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The Great Looming Job Crisis That Libertarians Have No Clue How to Solve (and Challenges Progressives As Well)

By       Message Gregory Paul     Permalink
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Cashiers are being displaced by self check out lanes.

There will always be a need for teachers, right? It is becoming understood that one of the worst ways to teach folks is with eye glazing lectures -- students learn better from computers that are likely going to do most of the jobs anyway.

IBM's Watson that proved mere humans can win Jeopardy only if computers are not allowed to play is beginning to displace skilled humans in medicine and other fields of expertise. So far health care has been one of the best job creators. But if and when medicine really gets good folks will become so normally healthy that they will not require as much care, much of which will be provided by machines configured to be human friendly. One way or another lots of jobs at all skill levels are being absorbed by cyber intelligences.

Some people jobs will remain. It is hard to see how robots can run a horse riding farm. Or walk urban folk's pets. People will still want to hang human created art on their walls. Teaching and leading exercise workouts, self defense course, yoga and the like will require folks. There's professional sports. Only humans can legally arrest and try alleged ne'er-do-wells. There will always have to be at least some people at security checkpoints to make final decisions. Each factory will have to have a few human managers. I suspect that the notion that robots will replace homeworkers is exaggerated -- to enter and clean up a house without breaking stuff and so on is a complicated task that requires human level cognition or something close to it. So if robots are so advanced to clean houses as well as humans they will be too expensive for most to afford, and the robots will then be so advanced that they will be getting ready to replace us anyway. There will still be jobs until that happens, but not enough to go around.

Obviously if cyber intelligence and physical performance develops to the degree that it matches and exceeds that of humans then there will not be jobs left for humans to do. So the still common notion that there will always be plenty of jobs for anyone who wants one, as cybertechnology gets ever closer to human abilities, is pathetically naive. Something has got to give here. 

Adam Smith did a fair job of describing how capitalism would work in the then coming era when not particularly bright machines were able to help mass manufacture stuff and later crunch through lots of data, but not good enough in either intelligence or physical flexibility to absorb most jobs including the new ones happily created by industrialization. This is the theory upon which classic capitalist ideology and libertarianism is founded -- capitalists are job creators because making profits happens to produce more people jobs than it eliminates via eradication of out dated products and services, increasing worker productivity, and automation over time. With plenty of jobs around, all but a few have the income to spend that generates still more jobs in a virtuous economic upward spiral. Problem is that we live in an age of rapid all encompassing change when theories that worked great for a couple of centuries are vulnerable to becoming obsolete as technology progresses to levels not comprehended by 18th century thinkers. Smithian capitalism cannot provide jobs for all human workers when cyber machines are so smart and adept that they are absorbing most jobs including the new ones that post-industrialization creates. Potential disaster looms because if jobs becoming increasingly scarce, it will become increasingly difficult for a growing portion of the population to garner the income they have to spend to fund jobs for others, creating a dysfunctional economic downward spiral in which even the robots are left without jobs. At least some of the 1% will do OK in this techno dystopia, but most of the rest will be in serious trouble. And this could happen very rapidly as information processing power continues to rise with Moore's Law, that has been operative since WW II. Classic capitalism requiring mass human labor is likely to be replaced as fast or faster as it had overturned the pre-industrial era. The shift may already be underway, so hold onto your hats.

The Luddite prognosis that machine will replace man is probably correct. The Luddite solution of tightly controlling the advance and use of cybertech is impractical. We live in a Darwinian world in which the nations and companies are under intense pressure to gain the advantage with new technologies. Stopping the march of technology would require a global police state. Nor do libertarians, with their let capitalism do what ever its does and let all fend for themselves as best they can attitude, have a solution.

The libertarian theory developed in the 19th and 20th centuries is clueless when it comes to proposing how 21st century "job creators" will have no fiscal choice but to create immense number of jobs for machines rather than people when the cost efficient machines themselves are increasingly cared for by other cost efficient machines. In view of what is coming down the pike, the Tea Partiers and Republican candidates calling for giving yet more breaks to the "job creators" comes across as anachronistic -- all the more so when the TPers dress up in those old timey tri-corner hats in vogue back when Adam Smith was hot.

Not that the Democrats are addressing the issue either. The new era is likely to require a more collective socioeconomic contract than Adam Smith could imagine.

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Gregory Paul is an independent researcher interested in informing the public about little known yet important aspects of the complex interactions between religion, secularism, culture, economics, politics and societal conditions. His scholarly work (more...)

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