My Book on the Future of Work is now Available for Your Enjoyment

The Future of Work in the Inclusive World Economy is posted to my website.  Click this link to view and print the book in PDF format: https://iweworkfutures.org/book-download/.

The timing for posting my book is not bad.  Gallup just published a major study of the slowdown in economic growth in the U.S., “U.S. Economy: No Recovery”,  and Robert J. Gordon’s book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War, has been getting lots of attention.  Yet, Donald Trump is vowing to buck the U.S. economic growth slowdown and a lot of economists will try to help him do it.  Elsewhere in the world, new leaders are making the same promises.  We have not had such a real world battle of economic policy ideas in a very long time.

Robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the New Era of Labor Exploitation and Coercion

SOURCE ITEMS

But salaries higher than those offered last year might not be part of the deal. … Gardner said about a third of employers surveyed plan to raise salaries this year, compared with 60 percent to 70 percent before the 2008 recession.

Curt Smith, Job market better for recent grads, MSU survey finds, Lansing State Journal, October 9, 2015. Accessed October 10, 2015.

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By one dismal measure, America is joining the likes of Third World countries. … The number of U.S. residents who are struggling to survive on just $2 a day has more than doubled since 1996, placing 1.5 million households and 3 million children in this desperate economic situation. That’s according to “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America,” a book from publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that will be released on Sept. 1.

Aimee Picchi, The surging ranks of America’s ultrapoor, CBS News, September 1, 2015. Accessed October 10, 2015.

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There could be between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of slavery in the UK, higher than previous figures, analysis for the Home Office suggests. … Modern slavery victims are said to include women forced into prostitution, “imprisoned” domestic staff and workers in fields, factories and fishing boats.

Slavery levels in UK ‘higher than thought’, BBC News, November 29, 2014. Accessed October 10, 2015.

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Erik Brynjolfsson has a dream of the future. Or perhaps more accurately, a nightmare. … A vision of a world where computers entrench the power of a wealthy elite and push the majority into poverty. … Brynjolfsson is an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and co-author of The Second Machine Age, a book that asks what jobs will be left once software has perfected the art of driving cars, translating speech and other tasks once considered the domain of humans.

Nick Heath, Why AI could destroy more jobs than it creates, and how to save them, TechRepublic, No Date. Accessed October 10, 2015.

COMMENTS

In the distant past, when the worth of a human worker was primarily her/his calorie power (for moving, pushing, pulling, lifting, twisting, and turning materials and equipment used in the production and distribution of wealth), only a very few workers were engaged in highly skilled work and decision-making.   In most of the world of work, one worker could easily replace another (according to one story, a mule was more valuable to a mine owner than a man). Slavery was cost effective, immigrant and seasonal workers and starvation wages were the norm.

In the nearer past, workers in affluent nations had gained substantial economic power as business owners increasingly needed human workers not only as a source of energy but also as a repository of learned production skills (e.g., skill at soldering a resister to a circuit board without leaving an electrical arc point), and as managers, problem solvers (the intelligence to figure out why the assembly line shut down or whether a particular article contained information relevant to a lawsuit) and planners. The nearer past was also a time when much of the world was still not incorporated into nation-states and markets, so capturing more and more of the world’s people as consumers required more and more production and distribution facilities and equipment, which required more and more highly skilled workers and managers.

All of that is going fast. Fossil fuels and solar power (in all its forms) replace human muscle power. Robotic skills replace human skills. AI software and massive computing power combine to make better, faster and more consistent (unbiased by considerations of kin, ethnicity, race, gender, looks, etc.) decisions than human decision-makers.

What is left to give the mere mortal economic importance? Not much.

AI and robotics, in conduction with fossil fuels and solar energy, have dramatically reduced and will continue to reduce the value of working people for the world’s business owners and managers. In the context of global competition, American and European workers are much too costly given the savings achievable through combining AI, robots, and low wage, unskilled workers in the world’s factories and offices. Even the most honorable of business owners and managers must succumb to the competitive pressures – shedding higher wage, skilled workers and escaping regulations and taxes now devoted to protecting employment rights. Wages, benefits, and employment protections must continue to fall in the wealthiest nations and the best of businesses.

Enslavement, indentured servitude, unpaid family labor, and self-exploitation are labor acquisition strategies as old as humanity and there is no reason to believe the less honorable among the world’s owners and managers will not directly and indirectly take advantage of these strategies. Studies are already finding that these things are on the rise. There is no reason to believe the business owners and managers who are fair to their own workers will stop closing their eyes to the exploitation and coercion of working people practiced by the other owners and managers with whom they do business. Relying on the cheapest sources of components and raw materials must be part of the competitive strategy of every business owner and manager, including the most honorable.

Uber, Coops, Falling Standards of Living, and the Future of Work in the World Economy

SOURCE ITEMS

In addition, because Uber drivers are considered independent contractors, they are not entitled to benefits; their relationship with Uber is merely about their use of the company’s app that connects them to riders. As contractors, they have the flexibility to work when they want and as many hours as they choose, but they also have to cover any costs they incur. After adding up those costs, some drivers say, making a profit is nearly impossible.

Luz Lazo, Some Uber drivers say company’s promise of big pay day doesn’t match reality, Washington Post, September 6.

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Some 130 million Americans, for example, now participate in the ownership of co-op businesses and credit unions. More than 13 million Americans have become worker-owners of more than 11,000 employee-owned companies, six million more than belong to private-sector unions.

Gar Alperovitz, Worker-Owners of America, Unite! New York Times, December 14, 201.

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With nearly half of all services jobs in the OECD at risk of automation, the sharing economy can smooth the disruption caused to displaced workers as they upgrade their skills. Indeed, sharing-economy data can help governments identify those workers at greatest risk and support their retraining. … Those who are displaced will have far better prospects in the more prosperous and inclusive environment that the sharing economy promises to create.

Ayesha Khanna and Parag Khanna, Disciplining the Sharing Economy, Project Syndicate, September 25, 2014.

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Was my house cleaner — the one I’d hired through a company that has raised $40 million in venture-capital funding from well-respected firms like Google Ventures, the one who was about to perform arduous manual labor in my house using potentially hazardous cleaning chemicals — homeless?

He was, as it turned out. And as I told this story to friends in the Bay Area, I heard something even more surprising: Several of their Homejoy cleaners had been homeless, too. … Homejoy doesn’t employ any cleaners — like many of its peer start-ups, it uses an army of contract workers to do its customers’ bidding.

Kevin Roose, Does Silicon Valley Have a Contract-Worker Problem? New York Magazine, September 18, 2014.

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According to a Wells Fargo/Gallup survey of small-business owners conducted earlier this year, 56% of small-business owners, up from 45% in 2010, are either extremely or very satisfied with being a small-business owner. But fewer owners, 37%, say they feel extremely or very successful as a small-business owner — the lowest figure in a decade.

Coleen McMurray and Frank Newport, Small-Business Owners Satisfied, but Fewer Feel Successful, Gallup, September 30, 2014.

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Eighteen percent of all adults worldwide — or 29% of the global workforce — reported being self-employed in 2013. But rather than a positive sign of proactive entrepreneurial energy, high rates of self-employment can often signal poor economic performance. The self-employed are three times as likely as those who are employed full time for an employer to be living on less than $2 per day.

Ben Ryan, Nearly Three in 10 Workers Worldwide Are Self-Employed, Gallup, August 22, 2014.

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Self-employment higher than at any point over past 40 years … Average income from self-employment fallen by 22% since 2008/09

Self-employed workers in the UK – 2014, UK Office for National Statistics, August 20, 2014.

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Nearly one in three working Americans is an independent worker. That’s 53 million people – and growing. We’re lawyers and nannies. We’re graphic designers and temps. We’re the future of the economy.

About Us, Freelancers Union. Accessed October 4, 2014.

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The puzzle goes beyond earnings. Not only are the median earnings of the self-employed comparatively low, they have similar traits to those of salaried workers. … If the self-employed are a good proxy for “growth-creating innovators,” it is both puzzling that their cognitive abilities and noncognitive traits are similar to those of their salaried counterparts and that they earn less.

Ross Levine and Yona Rubinstein, Does Entrepreneurship Pay? The Michael Bloombergs, the Hot Dog Vendors, and the Returns to Self-Employment, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, July 2013.

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There, and in other countries with less well-developed social security systems and which suffered from large losses in (formal) employment, many previously economically inactive people returned to the labour market, often to take up informal employment in order to make up for the loss of household income.

Global Employment Trends 2014, International Labour Organization.

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Already we can see the contours of another economy in the shape of new communitarian movements through which local communities resist and respond to the multiple crises of global capitalism and innovate alternatives to meet economic needs…

Anup Dash, Toward an Epistemological Foundation for Social and Solidarity Economy, Occasional Paper 3, Potential and Limits of Social and Solidarity Economy, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), March 2014.

COMMENTS

From time to time in the history of the capitalist world economy, its magic has faltered and then been restored. This time the magic will sporadically flicker on for a while here and there in the world economy, but it will not be restored. Conditions for a restoration are disappearing and will not come back.

The undoing of key elements of formal wage employment systems has been increasing the financial and emotional burdens on the world’s working people. The growth of these burdens is pushing the world’s communities of working people into a long-term period of economic uncertainties and crisis.

Around the world, formal (government regulated) wage employment systems are faltering. By necessity, the world’s workers are examining a wide range of possibilities for saving, improving, or changing their work life situations. At the same time, large numbers of organizing entrepreneurs are offering up a large variety of strategies, from coops to unions, to entrepreneurial self-employment, to political activism, to disengagement and resistance.

It is probably true to say that most of the world’s working people do not think of themselves as economic experimenters and do not want to be economic experimenters. In lower income parts of the world where formal wage employment systems have always been more promise than reality, most people probably want a formal wage employment system to become a reality where they are and in their lifetimes.

In the higher income parts of the world, most working people who have lost wages and benefits and job security still believe a return to “normal” scenarios of employment is possible and still look to mainstream economists and policy experts to make that return happen.

The world’s working families may not wish to be the inventors of a new world of work, but they face very limited options: nostalgically clinging to the past as the hope for the future; learning to live with less while psychologically acquiescing to the losses; or, struggling to secure employment and income security through means other than standard wage employment.

The possibility of nostalgically clinging to hope for a return to the past is fast disappearing. Acquiescence and inventiveness are really the only two options available. And in the realm of inventiveness, the paths taken include not only coops and various forms of independent self-employment and franchised self-employment, but also a wide range of criminal activities, including violent grabs for economic resources.

The future of work is not predictable in any specific sense, but we can be fairly certain that the spread of systems of formal wage employment that were created in the U.S. and Europe during the 20th century has come to an end. The belief that the global nation state system will soon produce safe, secure, and well paid (by western standards) jobs for the majority of the world’s workers is no longer plausible.

Other ways for the world’s working people to have safe, secure work at living wages must and are being created.

STEM Education Falls Short: The Problem is Too Few Jobs, Not Too Little Education

SOURCE ITEMS

According to new statistics from the 2012 American Community Survey, engineering and computer, math and statistics majors had the largest share of graduates going into a STEM field with about half employed in a STEM occupation. Science majors had fewer of their graduates employed in STEM. About 26 percent of physical science majors; 15 percent of biological, environmental and agricultural sciences majors; 10 percent of psychology majors; and 7 percent of social science majors were employed in STEM.

 Census Bureau Reports Majority of STEM College Graduates Do Not Work in STEM Occupations, U.S. Census Bureau, July 2014.

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Since cohort-wage profiles display a similar pattern, these findings appear to fit with a strong increase in demand for cognitive tasks in the 1990s followed by a decline in the 2000s.

 Paul Beaudry, David A. Green, and Benjamin M. Sand. The Declining Fortunes of the Young since 2000, American Economic Review, 2014

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Chart-Labor Force Participation Rate Trend

The labor force is anticipated to grow by 8.5 million, an annual growth rate of 0.5 percent, over the 2012–2022 period. The growth in the labor force during 2012–2022 is projected to be smaller than in the previous 10-year period, 2002–2012, when the labor force grew by 10.1 million, a 0.7-percent annual growth rate.

 Labor force projections to 2022: the labor force participation rate continues to fall, Monthly Labor Review, December 2013.

 COMMENTS

We now live in a world economy in which economic processes and trends are global. Global economic growth is constrained and will continue to be into the foreseeable future. As a consequence, current patterns of investment, domestic and global, will not generate a sufficient number of jobs to produce anything near global full employment at living wages.

Economic activity in the U.S. does not constitute a separate economy, so U.S. economy policies cannot produce full employment and high wages in the U.S. while the rest of the world is stuck with high rates of unemployment and low wages.   Investment follows profits.  Profits are maximized by producing in low income places in the world economy and selling in high income places.  Unfettered transnational flows of capital and commodities combined with preventing low-skill working people from easily crossing national boundaries in search of work gives the world’s investors the legal framework with which to manage the world’s labor supply to their advantage.

February Job Numbers: Evidence for a Growth Trend or Just One More Outlier in an Era of Employment Volatility and Too Little Growth?

SOURCE ITEMS

Chart-Current Job Growth Not as Strong as last yearSource: Employment Situation Summary Table B. Establishment data, seasonally adjusted, Bureau of Labor Statistics Economic News Release, March 8, 2013. 

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Chart-Industries with largest employ increases, feb 2013 Source: Employment Situation Summary Table B. Establishment data,seasonally adjusted, Bureau of Labor Statistics Economic News Release, March 8, 2013.

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Looking at a series of economic indicators, and going back to the costliest 18 hurricanes of postwar history along with the Northridge earthquake of 1994, Goldman’s research team found that retail sales, construction spending, and industrial production “show a clear dip in the month of the disaster, followed by a significant recovery within 1-3 months that typically takes their growth rate above that seen prior to the disaster.”

Agustino Fontevecchia, Despite $50B In Damages, Hurricane Sandy Will Be Good For The Economy, Goldman Says, Forbes, 11/06/2012.

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Chart-Construction employment in Louisiana, 2002-12  Chart generated by BLS State and Area Employment web site.

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The largest global disasters of 2012 were Hurricane Sandy (with a cost of $65 billion) and the year-long Midwest/Plains drought ($35 billion), according to the company’s Annual Global Climate and Catastrophe Report, which was prepared by Aon Benfield’s Impact Forecasting division.

Doyle Rice, Hurricane Sandy, drought cost U.S. $100 billion, USA TODAY,  January 25, 2013.

————— Chart-Major Disaster Declarations 1953-2011

Bruce R. Lindsay, Francis X. McCarthy, Stafford Act Declarations 1953-2011: Trends and Analyses, and Implications for Congress, Congressional Research Service, August 31, 2012

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Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisors … expects average monthly job gains of 200,000-plus this year if the White House and Congress can agree to put off the budget cuts. If all the reductions occur, it likely would mean monthly gains of about 165,000, he says.

Paul Davidson, Employers add a stunning 236,000 jobs in Feb., USA TODAY, March 8, 2013.

COMMENTS

Stronger than usual February job growth is widely hailed as part of an economic recovery in the U.S. that many are seeing in recent positive market signals – rising housing prices and a flourishing stock market, for examples.  The explicit expectation is that we will not look back a year from now and see February’s 236,000 added jobs as only an outlier in year of mostly disappointing employment news.

It is possible that job growth will be strong this year, but it is unlikely.

Several factors involved in the production of February’s job growth numbers suggest that job growth numbers will bounce up and down in 2013 as they have in the past and leave the U.S with unemployment, underemployment, and labor force participation rates much as they are today.

Job growth is weaker this year than last

The first indicator that we should not put much stock in February job growth numbers is that job growth numbers for January and February 2012 were considerably better than the numbers for January and February 2013.  Yet 2012 ended with little progress toward getting Americans back to work.

Unpredictable weather events may be a factor in February job numbers

Both the Midwest/Plains drought and Hurricane Sandy damaged industries and destroyed property.  Smaller weather events, such as severe winter storms, have also done damage.

Rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy and repairs following winter storms could well have contributed to February job numbers.  In the case of Hurricane Sandy, which did $50 billion or more in damage, cleanup, redevelopment planning, negotiating insurance payments, and getting money flowing from government agencies may have pushed much of the impact on the demand for goods and services into 2013.  So, it is possible that:

  • the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the construction and retail industries is just now peaking
  • hospitality and leisure are still be benefiting from housing people displaced by the hurricane
  • Hurricane Sandy still has a significant impact on the demand for social services
  • some professional and business services, such as legal, architectural, engineering, document preparation and clerical, security and surveillance, cleaning, and waste disposal services, are part of recovery efforts related to Hurricane Sandy.

Employment related to Hurricane Sandy and winter storms will fall off as the year progresses.  Of course, other disasters and damaging weather events will strike.  But, when and where those events strike and how much demand for goods and services they will generate can’t be known.

It is fairly certain, though, that the impact of large and small natural disasters on employment will grow larger over the coming years, adding more volatility to month to month job growth numbers.

 Volatile government spending adds volatility to some private sector industries  

Although jobs in health care and social services are listed in the private sector, many of those jobs are paid for by grants and contracts from local, state, and federal government agencies.  The same is true for employment in most educational institutions and in many manufacturing business service industries that supply goods to government agencies.

Given the volatile political tugs-of-war over revenue and spending policies at all levels of government, jobs in industries with federal funding can come and go quickly.  Perhaps some of this effect is in the February job numbers.

A final note

 It is good to have job growth, but it is certainly less than optimal if a growing proportion of new jobs are associated with repairing and replacing the damaged wealth of those who already have it rather than creating new wealth to be shared with the very large number of Americans who have no net wealth at all.

Climate change and government gridlock are robbing both those of us with wealth and those of us without it.

Liberals and Conservatives Share an Outmoded Belief that Underpins False Hopes for Job Growth

ITEMS FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION

With five cameras, a sonar sensor that detects motion 360 degrees around it, and enough intelligence to learn tasks within an hour, Baxter is designed to work safely alongside humans and do simple jobs such as picking items off a conveyor belt. It’s also cheap enough, at $22,000 a unit, so that the investment math works: If Baxter performs three years of eight-hour shifts, it’s the equivalent of labor at $4 an hour … To teach Baxter a job, a human simply grabs its arms, simulates the desired task, and presses a button to set the pattern.

Brad Stone,Smarter Robots, With No Wage Demands, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, September 18, 2012.

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Anyone who endured Macroeconomics 101 was taught that recessions and depressions occur because of insufficient demand or from overproduction and a general glut of things that no one can buy. This explains the still popular Washington economic cure, which involves artificially generating more economic demand via federal outlays.

The opposite perspective emerges from Say’s Law (named after Jean-Baptiste Say): the proposition that supply creates its own demand when economies are unshackled.

Wayne Crews, Stimulating Demand Misses the Point, Forbes Magazine, September 26, 2011.

COMMENTS

Now that we are so far away from the trauma of 2008, experts generally agree that policies haven’t worked as expected – but they continue to hope that GDP growth will produce massive job growth.  That hope is based on a shared belief that increases in GDP require equivalent increases in job growth.

The two sides offer competing formulas for stimulating GDP growth, but both rest on this belief.  Liberals call for increasing consumer demand (demand side economics), which in turn should generate more investment and more jobs.  Conservatives call for increasing investor funds (supply side economics), which in turn should increase hiring and then generate more consumer demand.  Both formulas end up in the same place: high GDP growth and a low unemployment rate.

The key connection for both formulas is the belief that the production of commodities that will be sold in markets is primarily dependent on human activity.  More production requires more human activity.

Well into the 20th century this belief had considerable validity.  It no longer does.  Machine activities have replaced large portions of human activity in the production of commodities for sale in markets, and more machines are being brought on line every day around the world.  Increasingly, machines are not only replacing physical production activities (like assembly line tasks), they are replacing information gathering and decision-making tasks.

In this context, the old formulas for job growth don’t work.  A large amount of investment in buildings and machines produces only a tiny amount of job growth.

In the 21st century, jobs must be created intentionally, not as a byproduct of investment growth or demand growth.  Competing companies can’t do that kind of intentional job creation without putting themselves out of business.

Only governments can intentionally create jobs.

How Many Professional Workers Can Ten Thousand Super Computers Supervise?

“A new supervising service called Humanoid launched today, backed by funding from Google Ventures. Humanoid will rent out armies of humans (they have 20,000 workers already signed up to start) for $4.99 per hour to develop software, supervised by an algorithm.”

Christie Nicholson, Google-backed robot overlords take over supervision of human workers, IBM SmartPlanet, November 2, 2011

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“China has made its first supercomputer based on Chinese microprocessor chips, an advance that surprised high-performance computing specialists in the United States.

The Sunway system, which can perform about 1,000 trillion calculations per second — a petaflop — will probably rank among the 20 fastest computers in the world. More significantly, it is composed of 8,700 ShenWei SW1600 microprocessors, designed at a Chinese computer institute and manufactured in Shanghai.”

John Markoff, China Has Homemade Supercomputer Gain, New York Times, October 28, 2011

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It is said that at some point accumulating quantitative change becomes a qualitative change — a spring rain lasting forty days and forty nights becomes something other than a rainy spring!  Has the world had its forty days and forty nights of global technological change? – if not, it has surely had at least thirty days and the pace of technological change is accelerating.  Imagine a world in which a hundred million people (working below the U.S. minimum wage and supervised by Humanoid and similar programs) are writing software code intended to displace professional workers in law, medicine, teaching, business management, consulting, and government.

The core question for the 21st century is this: how will the world’s nations create socially legitimate entitlements to income in an era when only a minority of the world’s working-age people can obtain income through work and most of those who do work are paid less than a living wage?