Losing Jobs to Robots

Image originally posted by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, ieet.org.

“Technological Unemployment,” was the term coined by John Maynard Keynes. It means jobs for people that were replaced by machines. He was not the first to discuss the concept of lost labor due to machines, but he made it more popular by the 1930s. We see this continued sentiment with the progress of technology today. People in Neo-Luddite fashion scream, “Robots are taking our jobs,” or, “With more robots taking our jobs, what are we supposed to do?” At face value, it can be very scary the idea of being unemployed or a lost career that took years with plenty of personal investing.

Are people really going to lose their jobs? In short, yes. Yes, people will lose jobs and careers, with no return in certain fields. With software and technological advancements, there will be careers such as accountants, construction workers, stockers, and more that will have to find alternative fields of employment. This does not mean that other fields will not become available for these individuals.

In fact, with technological advancements, there have been a plethora of jobs and fields that have come into existence only because of these precise advancements. For example, the internet has led to the demise of many traditional advertising companies, but has opened serious career opportunities for social media and online advertisers. When the car was invented, it caused the fall of the horse and carriage industry, but allowed new careers in vehicle manufacturing, advertising, sales, mechanics, accessories, fuels, etc. Only a madman, or a wistful dreamer, would argue in order to provide more jobs we should ride on horses as a means of transportation again.

Politicians are typically characterized as declaring, “We need more jobs!” Suffice to say, that is not the place of governments to create jobs or comprise of cronystic markets. It is also not a good economical role for governments to employee many people. Nevertheless, it appears as an easy way of winning votes when a politician tells citizens they will get them “free” things at the expense of others, or more jobs. The only real jobs created would be by government loosening its claws off the neck of a free market that it is crippling with regulations.

Perhaps, in order to simply “create more jobs,” the politician can propose policies that prevent technological advancements, and get rid of more than half of the machines currently used, such as bulldozers. That way, they can give everyone spoons, instead of machines and shovels, and create an entire network of frantic ditch diggers who only use spoons all for the sake of “creating jobs!”

When people protest that they have “a right to work,” this means they believe they have “the right to other people’s property.” A company is owned by an individual or group of individuals. They fronted the risks of creating the company, and they rightly redeem the rewards, losses, and other consequences of having their company. Just because they have a contractual agreement with certain people as the company being employers, this contract does not provide employees with ownership of the company or its property. This also entails the job itself, as it can be terminated by either party at any time, under most contracts. Some areas have created laws to attempt to say otherwise, yet this does not justify their thieving actions.

If the property belongs to the company, it is to the company’s discretion as to whether they would prefer people working for them or robots and software. As people demand more and more for their employment, such as wages, health, retirement, investments, vacation, etc., companies are irrefutably incentivized to go with lowest cost labor that provides the least amount of problems, i.e. robots, machines, and software.

This inevitable change is artificially influenced by increased costs and taxes, and as people require more this process is expedited. A prosperous outcome, for most, would be a laissez faire solution which allows these changes to occur naturally within the marketplace, expanding trade rather than filtering it. This free market would also allow employees to better compete against one another in order to get the job they so desired. It still would not change the fact that many people will lose jobs or careers to robots and software.

Some are calling on “taxing robots,” “Universal Basic Income,” or, “Basic Income,” but at a cost to whom? This cost is, again, to the creators and companies, who then pass the cost on to the market who pay more for the same products. It would also entail higher taxes for everyone, including the poor.

This, of course, should be a motivation to better market one’s self by learning more and expanding their own horizons as opposed to accepting mindless jobs that a robot could do in the near future. More complex jobs, like calculating as an accountant, will still be inevitably lost to software. Yet, there are other fields and companies that will choose to stay with people for a while, and the same goes with more menial jobs. This can be seen clearly with banks providing ATMs while maintaining in-house bankers. Many people prefer dealing with other people rather than with machines, especially as some software is still getting the bugs worked out.

In the long-term, the benefits of robots, machines, and software far outweigh the losses incurred. We have better healthcare, transportation, lower costs, better materials, a greater access to knowledge, and easier forms of communication. This list of benefits can go on continuously and yet we see more jobs available today than a thousand years ago. There are more jobs not because of governments, and not because of stifling regulations, but because of the technological advancements that humankind has created to best benefit us and the world, while also trading. People will continue losing jobs as the world progresses. People will, surely, find more jobs and opportunities as we progress!

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