RUTH SUNDERLAND: History tells us that automation does not take human work away

Emergence of the machines: not everyone sees the progress of robots in the workplace as a good thing

We should not be surprised that the TUC is lyrical about how robots and new technology will free us all to work less for the same money.

After all, no less an authority than Karl Marx claimed that automation would help the miserable proletariat to get rid of their mind-numbing work.

John Maynard Keynes predicted in his essay from 1930, Economic Possibilities For Our Grandchildren, that technology would enable people to work no more than 15 hours a week. & # 39; Three hours a day is enough, & # 39; he thought. Keynes had no grandchildren, but if that was the case, it is highly unlikely that they would relax for hours.

Emergence of the machines: not everyone sees the progress of robots in the workplace as a good thing

Emergence of the machines: not everyone sees the progress of robots in the workplace as a good thing

Employment in the UK is highest since 1974, when Abba won the Eurovision contest and we actually had a three-day week but for the wrong reasons.

Not everyone sees the progress of robots in the workplace, in warehouses, production facilities and in new possible arenas such as nursing homes, as a good thing. Fear that machines make people superfluous or enslave us are as old as the technology itself. Crackpot ideas such as Amazon's robot-controlled cage for his employees, who are now mercifully scrapped, do not really help.

In a fascinating speech last week about the future of work overshadowed by another Brexit line, Governor Mark Carney of the Bank of England said that machines have replaced hands in the past of & # 39; hands & # 39; or manual labor. Artificial intelligence means that they & # 39; heads & # 39; or replace brain work, causing & # 39; hearts & # 39; for people – in other words work with emotion, imagination, innovation, care and creativity, which could translate into more satisfying work that adds value to people. economy.

History tells us that automation does not take human work away, but it shifts people from one type of work to another.

One of the biggest technological revolutions gets virtually no attention from economists because it has mainly influenced women. But by making housework so much easier, the spread of household appliances such as vacuum cleaners and washing machines has demonstrably changed the workplace and society as much as the smartphone.

The idea that robots take away the employment of people is based on the lump of labor & # 39; Fallacy that there is a fixed number of jobs in an economy, so if a robot takes one, a person will be put in the queue. In reality it is not so. Economies are dynamic, so if robots contribute to productivity and growth, more, no less, jobs will be created for people.

This does not mean that the introduction of technology will be seamless. In general, technology can be useful, but individuals can and lose it if their tasks are taken over by machines and they are not able to find another job quickly.

What Keynes ignored in his analysis is that many of us, probably including himself, have work addicts and absolutely do not want to be lazy.

For anyone who is wondering why members of the board of several millionaires not only get up and enjoy their loot, think about it: the higher the paid person is, and the more status and admiration they get from their work, the less attractive they have to take more free time.

An hour's work is worth so much more, in terms of money and ego, to the high-performing classes than one published by the pool. The rest of us can keep fantasizing about those four-day weeks.

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