Jobs for Robots: Between Robocalypse and Robotopia Kindle Edition
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To look at the future, he first looks at the past, and the various other “robot revolutions” that have occurred previously, and shows why this one will be, ultimately, not so very different from, say, the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s. Similar cases could be stated regards improvements in agricultural equipment, or military technology, or the like. Technology doesn’t really make the human touch obsolete, it merely changes what we do and makes what we do easier; I’m writing this now without the need to hire a scribe or a message-runner, for instance, but a small army of people were involved in the the developments required to make this message possible.
Where I think Schenker drops the ball is is regards UBI, and I think that’s due in large part to a kind of tunnel vision; looking at “the big picture” entirely within the frame of the current status quo in his native US:
“It costs more than our currently failing welfare system” (it costs less than systems in Europe that actually work).
“It’ll mean higher corporation taxes and so will result in businesses pulling out” (which is why there are no major businesses in countries with a strong welfare system like Germany, and is also why countries with incredibly high corporation taxes, like Norway, aren’t topping wealth indexes time and again)
“It’ll make people lazy” (it has been tested again and again and found to free people to pursue their entrepreneurial projects and bring value to society; people enjoying UBI simply work more productively in a personally optimized fashion, unlike those who would produce something great but have to stack shelves to pay the bills).
“It’ll produce hyperinflation” (this one’s beyond my personal knowledge-base, but it’s clear that this isn’t the prevailing view of economists; I expect the reason why has to do with the fact that UBI covers only basic living expenses, not luxuries, so while there’ll be a market adjustment it’ll be a matter of a baseline moving by a finite amount (directly proportional to the amount of the UBI) and from there inflation will proceed as normal. Obviously hyperinflation would actually occur if the money were just printed, rather than coming from the tax kitty, but that’s another matter and I don’t think anyone’s proposing that).
However! While for the above reasons I currently disagree heartily with Schenker on the matter of UBI, I laud his well-reasoned arguments in the matters of job security, automation-proofing one’s ability to contribute usefully to society, and so forth, considering all but two chapters of the book (which pertain to UBI) to be very well-balanced indeed.
If I’d add a caveat, it’d simply be to read it alongside something like “Robots Will Steal Your Job But That’s OK” by Federico Pistono for the balance that’d otherwise be missing regards UBI.
The author supports his views with data on farm and manufacturing labor, and draws, ‘inter alia’, the following conclusions: The jobs less likely to be automated are those requiring human contact and personal touch. So health care and some services would not be unduly affected by automation. But traditional low skills; low income; low education jobs will disappear - retail salespersons, cashiers, freight, stock, and hand material mover laborers, stock clerks and order fillers, as well as truck drivers. Robotopia is unlikely to happen for a number of reasons: the shift in population dynamics to older people; the already high level of the federal budget; funds availability for income payouts; and the human need to work to justify themselves. Robocalypse could get out of hand unless controlled by educational and training policies; and the existence of ‘green jobs’, which are difficult to automate.
This book is a very well written, and does not read like your typical economics book. I like the extended discussion of Universal Basic Income (an income paid to all by the Government) - its cost effect on the federal budget, and associated rises in inflation; taxes; and economy and societal chaos. The book squashes the current idea that manufacturing jobs lost to globalization should be brought back. This is unlikely, but even if they were, they are of the type highly amenable to the negative impact of automation, and unavailable to the labor force. The author finally concludes that: “Education is both the greatest weapon we have against Robocalypse, and it is the best tool with which we can equip our population to be productive and engaged members of society.” The source of much of this training would be done online. Individuals can “robot-proof” themselves by - Work in an Evergreen Industry: Gain professional exposure to a career that will be in demand in the automation age. Learn Valuable Skills: Take advantage of formal and informal education opportunities. Be prepared to learn more. Keep Moving: Put yourself in a position to find opportunities, by changing industries, companies, or geographies.”
I highly recommend this book as a must-read by all citizens, but especially people intending to join the labor force in the near future. The book’s advice is given on the basis that we are currently witnessing more automation and its inevitable spread
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