David R. Henderson  

Worstall on Robots and Jobs

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Henderson on Robots, Jobs, and... Prices and Your Pocketbook...

Tim Worstall, referring to my article that I posted on yesterday, makes an important point I should have made. Here are two highlights:

The Keynes point is here in Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren. What Henderson says about it is entirely true, but it's incomplete, as was Keynes on this. As I say, both will go "Ah, yes" when bearded on this (well, maybe the ghost of Keynes). The biggest change in working hours over this past century is the fall in household working hours for women. I've seen one estimate which says that it took 60 hours of drudge work back in 1930 to run a household, today it's about 15 hours. I tend to think both those numbers are a little exaggerated, the first up, the second down, but still roughly correct.

What happened to all that work? We automated it. Ha Joon Chang and Hans Roslin refer to it as the "washing machine" but they mean that grab all of domestic technology, not just the washing machine, but the gas or electric stove, the microwave, the vacuum cleaner and on and on to the Roomba and the takeaway restaurant and the chilled prepared food aisle at the supermarket. It's precisely this which enabled the economic (near if you want to still complain about it) equality of women. Once that household work was automated then they could, and did, righteously, come out into the world of market paid work. Do note that this rise of female market work is only the second largest change in working hours over the past century--that decline of household work is larger than the rise of paid. This must be so as leisure hours have increased over the same time.


The whole article by Tim, which is not long, is worth reading. It's "The Robots Stealing Human Jobs--Bring It On," Forbes.com, August 19, 2017.


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COMMENTS (12 to date)
Hana writes:

Post by a man.

The biggest factor in drop in the hours of labor is the number of children per household. Push the cause to increasing wealth and birth control.

Ali Bertarian writes:

Of what economic use will humans be on that day on which androids can do everything better than humans? You may answer that no more work need be done by people, but that is true for only those people who own the androids necessary to supply them with their material needs. How will they acquire those androids if people serve no economic purpose?

Only those who own androids, either as consumption products or as capital producing consumption products, will be economically fit in such a situation.

Jon Murphy writes:

@Ali:

In your world, why wouldn't humans who cannot afford androids serve other humans who cannot afford androids?

David R. Henderson writes:

@Jon Murphy,
Good question.

Thomas Sewell writes:

@Ali,

Also, in that world, how much will these androids cost, since they can just be made by other androids? Seems like a 3d printer made by another 3d printer would end up very near the cost of raw materials.

It seems it would be very easy to get a loan to purchase an android and start your own android-making-other-stuff-doing business for yourself, right? Your question appears to pre-suppose that you must either have an android or not have any way of getting one and that there are no other categories of people.

You may as well ask "If every job soon requires a college degree, how will anyone work for the money to go to college in order to get a job?"

It's the same dilemma you propose, but since it's currently somewhat a real one, the solutions (relatives and other people who care about us, loans, grants, etc...) are obvious by what humans have already worked out.

Tim Worstall writes:

The existence of Linux rather shows that there won't be a private monopoly over the production of androids.

But imagine that nightmare world being proposed. The androids exist, they produce only for their owners. We, non-android owners, do not get android production. Then we all have jobs just like we do in the current economy, producing things for non-android owners and consuming the production of other non-android owners.

The only other possible alternative is that we do get to consume android production. In which case we're all richer because we can consume more.

There is no third case on offer.

If the androids produce everything then we get to consume everything. If they don't then we still have to work in order to produce what they don't.

Brian writes:

"Of what economic use will humans be on that day on which androids can do everything better than humans?"

Ali,

To answer your question you should think about comparative advantage. It doesn't matter whether a producer (in this case the android) is better at producing everything than we are. As long as the android is better at producing some things compared to others, it's worth the android's while to have humans produce some items and then trade for them in order to free up the android for more productive work.

Mark Bahner writes:
There is no third case on offer.

Tim, I have a challenge for you in comments to David's previous post. It is virtually certain that brick-and-mortar retail will be destroyed by autonomous delivery vehicles delivering goods from highly automated warehouses.

What will all the workers in brick and mortar retail do? All the cashiers, stock people, maintenance people, etc.?

Mark Bahner writes:
In your world, why wouldn't humans who cannot afford androids serve other humans who cannot afford androids?

Because the humans can't do anything that an android can't do for less than a dollar an hour.

The result seems to be an explosion of unequal wealth. (Absent forcibly taking massive amounts from the android owners to give to the non-android owners.)

Brian writes:

"It is virtually certain that brick-and-mortar retail will be destroyed by autonomous delivery vehicles delivering goods from highly automated warehouses.

What will all the workers in brick and mortar retail do? All the cashiers, stock people, maintenance people, etc.?"

Mark,

Who knows? How is that different from the early 20th century question: "It is virtually certain that the horse-and-buggy industry will be destroyed by the automobile. What will all those horse-and-buggy people do?" I suppose the answer is to do jobs we haven't even imagined yet. How is this different?

Brian writes:

"Because the humans can't do anything that an android can't do for less than a dollar an hour.

The result seems to be an explosion of unequal wealth. (Absent forcibly taking massive amounts from the android owners to give to the non-android owners.)"

Mark,

So androids can make other androids for very cheap, right? So almost all humans can afford to buy them? And if they can't afford them individually, can't they engage in shared ownership? So, what if a millionaire can afford 1000 times more androids than the typical person? Once they buy what they can afford, how does that change the relative wealth of each?

Mark Bahner writes:

I asked what would happen to the cashiers, stock people, maintenance people, etc. that would lose their jobs when autonomous delivery vehicles destroy brick-and-mortar retail.

Brian responded:

Who knows? How is that different from the early 20th century question: "It is virtually certain that the horse-and-buggy industry will be destroyed by the automobile. What will all those horse-and-buggy people do?" I suppose the answer is to do jobs we haven't even imagined yet. How is this different?

The way this is different is that:

1) I think there are a lot more people involved in retail than were involved in the horse-and-buggy industry. Retail salespeople and cashiers are the #1 and #2 most common jobs in the U.S.

2) It will happen faster. Right now there are no autonomous delivery vehicles. I predicted that in 30 years, online ordering delivered by autonomous delivery vehicles would close 90 percent of brick-and-mortar retail establishments. Todd Kreider asked why I didn't think it would happen even faster than that. The answer is that I think it could.

3) Computers will be evolving to be able to perform even more jobs. Cars didn't quickly evolve to take other jobs (than those performed by horses and buggies).

4) The fundamental difference of homo sapiens is that we can think. No invention yet has ever thought better than humans.

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