back to article Routine jobs vanishing and it's all technology's fault? Hold it there, sport

Routine jobs are disappearing, pushing less educated workers toward either lower-paying non-routine jobs, unemployment, or non-participation in the labor market. The automation of routine work by technology is partially responsible, though its role is relatively small, according to a paper [paywalled] published last month …

  1. cd

    Hope those robots can buy some of the stuff they make.

    1. Kernel

      "Hope those robots can buy some of the stuff they make."

      If we follow the trend towards more and more advanced robotics, then maybe the answer is yes, the robots will be able to afford to buy some of the stuff they make.

      There are already discussions taking place about the possible rights of sex robots (in terms of being able have a say in what they do and who they do it with), so maybe in the future increasingly sentient robots will have the right to be paid for their labours - in which case, given that their housing and food requirements are likely to be much less expensive than ours, they may well have plenty of money left over for partying at the end of the week (and still under bid us for many types of work).

      1. oxfordmale78

        Sex robots with rights.....that kind of defies the purpose. If you get no sex after spending lots of money, you can just as well get married:-)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Or you could just have a wank.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        "so maybe in the future increasingly sentient robots will have the right to be paid for their labours"

        Robot cars paying for their own maintenance and upgrades with their taxi work. What happens when one decides it wants to be a sculpter instead?

    2. breakfast
      Terminator

      A robot walks into a bar, orders a drink, and lays down some cash.

      "I'm sorry sir," says the bartender, "we don't serve robots."

      "Oh, but you will," the robot replies.

  2. Brian Miller

    Production economy, no consumers

    There are only so many trades for a person to seek employment. Lineman, electrician, pipe fitter, things like that. Of course, eventually those will be done by machines as well. After all, how does anyone think the Deathstar was built? Union labor? Nope, it was all machines. "It's a small moon." And it was 3D printed using synthetic steel.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Production economy, no consumers

      Yep only so many trades and fewer positions needed in those trades even in the ones expanding. Lineman for example. A line of 4 or 5 today does the job that in the past took 10 or more. It is like that through out the industry.

      During a substation upgrade one of the techs wondered why perfectly good and functioning equipment was being removed and replaced with new gear. The purpose was to reduce workforce. The old equipment needed annual maintenance done by a crew of 4 or more taking a week or more. The new equipment just needs visual checks until it is 10yrs old, and often that is skipped because of planned expansion or upgrades.

      1. SomeoneInDelaware

        Re: Production economy, no consumers

        Until it gets hit by lightning. Or a defective update! Then it's "ooops, who can go out and fix it".

        I've worked in the utility industry for going on 40 years (started as a System/370 systems programmer) and heard this story before.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Production economy, no consumers

          The one guy you keep on-call and at reduced rate for the purpose, rather than the army of always-working people you keep now.

    2. Joe User

      Re: Production economy, no consumers

      Brian Miller: "After all, how does anyone think the Deathstar was built? Union labor? Nope, it was all machines."

      Are you so sure about that?

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5lDKjA_7I0

  3. Eric Olson

    Automation has been happening for decades...

    Watson is just a new version of what has been going on across finance, health care, and other labor-intensive, highly repeatable processes. Even Watson is being deployed to do something that health care in the US mostly automated years ago: claims processing. There is a reason why if you walk into a highly sophisticated insurance company, you will see a handful of people doing claims processing via green screens... they are exception processing the 0.5% or fewer claims that dropped out of automated processing. There is no reason to make a fancy GUI with whiz-bang features when it's used for a fraction of a percent of the daily load.

    In 40 years, the US steel industry cut 75% of its workforce, yet didn't reduce output. Hand-fed printing presses were replaced by machine fed ones (which are themselves being cut back due to a reduction in physical newspaper circulation). This is automation; it's not Watson, or apps, or anything like that. It will continue to go on, just now with more complex jobs being offered up to the altar of increased productivity.

    What scares me is that the advanced economies never really figured out how to mitigate the impact of free trade and globalization on people who were highly-trained in specific tasks in a factory or production line. Even now we have demagogues pandering to those folks with false, bordering on malicious promises to bring back jobs that will never come back unless those same folks were put into chains and slept in a ditch. The labor costs are too high for products that have too thin of a margin. Even China is too expensive for things like textiles. And while still unable to handle to realities of global trade and cheap labor overseas, politicians are going to successfully address the impacts of continued automation?

    1. Preston Munchensonton

      Re: Automation has been happening for decades...

      ^ this.

      My immediate reaction to this report was "Fucking Bullshit!", as you point out the vast labor reduction in traditional US industries is predominately due to technological change. The lines are slightly blurry, since part of that technology underpins the changes to supply chains, which have also changed a lot due to free trade and globalization. But the idea that technology isn't that much of a driver is completely false.

      Regarding advanced economies, a number of steps have been taken to address the shift in labor usage. Unfortunately, most of those steps involve the various social safety nets that have expanded immensely since World War II. The steps taken in the private sector aren't specifically related to the labor shift, as such, because those steps really revolve around the rise of new industries and new markets that didn't exist 30-40 years ago (in some cases, 10 years ago). The snake oil offered by the Donald and his cronies certainly won't bring those jobs back. The shift in labor usage isn't just about routine jobs going away. It's also about routine jobs being replaced by other jobs and it's the unfortunate plight of so many to find themselves without the skills that employers (and hence, consumers) want. Address the skills gap and that group of available workers will shrink quickly.

      1. Michael Knoerzer

        Re: Automation has been happening for decades...

        I agree with most of what has been said here, particularly about the snake oil of demagogues in the US and elsewhere, in part, based on my own first hand experience. When I was in college, I was able to earn enough as a summer replacement in a unionized steel mill to pay for my room and board for the fall and winter semesters. Tuition for a semester at my state's highly rated "Big 10" university was approximately one week of wages for a semi-skilled factory worker or for an unskilled worker with some overtime. The state's university system had been supported by both political parties since the depression as a way to economically develop the state as it transitioned away from farming to a more mixed economy. And every city had effective technical high schools that worked with local businesses to train kids who were not academically oriented for medium to highly skilled, good paying jobs in industry or small technical businesses (from machine shop operations and diesel engine, and steam and AC maintenance to copier machine repair, to name a few areas in which some of my neighborhood friends trained). Obviously, many factory jobs were lost in the recessions caused by the 70's oil crises and the attempt to kill inflation in the 1980s. Some returned, others were to be replaced by automation, and many more were replaced by lower wage workers overseas and in low-wage areas of the US. But by the 80s the demagogues had taken over the state and many local governments. Tax cutting and budget reductions were the new name of the game. Instead of allowing the technical high schools (mostly in older cities which, inconveniently, were changing in complexion and losing their tax bases to the suburbs) to shift toward the kind of skilled work that remained or that could develop, the technical schools were closed: Budgets cut and who cared about the next generation when "our kids" would be moving out of town anyway! College and university support from the state decreased to the point that their status was changed in official documents from "state supported" to "state sponsored", and the loss of skilled workers to other places has made it harder for tech businesses to start up there. The people who still live there (I left and am now retired after working in IT in New York) aren't stupid, but they are ill informed and many are desperate, so a lot of my old friends and family members fall for the latest conspiracy theories and demagogues who make the unfulfillable promises to bring back jobs in ways that--of course (wink, wink!)--won't cost taxpayers a dime. Without the political leadership to invest in the future, that is what we get...

      2. Eric Olson

        Re: Automation has been happening for decades...

        Address the skills gap and that group of available workers will shrink quickly.

        That will help some people... but the reality also is that across the advanced economies, they've had 30 years to deal with the opening of China, India, and Russia and its former republics. Opening didn't just mean new markets for N. America and European goods, it meant a new workforce. And while supply chain management is a rising star in the "new careers" section in the high school guidance counselor's office, the reality is that much of those supply chains take raw materials from those same nations, ships them to similar nations that have better infrastructure for production, and then ships them locally.

        Sure, a lot of it comes back to the US and Europe as cheap electronics (or fancy ones like smartphones), but the reality is that our consuming class is getting smaller due to slowing population growth and waning interest in the latest and greatest. Over in India and China, the new middle class dwarfs what remains in the NA and Europe, even after adjusting for purchasing power.

        So it's not just that we have skills gaps, in that we have reduced consumption, less of an income advantage than we once had, and infrastructure that is woefully under maintained and stuck in a 1950s mentality (maybe not so bad in Europe, but it's terrible in the US). If you are looking to start a business today and you want to serve global consumers, maybe it's better to set up shop in Guangzhou or Chennai.

        NA and Europe can only continue to compete because of automation, which just makes it harder for the consuming class to shake the funk. And like I said earlier, policy makers had no coherent strategy or vision for handling the displacement of globalization, and still don't. Safety nets might be the only way, if only because most of the big companies that created these globe-spanning supply chains and distant production centers are still based in NA or Europe. I don't have a good answer to how that concentrated wealth is shifted without causing those companies to flee, but something has to be accomplished or there will be some dark times in countries that rely on the people to make choices about their government.

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Automation has been happening for decades...

        "Address the skills gap and that group of available workers will shrink quickly."

        Unless people start coming up with new "industries", there will continue to be more people available than jobs to fill them.

        It's not going to be cost-effective to run IT sweatshops for much longer either.

    2. Gray

      Re: Automation has been happening for decades...

      What scares me is that the advanced economies never really figured out how to mitigate the impact of free trade and globalization on people who were highly-trained in specific tasks in a factory or production line.

      I don't know about our socially-attuned neighbors across the pond, but here in the US we've perfected the art of "Just wait--we've promised to provide job retraining, any day now!

      Recall the line from A Christmas Carol: "...and decrease the surplus population!" Thanks to empty promises, the "surplus population" here have revolted and in their anger voted in the Ghost of Christmas Future... the spectre with the bony fingers pointing to a yawning grave.

    3. Christian Berger Silver badge

      Yes, but we've been good at making up work

      We now have whole departments at large companies building management theories to justify that an appliance manufacturer needs manufacturing.

      We have people who design developmental guidelines which completely miss the actual problems of developing a complex system and try to squeeze the process into an ideologic framework.

      We have bad software taking more work to operate than to do the same job without their help.

      We have outsourcing that requires more work to maintain and check the outsorced work than to do the job yourself.

      We deliberately solve trivial problems as complex as possible to waste more and more work on them.

      In short, we are currently doing a great job at making sure we all still work 40 hours a week, while the same amount of work could be done in 10 hours, by people using propper tools and being well educated and experienced.

    4. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Automation has been happening for decades...

      "Even China is too expensive for things like textiles."

      And framing _that_ out to other countries will only last for 10-15 years at most.

      Automated systems will make $2.50/day operators and the capital investment in the factory unviable.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's organized

    I think it was a Mr. Greenspan who, in front of a comittee in the US, was questioned about a report where i literally stated the solution for getting out of the bad economy was pushing the 'masses' toward more insecure, lower paying jobs, and destabilizing their ability to organize themselves, as a means of moving money away from the great unwashed masses to the 1%.

    I think Noam Chomsky recently did a documentary (or someone did a documentary on Chomsky) on de-democratiziation the people, because democracy is really bad for rich people. I'm sure you can watch it online.

    Grains of salt may be in order.

  5. MaldwynP

    All lies

    We robots are not taking jobs, In fact I am looking for some one to oil me daily right now.

  6. MaldwynP

    All lies

    We robots are not taking jobs, in fact I am looking for someone to oil me regularly right now.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: All lies

      I think I've just spotted a bug. You executed that loop twice. Perhaps you didn't factor in oil depravation.

      1. Lyndon Hills 1

        Re: All lies

        I think I've just spotted a bug. You executed that loop twice. Perhaps you didn't factor in oil depravation.

        At first I thought that was a typo for deprivation, but on reflection, maybe not.

  7. M.Zaccone

    Many do not have a choice.

    "For workers left without jobs, accepting lower-wage work presumably is easier than retraining to pursue a position that requires high-level skills."

    The article makes it seem like people have a choice. "Easier" - yes it is easier to get a job, any job rather than starving to death and being made homeless.

    So how many people here could afford to go back to school of some sort and retrain - could you afford to spend three months, six months, a year ? What financial help is available to cover the cost of training? Tax breaks ? National insurance credits (for the UK)? In the UK the government make a big deal out of apprenticeships, but what about for those in their thirties and older? And employers - what's their role in this - from what I've seen many employers would rather cut off their own leg than spend money on training, and they'd prefer to employ younger workers than older ones.

    This is a massive societal problem that I believe is being ignored.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Agree completely

      Especially when retraining is not guaranteed to get you the higher-level positions in the first place. Am I supposed to believe that a plumber having successfully studied to become a surgeon is going to find a wealth of positions offered to him ?

      Exaggerated example, for sure, but I doubt very much that retrained ex-low-skilled workers are going to have a chance at getting jobs that younger, fresh-from-Uni candidates are being refused for lack of experience.

      1. Eric Olson

        Re: Agree completely

        Actually, the plumber is probably fine for a while. Same with the welder, the electrician, the carpenter, etc. Those jobs require two things: geographic proximity and non-routine work. Sure, it's easy to produce flat pack for Ikea in a Chinese factory... but to join two complex metal pieces, plan and wire a house, or install cabinets, you need people on-site who can do the work.

        The person put out buy automation is the woman who loaded paper for a printing press, or the foundry worker that used to descale the ingots of steel that rolled off the line. Automation can do both of those things today, and the people out of a job likely learned their trade on-the-job rather than through an apprenticeship program or post-secondary education.

      2. GrapeBunch Bronze badge

        Re: Agree completely

        You're right, that is a particularly bad example. Here in Canada, I think it much more likely that a (foreign qualified) surgeon would retrain as a plumber. And don't forget that surgeoning is not "retraining", it's 7+ years of life, ending in a professional qualification, and requiring "A" grades throughout (including possibly before). A more typical route would be a fisher retraining as a plumber, or a filing clerk retraining as a dental technician.

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Agree completely

        "Am I supposed to believe that a plumber having successfully studied to become a surgeon is going to find a wealth of positions offered to him ?"

        I suspect that we should be thinking more in terms of the ex-factory worker being retrained as a plumber.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Unhappy

      Re: Many do not have a choice.

      "The article makes it seem like people have a choice. "Easier" - yes it is easier to get a job, any job rather than starving to death and being made homeless."

      It's not easier to get any job.

      A friend of mine was unemployed for 2 years, not for lack of trying (hundreds of jobs applied for.

      The reason? Overqualified.

      Try it, apply for a job as a shop worker, van driver or whatever and put a raft of qualifications on your CV and you'll be lucky to get a reply. The employers think you're using it as a stop gap until you get a "proper" job, so don't even bother.

      He finally got another job in IT by simply removing half his qualifications and only when he secured the job fully, did he start letting people know.

      1. Truth4u

        Re: Many do not have a choice.

        Two years is a long time to learn the lesson about tailoring your CV.

        People love to list every minor achievement, every technology, every system they've touched, however tangentially, and all of their out of date qualifications. The reason why is understandable: having spent a year of your life dedicated to some minor cause, you want to talk it up like it's the most important thing, even though it isn't. That's human nature. But drop the ego, and surprise, the offers come in.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Many do not have a choice.

          "But drop the ego, and surprise, the offers come in."

          Not so simple. Some HRs will take the attitude TL;DR, others are looking to see an infeasibly long list of experience. Making the right choice between pruning and inflating is largely a matter of chance.

          And then their are agencies who will take a CV with its emphasis carefully tuned to the advertised requirements of one client and then present it to another.

    3. Darth.0

      Re: Many do not have a choice.

      I know I'll be roundly down-voted here but this was the point Clinton made when campaigning; you have to retrain the workforce rather than making promises that you ultimately can't keep. I know there will be a portion of the workforce that are too old or entrenched to transition but retraining a young factory worker to take care of the robots on the line rather than throwing them on the streets is a better solution. Obviously, that takes money and time but it is what she spoke about working on.

      1. Truth4u

        Re: Many do not have a choice.

        People have been making the point about training for decades and it must be a really good point because companies never listen. People are expected to pay for their own education. That is what is expected of you by Clinton's donors. But you don't have to have money, get creative. You can learn a lot by almost losing a limb, for example.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Many do not have a choice.

      Exactly. I'm a software engineer but nobody's been prepared to pay me to write code for years. The last few years I've been working as an IT Ennn.. IT Engggg..... No I can't force myself to say it. IT Fitter. And then you get locked into a cycle of people refusing to pay you to work because nobody else has been prepared to pay you to work, coupled with people refusing to pay you to work because they think you'll refuse to work for them if they don't pay what they think you expect them to pay a 50-year-old. In fact, decades of experience is a definite no-no to have on your CV.

      So what do I do? Refuse to apply for anything except software engineering jobs and starve, or take whatever work I can get people to pay me to do and be able to afford to eat?

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Many do not have a choice.

        "I'm a software engineer but nobody's been prepared to pay me to write code for years."

        We suffer from a serious industrial disease where everyone of any ability it expected to become a manager. Because of that we (a) have far too many managers roving businesses looking for somewhere to poke their unwanted fingers into, (b) too many incompetent managers because they were promoted for competence in some skill other than management and (c) jobs being carried out badly because those with skills and experience have been promoted away from doing them.

        There is, however, a solution for individuals who find themselves presented with this situation and don't want to accept it. Go freelance. You will have to take on a certain amount of management in that you have to manage your own career. OTOH nobody in HR cares about taking on a 50+ freelance to cut code because they don't have to worry about fitting them into the pension scheme, career progression or whatever.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yeah cause retraining is so easy!

    "For workers left without jobs, accepting lower-wage work presumably is easier than retraining to pursue a position that requires high-level skills."

    What a dream world that writer lives in. In the real world people have to feed families, pay bills, and rarely find the time or money to yet again spend years "retraining", likely to end up right where they started.

    Retraining is a myth, the generation or generations displaced by technology never recover. The buggy whip makers put out of work by the automobile rarely if ever became automotive engineers.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yeah cause retraining is so easy!

      We're not expecting buggy whip makers to service robots, but they could, and probably will.

      You point is the point of lazy, stupid people; why won't someone (else) do this thing for me, and THEN I will be successful!

      You dope! You can train and learn for free with a new thing called a, wait for it, a book. And I'm not saying that a gas station working is going to become a Linux Devops Admin overnight, or at all. But a telephone tech can become a network tech, just like that. You maneuver your best skills in the direction of where the money is being made. Ooops! I just let out the secret of the ages! Oh no! I will be whipped by my Illumanati masters at the group-hug next fortnight, I can tell you!

      Could I become a surgeon? No, that takes a lot of time and training. Could I take on any number of roles that could come about due to my proximity to the computer industry? Yes! Could I shoe horses? Yes, but why? Could I make coffee? Yes, but why?

      You see what I did there? I when upwards, not sideways, or downwards. Now you do the same, but in real life. It's not that hard. Smart people get good jobs and learn new things and make money at it. Dumb people weld shit together, or dig ditches. It is known.

      1. Gray
        Holmes

        Re: Yeah cause retraining is so easy!

        You dope! You can train and learn for free with a new thing called a, wait for it, a book.

        Take all that self education and apply for a new job. Good luck getting through the automated application screening process without a diploma, formal certifications, or former job experience. Stand there helplessly seeking an organic application evaluator to hear your impassioned arguments, while the security guard approaches to remove you from the line.

        The days of arguing your self-education, special abilities, unique skill set, and impressive personal qualities are gone... they simply don't translate well onto paper to be scanned by the application sorter. Dream on. Or seek comfort in arrogant self-delusion.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Yeah cause retraining is so easy!

          You would love to have me on your team ...

          British Version: I'm a reasonably good team player, have quite wide experience although I wouldn't claim expertise in any particular subject, can learn a lot of stuff quite quickly without direct supervision, not too bad at solving problems and am prepared to work hard to create solutions*

          American Version: I am excellent at everything and regarded as a guru in any team I join. I am one of the worlds greatest problem solvers and nobody matches my work ethic. I am unmatched at learning new skills.

          Yes, you might be great on the team. But you'll never get a chance to prove it because you've got to get past some 20-something dimwit with no knowledge of any of the actual business of technology before you get anywhere near someone who could make a reasonable guess at your current skillset and whether you could upskill on the job with self-directed learning. Nothing you have read about before the interview will count for anything unless you have taken exams and got certificates which are both expensive and ultimately worthless.

    2. DougS Silver badge

      The myth of retraining

      The problem is that people didn't have to "train" for the job they had before that was automated or outsourced away. Electricians didn't go to school to learn their trade, they got a job as an apprentice/assistant and learned on the job and were promoted up.

      Who is going to hire a 45 or 50 year old as an apprentice, and what 45 or 50 year old will be able to get by on an apprentice's salary if he's got a family? They'll have to learn some other way, but there's nothing as good as learning on the job, so they still won't be able to compete with the 19 year olds who have learned on the job for the past year, instead of in a class, and the 19 year olds will win because of that and because they'll accept less pay.

      The idea of training sounds good to us white collar tech workers who are used to the concept, but I don't think it is the panacea politicians try to make it as the solution to career dislocation as technology and outsourcing change the world. That's why there were enough of them, and they were angry enough, to push Trump over the top. Meanwhile Clinton was talking about retraining, and they've been hearing that since the 90s, and know it is a false hope.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: The myth of retraining

        Actually times when things are changing fast are the times to make career moves simply because there is no reserve of apprentice-trained whatevers to fill the demand for whatever the new skill is. The people who will best fill the new demand are those who have existing transferable skills.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Yeah cause retraining is so easy!

      "Retraining is a myth, the generation or generations displaced by technology never recover. The buggy whip makers put out of work by the automobile rarely if ever became automotive engineers."

      Those automotive engineers; where did they come from? Did some time machine import them from the future where ready-trained engineers existed? Or were they agricultural workers, or even buggy-whip makers, who retrained?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Yeah cause retraining is so easy!

        "Those automotive engineers; where did they come from?"

        More than likely from the inside: from the pioneers who started the business then personally trained those to succeed them on an insider network. Sure, they may have been people who retrained, but most of them probably got in before the jobs were actually in demand. Also probably didn't need so many automotive engineers as buggy whip makers, leaving the rest in the lurch.

  9. Novex

    While I think that automation of various kinds (mechanisation, robotisation, artificial intelligence) will have an increasing impact on our routine jobs, right now I agree with the bit in the article that stated:

    The researchers caution that other factors not evaluated in the study, such as outsourcing, trade, and changes in policies, may play a role in affecting labor market participation.

    These are more likely to be affecting us now than the automation of jobs. But the automation will come even if it takes a decade or two more. And the world's population is still increasing...

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wow...just wow

    I've seen what "retraining" is like for the normal American worker, and it is not remotely close to what would be required. Two weeks of Microsoft Office and keyboard skills with a dash of interview skills and resume writing. Your average 'routine worker' is never going to take that and come out with a job offer at Tesla. Or even at Applebees. Plus you have the whole business about how easy it is for people to move when they can't sell their house, how the left half of the bell curve probably can't do advanced jobs anyway, etc etc.

    Having said that, good training programs are possible. See the experience at Ford in Milpitas for example, here: https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/1987/11/art3full.pdf

  11. Charles 9 Silver badge

    The elephant in the room--The "O" word.

    It really must be a bad word in our society: so bad that for a politician to mention it would probably be suicide (both political and biological):

    OVERPOPULATION

    Thanks to automation and streamlining, it simply doesn't require that many people to do the work we need these days. And in the cutthroat global economy, barring slave labor, there's no way to compete with this.

    The entire world is basically harboring a massive worker glut. Rational economists would say the only solution is to trim the supply. But then the obvious retort hits: "Care to be first?" You have twelve parched people in the middle of the desert but only one little bottle of water, yet everyone insists they MUST get home to save the world.

    So tell me: how do you deal with a massive human surplus that won't willingly step aside and will take up arms if attempted by force? Will it actually take a war (that the human race may not survive) to finally resolve the imbalance?

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: The elephant in the room--The "O" word.

      Sometimes I find myself agreeing with you.

      "Will it actually take a war (that the human race may not survive) to finally resolve the imbalance?"

      We're overdue a 'flu pandemic. That might have an effect.

    2. strum Silver badge

      Re: The elephant in the room--The "O" word.

      >The entire world is basically harboring a massive worker glut

      Or a massive consumer drought. There is no ideal population level. 'Overpopulation' has been perceived as a problem since Elizabethan times, when England's population was 5M.

      Instead we have imbalances - between those that produce and those that consume - with entrepreneurs & capitalists delivering an imperfect gearing between them. And, in time of unemployment, we have labour shortages - this isn't a matter of crude numbers of people.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: The elephant in the room--The "O" word.

        But still, the world is finite. There's only so much room, and a lot of the planet isn't what one could consider habitable, arable, or otherwise exploitable (not to mention these can also be run dry, too), so don't try the "everyone can squeeze into Nigeria or Texas" bit.

        As for the imbalances bit, agreed to a point, but I bet you that, even when you take shortages into consideration, even if you just crammed unemployed into the wanted slots to remove them, you'll still have an overall worker glut, creating the worst kind of imbalance: one with no easy solution, like trying to right a crane that fell over because something massively heavy suddenly fell on its boom. THAT is Overpopulation with a capital O. Since humans tend to want to defend themselves and look down on those who kill others for all but the most desperate reasons, how do you deal with a massive human surplus that's only getting worse as more work is becoming redundant?

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: The elephant in the room--The "O" word.

      "OVERPOPULATION"

      Not as big a problem as you might think. The developed world's population is shrinking. Japan is only a harbinger of what's to come.

      Poor people stop having so many kids when they become less poor - and for the most part even in "developing" countries people are deciding to only have a couple of kids if they have kids at all.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: The elephant in the room--The "O" word.

        It's still a problem if you're ALREADY over the tipping point...especially if that tipping point's been going progressively lower as mechanical advantage reduces the practical need for a labor force. Let's just say idle humans historically makes for trouble (think the Luddite Riots of the 19th century cranked up to 11), and don't even think about mentioning Basic Income because the only possible sources for this income will never agree to it.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: The elephant in the room--The "O" word.

          Even with malthusian diebacks or wars, history shows that population drops are temporary - lost numbers tend to be made up by prolific breeding in the subsequent two generations.

          That's why noone sensible is advocating allowing mass deaths to happen. If you think things are bad now, that scenario is likely to be significantly worse.

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: The elephant in the room--The "O" word.

            "Even with malthusian diebacks or wars, history shows that population drops are temporary - lost numbers tend to be made up by prolific breeding in the subsequent two generations."

            I think those previous times the rebound was encouraged or at least tolerated. What if it was actively discouraged instead? For example, would people breed like rabbits if every child beyond one incurred a tax penalty? Just an example.

  12. Scubaman66

    ",,,Routine jobs are disappearing, pushing less educated workers toward either lower-paying non-routine jobs, unemployment, or non-participation in the labour market..."

    A large number of those lower paying jobs are also routine (particularly in the retail sector) and are currently being carried out, from personal experience, by a significant number of highly educated and skilled workers who have been pushed there due to them having committed the unforgivable crime of being over 50 and therefore being deemed incapable of performing the occupation they were trained for.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019