Douglas Rushkoff, a theorist in media and new technologies, in a recent interview with CNN stated:
“It’s not about jobs, he says, it’s about productivity. Technology lets us bypass corporations, make our own work — a new model. The question we have to begin to ask ourselves is not how do we employ all the people who are rendered obsolete by technology, but how can we organize a society around something other than employment? Might the spirit of enterprise we currently associate with “career” be shifted to something entirely more collaborative, purposeful, and even meaningful?”
Listening to this and remembering my post a few days ago discussing the announcement of Foxconn to introduce 3 million robots (to replace human workforce) I really start to wonder what the future enterprise can be like and whether we are going towards a jobless Society.
We have seen in the past significant changes in job typologies.
As an example look at the graph showing the decrease of jobs in agriculture in the last 20 years in the USA. This decrease started in the nineteen century when over 60% of people were working in agriculture. Today less than 4 percent works in agriculture but the yield has dramatically increased. Agriculture today, thanks to chemicals and better understanding of crops generates 10 times more harvest than hundred years ago. The productivity increase, therefore, is close to 150.
Jobs lost in agriculture have been absorbed by industry and more recently by the service area. New technologies leading to productivity increase are starting to slash jobs in these areas as well and contrary to the XVIII and XIX centuries we do not have anything in sight in terms of new job opportunities.
Are we really leading to a jobless Society? This looks like a paradox. You have so much productivity that you no longer need to employ people but if people are not employed they will not make money and hence they will not buy making the increase in productivity useless.
The problem is extremely complex and I do not pretend to understand it and thus to propose solutions. However, there are some considerations that can be made.
Productivity increase goes into two directions: decrease of cost in producing a single item and more production capacity. More production capacity requires more consumption capacity and this ties up with the economic sustainability. Clearly the decrease in cost (and price) makes goods more affordable, and this is a good news.
The decrease in the production cost is, in a growing number of sectors, not just the result of an increased productivity but also the consequence of an amazing decrease in the cost of production processes. The shift from hardware to software, the possibility of producing hardware through flexible production lines manned by robots inflate the gains of the economy of scale.
The side effect is that producing goods is becoming a commodity where what makes the difference is the creativity not the control or the ownership of the production infrastructure. Hence, every person having creativity and skill can produce goods. Capital is not the limiting factor.
I can imagine that in the future we are going to see large and sophisticated production, distribution and communications infrastructures (in some cases corresponding to few large enterprises controlling the market, in other the presence of a significant number of medium size enterprises providing alternative infrastructures) allowing a myriad of one man enterprises (just to emphasize the concept) to develop the business. In this sense I do not see a jobless Society rather a Society where jobs are significantly different from the one we are used today. The challenge is education and the transition.