Welcome, robots

The good news in automation:  as brute-force jobs decline, jobs providing caring and service increase, fulfilling the new demand created by all the wealth produced by automating brute-force jobs.


Grim said...

So, how well does a hairdresser or a "bar wait staff" worker do compared to the factory workers? Those are their two stand-out examples of "caring and service" workers.

I note also that some of the other categories they site are poor examples of market activity: e.g., a massive increase in "social workers" is (a) probably not a good thing, actually, as it represents increased government meddling in family life, and (b) not a market activity at all: in America, it's mostly government trying to provide jobs for people the market doesn't really want. That doesn't necessarily fit the thesis that excess wealth from automation is making more money for jobs available, since government spending is no longer tied down to government income via taxation.

Grim said...

It also strikes me that the data set, going back as it does into the 19th century, is really just reiterating what we already know: lots of women have entered the workplace during this time, mostly into menial and unpleasant jobs like waiting tables at bars and cleaning bedpans.

Maybe, then, it's just a question of how you describe the change: "Look at how much wealthier we are! We can afford more waitresses and home care workers!" Or: "Look at how much poorer we are! It used to be even working families could have the mother stay home and care for her own family. Now instead of being home with her children, she has to be out waiting tables for drunks."

More jobs don't equal better lives, and fewer don't necessarily mean worse. That's really the big question about the robots: is it going to improve human happiness and flourishing, or diminish it? It really could go either way, depending on whether and how we resolve some questions about what people are going to do who aren't needed by the new economy. Robots can wait tables and empty bedpans too. If people prefer a human touch, will they be prepared to pay a premium for it that is large enough for a worker to keep body and soul together? If not, the mild preference won't matter: we'll use robots.

David Foster said...

The level of $ that can be paid for a job category, if there are a large number of people in that category, is very closely tied to the productivity level that can be applied to that job sector, via automation or improved organization of work. Someone running a highly-automated rolling mill in a steel plant can be paid well because his salary is pretty minor in comparison with the steel product he produces. Henry Ford was able to pay workers $5/day because the productivity of the Model T assembly line was so high (and he *had* to pay them $5/day because the work was so unpleasant that they otherwise wouldn't stay around)

It is not obvious where the productivity leverage for, say, home health care workers is that will allow high and increasing wages for this job category.

Also, I doubt that the increase in % of the workforce that are accountants reflects any kind of generic switch to knowledge work. It probably has a lot to do with government reporting requirements, combined with increasingly complex (often dysfunctionally so) corporate organization structures.

jaed said...

"Look at how much wealthier we are! We can afford to have 30%* of the productive capacity of our people going toward fulfilling regulations and reporting requirements, and in spite of this, our lifestyles are barely worse than they were a quarter century ago!"

* Actual figure I have seen for total economic activity that goes toward regulation. That's on top of taxes, mind you.

David Foster said...

"As brute-force jobs decline"....it is actually not safe to assume that the effect of automation is always to replace lower-skilled work with higher-skilled work. A checkout clerk with a modern POS system needs less skill than one who had to figure out the change himself. His boss, the chain store manager, probably needs less skill than his predecessor, the independent store manager or owner who had to make his own inventory and resupply decisions. As far as *literal* brute-force jobs go, most of these--stokers, ditchdiggers, cotton-pickers, etc...were eliminated or de-brute-forced decades ago.

Edith Hook said...

I think we were all supposed to have highly paid hi-tech or service jobs by now and simultaneously cultivating our inner artiste. Is your job an endangered species? To the extent that they even grasp these dynamics, pols don’t address these issues because they don’t have any solutions.
An old blog comment from someone named Jane: "Let's see, the electronic manufacturing jobs went to Japan decades ago, then all the labor intensive manufacturing jobs went to Asia, the rest were automated; half of our IT jobs went to India. Agriculture, construction, landscaping, housekeeping, restaurant jobs went to illegals.
When manufacturing jobs started to disappear, people went into construction, distribution, transportation, retail, or back to school for IT and Finance. Then the dotcom bust and outsourcing killed off job prospects for IT grads, leaving Finance and Real Estate. Now that Wall Street and Real Estate have imploded, dragging with it Retail, distribution, and what's left of manufacturing, construction...what else is left?"
The government!Punditry and activism!

Ymar Sakar said...

There's always farming human livestock that the Left can offer an infinite number of jobs for, scaling with human pop levels. PProfit can generate quite a bit of money for jobs that way.