The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Sumit Paul-Choudhury in the 4 March 2017 issue of the New Scientist. Bill Gates argued that we should raise the same amount of money by taxing robots as we would lose in payroll taxes from the humans they supplant. Then this money could be directed towards more human-dependent jobs, such as caring for the young, old and sick. EU legislators rejected just such a proposal due to lobbying efforts by the robotics industry.
The article makes the valid assertion that automation is the biggest challenge to employment in the 21st century. Research has shown that far more jobs are lost to automation than to outsourcing. Moreover, this will get worse as machines become ever more capable of doing human jobs—not just those involving physical labor, but ones involving thinking also.
The common argument from the robot revolution is that previous upheavals have always created new kinds of jobs to replace the ones that have gone extinct. But previously when automation hit one sector, employees would decamp to other industries. However, the sweep of machine learning means that many sectors are automating simultaneously. So perhaps it’s not about how many jobs ar left after the machines are done taking their pick, but which ones.
The article suggests that the evidence might not be very satisfying. The rise of the “gig economy”, in which algorithms direct low-skilled human workers. Although this might be an employer’s dream, it is frequently an insecure, unfulfilling and sometimes exploitative grind for workers.
The article argues that to stop this, it’s employers that need to be convinced, not the people making the technology, but it will be difficult to convince the employers who have huge incentives to replace all-too-human workers with machines that never stop working and never get paid.
Although the article fails to mention this, there is the danger of extremely high unemployment, particularly among the well-educated and formerly well-off. There have been several previous healthy memory blog posts by HM in which he discusses the future he was offered in the 1950s. In elementary school we were told that by today technological advances would vastly increase leisure time. Bear in mind that in the 50s very few mothers worked. Moreover, technology has advanced far more than anticipated. So, why is everyone working so hard? Where is this promised leisure?
Unfortunately modern economies are predicated on growth. They must grow which requires people to purchase junk and to keep working. These economies are running towards disaster. People need to demand the leisure promised in the 50s. Paul-Choudry’s article does suggest that a business friendly middle ground might be for governments to subsidize reductions in working hours, an approach that has fended off labour crises before. HM thinks that Paul-Choudhury has vastly underestimated the dangers of job losses. HM thinks that this is of a magnitude that will threaten the stability of society. So the working week will need to be drastically shortened to 20 hours (See the Healthymemory Blog Post “More on Rest”).
There have been previous healthy memory blog posts on having a basic minimum income, which also will need to be passed.
The primary forces arguing for these changes are the risks of societal collapse.
However, people need to have a purpose (ikigai) in their lives. They need to have eudaemonic not hedonic pursuits. Eudaemonic pursuits build societies; hedonic pursuits destroy society.
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