3.07.2004

 

Latest job numbers show the effect of robots and automation

You may recall back in February headlines like these:

White House sees about 2.6M new U.S. jobs in 2004

From the article:Then the number of new jobs was upgraded, and you saw headlines like these a short time later:

White House: 3.8 million new jobs

From the article:Now, just a month later, we see the reality of the situation: Payrolls disappoint again, up just 21,000 in Feb. From the article:Instead of 320,000 new jobs in February, as predicted by the White House, we got 21,000.

Peripheral articles like these are also starting to show up: The problem we are facing is simple: if a corporation can create a factory that is completely automatic, it does not need to hire anyone. The economy grows, but jobs do not. If a corporation can build a computer system that answers most of the simple calls in a call center, it can lay off thousands of call center employees. If a corporation can buy trucks that drive themselves, it can fire all of its truck drivers. And so on. There is no correlation between "growth" and "jobs" if there are robots to do a lot of the work.

If, at the same time, the economy is not creating many new jobs for unemployed factory workers, phone operators and truck drivers, then you can get lots of unemployment. Note also that we are seeing just the tip of the iceberg right now -- these trends will accelerate rapidly over the next 5 to 10 years. See Robotic Nation and the other entries in this blog for details.

What are we going to do about this looming and very large unemployment problem?

One possible solution is to recognize that once advanced robots can do nearly all the work, then human beings do not need jobs anymore. We should redesign the economy so that people do not have to work if they do not want to (or cannot find a job). In other words, we design the economy so that people have money to spend whether they work or not. The article Robotic Freedom talks about this solution in detail.

The key idea in Robotic Freedom is the creation of a central account. Money flows into this account from a variety of sources, and everyone in America gets a monthly check representing an equal share of the money in the account (in the same way that the Alaska Permanent Fund has been paying every Alaskan resident hundreds of dollars per year for over the last 20 years).

It is interesting that Bill Gates and Microsoft floated an idea this week that could provide money for the central account. This article describes the Microsoft proposal: Charge Consumers Pennys for Spam E-mail. The basic idea is simple: when people send email, they will pay a fee to do so. Such an approach, it is hoped, will cut down significantly on spammers. The email postage fee could be one stream of money flowing into the central account.

We need to do something. Robots will eliminate at least half of the jobs in America over the next three decades or so. It is unclear that the economy will create replacement jobs for many of the jobs that are lost. The Concentration of Wealth is growing rapidly. The time to be thinking about and implementing solutions is now.

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