Robots, jobs, and the new economy

Hand-held devices enhance learning in Michigan classrooms.  Photo/Daymonjhartley.com

Hand-held devices enhance learning in Michigan classrooms. Photo/Daymonjhartley.com


In recent months, the mainstream press has been extensively covering the impact of robotics on unemployment and the jobless recovery. Technology is replacing human labor in a big way, oftentimes permanently replacing jobs. Robots have been replacing manufacturing jobs for decades as the automated machines work much more efficiently than human labor. In a recent 60 Minutes report on the topic, an American manufacturer said that his robots cost him just over three dollars per hour to operate, a cost comparable to sweatshop labor.

Robotics and automation aren’t limited to the manufacturing sector. New technology has replaced and reduced jobs from nearly every sector of work including the service sector, military, and agriculture; even “white collar” law, media, and financial sector jobs are threatened by new technologies.

We should not fear, hate, or try to stop highly productive technological developments, as these tools are creating an abundance never before seen in human history.

Technology is constantly becoming more advanced, sophisticated, and efficient, doubling in power and speed every year. We are just beginning to see the widespread implications that these developments will have on society as advanced robots and computers are able to perform an increasing number of jobs cheaper, more accurately and efficiently than humans.

Herein lies a fundamental problem. People are going to continue to be pushed out of the workforce in larger and larger numbers. The speed at which jobs are replaced by technology far outpaces the number of new jobs created by this emerging industry, causing unemployment and poverty to skyrocket. With fewer people earning wages, fewer people will be able to buy goods and services. To maintain profit growth, corporations look to further reduce costs, introducing even more productive technology with new layoffs. This is a cycle that is going to repeat and intensify as corporations compete to maximize profits with fewer and fewer consumers to spend money.

This is the real economic crisis we face today, a crisis of capitalism itself. Capitalism, a system based on competition, can only exist in a world of scarcity. Capitalism is incompatible with a world of abundance where there is already more than enough homes to house everybody, food to feed everybody, and money to eradicate poverty four times over.

The same technology that is undermining the foundations of capitalism is creating not only the possibility, but the necessity for a new economy based on prioritizing human needs—an economy based on cooperation. The struggle we face today is to embrace the reality of abundance provided by automation. The economy and our political institutions need to be reshaped to reflect the reality we face now, not try to “go back” to the way it operated 50 years ago. We must organize to unleash the productive forces of today and tomorrow’s technology for the benefit of all humanity rather than the profits of the few. Before us is the unprecedented opportunity to usher in a new age that can truly deliver on the promise of peace and prosperity for every person, everywhere.

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