looms the Luddites hated in England in the early 1800s, for instance, rattled one industry. Information technology touches every business.
The changes are coming much faster this time, too. Lindert says that’s showing up in the steep drop in prices for some products this time.
In the Industrial Revolution, “the price of textiles went down. But it was a small number compared to how the cost of information storage has gone down. It’s a fraction of what it was in the 1970s,” Lindert says. Now, computing power is doubling every 18 months to two years _ and the price is plummeting.
But Lindert does not believe workers are doomed to unemployment. With the right skills and education, he says, they can learn to work with the machines and become productive enough to fend off the automation threat.
“There is a period of time that is extremely disruptive,” says Thomas Schneider, CEO of the consultancy Restructuring Associates. “If you’re 55 years old now and lose your job, the odds of you ever getting hired into what you were doing before is as close to zero as you can imagine. If you are a 12-year-old, you have a very bright future. It’s just not doing what your father was doing or your mother was doing.”
- 'Hunger Games' delivers Obama's message on income inequality: liberal group
- CURL: 'Mission Accomplished' for Obamacare
- CARSON: Getting to the top by starting at the bottom
- Obama returns to class warfare as poll numbers plunge
- Hack attack: 2 million Facebook, Twitter passwords stolen
- NAPOLITANO: Pope Francis should be saving souls, not pocketbooks
- Democratic infighting erupts over 'we can have it all' fantasy on entitlements
- HARPER: 'Knockout game' not a myth to liberal Sharpton
- American teacher shot and killed at Benghazi international school
- Hola: Boehner prepares to push amnesty bill through House
Independent voices from the The Washington Times Communities
All of the world’s problems, solved on your back porch
Entertainment News and Reviews from Washington, D.C. and beyond.
White House pets gone wild!