Check your U.S. voter registration status or register to vote here.

Listen to this story

--:--

--:--

Image for post
Image for post
Illustration by Amanda Wray

The Real Story of Automation Beginning with One Simple Chart

Robots are hiding in plain sight. It’s time we stop ignoring them.

Scott Santens
Oct 24, 2017 · 14 min read
Image for post
Image for post
Source: ZeroHedge
Image for post
Image for post
Pictured: National Oilwell Varco’s AR3200 Automated Iron Roughneck

Sleeping Through a Wake Up Call

This is a story of technological unemployment that is crystal clear, and yet people are still arguing about it like it’s something that may or may not happen in the future. It’s actually a very similar situation to climate change, where the effects are right in our faces, but it’s still considered a debate. Automation is real, folks. Companies are actively investing in automation because it means they can produce more at a lower cost. That’s good for business. Wages, salaries, and benefits are all just overhead that can be eliminated by use of machines.

Image for post
Image for post
Source: David Autor

Charting the Course of History

One of the most telling statistics I’ve come across in regards to the automation discussion is how almost everyone in the US knows we’ve lost manufacturing jobs over the past three decades. 81% know that very real fact according to a poll of over 4,000 adults by Pew Research. What few people know however is that at the same time the total number of jobs has decreased, total manufacturing output has increased. The US is manufacturing more now than it ever has, and only 35% of the country knows that’s true. The percentage of Americans who know both of the above facts are true is a mere 26%.

Image for post
Image for post
Source: Business Insider
Image for post
Image for post
Source: Janus Capital
Image for post
Image for post
Source: Advisor Perpsectives

The Automation of an Increasingly Divided Country

Image for post
Image for post
Source: Daily Yonder
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Source: Mauro Martino

The Ignored Math of Increasingly Productive New Businesses

Another thing to recognize is that as technology enables businesses to hire fewer workers, that means to obtain “full employment”, where everyone who wants a job has one, the economy requires that everyone work shorter work weeks, or else an ever growing number of businesses is needed in order to employ the same amount of people. If the average amount of people the average business employs is 10, it would take 10 businesses to employ 100 people. Assuming “full-time” continues to be defined as 40 hours, if technology allows 1 person to do the work of 10, the average people a business employs drops to 1, so the number of businesses needed to employ everyone grows to 100. (note: compensating for population growth would require even more than 100)

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post

The More You Know…

Now, let me ask you a question. How much all of the above information were you already fully aware of, to the point none of it was new to you? Now ask yourself why? Automation clearly exists, and clearly is already affecting the economy. So why is the debate about automation even a debate at all? That’s perhaps the scariest thing about the oil rig automation chart, along with the rest of the charts I’ve included here, the fact existing evidence is not part of the debate. Just as climate change has been something we’ve debated for decades while the effects have only grown more extreme, so too is automation being denied as it grows more extreme.

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Source: New York Times
Image for post
Image for post

Are you a content creator? Join Patreon, then join me in taking the BIG Patreon Creator Pledge for basic income!

Would you like to see your name here too?

Basic Income

Articles about Universal Basic Income (UBI)

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store