Following is an excerpt from The Dying Institutions of Western Civilization
By Paul Craig Roberts, paulcraigroberts.org
August 31, 2015
Several recent studies conclude that robots are going to displace millions of human workers. An Oxford University study found that 47 percent of jobs are at risk. Another study concludes that one third of all jobs will be lost to robots during the next 10 years. Some claim that the net job loss will not be so large, because new jobs will be created in order to repair the robots, at least until robots learn to do this also.
Perhaps you remember the claims by economists Matthew Slaughter, Michael Porter, and other shills for jobs offshoring that moving American jobs offshore would create better and more jobs in the US. After many years I am still watching for any sign of these promised new jobs.
Despite promises to the contrary, the US economy has been halted in its tracks by jobs offshoring. US corporations have moved middle class manufacturing jobs abroad. The high speed Internet has made it possible for tradable professional skills, such as software engineering, information technology, research, design, and scan interpretations by medical doctors, to be performed offshore. This enormous giveaway of American middle class jobs and GDP to foreign countries has left the domestic economy with non-tradable service jobs.
Robotics is now attacking the remaining domestic service jobs. Robots are becoming sales assistants, providing room service to hotel guests, filling orders at delis, providing medical diagnosis [and surgery], cooking and serving meals, and becoming incorporated into smart household appliances that reduce the need for electrical and repair services. All of us are familiar with customer service robots. We encounter them whenever we telephone about a bank or credit card statement or utility bill.
The unaddressed problem is: what happens to consumer demand, on which the economy depends, when humans are replaced by robots? Robots don’t need a paycheck in order to purchase food, clothes, shoes, entertainment, health care, go on vacations, or to make car, utility, credit card, rent or mortgage payments.
The consumer economy has suffered from incomes lost to jobs offshoring. If robots replace yet more Americans, where does the income come from to purchase the products of the robots’ work? Any one firm’s owners and managers can benefit from lowering costs by replacing a human workforce with robots, but all firms cannot. If all firms replace their work forces with robots, the rate of unemployment becomes astronomical, and consumer demand collapses pulling down the economy.
Economists call what works in the singular but not in the plural the fallacy of composition. Keynesian macroeconomists teach that if everyone in society is thrifty with the consequence that savers save more than investors want to invest, aggregate demand falls, and with it incomes and savings. Thus, by trying to save more, savers end up with less.
With the advent of jobs offshoring and financial deregulation, the US has one of the most unequal distributions of income and wealth. As robotics patents are held by a mere handful of people, the concentration of income and wealth at the top will increase.
What kind of society would result? Will governments nationalize robotics or heavily tax the incomes of owners in order to issue monthly payments to people with which to purchase the work product of robots? What would a population living off the work of robots do with itself? Would population growth be tolerated? Or would the powerful owners of robotics use the governments that they control to reduce the surplus population?
Free market economists with their heads forever in the sand will say, “No worry, people thought that the industrial revolution would destroy the demand for labor, but industry employed ever more people.”
A former MIT professor who has gone into business producing robots says robots will bring the jobs lost to offshoring home to America. But will they be jobs for humans or for robots? I am waiting to hear how robotics will expand the demand for human labor beyond a few repairmen to fix robots. And I am still waiting for the new and better jobs that offshoring promised. By the time they get here, if ever, robots will take them away.