Jobsolescence

From Issuepedia

Definition

jobsolescence (n.) is the phenomenon whereby increasing automation enables production capacity to be maintained with a shrinking quantity of workers, resulting in shrinking employment, resulting in reduced wealth distribution and therefore increased economic disparity.

Note that off-shoring of jobs is also the result of automation, as it could not be done effectively without modern telecommunication.

Conclusions

Jobsolescence will continue to be a growing problem as long as we depend on the concept of employment as a means of allocating the consumption of basic goods and services.

Society must be significantly restructured so that employment is no longer required in order to survive at a reasonable level. (The possible results of successful reform along these lines are generally referred to as a post-employment economy and post-scarcity economics.)

Mechanisms

The following mechanisms seem to be in operation.

  1. Automation of labor
    • Employment generally only occurs when the private benefit of having a task done is worth the cost of paying a worker to do it.
    • Automation is replacing more and more jobs with machinery that costs considerably less than this to operate and maintain.
    • No matter how skilled a given worker may be, or how much effort they put into retraining themselves, there will come a time when a machine is better suited for any job they might be able to do.
    • The more skilled the worker, the longer it will be before this happens -- but the bar is continuously being raised.
    • This results in a continually-shrinking pool of jobs at any given skill level.
    • Those who are laid off due to automation are therefore not likely to find new jobs, as they will have to (a) retrain for a new job, and (b) compete with others who already have such training.
  2. Imprisonment of resources
    • As automation reduces the cost of production, the intake of profit soars without increasing the rate at which those profits are distributed.
    • Wealth is privately retained by the owners of automated production facilities. These owners do not have any use for most of the increase in their wealth, and when they do use it they generally use it to accumulate even more wealth (e.g. by buying up competing businesses, loaning money at interest to those less fortunate, etc.)
    • Wealth becomes increasingly scarce in the economy at large.
  3. Evaporation of public benefit
    • There are many tasks which are not being done because although their public benefit is certainly great enough to make them worth doing, their private benefit is insufficient to convert the task into employment.
    • When people are employed at a decent salary and reasonable hours, this leaves many of them with spare resources and energy to devote to work of high public benefit and low private benefit. When more and more people are employed at inadequate salaries or excessive hours (e.g. via multiple jobs or working unpaid overtime under threat of being fired), they will increasingly lack the resources or time to engage in such projects.

Effects

This trend has a lot of immediate negative effects:

Potential Benefits

Overall, though, automation should be a net benefit, since more work is being done with less labor.

It now takes a quite small percentage of society -- a relatively small number of people -- to produce basic goods and services that all of us need in order to survive at a reasonable level of contentment and freedom. It should therefore be economically possible to distribute a citizen dividend based on basic productivity, possibly even one that would constitute a living income.

This is especially true if we consider how many of our "wants" represent socially useless production, and that public desire for them has been deliberately engineered in order to increase demand for production.

Any reduction in labor would also reduce the amount of consumables we each need in order to live happily (e.g. commuting expenses) while also improving the quality of life on average, thus increasing the human carrying-capacity of our ecosystem (hopefully to the point where we can level off population growth before a crisis occurs).

Reform

It seems clear that systemic change is needed; we cannot continue to depend on an ever-decreasing job supply as a primary means of allocating consumption of essential goods and services (primarily: food, clothing, shelter, medical care).

Areas

  • Much of the wealth that is now being imprisoned is not being used by those who hold it. That excess wealth would do far more good if redistributed.
  • Many tasks that people do for "employment" are socially useless production -- i.e. essentially make-work or (worse) are part of the process of concentrating wealth in the hands of a few. Eliminating these jobs would be of general benefit, as doing so would reduce the overall usage of consumables without reducing the overall quality of life.

Proposals

The following proposals have been made in reaction to this situation:

  • Reduced work-week (would increase the number of people needed to accomplish a given task and therefore the number of jobs)
    • Problems:
      • only somewhat increases wealth redistribution, and doesn't do anything to repair the safety-net for those who still can't find work
      • decreases efficiency; is basically make-work, in many cases
  • Require businesses to hire a certain number of employees, at a living wage, for every million dollars of revenue or profit. This number would be calculated based on the total adult population multiplied by that business's share of the "economic pie", guaranteeing that essentially all of the population would be employed. (In practicality, businesses would probably tell many of their employees to just stay home.)
  • Increase taxes on the most profitable businesses to the point where the government could afford to provide a guaranteed income to everyone.
  • Require (partial or full) public ownership of the most profitable businesses so that all citizens receive dividends.

Caveats

There remain some tasks that need doing -- we can't all just stop working. Right now, however, the system is preventing much important work from being done.

Related

Quotes

We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors.

The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.

There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth ours has, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom; that is: some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health. Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision.

F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (to be verified)

Notes

I'm using "imprisonment of wealth" as a less-loaded alternative to "hoarding of wealth".

I find it interesting to note that the domain "jobsolescence.com" was registered (by a domain squatter) on 2011-10-20, six days after I created this page (2011-10-14), which is eight days after my post suggesting the word on G+ (see link below) -- although this article uses the word on 2011-09-08, more than a month earlier (I was not aware of it at the time). I need to do an exhaustive Google search and see if there are any earlier uses of it. --Woozle (talk) 14:34, 19 April 2013 (EDT)

I made another version of the basic jobsolescence argument in one or two comments here; perhaps that should be integrated into this page.

Links

Reference

Discussion

Fiction

  • Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut: Widespread mechanization in a future society creates conflict between the wealthy upper class – the engineers and managers who keep society running – and the lower class, whose skills and purpose in society have been replaced by machines.

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