Monday, January 09, 2017


Besides providing us with means necessary to pay for our survival, jobs provide us satisfaction and a sense of purpose in life. Much of the angst in the US that led to the election of DT seems to be associated with the disappearance of good paying factory jobs, and the feeling that those jobs went abroad or to immigrants willing to work cheap. I wouldn't be surprised if similar factors are at work in the rise of right-wing and neo-fascist parties in Europe as well.

Of course many of those jobs went not abroad but to machines. Many domestic industries (like coal mining) produce just as much as they did twenty years ago, but with a small fraction of the number of workers. Many smart people, and dumber people like myself, have been thinking about what happens over the next decade and a half when a huge fraction of jobs still requiring humans disappears.

Our new Secretary of Labor designate is on record as opposing any minimum wage, mainly, I suppose, because it would squeeze his profits as a fast food magnate, but he justifies it by saying that if there is a higher minimum wage, fast food workers will just be replaced by robots. That's true of course, and is going to happen whether the minimum wage is $15/hr or just being allowed to eat the day old french fries. The minimum wage might affect the time table in a small way.

Low skill, low education, and poorly educated workers may be worst affected, but lawyers have already been hit hard by computerization of their jobs. Many types of doctors will soon be on the obsolete list as well. Work like that of Kahneman and Tversky showed that many types of human expertise are illusory - people are not good at sifting many types of complex evidence. Not only that, but even in fields where human expertise is genuine and unmistakable, at least compared to non expert humans, like chess and go, computers have demonstrated that they can do better.

So what happens when tens of millions of drivers, fast food workers and other are thrown out of work over a short time period? Ironically, this will have happened because society has become more productive. A long time narrative of the oligarchy is that just making sure all the profits go to the rich and super rich will be good for society. The "job creators", as they style the super wealthy, will create more jobs. Funny thing though - the last 35 years has seen an enormous transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich, but that job creating magic just hasn't seemed to happen.