Posted by AzBlueMeanie:
This morning we learned from an Oxfam International report, Working for the Few: Political Capture and economic inequality (.pdf), that the world's 85 richest people command as much wealth as the poorest half of the world.
Now a study from Oxford University projects that 47% of the world's currently existing jobs are likely to be automated over the next two decades. The Rich and Their Robots Are About to Make Half the World's Jobs Disappear:
Combined, those two stats portend a quickly-exacerbating dystopia. As more and more automated machinery (robots, if you like) are brought in to generate efficiency gains for companies, more and more jobs will be displaced, and more and more income will accumulate higher up the corporate ladder. The inequality gulf will widen as jobs grow permanently scarce—there are only so many service sector jobs to replace manufacturing ones as it is—and the latest wave of automation will hijack not just factory workers but accountants, telemarketers, and real estate agents.
That's according to a 2013 Oxford study The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation? (.pdf), which was highlighted in this week's Economist cover story. That study attempted to tally up the number of jobs that were susceptible to automization, and, surprise, a huge number were. Creative and skilled jobs done by humans were the most secure—think pastors, editors, and dentists—but just about any rote task at all is now up for automation. Machinists, typists, even retail jobs, are predicted to disappear.
And, as is historically the case, the capitalists eat the benefits. The Economist explains:
The prosperity unleashed by the digital revolution has gone overwhelmingly to the owners of capital and the highest-skilled workers. Over the past three decades, labour’s share of output has shrunk globally from 64% to 59%. Meanwhile, the share of income going to the top 1% in America has risen from around 9% in the 1970s to 22% today. Unemployment is at alarming levels in much of the rich world, and not just for cyclical reasons. In 2000, 65% of working-age Americans were in work; since then the proportion has fallen, during good years as well as bad, to the current level of 59%.
Those trends aren't just occurring in the US, either.
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As the Economist piece notes, there's typically a disruptive cycle when new technologies displace old ones, and replace old jobs with new ones. But this time, that cycle is one-sided—so far, there are a lot fewer jobs being created in the new information-based economy than the old manufacturing-based one: Last year, Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook were worth over $1 trillion combined, but employed just 150,000 people.
All of this points towards an uncomfortable prospect: in our globalizing, technologically advanced, and inequality-laden world, we risk becoming the cyber-peasants tending (or loitering on, more likely) the feudal lawn of the machine-owning rich.
Last year I posted Have humans mechanized and computerized ourselves into obsolescence?, about a new economics study that shows globalization increases joblessness, and technology increases inequality. Also a lengthier analysis is in the New York Times from the study's authors, David H. Autor, professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and David Dorn, an assistant professor of economics at the Center for Monetary and Financial Studies in Madrid. How Technology Wrecks the Middle Class.
If the über-rich who control the world's wealth and capital no longer need humans to maintain their wealth, what is the future of mankind? Humans need work for a sense of self-worth and to provide for their basic needs. If there is to be fewer and fewer jobs for more and more people, we are in no way addressing our real economic challenges. We are not even having this fundamental economics discussion, let alone exploring possible solutions.