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Sunday, October 11, 2015

How Job Crapification Works

I've written before about the tendency for technology to result in lower-paying jobs. Job deskilling was a major factor in the first industrial revolution (when skilled artisans were displaced into menial, repetitive factory jobs) and is just as important in today's Technological Revolution, which began sometime in the late 1970s with the widespread availability of computer chips. 

I've written about this trend quite a few times before:
In a macroeconomic sense, it all sounds quite theoretical, but the following photograph provides a great real-world case study of how, exactly, deskilling works:


The Tiger Stone Paving Machine, sometimes called the road-printer, can lay down a lovely, herringboned brick road or walkway at 4 to 5 times the speed of a crew of skilled bricklayers. The machine is available in 13, 16, and 20-ft widths and costs from $81,485 to $108,655. And best of all (for buyers), it requires no skilled bricklayers. Oh sure, you still need human attendants to feed bricks into the "pusher slot." But they obviously don't have to be highly skilled artisans.



So this might seem like a pretty small incursion of technology into the lives of a few bricklayers (and who cares about bricklayers, right? I mean, we're so beyond bricklaying; I'm being sarcastic, of course), but this is just one example of a trend that plays out in a million different ways across the economy every day. New tech shows up; jobs get a little dumber, require a few less skills. Wages go down. Productivity jumps. Profits increase. Wealth gets transferred, from workers to owners.

Repeat until systemic collapse.



A big thank-you to all the great people who retweeted me yesterday: 





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9 comments:

  1. I agree with this observation but beyond that I don't really see the point. What's the plan? Stop people from coming up with clever ideas? Do it the harder way to preserve jobs? Why are we romanticising the process of hand-laying pavers stones on your hands and knees in the hot sun anyways? I've done it before and calling it "skilled" labor is a stretch.

    The more interesting question to me is how do we capture technological advances in a way that leads to less labor for everyone and less
    inequality, instead of just more plastic bullshit for everyone. I have no idea the answer to that question, but being pissed off about good ideas definitely isn't it.

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    1. I said, "good idea" to the suggestion we name the robots and give a share of its income to a displaced worker. Can you picture a corpulent out of shape substance addled displaced worker maybe spending a lot of time figuring how to get his/her name on some more robots. The "idea" should be in figuring out how to include people in the general welfare of the nation while still requiring contribution.This would begin by not allowing a few to control an unreasonable amount of the assets. This, of course, will never happen. The entire world is me, me, me and seems like it always has been. If we reverse the "trend" we'll potentially wind up with millions of people sitting on their butts. I'd get people out of here and terraforming other worlds. Get enough of that going and we'd have jobs at every level. When they bring in the bricklaying robot you just move on to another planet. My bet is we won't fix any of this very soon and it makes for a very dangerous situation.

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  2. When this thing can build a keystone arch, I'll worry more. Actually, I think every displaced worker should have a productive, revenue generating robot with their name on it, and should be entitled to a share of the revenues it generates. :) It's not like the robot's got to eat.

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    1. Not a bad idea, but how do you get the robot's owner to agree to it? He buys the machine to save the money he would have had to spend feeding workers

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    2. Damn good idea.

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  3. The main point is not to glamorize brick making neither to halt progress. It is to stop glamorizing an economic trend that threatens to impoverish us all enriching only a very few.

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  4. Fascinating machine but you've identified the wrong problem. Why is such a machine cost effective? A. Because wages have gone up so much. Why have wages... A Because money was created out of thin air AND because governments have expanded and must tax everything at every level which causes costs to rise which causes a need to increase wages. Wages are being arbitraged to low wage countries where govts are small and don't tax much. Solution: get rid of bloated govts. The consequence of that.... rising misdemeanors must be dealt with by re-establishing the concept of sin, which probably requires reinventing God and a church to teach us all what the rules are.

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    1. Wages have stagnated, not gone up "so much."

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