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Recession, Tech Kill Middle-Class Jobs 586

Un pobre guey writes "'To understand the impact technology is having on middle-class jobs in developed countries, the AP analyzed employment data from 20 countries; tracked changes in hiring by industry, pay and task; compared job losses and gains during recessions and expansions over the past four decades; and interviewed economists, technology experts, robot manufacturers, software developers, entrepreneurs and people in the labor force who ranged from CEOs to the unemployed.' Their findings: Technology has consistently reduced the number of manufacturing jobs for 30 years; people with repetitive jobs have been easy to replace in the past, and task jugglers like managers and supervisors will be likely targets in the future; companies in the S&P 500 have expanded their business and increased profits, but reduced staffing, thanks to tech; and startups are launching much more easily these days. The response to the article includes the dutifully repeated bad-government-is-at-fault and don't-worry-it's-like-the-Industrial-Revolution memes. But what if this time it's different? What if delegating everything to machines is a radical and fundamental new change in the course of human history?"
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Recession, Tech Kill Middle-Class Jobs

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  • André Gorz (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EdgePenguin ( 2646733 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:52PM (#42673905) Homepage
    I'm currently reading Critique of Economic Reason by André Gorz. Despite being almost 30 years old, it describes this situation well. Rises in productivity due to automation are incompatible with a culture that values 'work' on a moral basis, and associates it with a persons identity.
  • oblig (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:54PM (#42673925)

    Got enough karma so might as well post this AC: []

    Captcha: exempt

  • by Nefarious Wheel ( 628136 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:55PM (#42673935) Journal

    What if delegating everything to machines is a radical and fundamental new change in the course of human history?"

    The final question in TFS is an example of a question that's bounced along the periphery of technology and now deserves centre stage. Nicely put!

    Now, what are we going to do for a living after everything's been automated?

  • Umm, Ya (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anon-Admin ( 443764 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:57PM (#42673959) Journal

    But what if this time it's different? What if delegating everything to machines is a radical and fundamental new change in the course of human history?"

    You could learn to repair the machines, or learn to make the machines.

    However, we have seen it before and we will see it again.

    But what if this time it's different? What if delegating everything to the wheel is a radical and fundamental new change in the course of human history? What will happen to the men who carry the litter?

    But what if this time it's different? What if delegating everything to the machine is a radical and fundamental new change in the course of human history? What will happen to all the children that spin cotton?

    But what if this time it's different? What if delegating everything to the machine is a radical and fundamental new change in the course of human history? What will happen to all the people who calculate trajectories when they are replaced by a single machine?

    The only constant in this world is that everything changes. I believe the old adage is "Lead, Follow, or get out of the way!"

  • by gestalt_n_pepper ( 991155 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @06:01PM (#42674013)

    It's not just schooling. The fact of the matter is that some people aren't too bright. Without repetitive, simple jobs, these people will literally have no place in the economy. There's no comfortable answer here. Do we prevent the births of stupid people? Gene engineer all potential parents so that their children are smarter? How smart? Where are the boundaries? And who pays? Or do we just hand them all a check each month and encourage them to stay out of the way, and reproduce as little as possible?

    20th century morality isn't going to stand up long to this 21st century problem. Somewhere, something's got to give. Good luck if you think "the marketplace" is a good way to solve this. I think that was tried in France, and in Russia.

  • Re:As intended. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ohnocitizen ( 1951674 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @06:10PM (#42674131)
    Tech could just as easily extend middle class jobs, if we chose productivity over cost efficiency. The problem is the people making those decisions seem to lean heavily towards saving their wealth, rather than investing and creating more. We ought to look into why they are making that decision, and also, why they are the ones who get to make it.
  • Re:As intended. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @06:24PM (#42674313)

    did you know that 90% of americans were once farmers? and then they got pushed off the land by the emergence of technology and corporate farming (we're still in the 19th century here, folks). and THEN those people and their children took jobs in heavy industry (Carnegie, Mellon...) and extraction industries like logging and mining. And THEN the heavy industry jobs moved offshore and the extraction industries automated and wound down a bit. and THEN those people and their kids took jobs in engineering and technological industries. and THEN Japan took over the automotive and consumer markets. Remember the '70's "japan has won the war". And THEN... well OBVIOUSLY it's a HUGE CONSPIRACY perpetrated over several generations by... some... bunch of people who... well...

  • Re:if he won't (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sprouticus ( 1503545 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @07:10PM (#42674943)

    It also makes the most sense when large groups can get massive discounts for healthcare coverage due to their buying power and the fact that it minimizes the risk.

    It is a terrible system, and I believe it actually hinders innovation and risk taking in business (because people feel they cant afford to quit a job, start a small business, move, etc) but it does have some benefits for those trapped in the cycle.

    Regardless, the system will collapse one way or the other in the next 15-20 years, and we will all end up on a single payer system.

  • Re:Chicken Littles (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Time_Ngler ( 564671 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @07:13PM (#42674975)

    Let's look at another creature who used to be a large part of the economy but who's numbers have dwindled to nearly nothing, the horse. Technology has created machines that were able to replace nearly all that a horse could do, ie. farming, transportation, warfare. The few remaining jobs, being a pet, used for the pastime of horse back riding were not enough to employ all the horses, so they were mostly killed and not allowed to breed.

    The only difference I see between horses and the common man is that he or she can vote. So if there became to be no more work that most humans were qualified for, a safety net could be voted in to support them. This should work for awhile, but eventually as the military forces becomes more machine than man, until totally being machine, and the people holding the reigns on them become fewer and fewer, the power of the vote will become less and less. People that speak out against the system will be rounded up and disappeared'ed, your representatives will completely ignore the will of the people, etc. One day the vote will become a complete charade, or a coup will occur, (which would be much more easily done with an army of robots, then the human army today, since soldiers won't be there to refuse to fire on civilians of their own country) and the population of people will be forced to dwindle to near nothing, along side the horses of the past, once a great beast but now completely dependent on and subservient to the whims of a technological being more advanced then them.

  • Re:Agreed (Score:2, Interesting)

    by willy_me ( 212994 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @07:23PM (#42675105)

    Of course, labour-saving is not the only reason a device may be brought forward. Many examples are about being able to do things previously not possible, regarding accuracy, repeatability and so on.

    But the motivation to do things that were previously not possible is to provide labour-savings elsewhere. For example, a more accurate instrument might take longer to build but the increased accuracy could potentially result in significant efficiency improvements within other industries. The GP post is correct when one considers a global perspective.

    Traditionally, industry would have to distribute resources to workers within an economy in order to generate additional resources, but this is no longer required. Industry is currently spending resources offshore leaving the domestic economy with insufficient labour. They make money but don't distribute it back (the trickle down effect). In the future, industry won't even have to do that as automated production lines will minimize the need for labour. So with industry not distributing the earnings, how do these resources get distributed?

    You can see it now, the earnings of large corporations and those in charge are increasing at a much higher rate then that of a traditional worker. The trickle down effect is broken. What happens now is more of a "trickle up effect" - people spend money on goods and the wealthy syphon off a percent of each transaction. Their resources grow while everyone else suffers. The problem is that without a healthy middle class, innovation and productivity suffer. Even the wealthy will eventually suffer as a result of their own greed as a loss of productivity and decreased efficiency will leach away their wealth.

    To prevent this from happening, those who hoard resources need to be taxed. The resources can be redistributed in exchange for various jobs being done - jobs that improve society and result in something of "value". Nobody likes taxes, but if things continue as they are then they will be required. When half the skilled trades are no longer needed, the status quo will result in some major problems.

  • Re:Chicken Littles (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @07:41PM (#42675317) Homepage

    However reality is we live in a psychopathic insane society, where selfishness and greed have become dominant at the top. For them, if you have no useful function, you should starve and die. So the reality is automation presents a real problem for us as a transitional society.

    With no attempts in place to reduce working hours, in fact the opposite occurring the reality is, society is far more likely disintegrate into violence as those at the top expect those at the bottom to simply die and those at the bottom refusing to do so.

    The internet is helping to break down the control of the psychopathic minority but will it be quick enough to prevent societal collapse driven by insanity at the top? At the current rate no, with continuing pressure to reduce wages and increases hours rather than the required increase in wages with a reduction in working hours. Until that shift occurs to say a 6 hour 4 day week, things look pretty grim in the long term.

  • Re:Chicken Littles (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TsuruchiBrian ( 2731979 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @07:46PM (#42675373)

    Where horses really better off when they were more useful to man? They were essentially kept as slaves. They were a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Maybe horses aren't smart enough to notice or care that they are slaves. Maybe some people aren't either.

    Yes a difference between the common man and a horse is autonomy (one manifestation of which is the right to vote, along with other rights bestowed by various societies and constitutions and enforced by legal systems). When we say horses became useless, this is only in relation to people. What does it mean when people become useless? In relation to what? I'm sure some would argue that if the poor became useless to the rich, there would be a strong incentive to simply have the poor killed. This is probably true under some circumstances. But living in a society where the only thing keeping the poor alive is their usefulness (real or artificial through denial of technology) to the wealthy, seems to me to be barely an improvement. Maybe that was good enough for horses, but I wouldn't accept that for people.

    I think people are intelligent and empathetic enough to come up with a system that respects human life while trying to maximize economic efficiency. I think sopping technology to keep the unskilled useful is one of the the dumbest things you can do if you care about overall human prosperity.

    Even if you look at it from the point of view of the selfish uber-wealthy. If my options were to have 10% of my $billion income used to help poor people, or 90% of my $trillion income (facilitated by technology) used to sustain people who have no useful skills, it is simply irrational of me to choose the former. Obviously a selfish uber-wealthy person would rather just kill all the poor and keep 100%, but that's not one of the options allowed in this social contract. If people ever lose the right to vote or democracy fails, etc, all bets are off anyway.

  • by PrimaryConsult ( 1546585 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @09:17PM (#42676227)

    The hope for humanity would be for a simple and money-optional society. Everyone "gets" the basics (food, shelter, simple clothes, education, healthcare, public transportation, maybe a computer with internet access) with no requirement to contribute anything to society. If they want anything more than that (iPod, trip to Disney Land, a car, a house with front yard, clothes other than a solid color t shirt) they will need to make money, and for that they will have to work in one of the few jobs available. These jobs would be almost entirely academic (research will always be necessary), service, or cultural in nature. People would work until they could afford whatever luxuries they want, and then could opt to go back to having free time to explore their own desires/ambition. Without the requirement to work, working conditions would automatically improve, as companies would no longer be able to keep workers if "doing nothing" is better than the job they are offering.

    That is possible today actually, if we change the welfare system from something that gives out money to something that only provided necessities, and not money. Instead of farm subsidies, flat out buy the food.

    This system would only work if the "public option" for things that was held to a standard that anyone would be willing to accept. What passes for public housing now does not qualify, but what passes for dorms / cafeterias at a public college would be a start.

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