We are facing a brand-new set of oncoming challenges. There’s never been a situation previously where a significant (and likely unlimited and continuously, and rapidly, growing) wave of higher-qualified workers who did not require wages entered the workforce.
I discuss LDNLS vs. AI over in this other post. These things are affecting the job market now. There’s no remaining time to feel or act complacent.
Increasingly sophisticated LDNLS Workers that never cheat, never steal, are never late, very rarely “sick”, have no unions, no wages, no insurance, no internecine or even trivial conflict, don’t get pregnant, who never have to stay home with sick kids or spouse, don’t need or want a cafeteria, a gym, breaks, a lunch hour, tips, or stock options; are unfailingly polite, even sympathetic, immune to office romance, gossip, corporate espionage, complaints of mistreatment; have no interest in and do not require promotion, will never misuse company time, and are replaceable the very moment something more effective is available without any consequences to social security charges, unemployment tithing, legal costs, or need for security personnel to walk the previous “employee” to the door.
Whatever ideas anyone has of re-employment absorbing workers displaced by this new wave of automation must factor in all of the above, and more.
There will be some re-absorption (or at least, re-positioning) initially into newly created service jobs that arise to keep the new work force running; but it won’t be long before those jobs are automated away as well. Any job that deals with information, with diagnosis and testing… these will fall earlier rather than later.
Consider a fast-food job where the restaurant is open 6AM to 11PM, 7 days a week, a fairly typical operating span for a McDonald’s or a Burger King. An employee role there requires payment of $10/hour, to various employees on various shifts, for 17 hours a day, all year round. Leaving aside government tithes such as overtime, social security and unemployment insurance, this job represents a base continuing cost to the business of $10 x 17 x 365, which is about $62,000.00 a year.
When the cost of automating that position drops under $62,000.00 a year, the employee will be replaced. There’s no “if” about this. If such replacement is not made, more agile competition that does do so will destroy the business that has failed to do the obvious thing. This is coming, and it’s coming soon. Lawyers and paralegals are already being replaced. Receptionists. Drivers will be soon. And it isn’t going to stop there.
Here’s how it’ll go: as soon as the cost of putting automation in place drops below the cost of keeping a human in place, the human will lose the job. The only way to slow this down is to artificially, via legislation, raise the price of letting the human go, which has very rigid practical limits related to cost of product and the nature of competition and will consequently peter out very quickly in any case where it is attempted. Transition to this unprecedented form of automation will naturally tend to accelerate to whatever degree said automation can be made more sophisticated. That, at present, is looking quite open-ended. If that’s true — and we have no significant reason to think it isn’t at this time — then the entire process is also open-ended.
At some point in such a process, society will have to formally change its economic structure. This is for the simple reason that large numbers of unemployed citizens will eventually constitute a critical mass of opinion and potential independent action. Either that, or the displaced workers and therefore the cost of supporting them will have to be outright eliminated from society. There are no other paths. Something will have to be done to effectively deal with the former workers. Currently, there is no such accommodating mechanism in place. The closest thing to it is the Basic Income idea; but as yet, that’s not a government process, at most it represents tiny experiments, and usually nothing more than unimplemented ideas entirely within the bounds of citizen groups.
Those that persist in viewing this new wave of automation technology as similar to previous introductions of machinery are not going to be able to anticipate the changes that are coming. It’s inevitably going to be a very challenging time for society, and a very, very ugly time for many individuals until the economic and social structures can effectively deal with a non-working populace.