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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 9/27/13

Are computers & automation decimating the middle class & does access to elite jobs need to be shared more equitably?

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1.    Are you good at working with intelligent machines or not?  


2.      Are your skills a complement to the skills of the computer, or is the computer doing better without you?  


3.    Are computers helping people in China and India compete against you more than you are helping computers compete against them?"


4.    Worst of all, are you competing against the computer?  


Cowen calls our attention to the statistics that describe big changes in work and compensation in our society:   high school and college graduates (including those with master's degrees) are earning from 5 to 20 percent less in constant dollars than they did only 10 years ago.   That is, if they can find work.   Then he goes on to explain how much worse this situation is very likely to get.


He describes a coming "hyper-meritocracy," in which those who can effectively interface with the magical machines of our time -- understand that today's iPhone is more powerful than the world's largest computers were in 1985 -- will quickly become (at least middle-class) rich, since they are essential to corporate profit-making and the economy.   But they would account for no more than 10 to 15% of the workforce.   The other 85% will find some servant-like work making these high-earners feel better -- for the most part they will work as relatively low-paid masseurs, chefs, drivers, gardeners, personal coaches, dog-washers, psychotherapists, prostitutes, etc.


So, is this a brave new world you are willing to accept?   Are you prepared to see the size of America's middle class shrink by another 50% or more?    And if Tyler Cowen is correct about what seems to be heading our way, how might it be stopped?   And can it be, unless ever more of the elite work is somehow shared?   And if ever more work were to be shared by ever more people (as the number of professional "temps' continues to increase), where is one's income going to come from when one's "turn' to work has passed (i.e. when the project one was working on has been completed) and one is facing unemployment for the next few months, until one's "turn' comes round again?


Or is Tyler Cohen correct, that there is really NOTHING we can do about any of this, and that unless you are in the top 15%, in terms of your skill with the use and application of computers, you are destined to be permanently relegated to a kind of permanent lower class, regardless of your intelligence or IQ?   (Keep in mind the growing numbers of young people in America who have M.A.s or Ph.D.s but who can't find any kind of decently paid job.)

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Several years after receiving my M.A. in social science (interdisciplinary studies) I was an instructor at S.F. State University for a year, but then went back to designing automated machinery, and then tech writing, in Silicon Valley. I've (more...)

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