I wanna talk about this video by CGP Grey. The thought of robots taking our jobs is equally frightening as exciting for me. On one hand, they free us from many tasks to give us time for ourselves. On the other hand, they heavily distrupt our lifestyle. So far if you look at history, it’s always been work or war. Either you’re busy cropping your fields or you’re busy fighting for your country or state because your feudal lord wills it. Only a very small fraction of the population was able to spend their time leisurely, typically aristrocrats. But even they were raised strictly, had to study hard and had many responsibilities. Now we’re looking towards a time where a big portion of the population don’t need to do anything. So what could change, how far is it away and what problems will we face?
First off, I don’t think there’s gonna be a big change any time soon. While I can see some fields be replaced by robots almost entirely like transportation. There is gonna be some resistance here and there. This article for instance points out, that it wouldn’t profit coporations as much as you’d think. Additionally, unions protect these workers and it’s uncomfortable for users of these railroad systems. I actually looked for an article I’ve read a few years ago, where a company had to reinstall a driver, because the guests had an eerie feeling when riding a driverless train. That’s totally understandable, you don’t know what would happen in an incident. You don’t trust computers as much as humans as your own typically give you problems at least once a year in some way. The same can be said for planes, so they’re out of the picture for now too. But these are only a small part of transportation. A lot is done by trucks. These can be easily replaced in the future with loads of profit. CGP Grey’s video has 3.6 million who work in the field of transportation. Currently the US has an unemployment rate of 4.8% or 7.8 million. (see here) For comparison, Germanys unemployment rate is at a low of 6% with about w2.6 million having no job in 2016. These numbers don’t sound very high, but a remarkable part of the population is sitll threatened by this. It doesn’t even take into consideration the employed, but low earning part of the population. On the US side, we have 45 million eligible to food stamps. A frightening number if you ask me. But also a good indicator on what the economic growth is build on. Germany(German) reports 16 million or 20% threatened by poverty. It’s still below average in the EU, but already very high. It means one in five doesn’t have savings for times in need.
Taking this into consideration, what does that mean for automization? Well for todays truck driver probably not that much as they’re protected by unions. Plus driverless cars are still early in development, so they are lucky. It’s an entirely different story for possible future truck drivers. Companies will try to equip their trucks with these features to replace quitting employees not with new ones, but with computers. That would quickly lead to a decrease the number of available jobs in this section. As mentioned above, today we’re at 3.6 million. This number could decrease by 50% to a mere 1.8 million in just a few decades. That’s not a number you can fill with other jobs easily and also just an example. This means, that this number of 7.8 unemployment won’t go down. Perhaps a few will still find a new job or a gap in the market, but generally it’s basically at a low. On this basis, I’d predict a steady increase in the next decade. So that we’re at possibly 10 million or 7.5% by 2050. Obviously the same goes for Germany, the EU, East Asia, any prosperous country where people can afford to buy these computers.
And because this is such a drastic, unprecedented development, it’s important to make plans early. We need solutions and for these we need to test them. Even worse, we live in a globally connected world, so any change in one country (like minimum income) will also affect the rest of the world in some way.
Lower the work shifts
First thing that comes to mind is lowering the working hours for everyone. Today the average workday is 8 hours long or one third of the day. This could be reduced to 6 hours while keeping the same wage for example. This would allow for more jobs easily. Of course it also comes with a lot of problems. First, small companies wouldn’t be able to come even anymore. By expanding their personal by say 20%, they also need to pay them 20% more. Hardly feasible for companies with few contracts. Big companies would protest heavily as well as it reduces their profits and ability to compete with foreign companies immensely.
This idea is also very hard to implement. Some jobs need long training. Not anyone can be anything. While the work of slaters is very hard, demanding and dangerous at times, it’s also a profession not anyone can take up. Some are afraid of the height, others aren’t sturdy enough or lack the stamina even with the decreased working hours. Hence why women are very rare in this field. However, this isn’t unprecedented. In Germany, Bismarck already reduced the working hours by 20-25%, so it’s not entirely unimagible to do that again.
On the other hand, some professions need a lot of attention. Take doctors for example. While the demand is high, the supply of new doctors can’t keep up. As a result, many overwork themselves, causing problems in the process. Employing more of them is already a very good idea, but hardly possible with the high requirements needed to be one. If you regulate the working hours even further, meeting these standards will be practically impossible.
Nevertheless, this idea offers a good solution to keep our lifestyle even through automization. It doesn’t improve the poverty statistics I’ve mentioned above, but that’s a different issue altogether. Albeit, depending on the degree of automization, this could only be a temporary solution. It’s hard to predict just how much human labour will be replaced by roboters.
Another take on the matter is the introduction of minimum income. The idea is for the state to raise taxes to redistribute this money equally among everyone. As this isn’t about the specific economic process of this redistribution, I’m not gonna go into that. Also because I lack the expertise for that. I can still discuss the pro and cons though.
Lowering the working hours would still help us keep our lifestyles where a lot of socialization is found at work. But with a reason to work gone, a lot of people would just sit around leisurely. Of course that’s possible. It’s also not without prior instance. Practically every thinker before the 20th hundred was one, because he had the time for it. These thinkers however grew up under special circumstances, in that they were usually surrounded by books in their parents libraries and had good education. Geniuses such as John Stuart Mill wouldn’t have been able to learn multiple languages at a low age without a rich father who can provide him with a large number of texts. Not anyone has to go through this rigorous education, that would be impossible.
Despite of that I still think education is very important if a generation faces an unemployment rate of at least 20%. This education wouldn’t only serve the classic understanding of giving children knowledge and an understanding of the world. Rather it’s also to broaden the horizon of them to find individual interests and to keep them curious. Curiousity for me is a vital part of us humans to go through life. Without it, you’ll hardly find something new and slide into boredom.
And with boredom I mainly imagine ghettos filled with unguided youths who live in the now. Stroll around the streets, doing drugs, being violent. I think you get the gist. This fear is rather groundless and more of an educated guess or gut feeling, but may still be an issue. I will probably also write a sole article on the importance of education as I see it.
Back to the issues of minimum income, it alone still only solves future problems on a superficial level. While many would be joyous to have a secure income they can rely on without having to fear for unforeseeable accidents, money for everyone isn’t worth much. Even if this minimum income would come as $1000, economy would severly adapt to this change accordingly. Money still only is a tool to exchange different products on the same basis. Take Luxembourg for example.
They have indexed their minimum wage according to the average cost of living. So if groceries, the rent and electricity become more expensive, the minimum wage grows accordingly. As such they now have the highest minimum wage on the whole world with almost 2000€ per month. As seen here, this number doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s a steady increase over the last two decades. Now rent prices are amongst the highest in Europe although they share the same currency as their neighbors. Incidentally it’s a great place for cross-border workers, thus resulting in very different issues for the small country. While they have a small population, they have even more workers from outside who don’t pay taxes in that country. I think Luxembourg is a good example in how a minimum income might influence the market.
Nevertheless, I can also see some simple jobs or rather shops arise from a secure living. Let’s assume we somehow manage to create a society where everyone has a basic income they can use to live safely with, plus a bit of simple luxury. Then what? For once you wouldn’t need to make a living out of what you do, so it could potentially flourish all kinds of new fields. One being small meet up spots where you can talk with others with the same interests. Imagine a small tea shop that offers different kinds of tea at a low price where you can talk with strangers. All the owner has to do is to roughly break even at the end of the month to pay the rent and the tea. Of course that can be done with about any activity. A weekly meet up to do different kind of sports, maybe changing weekly even, where you play volleyball one week while you practice yoga another. That’s also the main reason why I think automization will be very exciting.
These are the ideas I have at the moment. One that preserves our lifestyle and another that creates a new one part of the population. I don’t think either of them is perfect. They both need much refinement. You could also combine them and have both minimum income while normal work shifts are 6 hours long. Or you subsidise part of the wage to make these shifts affordable for all companies. All that needs some proper discussion with many different people. Otherwise this will be solved carelessly and result in more problems. Be it for employers, employees or someone entirely else.