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Technology, jobs and the universal basic income

Tech and JobsIt is nothing new to consider how machines can perform the tasks done by the layout force. Experts believe that it is not blue collar or white collar jobs that are at risk but those jobs that are routine or non routine. Manual labour tasks have been constantly under pressure from technology but now more jobs that have cognitive tasks are now feeling the pinch.

Jobs said to be under threat from computerisation are:

  • taxi and delivery drivers
  • receptionists and security guards
  • cashiers, counter and rental clerks, telemarketers and accountants

It is estimated that the development of machine learning will impact 35% of the workforce in Britain and 49% for Japan. See chart from The Economist – Computerisation of different occupations.

Job Polarisation – Middle Skills Jobs v Low-Skill and High-Skill Jobs

Economists are already worrying about “job polarisation”, where middle-skill jobs (such as those in manufacturing) are declining but both low-skill and high-skill jobs are expanding. In effect, the workforce bifurcates into two groups doing non-routine work: highly paid, skilled workers (such as architects and senior managers) on the one hand and low-paid, unskilled workers (such as cleaners and burger-flippers) on the other.  

Source: The Economist June 25th 2016

Universal Basic Income

After two centuries in which capitalism has dominated the western world, this economic system has become desperately dysfunctional: inequality is growing, climate change is accelerating and nations are beset with bad demographics, debt burdens and angry voters.

Paul Mason – Channel 4 economics correspondent and author of ‘PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future’ states that:

“information technology has reduced the need for work” — or, more accurately, for all humans to be workers. For automation is now replacing jobs at a startling speed

“information goods are corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly”. For the key point about cyber-information is that it can be replicated endlessly, for free; there is no constraint on how many times we can copy and paste a Wikipedia page. “Until we had shareable information goods, the basic law of economics was that everything is scarce. Supply and demand assumes scarcity. Now certain goods are not scarce, they are abundant.”

“goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy”. More specifically, people are collaborating in a manner that does not always make sense to traditional economists, who are used to assuming that humans act in self-interest and price things according to supply and demand.

There is concerns in many countries as to what can be done with a growing labour force with limited job prospects. There have been call for more money given towards social welfare to protect those impacted by the changes to the labour market and assist them move to new jobs. Some have favored a universal basic income instead of the welfare system that involves paying a fixed amount each year to all citizens to actually exist – rather than tax to exist. Supporters of this idea argue that:

  • People who are not working, or are working part-time, are not penalised if they decide to work more, because their welfare payments do not decline as their incomes rise.
  • It gives people more freedom to decide how many hours they wish to work, and might also encourage them to retrain by providing them with a small guaranteed income while they do so.
  • Those who predict significant job destruction see it as a way to keep the consumer economy going and support the non-working population.
  • If most jobs are automated away, an alternative mechanism for redistributing wealth will be needed.

However those against this idea argue that:

  • It is regressive as spending on existing welfare schemes would reduce income for the poorest, while giving the high incomes money they do not need.
  • Furthermore funding such a venture would require a much higher tax rate that at present.
  • The basic income would discourage some people from retraining, or indeed working at all—why not play video games all day?—though studies of previous experiments with a basic income suggest that it encourages people to reduce their working hours slightly, rather than giving up work altogether.

Whether technology will take over jobs and ultimately humanity is dependent on the rate of change and how we live through the long transition from capitalism (the state and the market) – to post capitalism (the state, the market and the shared collaborative economy).

Human nature is not a machine to be built after a model, and set to do exactly the work prescribed for it, but a tree, which requires to grow and develop itself on all sides, according to the tendency of the inward forces which make it a living thing.  John Stuart Mill

Source: The Economist June 25th 2016

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