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The Real Wealth of Nations by Riane Eisler

The Real Wealth of Nations by Riane Eisler

Author:Riane Eisler
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers
Published: 2007-03-08T16:00:00+00:00


TECHNOLOGY AND THE FUTURE OF WORK

Robotics and other forms of automation have already changed our economic landscape in unprecedented ways. In the United States alone, 50 percent of blue-collar jobs were eliminated between 1969 and 1999 due to robotics and information technology.4 And this wave of job losses, in which over ten million jobs involving physical labor and repetitive activities were replaced by automation, is just part of the story. Millions of white-collar jobs, such as those of telephone operators and receptionists, were also phased out by automation. In addition, many other well-paying jobs have disappeared.

The loss of manufacturing and white-collar jobs, and increasingly also programming and other high-technology jobs, is in part due to their outsourcing to nations with lower labor costs. But as automation becomes cheaper and more prevalent, many of these jobs, too, will be largely taken over by automation.

A 2005 report by the research firm Strategy Analytics predicts that many first-level jobs in service industries related to customer service, help desk, and directory assistance will soon be lost to intelligent systems.5 Harvey Cohen, the author of the study, also warns that mid- and high-level jobs are threatened because of the expansion of automated intelligent systems capable of decision-making, advisory, and analytical functions. While these systems are not likely to replace humans altogether, he writes, they will markedly reduce the number of people needed to support business and government activities.6

The consequences, not only of unemployment and underemployment but of a less financially secure consumer base, are already being felt in the United States. There is a polarization of jobs, with well-paying jobs largely requiring advanced degrees or high-technology skills on the one hand and large numbers of people relegated to low-wage jobs that are often part-time and without benefits on the other.

As we move further into the postindustrial economy, predictions are that the U.S. industrial job base will shrink as radically as the agricultural job base shrank earlier, from employing a majority of workers to less than 5 percent. But unlike industrialization, automation does not offer large numbers of replacement jobs, especially in the nonprofessional occupations that until now provided mass employment.

The question is what to do with the “surplus” populations that technological advances such as automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence systems leave in their wake. Foreseeing this problem, and the mass suffering it will bring, the liberal economist Robert Theobald proposed a guaranteed annual income to help those in need.7 For similar reasons, and to prevent extensive violence and the collapse of social and economic infrastructures, the conservative economist Milton Friedman proposed a negative income tax. This too would give people with no or low earnings a government stipend.8

These measures, however, are not appropriate responses to projections that much of what has been considered productive work will gradually be phased out by new technologies in agriculture, manufacturing, and the knowledge economy. These measures just entail doling out money, and contribute nothing to either economic or personal development.

Neither a guaranteed annual income nor a negative income tax encourages productivity and creativity.



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