1687. More on tech and jobs.

 

The NYT had this morning

My own thoughts, I think there are two key issues.

The first has to do with Technology and jobs.

If a person loses their job to technology, the old theory was that the presence of that unemployed person would be an incentive to some entrepreneur to create a business and hire that person others like them. Under current conditions Mr. start up, will think about hiring somebody part-time, finding an intern for free or looking for automated solutions to the need for getting work done. Obviously Mr. Startup will look for the cheapest skilled worker that can be found. That used to be looking among the unemployed. But under modern conditions it means also looking at automation: robots and algorithms, so to speak in the, do to speak, expanded labor pool. The advantage to having an automated solution, if available, is obvious and many tech companies are working hard to create that availability across the whole economy. IBM for example has an effort called service science to replace all customer interactions with computers linking the customers problem, usually athing, directly to a solution generating program. That new “worker” is owned, has no benefits, doesn’t talk back and works every hour every week every day. The old logic of reestablishing equilibrium with unemployed people is gone and the new logic is of capital and machines closing in on each other. The problem of course for society is what to do about the people squeezed out.

This goes to the very interesting discussion of the positive side of technology. There is of course the good side of technology helping to solve climate problems. Success there will depend upon many factors. The danger is that new business activity will maintain the current trend towards wealth and power concentration, and we won’t get sufficient change to meet climate goals and income distribution goals, but I want to leave that aside for now.

Much more radical is the idea that unemployment is the first positive step toward redeploying people into jobs and roles that would be consistent with a very serious decline in the use of polluting energy and the machines that use that energy. To get to zero emissions would require that almost everyone in society would half to reconfigure their work and their life outside of work. In this case technological unemployment is a clear positive. Of course it would screw up peoples lives but if the understanding is correct those lives will be screwed up anyway, and the reconfiguration has the possibility of hope for a better life.

This gets to the second issue of the positive impact of technology along the lines suggested by Keynes for his grandchildren and the Skidelskis and increasingly others, that we could re-think the good life and move it from the accumulation of stuff to the engagement with others, with art, and our relationship with nature.

The positive here is a long-shot but I have been saying that we need to pay attention to low probability scenarios because all the high probability scenarios are terrible. We need to think of multidimensional scenarios and pay attention to all the secondary effects. In short, we need new sinking fast.

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