Tag Archives: Automation

Technology and jobs

When people talk about the negative impact of technology on jobs, the impact of e-commerce on jobs at brick-and-mortar retailers is an often used example.

In reality, this is an incomplete analysis. While e-commerce does indeed reduce jobs at brick-and-mortar retailers, it creates even more jobs at warehouses. Specifically, when the jobs which e-commerce has created at warehouses and those that it has taken away at brick-and-mortar retailers are both taken into account, e-commerce has created 54,000 net jobs over the last year.

This doesn’t mean that technology will always create jobs. This is just one example. For example, as warehouses become increasingly automated, eventually the aggregate impact of e-commerce on jobs will be net negative.

However, it’s a useful reminder that many analyses about the impact of technology on jobs are incomplete.

And when technology does indeed create a large net negative impact on jobs, then we’ll have the time to focus our energy on more creative endeavors. As John F. Kennedy said “If men have the talent to invent new machines that put men out of work, they have the talent to put those men back to work.”

Working in an iPhone factory

This was a fascinating read about what it’s like to work in an iPhone factory. Although it was possible to predict that this is what it would be like, having this prediction confirmed by the account of an actual worker made the feeling much more poignant.

I had three key takeaways from the piece:

1. Most great things we consume or experience have large hidden costs of production where the benefit-to-cost ratio of producing varies greatly among producers. And there is merit in taking action to lower this free market driven cost of production to balance the well being of producers with low benefit-to-cost ratios.

2. Manufacturing is likely to sustainably shift to geographies with higher labor costs only when robots with negligible operating costs undercut the labor costs in low cost geographies. Attempts to bring back manufacturing jobs to higher cost geographies will be short-lived in the absence of automation. And the very definition of automation means that when this occurs, the absence of manufacturing jobs will be a global phenomenon.

3. We should be grateful to be able to work in roles where we can express our creativity under good working conditions.