Social Question

SQUEEKY2's avatar

With the advance of automation and further human job loss, who is going to be left to buy anything, much less try and make a living?

Asked by SQUEEKY2 (19396points) September 23rd, 2016

Self check outs, computer banking, and driver less trucks.
The advance of technology in other industries what are the humans that are affected by this advancement supposed to do?
Are we supposed to just resort to be slaves, or work in a cubicle for the rest of our working lives?
Sorry for this question being of several parts, but it does all sorta lump together.
Here is one more with all this automation doesn’t that in itself prove the gap between the rich and poor is just getting wider with all the job loss due to automation?

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23 Answers

Seek's avatar

We had plenty of poor people when we had to pick every cotton ball to hand-spin every thread to hand-weave every yard of fabric to hand-sew every garment.

The invention of textile machines was not the end of the world, and neither will be the invention of the self-check-out or the self-driving truck.

ucme's avatar

The wife, she will literally shop til she drops…ye gads!

Cruiser's avatar

In the 60’s China flooded the US market with cheap and I mean CHEAP crap that American consumers eagerly gobbled up. US manufacturers responded with a patriotic “Buy American” campaign and it had a positive effect. We may have to do an updated campaign that urges one to buy items made by an American…a real live American.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I see a lot of what are now called “redundant” people starting their own very small businesses, trading and bartering goods and services in an effort to subsist. Much of it is niche and under the table, much of their marketing is within their own neighborhoods, or over the net in places like Ebay and Etsy.

I am in contact with a young family who live in the middle of nowhere in the Midwest, squatters in an old abandoned farmhouse, who sell boutique honey and dried fruits locally and on the internet for hard cash.

I know of a Canadian family of four, the parents became unemployed when their factory closed, so they liquidated everything, bought a boat and are circumnavigating the globe. They do photojournalism for yachting and travel magazines to keep going.

There is a couple in San Francisco with an old pick-up who scour the alleys for abandoned furniture, fill a container once a month and ship it to a used furniture store on Dominica. They are doing quite well, actually. People innovate.

Celestial Seasonings was started by a young couple interested in the wild herbs they found combing the mountainsides of Colorado and started by selling their tea mixtures at local headshops and healthfood stores in the early 1970’s.

Many of these people are invisible, completely off the radar now, not necessarily by choice. As we become more automated and impersonal, there is a growing high-end market for things carefully and skillfully crafted, touched by the human hand.

janbb's avatar

Fears of robots taking over have been around since the 60s. Somehow we’ll figure it out given the right people in charge.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Automation has brought humanity a wonderful bounty of things like books, the internet, consistently made textiles, interchangeable parts, safe food, water, housing…. People are still going to be poor but overall we have much better lives due to automation. Craftsmanship is taking a hit but hand crafted items are still in demand and always will be from those who can afford to pay for them. The difference now is people who could not normally afford those things can get the manufactured versions cheaply where before you either made it yourself or simply went without. And yes people will innovate. I took the day off work and the wife and I went on one of our “scavenger hunt dates.” We made a quick $300–400 this morning before going out to lunch just picking up items at garage sales.

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

We would be like the survivors from WallE anime. All fat and chair bound just relaxing.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Little known economist and 1973 Nobel Prize winner in economics, Wassily Leontief (1906–1999), was notable for his research on how changes in one economic sector may affect other sectors. He addressed this very problem in The Future Impact of Automation on Workers (1983). In it he describes how automation does cause redundancy, but also a society with more leisure time to create other industries, such as the leisure industry, e. g. the hospitality and vacation industry, including all the paraphenalia and all the employment therein.

I don’t remember his exact examples but the point was that even if two kids like Jobs and Wozniak had all the electronic components of the early 1970’s available to them 50 years earlier, the home computer and resultant economic explosion still wouldn’t come into being because Jobs and Wozniak very likely would be busy laboring in the fields or down at the shirtwaist factory from dawn to dusk.

“The role of humans as the most important factor of production is bound to diminish in the same way that the role of horses in agricultural production was first diminished and then eliminated by the introduction of tractors.”

He meant that as a positive thing.

CWOTUS's avatar

This is a complete non-issue.

Jobs that require manual labor have always – always – been the first ones to be automated, and always (eventually, anyway) to the betterment of the entire population, including the ones whose jobs are replaced.

Think about it. When was the last time you saw a farm field full of workers with hoes tilling the soil for a living? I’m talking hundred-acre and thousand-acre fields. When was the last time you saw someone scything wheat and standing it in shocks for later collection and hand winnowing. For that matter, when was the last time you saw anyone winnowing wheat? Or shucking corn for high production? These jobs have simply vanished. They used to be done by most of the people in the world. Those people are not now starving, as a rule. They haven’t died off. Even crop picking is becoming more and more automated.

EDIT to add: As a matter of fact, and to turn this around, when you travel to the parts of the world where people still do a lot more manual labor, then you realize very quickly that it’s the fact that they have to do all of that manual labor that makes them so desperately poor.

For one thing, someone has to invent, design, build and sell those machines – and when the concept is proven and the return to the owner of the crops is demonstrated, then they certainly will be built and sold and used.

As @Espiritus_Corvus notes, some of those people are now writing books, painting (art or houses, as their talents and desires dictate), playing sports in front of paying customers (including the Cornhuskers, as a matter of fact). There is always work to be done. There are always things that people want when they have their basic and most essential needs taken care of. For that matter, there are always more people.

I have things in my life now – things that I consider to be essential to my well-being – that my parents would never have cared about, and about which their own parents could not have even dreamed.

SquirrelEStuff's avatar

Message for Posterity by Albert Einstein

“Our time is rich in inventive minds, the inventions of which could facilitate our lives considerably. We are crossing the seas by power and utilize power also in order to relieve humanity from all tiring muscular work. We have learned to fly and we are able to send messages and news without any difficulty over the entire world through electric waves.

However, the production and distribution of commodities is entirely unorganized so that everybody must live in fear of being eliminated from the economic cycle, in this way suffering for the want of everything. Furthermore, people living in different countries kill each other at irregular time intervals so that also for this reason any one who thinks about the future must live in fear and terror. This is due to the fact that the intelligence and the character of the masses are incomparably lower than the intelligence and character of the few who produce something valuable for the community.

I trust that posterity will read these statements with a feeling of proud and justified superiority.”

kritiper's avatar


Tropical_Willie's avatar

Truck drivers !

Zaku's avatar

Just one of the many ways that the economic system at hand, leads to very bad places.

SQUEEKY2's avatar


johnpowell's avatar

There will eventually be a point of inflection where so much can be automated you are only left with people designing, engineering, programing, and making the machines that make the machines that make machines.

I don’t see this as a bad thing. There will have to structural changes to the way our economy functions. Perhaps some sort of living wage.

Ideally every man hour you can remove from menial work can be spent loving your kid or writing a great book which is great for society as a whole.

Finding the balance in all this will probably result in a major war. Luckily, I will be dead before it goes down.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I also agree with @Zaku and @johnpowell. Our political system is quite brutal when it comes to redundancy and if it doesn’t change with the times and if automation continues as it will, we will find ourselves as nation in big trouble.

I had a good friend, John Love, a welder from Pittsburgh. His father was a welder and his grandfather was a welder. The knew everything about every kind of welding. He was a diehard, bluecollar welder. He was well read and did metalwork art in his backyard after work. He married a Swedish woman and they moved to Gothenberg, Sweden where he found work at one of the largest shipbuilding works in the world at the time. The combination of high-quality Swedish steel and the reputation of Swedish craftsmenship kept the yards booming with contracts for naval vessels from around the world. When I met him, he had been working on an Australian submarine for over a year.

But in late 70’s Singapore had opened government sponsored trade schools producing welders, among other trades, and by buying salvaged ships and quality steel from around the world in combination with cheap labor, they were able to slowly encroach on the Swedish industry at Gothenberg and eventually took the whole thing away and the yards closed after over 250 years of production. John found himself unemployed in a foreign country of 8.4 million people with a wife and two young children surrounded by ten thousand unemployed welders.

This is how the Swedish government handled it: 9 months before closing, they sent in people from Arbetsformedlingen, (AF) the Swedish Employment Service to begin a series of interviews with each worker to assess their academic and trade skills. The people that AF could immediately place were given the opportunity to relocate to those jobs around the country where they were needed with a transfer package including 90% of their pay that seamlessly cut in upon termination and didn’t stop until their first paycheck on the new job. They also go travel expenses and the first month’s rent and utilities on their new apartments and assistance finding them in their new towns.

Everybody got 90% of their pay without ever missing a payday—as long as they cooperated with AF. Some of these people only needed to brush up on their math and writing skills to be employable and this was offered in night classes taught by AF contracted teachers in local schools. Others were offered completely new educations robotics, electronically supervising the machines that were replacing welders and the like at Saab, Volvo, Tetrapak, Fairchild Aircraft, Bofors, etc., and the whole industrial base of the national economy. In order to compete internationally, the Swedish government knew that they must replace the worker with robotics and who else knows the job better than the people who used to work the floor.

John went to school fulltime for two years on 90% pay. He was scared shitless. He hadn’t stepped into a classroom in 17 years. He hated school when he was a kid and dropped out in 10th grade and went to work with his old man. They even put that poor sonovabitch through eighth grade math and eventually brought him up to par. Two years later, he was working in a glass box packed with electronics high above a factory floor in charge of an army of robots for Tetrapak at twice the pay he made as a welder and better hours. When I last saw him, it was a weekend, he had his arc welder in his hand and he was making art in his back yard with scrap metal.

So, what did the Swedish government do? They put people back to work, they continued to collect taxes from them while they were unemployed and they kept the city of Gothenberg and the province in which sits from ending up like Detroit. They also saved millions in ER costs, in wife beatings, alcohol and drug abuse, children from losing their nuclear families and so much more if you thing about it. They prevented a recession.

Every person in Sweden, whether a Swedish citizen or not, gets this service. That’s Social Democracy. And Singapore? They got an industry that is now famous around the world and better paying jobs for it’s people and economy.

That’s Social Democracy, responsible Capitalism. That’s how it works.

LostInParadise's avatar

Automation has already become a problem. The slowness of the recovery from the recession is largely due to the fact that computers are now doing much that used to be done by human labor. I think that the support received by Trump and Sanders is due in part to this situation. Trump’s non-college educated white supporters and Sanders’ millennial generation supporters have been hit pretty hard by the economic changes. I think we are heading toward a major turning point in the industrialized world, and I don’t know how we are going to handle it. Part of the solution may be giving everyone a guaranteed living wage, as @johnpowell suggests. I don’t think that we would tolerate just sitting around idle as @RedDeerGuy1 proposes.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I like the way Sweden handled it. I wonder if that is sustainable (not in an ecological sense).

For the most part, four things add wealth to an economy: mining, manufacturing, farming, and construction. They are the components of GDP that bring in new wealth where it didn’t exist before.
From the 40,000 ft vantage point services, medical, nail salons, sales, insurance, banking… all are mostly a zero-sum game where existing money is moved from one hand to another while coordinators skim off a percentage.

As more people are moved from one service to another they will eventually move to the components of GDP that add to wealth. Maybe they will work on infrastructure projects. Maybe construction. Heavy equipment will require training not physical strength.

There must be some incentive for people to work. And that incentive can be either a carrot or stick approach like higher assistance payments if you are working and/or lower if you are not.

CWOTUS's avatar

I used to think as you have posited here, @LuckyGuy “four things add wealth to an economy: mining, manufacturing, farming, and construction”.

But I have since then broadened my understanding. After all, what about art? Doesn’t great art, in a very real sense, make us wealthy? That is, it reorganizes the physical world in some way to create a desired thing that is wanted by at least one person. You could, I suppose, lump art under “manufacturing”, because in some sense that’s what it is in a very basic sense. But that certainly expands the “manufacturing” category, doesn’t it? Now that includes all painting, sculpture, music, writing, film, acting in general … and even philosophy itself. So here’s where it gets interesting: thought itself can generate wealth. Pure ideas. Certainly you would agree that “invention” makes new wealth where it did not previously exist.

But even more mundane things can generate wealth: “repair”, for example. If a valuable machine is rendered inoperable in some way, then its repair in essence creates “new wealth” from junk. That doesn’t necessarily mean that a guy who changes the oil in his car is going to become a tycoon from the operation, but still, it’s a principle.

And speaking of operations, surgeons who can repair people’s bodies to make them whole or functional again are creating wealth, aren’t they?

When you broaden your criteria for “what is wealth” then it’s obvious that it can be created in a great many more ways than we once imagined.

jca's avatar

@CWOTUS: I think “repair” would come under the umbrella terms of “mining, manufacturing, farming and construction” as all of those would need repairs, therefore all of those industries would employ people who do repair service, manufacture parts, etc.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

@LuckyGuy That was in 1983. The Swedes haven’t had an unemployment rate over 4.2% since then and they weathered this latest “world wide” recession with very little effect. They have a healthy, they use their tax to take care of their health and education (no tuition from pre-school to PhD), they are happy and live a much higher standard than us—as does Norway and Denmark. They don’t have burned-out shithole write-offs like Detroit. I’d say it’s sustainable. Now why can’t we do that?

I’ll tell you one thing that I know for sure: The way we’re doing it now isn’t sustainable.

CWOTUS's avatar

Okay, how about “re-purpose”, then? That kind of helps to blur the lines between invention, art and manufacturing, doesn’t it?

The point is that wealth is generated in vastly more ways than I ever thought possible when I restricted myself to those few categories.

Zaku's avatar

As we solve our survival problems, a wise and humane society would, I think, abolish the survivalist economic model. That is, provide for everyone’s needs and education as a baseline, and have economic activity just earn credit for whatever else. So much of the stress and misery in our culture comes from a needless game to accumulate the most wealth, which the banks and multi-national corporations won a long time ago, and are just going to win more and more of as time goes on, unless and until we change the game and the thinking.

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