Whenever American businesses come under attack by labor unions or watchdog organizations for not providing employees with a livable wage, or not paying their “fair share” in taxes, they respond with the same hackneyed answer: “Get off our backs. We are the job-creators, the benefactors, the overlords. Without us, there’s no jobs.”
Reminding the public that it’s the corporations who provide the jobs is a formidable argument, one not easily refuted, given the fact that virtually everyone of us needs to work. So why would we continue to molest the very people who provide those jobs? Holster it, Kemo Sabe. Corporations are our friends.
Two things: First, people don’t go into business in order to provide jobs. They go into business in order to make money. The fact that they have to pay employees a salary in order to make that money is viewed by management as a “necessary evil,” which is why they are so fanatically committed to headcount reduction.
And second, today’s corporations are more dedicated to “creating tasks” than “creating jobs.” There’s a subtle, yet profound, difference between the two. A “task” is something that needs to be completed in order for the company to make a profit. By contrast, a “job” is what someone does for a living.
All one has to do is look at the prodigious amount of money being invested in robotics and digitalization to realize that we human beings—particularly Americans—are slated to be systematically euchred out of the job market. As former AFL-CIO president John Sweeney presciently said, way back in 1996, “Anything that can be digitalized can be outsourced.”
Twenty years ago, people either ignored or ridiculed Sweeney’s comment, accusing him of being short-sighted and self-serving, especially considering that it mainly applied to menial jobs done by—dare we say?—“unskilled” workers, people that no one really gives a rat’s ass about.
But Sweeney’s observations have proven to be not only accurate, but scary as well. Every manner of livelihood—from bail bondsmen to lawyer to law clerk to graphic artist to journalist to psychological counselor to insurance agent to realtor to novelist to animator—is now in the crosshairs of digitalization.
With each passing month, the horizons of digitalization and robotics are being broadened. The speed at which technological innovations are being made is stunning. What seemed all but impossible last month will be “test-marketed” next month. Personalized drones, anyone?
Of course, the people who worry about stuff like this will continue to be glibly called Luddites or technophobes or alarmists. Fine. But despite the name-calling, let us be aware that the computer programmers and industrial engineers charged with digitalizing the world have no more sense of what the long-term effects of their endeavor will be than the physicists and technicians who worked on the Manhattan Project.
People who boast about not having to join the rat-race—who don’t have the hassle of commuting to their jobs because they are lucky enough to “work out of their house”—need to be reminded that “working out of the house” is a double-edged sword.
As cool as it is to be able to stay in your pajamas all day and work out of digs in, say, Santa Monica, California, don’t forget that there’s a highly motivated dude in New Delhi, India, just waiting to steal your job.