[This is the addended transcript of my regular KVMR commentary broadcast on 29 November 2017.]
Longtime listeners to these commentaries are aware of the approaching Singularity – when super-intelligent machines match and then exceed human intelligence – and what is happening with jobs and employment in these pre-Singularity years. As machines replace more and more humans in the workplace, and the fewer newly created jobs call for workers with skillsets that require higher intelligence to master, what we have been witnessing is the rise in systemic unemployment in America and other developed countries. Today, the estimated number of Americans systemically unemployed ranges between 70 and 90 million. These are people who cannot sell their labor for wages that will maintain their former quality of life.
A new and alarming symptom of this socio-economic disease is that we have started noticing “deaths of despair” among the class of workers who traditionally had excellent jobs and great prospects for improving their careers and lives. According to two academics who first discovered this symptom about two years ago, the increasing mortality rates for working age whites “with low levels of education” have now been confirmed. Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton and his fellow Princeton University professor and wife, Anne Case report that the death rates for these white workers have increased while the death rates for other demographic groups such as Hispanics and blacks continue to improve. (more here)
The causes attributed to this sad state of affairs focus on the changing nature of America’s culture, a subject we have also covered. Our educational system is broken in several important ways. A most important one is that kids graduate from high school without any marketable skills along with a carefully instilled yet unrealistic self-image. Workers in the 40 to 55 age groups have had either several jobs with no definite career direction, or a career that suddenly has disappeared from the job markets. Drs Deaton and Case also point out that our family structures have weakened markedly with soaring divorce rates and fragile cohabitation relationships that provide little or no support to the dejected and desperately unemployed. In short, what they call the “pillars of life” – work, family, and church – have crumbled for these white workers, whom we may consider as the early harbingers for what will only get worse as more people permanently lose their ability to earn living-quality wages.
As we may expect, the increasing mortality rate for this demographic has been impacted by terminal alcoholism, drug overdoses, and suicide. To fight this growing epidemic that sooner or later will affect other demographic classes, social scientists, economists, politicians, and even some very rich business people have started saying that now may be the time to try some forms of guaranteed national income. Two countries – Canada and Finland – have launched test programs to see how a sample of their un- and under-employed will fare with such unearned income. (more here and here)
In the meantime, our government, desperate to protect lower paying jobs, is upping the scrutiny of workers we admit through the H1-B visa program, designed to attract highly skilled people to fill the shortfall of American workers. (more here) And regionally, smaller communities lacking large manufacturing and service industries were thought to be more insulated from technology-driven unemployment. A recent study by MIT’s prestigious Media Lab throws water on that hope, and reports that smaller cities and towns, due to their small high-tech worker base, are even more susceptible to automation with the loss of lower level jobs such as cashiers and waiters. This study (here) is corroborated by other universities and adds one more reason to why it is difficult to create new jobs in Nevada County.
The bottom line is that almost half of current occupations, or kinds of jobs, in the US are at “high risk” of being automated out of existence in the near future. And please don’t accept, without large doses of evidence, the popular myth that new technologies create as many or more jobs than they eliminate. With the advent of smart and soon super-intelligent machines, that is pure pabulum, dispensed only to keep politicians in office while they kick the systemic unemployment problem down the road. In the meantime, keep your eye on the mortality rates of workers frustrated and without hope.
My name is Rebane, and I also expand on this and related themes on Rebane’s Ruminations where the transcript of this commentary is posted with relevant links, and where such issues are debated extensively. However, my views are not necessarily shared by KVMR. Thank you for listening.
[Addendum] Some more points to ponder during these pre-Singularity years. One of the more reprehensible and destructive aspects of progressivism cum socialism has always been their generation of bad public policies that wind up killing jobs in the service of ‘social justice’. As the progress of technology enables machines to replace more and more humans in the workplace, the Left continues to double that pain by eliminating even more lower level jobs (and thereby abet automation) through their horribly miscreant laws and regulations that mandate and constrain productive economic behavior. In ‘Forget Robots: Bad Public Policies Could Be Bigger Job Killers’ Lauren Weber provides perspective for this phenomenon by citing some really eye-opening and relevant statistics.
And to show the cynical nationwide impact of such policies, consider that today there are 6,100,000 unfilled jobs in the US according to the Department of Labor. (more here) These are jobs that Americans either refuse to do or, sadly, not enough of us are qualified to do.