technological progress is eliminating the need for many types of jobs and leaving the typical worker worse off than before
- Brynjolfsson and McAfee
This is scary for a lot of people. Forget having to compete with cheap labor, how do you compete with a machine?
The problem is that fighting technological advances goes against our very essence as humans. Ever since man started making tools, what’s set us aside from the rest of the animal kingdom has been those tools.
So we have a situation, now, where technological advances are taking jobs. But we want these advances. Aside from saving money and their potential for creating new industries, it’s our very essence, as humans, to innovate.
Throughout history innovation has furthered society. When mankind consisted of hunter gatherers there wasn’t much time to create; every head was needed to keep the tribe fed. Once Man went to an agrarian society, it took less energy and fewer people to feed everyone. That’s when other jobs could be supported. This is one of the theses of Guns Germs and Steel.
A blacksmith can’t smith if he is needed on the hunt. But if you need fewer members of your tribe to feed everyone, you can afford to have the blacksmith make more efficient tools. And progress moves us forward.
But now have this situation where these technological advances are making all those things that we need accomplished to survive as a society easier to do, and it takes less manpower to do them. So what are those other people supposed to do?
If we can take a page out of our history, we should reapply those people towards furthering society. The problem is that those savings are going directly to the profit margins of the companies that are using these “job-killing” technologies, and there isn’t incentive to reinvest those profits into creating jobs. We see this in the jobless demographics being stronger among people whose jobs were “blue collar”.
In economics 101 you learn that if you want less of something, you tax it. And if you want more of something, you incentivize. I believe that the solution to technology taking jobs lies in this same vein. Companies that use “job-killing” technologies should be taxed on their use, but not to the extent that their profits are lost. However, if a company reinvests those profits (pre-tax) in specific things that further society — from Arts to R&D to internal education programs — they can deduct from those “tech taxes”.
As someone in tech, I’m not sure how “good” this solution is for my sector. However, taking a long look at the evolution of mankind, I think it makes sense. Honestly thought, the cynic in my already knows that the people I propose to tax here would lobby the shit out of any such proposal.
Thoughts? Comments? If you’d like to tell me I’m wrong, tell me why.