Automation and the Death of Employment

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Free markets. They seem as old as humanity itself. Must of us, 20-somethings, were not around when the Capitalist West were in stand off with the Communist East. As a result of this, us younger folk tend to be right wing on economics as explored in my previous article. So we just assume that McDonald’s, Aldi, ASDA and the appalling train companies are just a fact of life. Whilst none of us believe there is such thing as a job for life, we believe that there must always be jobs. We are told economic growth equals jobs. Well, imagine a world where there is economic growth but no jobs. Imagine a world in which computers and robots destroy half of all humanity’s jobs. Imagine a world where economic growth simply means richer wealthy people. That day could be 2034, only twenty years away.

A 2013 paper published by Carl Benedikt Frey, and Michael Osbourne, both lecturers at Oxford, has shown that by 2034, 47% of jobs will be automated by machines. In the past jobs that were low skilled were the first to go to automation. However in this new world order, skilled jobs will be taken. The Economist has drawn up a table in the 2014 article ‘Rushing Wave‘ that shows the most likely jobs that are going to be taken over by machine. The table suggests that telemarketers have a 99% certainty to being automated. But the skilled workers also have a strong chance of being automated; technical writers have a 89% chance of being automated, accountants will have a 94% chance of being automated. Doctors, pilots and researchers also have a chance of losing their jobs. Even creative professions such as acting have a relatively chance of being automated.

The counter-claim however would be we have always been change in technology. As economies growth, technologies change and people are made redundant. But new jobs come along to give people jobs in new sectors. In the future some would argue that jobs in nano-technology or space engineering will create the 47% of jobs needed to rebalance the unemployment created by the technology revolution. There is no need to worry about jobs lost as they can be created with jobs created from spending at the top of society. The supposed “trickle-down” thesis claimed this that give lots of money to the wealthy and the poorer will also get wealthier.

However there is a danger to just believe in the idea that new jobs will come from somewhere. Capitalism is driven on profit. Capitalism needs people to buy things in order for profit to be made. But if people no longer have any money to spend on these things, then how can capitalism grow? Growth may be lower. Sure automation may lead to lower costs but if there are fewer jobs all round, then what does the lower costs mean anyway?  This has been seen in the past 20 years. Pay hasn’t grown so credit was used as a means to create growth. But there is a wider political question that must be asked: how much inequality in our society can be tolerated? Because such a technology revolution may make people at the top extremely wealthy, it is questionable whether such inequality is actually a good thing. Because if inequality is intolerable, it may cause significant opposition from people.

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