I guess I am a bit of an agnostic on this whole question. I do see the danger of a possible dystopia in which a hand full of ultra-wealthy control the means of production with massive unemployment resulting; and little or no government action to address the problem through such measures as a Uniform Basic Income distribution scheme. However, I also see historic trends in which technology simply shits the nature of the work environment rather than destroying jobs on a wholesale basis. While the article cited below may be naively optimistic in some respects, it does raise some interesting points worthy of consideration in this debate.
(Counterpunch) Replacing human labor with technology is a very old story. It’s called “productivity growth.” We’ve been seeing it pretty much as long as we have had a capitalist economy. In fact, this is what allows for sustained improvements in living standards. If we had not seen massive productivity growth in agriculture, then the bulk of the country would still be working on farms, otherwise we would be going hungry.
However, thanks to massive improvement in technology, less than 2 percent of our workforce is now employed in agriculture. And, we can still export large amounts of food.
If the robots taking our jobs industry were around a hundred years ago, it would be warning about gas powered tractors eliminating the need for farm labor. We would be hearing serous sounding discussion on our radio shows (we will steal radios from the 1919 future) with leading experts warning about how pretty soon there would be no work for anyone. They would tell us we have to prepare for this dark future by fundamentally reorganizing society.
Okay, that story is about as wrong as could possibly be the case, but if anyone buys the robots taking our jobs line, then they better try to figure out why this time is different. After all, what difference does it make if a worker loses their job to a big tractor or they lose their job to a robot?
Getting Serious About Robots and Productivity Growth
The basic story of robots taking our jobs is one of a massive increase in productivity growth. Instead of people driving taxis and trucks, stocking store shelves, and working checkout counters, all this work and more will be dealt with by robots.
I find a lot to disagree with in that article.
A) "robots haven't taken the jobs yet, as you can see USA productivity is increasing slowly" Fair enough... "therefore robots are no threat to jobs"... Um... you made a big leap there!
B) author seemingly has no understanding of why the automation of cognitive labour is different from the automation of physical labour.
C) Author points to agriculture and says "you see, a few hundred years ago we needed 90% of people to work in agriculture, now we need just 2% so robots(or improved productivity) are no threat to jobs!" which seems good evidence of the reverse?
Instead of people driving taxis and trucks, stocking store shelves, and working checkout counters, all this work and more will be dealt with by robots. There are three problems with this story:
1) It has not been happening;
2) No one involved in designing policy expects to happen;
3) It would likely mean more rapid wage growth and improved living standards if it did happen.
1) No one has made a fully autonomous driverless car yet, so obviously no one has lost their job to a driverless car yet, in no way proves it won't happen.
2) fucking terrifying.
3) A) Why would wages increase with higher demand for jobs and lower numbers of jobs available? Lots of competition for each role = lower wages
B) Maybe improved living standards for the majority due to cheaper transport, but not for the newly unemployed who's only marketable skill was driving.
He says a lot more about the lack of visible automation job losses, (while still failing to address the cognitive vs annual labour issue), and then says some stuff about how IF it happened it would be fine because we would just change our capital ownership structure and copyright/patent law to stop the increase in inequality, which seems absurdly naïve.