An Insight a Day

Automation and the Unemployment Problem

Here's a bit of rambling about the unemployment problem. Somehow, everyone talks about jobs as if it's one of the most sought-after things we ever want. But is it really? I know everyone wants to have a roof over their head, basic food and water, medical care, entertainment, and a few friends to share laughs with. But jobs? I don't think it's that high in our list of priorities.

The problem isn't unemployment, it's that we've built a society where money is needed for survival, and the most common way of earning money is to get a job. You know, work for someone else and get paid to do stuff. We've built a society where you pretty much can't do anything without money. Need a place to stay? Either pay up or live in the streets or under some bridge. Oh, and be careful not to trespass into private property. Need food? In this concrete jungle, the way to get food without money is the same way stray cats and dogs get their food, dumpster diving. Now you know how stray animals in the city feel?

The problem gets worse when you consider that robots and artificial intelligence are slowly taking over a lot of pre-existing jobs. Why get people to do manual labor when machines can do it faster and more efficiently? Why get accountants to do bookkeeping when it can be replaced by AI or software? And here's the thing, why aren't we reaping the benefits of the increased productivity offered by automation?

If 10 farmers can do the work of 1,000 farmers after being equipped with robots and machines, what do we do with the other 990 farmers? Politely ask them to leave and find other means of earning money? Why can't all the 1,000 farmers work fewer hours and enjoy the benefits of technology and automation? Why do we have to add the 990 farmers to the unemployment pool? In the end, who really benefits from having only 10 farmers?

Replace farmers with factory workers and the answer becomes clear, it's only the investors and shareholders who benefit. Investors put money into a company, expecting it to grow and give a return on investment. So what do companies do as technology advances? Reduce the workforce, spend less on employees, and give more to the investors. That way, more investors will come and invest in the company, resulting in more growth.

In the end, it only makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. Now that the poor are out of a job, and it's increasingly harder to find jobs due to automation, the economy will end up worsening. This is because the average buying power will decrease, resulting in less overall spending, which means a worsening economy.

It's ironic that workers are needed, not only to do work but to also serve as customers. If companies pay workers well, then the general public will have a higher buying power, which means that all companies, in general, will see an increase in sales. But, if companies cut pay or hire fewer workers, then the general public will have a declining buying power, which will result in a gradual decline in sales.

So what's the solution? I'm currently leaning towards universal basic income and finding ways to share the benefits of automation with the general public, not just investors and shareholders. But enough rambling for now, I'll write more once I've further organized my thoughts.