A recent Atlantic article is the latest installment in ‘the robots are taking all our jobs’ genre. It’s pretty good, but I’ve never entirely understood the concern. I’ve always viewed this as an opportunity:
In 1900, about half of the U.S. population was engaged in agriculture. While some of this was ‘non-essential’ in that the U.S. exported these products, that’s still a huge fraction. Today, less than two percent are engaged in agriculture. Yet somehow we keep most people employed. There were dislocations during the shift…
[But] We can find plenty of worthwhile things for people to do, even if they are not ‘essential’: arts, education, research, improving our infrastructure. If we still lived in a world where we needed half of our workers on the farm or else we couldn’t eat, funding these things would be wasteful. But with idle workers, idle industrial capacity, and real needs, the only limiting ‘resource’ is currency. The federal government can create that at a drop of a hat–money should never be limiting. As long as we don’t have shortages of resources, including workers, there’s no need to worry about inflation or resource misallocation.
It’s worth noting this is happening not just in manufacturing, but scientific research as well. To the extent having people do less mundane work is a problem, it’s one that’s relatively easy to fix, especially if we’re willing to also grant people more ‘non-subsistence work’ time*–which should be a goal of a wealthy society.
As long as we don’t let the greedheads fuck this up, we could get through this rather well.
*Some people will spend most of that time in leisure, others might do something more ‘valuable.’