A new article in The Economist takes a hard look at how technology-driven automation will impact jobs in the next 20 years. Their conclusion? Just as the Industrial Revolution “swept aside” the livelihoods of most of those who made their living as craftspeople who made things by hand, the Digital Revolution will eliminate ever-increasing numbers of jobs considered “white collar” (and automation-proof) today. The result will be increasing income inequality and rising unemployment. The disruptions of recent years provide a model for where things may be headed in the future:
[We’re looking at] history repeating itself. In the early part of the Industrial Revolution the rewards of increasing productivity went disproportionately to capital; later on, labour reaped most of the benefits. The pattern today is similar. The prosperity unleashed by the digital revolution has gone overwhelmingly to the owners of capital and the highest-skilled workers. Over the past three decades, labour’s share of output has shrunk globally from 64% to 59%. Meanwhile, the share of income going to the top 1% in America has risen from around 9% in the 1970s to 22% today. Unemployment is at alarming levels in much of the rich world, and not just for cyclical reasons. In 2000, 65% of working-age Americans were in work; since then the proportion has fallen, during good years as well as bad, to the current level of 59%.
So what can be done? The answer, according to The Economist, is (in large part), education. The education system itself needs to be overhauled:
…schools themselves need to be changed, to foster the creativity that humans will need to set them apart from computers. There should be less rote-learning and more critical thinking.
And what if we don’t change things? The lessons of the past tell us that maintaining the status quo will lead to a world of even greater disruption. Only by beginning to change today will we be able to head off the inevitable revolution(s) of tomorrow:
Innovation has brought great benefits to humanity. Nobody in their right mind would want to return to the world of handloom weavers. But the benefits of technological progress are unevenly distributed, especially in the early stages of each new wave, and it is up to governments to spread them. In the 19th century it took the threat of revolution to bring about progressive reforms. Today’s governments would do well to start making the changes needed before their people get angry.by