Thinking about the future of the American economy makes my stomach turn. Between foreign competition from lower-wage nations and the continuing rise of advanced production machinery, it looks like fewer actual people will be needed to make the products that we purchase and use.
It isn’t just factory robots or international competitors that are changing things. Advanced software, such as computerized logistics systems and inventory control, or online purchasing methods, such as Amazon, have made the employment of in-person servers – humans – less necessary for the functioning of the economy. But what happens when everyone loses his job to a program or robot? In this scenario, imagine that every last job could be done by an artificial entity. How then will people earn money to pay for food and rent? This will not occur today, or even tomorrow, but one day, sooner than we think, machinery, combined with advanced software, and connected by the internet will be the primary basis for the production and distribution of most of the “stuff” that we buy.
David Brooks looks at the growing bifurcation of the American economy today in his opinion piece in The New York Times. It appears to me that what Brooks describes is just the tip of the iceberg. Eventually, technology will have advanced to the point where it can do work better and more cheaply than by even the most talented person. What then will we do?