|Salon article from four years ago. Credit: Tomas Skopal|
The brave new world of robots and lost jobs By David IgnatiusWe are growing a huge underclass of underemployed, unemployed and homeless people. Yes, there is large portion of our population who are getting along just fine, but overall the situation is getting worse. If half of the people have twice as much food as they need, and the other half has none, the average is that everyone has enough to eat. But that nice little bit of arithmetic is not going to keep half of the population from starving to death.
WASHINGTON -- Job insecurity is a central theme of the 2016 campaign, fueling popular anger about trade deals and immigration. But economists warn that much bigger job losses are ahead in America -- driven not by foreign competition but by advancing technology.
A look at the numbers suggests that America is having the wrong debate this year. Economic security won't come from renegotiating trade deals, as Donald Trump claimed in a speech in Detroit Monday, or rebuilding infrastructure, as Hillary Clinton argued in Warren, Michigan, on Thursday. These are palliatives.
The deeper problem facing America is how to provide meaningful work and good wages for the tens of millions of truck drivers, accountants, factory workers and office clerks whose jobs will disappear in coming years because of robots, driverless vehicles and "machine learning" systems.
The political debate needs to engage the taboo topic of guaranteeing economic security to families -- through a universal basic income, or a greatly expanded earned-income tax credit, or a 1930s-style plan for public-works employment. Ranting about bad trade deals won't begin to address the problem.
I don't like the idea of giving money to lazy lay-abouts who are too lazy and/or stupid to find a job, but I also think that they are a very small minority. You wouldn't know it by watching the news, but most people want to be doing something useful, and given a little money, they could. But if we continue to crush the underclass you are not going to see anything good. All you will see is crushed and broken people.
The Amish seem to be doing okay, but farming takes land, and with the price of farmland these days, even a small farm is worth a million dollars. And I'm not sure that there is enough farmland in the USA to make enough farms for all of the unemployed. And that's kind of going backwards, isn't it?
Maybe we should reverse the situation. Give everyone a basic allowance and offer jobs to the highest bidder. Yes, we have jobs, but it's going to cost you. You want to work? How much are you willing to pay for that opportunity? Naw, that probably wouldn't work, there aren't that many jobs that people would be willing to pay to have, especially if there was no other reward.
On the other hand, there are huge numbers of people who spend untold hours and thousands of dollars creating things for no other reason than they want to.