August 30, 2015


Why Are There Any Jobs Still Left? : Technology eliminates jobs, not work (Ronald Bailey|Aug. 28, 2015, Reason)

Analyzing technological and employment trends over the past 150 years in the United Kingdom, [Ian Stewart, Debapratim De, and Alex Cole, three economists at the business consultancy Deloitte] find that while machines have eliminated millions of jobs, they have also conjured into existence many more. Even better, living standards dramatically improved as the technological destruction of old jobs proceeded.

How? First, technology substitutes for labor, thus raising productivity and lowering prices. Since 1950, the percent of British incomes spent on food and clothing has fallen from 35 and 10 percent to 11 and 5 percent, respectively. In addition, the real price of automobiles has been halved. In 1948, a television in the U.S. would have cost the equivalent of $12,000 in today's money. Since then, the price of a TV has since fallen by 98 percent. 

Second, the sectors that are the sources of innovation expand, boosting the demand for labor. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of people working in computer systems design and related fields rose from 400,000 in 1990 to over 1.5 million in 2011. Similarly, the number of people employed in life sciences (biotechnology, pharmaceuticals) increased from 174,000 in 1990 to 1 million in 2012.

Third, technology improves outcomes in areas such as medicine, leading to increased demand for labor in those areas. Consider that the annual death rate for cardiovascular diseases in the United States has fallen from 805 per 100,000 in 1963 to 236 per 100,000 today. Five-year cancer survival rates have risen from 50 percent in 1970 to 70 percent today. Meanwhile, U.S. health-care employment rose from 2 percent of the workforce in 1950 to 9 percent today--that is, from 1.2 million to 13.4 million workers.

Fourth, technology lowers the cost of production and prices, enabling people to shift their spending to other goods and services, thus boosting demand for labor in those areas. For example, the demand for more personal services has greatly expanded. While the percent of their incomes Americans spent on food fell by nearly half since 1960, the percent of their food budgets spent on restaurants more than doubled from 20 percent to 43 percent. Consequently, the number of eating establishments since 1990 in the U.S. increased from 238,000 to nearly 1 million. Jobs in food service grew from 6.4 million to over 15 million now, nearly doubling as a proportion of the labor force. The number of people working as massage therapists has increased from 128,000 in 1996 to over 300,000, also nearly doubling as a fraction of the workforce. According to the Deloitte economists, since 1950 the percentage of the British workforce employed as barstaff has tripled and the percentage working as hairdressers has doubled.

...until the robots learn them.
Posted by at August 30, 2015 8:24 AM

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