The latest report on jobs was pretty good. Employment was up 288,000 in the month of April and the Bureau of Labor Statistics revised both the March and February figures up a couple of notches. But there are big, dark clouds on the horizon.
Technology is always economically disruptive.
Ultimately, it proves to be a good thing. Imagine what the world would be like if we hadn’t graduated from human and animal power to water and wood power, steam, oil, coal, electric, nuclear, solar and wind power. Imagine what the world would be like if we hadn’t progressed from slide rules to computers. But we’re paying a price in jobs and income and unless we do something, the price will grow.
Automakers and Google are close to creating self-driving cars. There are already cars you can buy that are smart enough to park themselves. In 10 or 20 years, I can see a world without cab or truck drivers. Kiss those jobs goodbye.
In less time than that, I can see a world where a big 3-D printer is brought to a piece of land, and spits out a house. Click on this link, and be sure to watch the video there, too. So long, construction jobs.
It won’t be long before radio frequency ID chips are cheap enough to replace bar codes at the supermarket. The shopping carts will have holders for your bags, you’ll pack your items as you move through the store, pass through an RFID reader which will instantly total your purchases, wave your smartphone at a detector to pay, and you’re done.
Most of the shelf stocking will be automated. Amazon will no doubt soon have robots stocking and retrieving items from its big fulfillment centers. All those jobs, gone.
Siri will get smarter and smarter. Maybe no one will ever fall in love with the computer voice on their phone like Joaquin Phoenix did in “Her,” but at some point, computers will be smart enough to start replacing human customer service reps. More jobs gone.
We’ve already seen millions of jobs taken over by computers and automation. Again, there are enormous benefits, like in the cars we drive. The least expensive car on the market now is the Nissan Versa and it comes standard with A/C and CD stereo. In constant dollars, it costs about what a basic two-door Chevy cost 60 years ago. Of course, the Chevy had no air, no radio, no airbags, no automatic transmission, spewed pollution and started to rust in just a couple of years.
Here’s the crux of the problem. Increased productivity used to translate into higher wages. It doesn’t anymore: