The Robotic Future of Employment

There are a whole lot of things that many people are worried about happening in the future. Some are credible threats, while others are mostly media hype. Global warming, an economic crash, running out of fossil fuels, a new Covid variant; on and on it goes. These potential threats are all hit or miss. However, a lot of economists agree that there is one threat to the American workforce that is inevitable: The Robotic Revolution. This is going to happen when the bulk of human jobs go automated and the only physical people left to gain employment will be people to write code and maintain machines. Even that, some experts claim, could theoretically be replaced by machines.

Could this actually be a reality? Could America be facing unemployment numbers of over 100 million due to automation? A lot of economists point to the current state of the world to paint the real picture. They urge Americans to look at the things that are already automated to get a sense of where things may be going in the future. When was the last time you entered a grocery store that had every register lane occupied with a bagger at the end of the lane? These days, the average store has a couple of cashiers who pull double duty and a big row of self-checkout lanes to automate the experience. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The problem, claim some economists, isn't so much that the technology is available for this to happen, but rather the fact that the world's biggest employers, already rich beyond all imagination, are trying everything they can to phase out employees. It was only a couple of years ago that Amazon tried to get rid of thousands upon thousands of employees by creating drones that could deliver packages. While this project didn't pan out, as a lot of the drones were destroyed, unreliable, and incapable of carrying items, the fact remains that Jeff Bezos, the richest man on the planet, actually tried to get rid of thousands of people for more profit.

And Bezos was far from the first to try this. Back in the 1980s, automotive unions were really putting the proverbial screws to large auto manufacturers, demanding more pay. So, instead of paying employees more money and creating more jobs, the biggest manufacturers automated over half of their entire assembly lines, actually getting rid of half of its workforce. For the remaining half, they did begin to make more money. Though in a macroeconomic sense, this was horrible. Sure, $30 per hour for, say, 50 people per plant is great for those 50 people. Though 100 people at $20 an hour is a much better thing for our economy. Extrapolated out over hundreds of factories, that's tens of thousands of more good-paying jobs.

It is a blend here and not just purely the greed of the bosses. Unions are driving a whole lot of this, according to experts. People demanding more money is a very natural thing, especially from a workforce that has been exploited all throughout history. Though some have taken this way too far in the private sector and have basically scared the jobs away. In public-sector unions, like teachers' unions, taxes will just go up to meet the demands of the employees. In the private sector, however, merchandise prices will have to go up to reflect this, which, again, is very bad for the economy in a macroeconomic sense.

According to a lot of economists, the only thing that will possibly stop an automated future is for employees and employers to find a happy medium. This, they argue, can only happen if the dollar's buying power were to somehow return to 1950s levels, where a basic job could actually afford someone a car, mortgage, etc; a time where one working parent could raise an entire family on a 40-hour work week. As one might suspect, that may be a pipe dream.

Halfway to That Inevitability

The scary thing about a potential fully automated future is that we're about halfway there as it stands now. Far from only self checkout lines and automated assembly lines, freight shipping and unloading is automated, as well as auto diagnostics, many medical procedures, and even many methods by which to prepare food. We're living in a world that, from just a technological perspective, looks pretty cool. Though from the perspective of reality, where people have to work to live, it's frightening.

We could be looking at a future where 90% of the jobs we know of now go extinct.

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