Message Font: Serif | Sans-Serif
No. of Recommendations: 3
dlbuffy: ... we are moving into a time when we won't be able to employ everyone. It just won't happen. We are making things so much more efficient, fewer people can meet all the needs of business. Every recession, every contraction has RAISED productivity. That means that fewer people needed to do the same work.

There is no way to reverse this as technology improves. How do we deal with that?

I first became aware of this question when I read Player Piano, by Kurt Vonnegut. Now there was a real dystopia!

But of course Vonnegut was not the first to wonder about this. Back in 1811-12 the "Luddites" of Nottingham, England, went on an infamous anti-machine rampage. They were specifically protesting the introduction of wide-frame automated looms that could be operated by unskilled labor, thus throwing out of work thousands upon thousands of skilled textile weavers who had been using handlooms. Such was their fame (or infamy) that to this day anti-mechanization movements are known as Luddites.

Ned Ludd, for whom the Luddites were named, was apparently a mentally-retarded young man who, in 1779, was whipped for idleness. In response, he smashed two knitting frames in his place of employment, a weavery. Thereafter, whenever frames were sabotaged it was said that "Ned Ludd did it" -- regardless of the motivation of the perpetrator.

Poor Ned Ludd was hardly the first person to take out his anger on a machine. Hints and brief mentions in history go back at least to 1733, when the invention of the flying shuttle meant that a weaver no longer needed a full-time assistant.

In any event, all predictions of an end to the need for labor have, so far, proven vacuous. It seems that sooner or later someone always comes up with some new want or desire, which creates new demand for employment. Old forms of employment, especially agriculture, fade out while new ones take their place.

If all the world's food and tangible goods were manufactured by machines, we would still have employment, in the seemingly infinitely-expandable service and entertainment industries. All that is required is (a) plenty of economic surplus from the use of energy and machines, and (b) normal human desires for something new and interesting.

"Socialism" of that distant future is likely to include the idea that society as a whole should either own or control all means of agricultural and industrial production, even when no living beings are involved in that production. "Capitalism" is likely to apply to all those economic endeavors undertaken by humans, overwhelmingly in service and entertainment. I can imagine that debates over where to draw the line will be just as intense in the future as they are now.

There really is nothing whatsoever in economics that requires production to be "manned" by human beings. The economy is still an economy, even if industrial and agricultural production is 100% automated. Given enough energy and technology, there is absolutely no necessity for mass unemployment -- unless we choose to organize our society in that way.

The choice is ours.

Print the post  


What was Your Dumbest Investment?
Share it with us -- and learn from others' stories of flubs.
When Life Gives You Lemons
We all have had hardships and made poor decisions. The important thing is how we respond and grow. Read the story of a Fool who started from nothing, and looks to gain everything.
Contact Us
Contact Customer Service and other Fool departments here.
Work for Fools?
Winner of the Washingtonian great places to work, and Glassdoor #1 Company to Work For 2015! Have access to all of TMF's online and email products for FREE, and be paid for your contributions to TMF! Click the link and start your Fool career.