"There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with
power to endanger the public liberty." - - - - John Adams

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Maybe the Luddites were right - The Robots are coming for our jobs

Robots deliver food orders to customers at the Robot Restaurant in Harbin, China.

Prepare for Economic Armageddon

  • As jobs vanish expect a massive re-distribution of the wealth to keep the permanently unemployed supplied with the most basic level of food, clothing and shelter.

(Los Angeles Times)  -  The prospect of machines stealing our jobs has perturbed and enraged humans for at least 200 years. The Luddites hit the alarm bell, and not without reason: The automation of weaving and spinning technology displaced an entire class of skilled artisans. 

But ever since, economists and historians have dismissed the Luddites as jokes, because the forces of industrialization they decried ended up making the world a far richer and more comfortable place. Technological progress has created far more jobs than it has destroyed.

So far. But this time might be different. This time, writes Martin Ford in "Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future," the robots are coming for (almost) all the jobs. They're getting too smart, too flexible and too convenient. And that's a problem, because if robots take all the jobs, our long march of progress may well go into reverse.

"We are running up against a fundamental limit both in terms of the capabilities of the people being herded into colleges and the number of high-skill jobs that will be available for them if they manage to graduate," writes Ford. "The problem is that the skills ladder is not really a ladder at all: it is a pyramid, and there is only so much room at the top."

That's a bleak view. Even bleaker, however, are the prospects for success of Ford's preferred "dramatic policy response" — a redistribution of wealth from the winners to everybody else, in the form of a "guaranteed basic income" that ensures displaced workers have enough income to keep the consumer economy chugging along.

Ford is not wrong when he declares that "a fundamental restructuring of our economic rules will be required." But it's hard to see how this will happen. Which leaves us in a pickle. Economic inequality is growing. Robots are gobbling up more and more jobs. A broken political system is unable to fix the problem. Call it the Luddites' revenge. The Industrial Revolution's chickens are finally coming home to roost.

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