17.4.17

SEEKING A LATTER-DAY HENRY FORD?

I've long been contemplating the arbitrage opportunities inherent in automation.  Put simply, a productive technology in the presence of destitute people isn't profitable, without the gains from trade being shared among the inventors and the destitute.
[T]he industrial technology as the United States became more productive in agriculture was one that lent itself to Fordist division of labor, and nearly anyone could do the work. The techniques involved in designing and building the advanced technology goods of today seem less favorable to such an outcome, although perhaps the presence of reserve armies of people willing to work for less will induce that innovation. The culture wars are likely of second-order importance, if that.
Now comes Paul Buchheit, and in the midst of a lament over the end of work as we know it, he hits on the same idea.
Just program a few Java applets and make $100,000. How many of us can do that? The demand is there, though, for statistical analysts, data mining specialists, internet security specialists, and a variety of other specialized positions that explain the availability of ten computing jobs for every computer science graduate.
Well, a hundred grand doesn't go as far today as it did in the era of the Model T, and yet, where there are jobs going begging, there are unexploited gains from trade, in the development of electronic analogues to the assembly line that enhance the skills of people who may not have a full computer science portfolio.  I'm thinking of some analogue to a numerically controlled machine tool: perhaps there is a lot of money in developing an algorithm-generating tool that produces the subroutines that symbolic analysts with more modest skills can use to produce the answers.  Heck, if there's a way to program cash registers for sub-literates, in order that barely verbal people can be worthy of their hire at the local bun-'n-run, the idea of an algorithm generating tool has to have occurred to somebody.

But when I suggest that there are people rendered unemployable by a combination of the minimum wage and government schools, I might be on to something.
Corporations could be training workers in new technologies, but instead they blame our underfunded educational system for worker deficiencies. Said an Apple executive, "The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need." Another CEO, oblivious to the lack of jobs at anything other than a high-tech level, blustered "The jobs are there, but the skills are not." The Wall Street Journal, of course, chimed in: "Many workers who were laid off in recent decades...don’t have the skills to do today’s jobs."

Meanwhile, the robots proliferate, expanding into once-unimagined areas: robot surgeons, robot chefs, robot security guards, robot news writers, robot teachers that interact with children, robotic nurses that will lift patients and bring them medicine.
That's a Complex Proposition. But it's easier to bury a Complex Proposition in a virtue signal about Clueless Blustering Bosses, rather than to consider the ways in which the inability of companies to sell stuff because nobody's buying might become an expansion of labor-augmenting automation into once-unimagined areas, or to distinguish the adjustment costs borne by older workers from the lack of human capital because the common schools are, shall we say, neglecting their core responsibilities.

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