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Efficiency (with Automation) vs Jobs, which takes priority?

Efficiency is doing a particular task faster, better, and cheaper. Being efficient has a tendency to destroy jobs because you need less people to do a certain task. While some jobs are created, most jobs are destroyed in the process. The #1 Job Killer in this world is efficiency added with automation.

For example, one computer programmer can kill 50 manual jobs. Sure, you could say that there will be more computer jobs but there's a problem with that. More then likely, it will only create 4 or so computer jobs. Not only that, it will probably be deficient 1 of those jobs because out of the 50 or so jobs it killed - only 3 of them have the intelligence to figure out how to do those jobs. And if you add more complex items like algorithm theory and advance mathematics, there's a good chance none of those 50 will ever have a job again.

Which comes to the question. Efficiency vs Jobs, which should be a priority in modern society?

  • Jul 28 2012: In terms of history, societies that have seen large strides in automation have had only two options: cut the workforce or cut the workweek. For example, had we not cut the 80hr workweek down to 40hrs with the industrial revolution, we would have seen at least 50% per-recession employment today. It's a figure far beyond the breaking point of any society. Likewise, 2005 estimates had global factory production as mass labor ending sometime around 2030. I'm not sure what it is now but I surmise that's been accelerated with the down economy.

    What makes this era of automation different is that nearly every walk of life is seeing some level of it, from construction to Wall St. In the past, the theory of creative destruction has prevailed. As one industry dies, the population is forced to create new ones. That was President Clinton's vision: a shift from a production-based economy to an information economy. There are two major problems with that. First not every person can be a skilled laborer such as a programmer, engineer or business owner. In short, it is not an industry that can employ the masses. The second problem is the type of automation we're experiencing. As I stated, every industry is seeing it. Even thought and decision making are being automated. As such, creative destruction will not apply in this scenario, at least not at a level that satisfies mass labor.

    The only solution therefore is to continue cutting the workweek, which will eventually present it's own set of problems as well, but that's a talk for another day.
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      Jul 29 2012: The problem with that, is that we're in too much debt to cut the work week without dramatically raising wages... or forgiving debts. No pollitician wants to do either of those things. They like that we're desperate.

      Also, we are entering the worlds first demand crisis, since the industrial revolution, so they were caught with their pants down a bit.
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    Jul 24 2012: I think efficiency, should be given priority. Though it seems automation destroy jobs, of thousands, but recent practical examples provides us the dramatically opposite results. For example after computerisation of banking industry, there has been a significant increase in both- no of employees and customers. Another eg is of driverless metro rails ( ) coming up worldwide, which increases ridership/passenger carrying capacity of the entire metro system.
    So automation is not a threat to employment, until thre is a scope of further expansion of economy/or the system which has been automated, but if there is no scope then it may possibly destroy jobs forever.
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    Jul 23 2012: Hi WR,

    This is a good question!
    Certainly, in my past IT work, I have assisted in the destruction of many "jobs".
    This vexed me somewhat at the time, and has taken a place in my mind ever since.
    Atfirst my answer was that life evolves and change happens regardless - people are inventive and will find their way forward.
    However, one needs only look at what happens when the way forward is made almost impossible - e.g. the great depression, the "dustbowl" event, the division of India and Pakistan, and all other events that propel people to become instant refugees.
    One could argue that the "survival of the fittest" operates via these events to refine the genome to changing circumstance.
    However, what gets overlooked in that conclusion is the residual harm that remains in the survivors which operates to degrade the community and leads to further negative events.

    One also has to consider that by destroying "jobs" one erodes one's own market. This process mandates the "welfare state" as the community exerts to maintain markets for corporations.

    My work in the supermarket logistics IT world had an issue - we could have obsoleted all the 110,000 checkout operators in a stroke - this was 1993. We did not - because having that many "jobs" allowed the corporation massive leverage against the democracy to ensure its agendas were served. Those jobs were the currency of power and were preserved to enlarge the bottom line while the welfare state ensured market liquidity and year-on-year ROI of 17% to shareholders. I note that the company has since begun implementing robotic checkouts and now obtain ROI through liquor sales and poker machines.

    No the problem is not change. The problem is "jobs". No company will create a job unless it represents more than 300% ROI - usually a lot more. The effort granted by the human occupying a "job" is harvested by the corporation - the human is impoverished in the process.
    Robots can do this stuff - allowing humans to find their true "work".
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    Jul 29 2012: The biggest problem with automation, is that people have been dumb enough to assume that robots make better quality products than human beings... They don't. Ask a professional pool player if he wants to shoot with a Q made by a machine...

    Our society has decided that cheaper is better. Cheaper is just that... cheaper. When you make a machine, which produces a boat load of products every minute, it makes a cheaper, lower quality product than a human being who makes over the course of hours. No machine has anything on a skilled craftsman, and rich people used to know that, they've forgotten.

    If you're going to make 10,000 of something, you make it quickly, with vague, general, popular specifications. When you make one of something, you make it specifically for, the human being that ordered it. A machine will never make the best pool Q for you. It will never make the best Golf clubs for you. In order to waste the resources to build a machine, there needs to be a large number of consumers. The best products are made for niche market consumers who really know what they're looking for.
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    Jul 24 2012: I believe this is a case of demand and supply. With newer technologies, things can be done more efficiently. Then people start realizing, wait there's no reason to hire a bunch of workers, everything can be run by machines. So the demand for running machines has increased. And other companies will now supply more machines as a result. So yes, this pretty much kills off workers at their current jobs, but then people realize, there are new demands now. Who's gonna run the machines? Who's gonna make the machines? Who's gonna improve the systems? Those are all the new demands that newer technologies create. And with those new demands, people will answer with the supply. More workers then realize they need to learn programming, industrial engineering, business, so that they can answer the new demand.
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    Jul 24 2012: Takes priority with who. The bottom line for companies are profits and dividends for stock holders. The bottom line for the worker (jobs) is a paycheck to support his lifestyle and family.

    It is possible for both to co-exist. Ever since the industrial revalution the cry that machines will take all of your jobs has been the scare. It has not occured. I learned in industry that some jobs can be automated and some cannot.

    I disagree with the statement that the #1 job killer is efficiency added with automation. Where is that written? In the US most jobs have been taken out of country because of union and regulatory demands making the company impossible to operate within the US.

    The interview with Steve Jobs showed this. He said the need was for 1000 plus engineers, 10 thousand workers, XXXX thousand of square foot factory space, and consideration for transporting the product. Discussions came to a halt in the US by unions, EPA, and all sorts of government regulations that would take years to resolve. The Chinese when given the same requirements asked do you want to transport by air or sea. With that decision we can start production in three months.

    Having not learned that lesson we are driving money off shore and out of country due to taxes. This same money generates jobs through investments and bank assets.

    The question is no longer efficiency VS jobs ... but JOBS. If we do not solove these basic issues the argument is moot and the US as we know it will cease to exist. Capitalism got us here and socialism will take it all away.

    All the best. Bob.
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    Jul 24 2012: IN MY VIEW:
    Efficiency (with Automation) is a good thing but the bad thing is how the profit gets accumulated in few hands. Automation should be there for us to feel more relaxed and enjoy life. If automation is done for people by people then this will be nothing less than blessing. Then we will be really free from this vicious circle earn - spend - earn. We need automation in almost everything. Specially in agriculture, clothing and shelter. We can then focus on developing new technology to improve our overall quality of life. More than anything we will be "FREE".
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    Jul 23 2012: efficiency does not destroy jobs. certainly, it destroys some jobs, but at the same time it enables other jobs. in a free market economy, the two numbers are equal.

    as an example: with the invention of the weaving frame, the number of people employed in the textile industry went up tenfold. at the same time, total output went up hundredfold.

    if efficiency would destroy jobs, 97% of people today would be unemployed. it is because almost everyone worked in agriculture 3000 years ago, but today, only like 3% does. but the remaining 97% did not become unemployed. they do something else today.
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      Jul 24 2012: Sir, 36.1% of population still depend on agriculture as their primary sourse of income. 12 times more than what you have stated in the conversation.
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        Jul 24 2012: thank you for the correction. the actual number is

        United States farming, forestry, and fishing: 0.7%
        United Kingdom agriculture: 1.4%
        Germany agriculture: 1.6%

        way lower than i thought. sorry for not caring about the developing nations. my argument is about progress, so let us consider the advanced nations only.
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        Jul 24 2012: one more addition, before someone claims that this is because of food imports. hungary has twice as much food exports as food imports, yet agriculture contributes 3% of the gdp.
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    Jul 23 2012: I suppose my garden could be mechanized, automated and autonomous. But I like to work in my garden from the first tilling to the last harvest. On a grander scale does this paradigm have to become inappropriate? I guess it does so long as the mantra is "For Profit". Efficiency equals profitability. In a for profit economy job loss is a sign of progress. The ultimate scenario for this philosophy is Full Unemployment, or, more nicely put, Full Mechanization. Once the machines can design, build, and maintain themselves we will experience the destination of the journey begun by the Industrial Revolution. Employment should be the priority.
  • Jul 23 2012: You are wright, automation and efficiency makes people loose jobs, but its effects are more profound that only economically. I hope the recent capitalism with social responsibility model gain more acceptance on the society.
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    Jul 23 2012: In the U.S. there are about 140 million jobs, you are saying jobs disappear faster than they are created.

    One of these statements is not true.