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Technological unemployment is unemployment primarily caused by technological change. Given that technological change generally increases productivity, it is a tenet held in economics since the 19th century that technological change, although it disrupts the careers of individuals and the health of particular firms, produces opportunities for the creation of new, unrelated jobs. The notion of technological unemployment leading to structural unemployment (and being macroeconomically injurious) is often called the Luddite fallacy, named after an early historical example. The rate of technological progress and the effect it has on productivity and structural unemployment has been subject to different and contradicting views, in particular with respect to the role that full computerized automation can have on jobs.
John Maynard Keynes used the term as early as 1930, stating: "We are being afflicted with a new disease of which some readers may not yet have heard the name, but of which they will hear a great deal in the years to come-namely, technological unemployment. This means unemployment due to our discovery of means of economizing the use of labor outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labor.
But this is only a temporary phase of maladjustment"
Labor displacing technologies can generally be classified under the headings of mechanization, automation, and process improvement. The first two fundamentally involve transferring tasks from humans to machines. The third fundamentally involves the elimination of tasks altogether. The common theme of all three is that tasks are removed from the workforce, decreasing employment. In practice, the categories often overlap: a process improvement can include an automating or mechanizing achievement. The line between mechanization and automation is also subjective, as sometimes mechanization can involve sufficient control to be viewed as part of automation.
Unemployment due to an increment in productivity generates an expectancy that no new jobs, or not enough new jobs, will arise to fill the void. Variants of this argument persist through the present day, as do counter-arguments to it. Average working hours have decreased significantly since the advent of modern efficiency producing technologies and continue to fall as less and less labor is needed to meet demand.
The notion of technological unemployment leading to structural unemployment (and being macroeconomically injurious) is labelled the Luddite fallacy. If a firm's technological innovation results in a reduction of labor inputs, then the firm's cost of production falls, which shifts the firm's supply curve outward and reduces the price of the good (limited by the price elasticity of demand). The widespread adoption of the innovator's technology could lead to market entry by new firms, partially offsetting the displaced labor, but the main benefit to the innovation is the increase in aggregate demand that results from the price decrease. As long as real prices fall (or real incomes rise), the additional purchasing power gives consumers the ability to purchase more products and services. With technological innovation, these are often products and services new to the consumer, such as better health care or wireless communication devices and services. This increase in aggregate demand leads many economists to believe that technological change, although disruptive of individual careers and particular firms, cannot lead to systemic unemployment, but actually increases employment due to its expansionary effect on the economy. The Economist bases this belief on two assumptions - that machines are used as tools to increase workers' production, and that most workers will be able to operate those machines - and argues that the increase in computerised automation can destroy works in a disruptive way, with the new jobs being out of reach of the capabilities of most workers.
Different views have been expressed on the rate of technological progress, with many, such as C. Owen Paepke, Tyler Cowen, Robert W. Ayres claiming that it is decelerating and others saying technological change is accelerating. Other economists contend that the rate of technological change has become so rapid in the area of information and communication technologies (ICT) that the adverse latent effects of productivity on employment may outpace job growth in an economy increasingly reliant on the development of these tertiary and quaternary economic sectors.
The technological acceleration argument is counter to the fact that productivity in developed countries has been slowing down for decades. This has been explained in part by the remainder of labor and energy to be saved in important economic processes is trivial compared to what has already been saved. Examples are agriculture where 98% of the labor has been removed and electrical generation which is approaching thermodynamic limits.
In principle, technological unemployment may be distinguished from unemployment caused merely by the contraction phases of business cycles. In practice, such differentiation is difficult, owing to the multivariate nature of economics. Like unemployment in general, most technological unemployment is temporary, as unemployed workers eventually find new jobs. For several centuries, the main controversy about technological unemployment has been whether it can ever lead to structural unemployment.
Early in the Industrial Revolution 
Historical concerns about the effects of automation date back to the very beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when a social movement of English textile machine operators in the early 19th century known as the Luddites protested against Jacquard's automated weaving looms. The Luddites destroyed a number of these machines, which they felt threatened their jobs.
The Luddite events of 1811 were the beginning of humankind's analysis of whether it is possible for technological unemployment to be other than temporary and confined to particular industries and firms. Contrary to the Luddites' fears, technological advancement did not ruin Britain's economy or systemically lower standards of living throughout the following decades of the 19th century. In fact, during the 19th and 20th centuries, the opposite happened, as technology helped Britain to become much less impoverished than before. For this reason, some economists think that the general Luddite premise is fundamentally flawed, and thus they apply the term Luddite fallacy to it. Economist Alex Tabarrok summarises the fallacy as:
If the Luddite fallacy were true we would all be out of work because productivity has been increasing for two centuries.
Ronnie Bray writes:
The 'Luddite Fallacy' referred to here fallaciously misdirects the reader's attention away from the major objection and opposition raised by Luddites to the introduction of machines in textile and related industries. All available Luddite literature, usually in the form of popular songs, protest songs, and broadsheets, shows that unemployment, poverty, and starvation were their major concerns. Thus, it is wrong to label them as anti-technology because they were anti-starvation. The difference is not wasted on those that have endured starvation. It is right to say that for the most part they saw power looms, cropping frames, and mechanical knitting frames, as the direct cause of unemployment, which condition led to cessation of income, which led directly to starvation in short time. It cannot be doubted that had mechanisation either maintained or increased the level of employment in the affected industries, that there would have been no uprising on account of mechanisation.
Professor Kevin Binfield of Murray State University seems to agree that the Luddites were not universal technophobes. He claims the machines suppressed workers' wages at a time when the Luddites, who were artisans and skilled workers relying on their wages to buy food, especially feared famine due to rising food prices. This made the machines the most accessible target for the Luddites' angry expression of that fear.
During the Machine Age 
As in the preceding century, the period from the 1880s to the late 1920s saw no underlying automation-induced structural lack of new economic opportunities for skilled workers given enough time for searching. However, the Great Depression caused a tremendous disruption in employment. The foundational potential for full employment had not been lost, as would later be shown by the post–World War II economic expansion and other economic miracles. (See: Economic stagnation#The end of the stagnation in the U.S. following the Great Depression).
1950s to present 
The 1950s and 60s were optimistic economic times in many respects, and during this era many optimists made forecasts similar to Keynes's 1930s discussion of a pending abundance of leisure time. Meanwhile, pessimists questioned the role of labor in such a world and how people would earn a living or occupy their time. During the 1960s, economic growth did lead to a rise in real income per capita and a decline in the average number of work hours per week; yet, real income and the length of the work week have remained relatively constant in the United States since then, even after the influx of a large number of women into the workforce.
Despite the elimination of manual labour and assembly line jobs after World War II via advancing mechanization and automation, employment in the services sector (tertiary sector) absorbed the displaced labor from the industrial sector (secondary sector). For example, many manufacturing jobs left the United States during the 1990s but were offset by a one-time massive increase in Information technology ("IT") jobs at the same time. In some cases, freeing up of the labor force allows more people to enter higher-skilled managerial jobs and technologically-specialized jobs, which are typically higher paying.
Works by scholars David F. Noble and Jeremy Rifkin are dedicated to study the social history of automation and the potential impact of scientific and technological changes on the economy. They are sometimes mocked with the disparaging label "neo-Luddite".
Post-market musings 
Rifkin's The End of Work, published in 1995, predicts that automation-induced unemployment would begin to be widespread within the following decade due to the sudden and massive development of informational technology. The book focuses mostly on robotics, mentioning the Internet once in passing and the World Wide Web not at all. It calls the new era the "post-market economy". Political philosopher George Caffentzis identified Rifkin as "major participant in the "end of work" discourse of the 1990s" and discounted his argument as "not taking into account the dynamics of employment and technological change in the capitalist era".
Market-based ideas 
James S. Albus, a United States government engineer and pioneering inventor in automation, robotics and other intelligent systems, was concerned for many years about the potential social impact of advanced intelligent systems. Dr. Albus was optimistic about the wealth producing capabilities of intelligent machines but concerned about the elimination of jobs and downward pressure advanced automation placed on human wages and incomes. In his 1976 book titled Peoples' Capitalism: The Economics of the Robot Revolution and on his websites, Albus lays out a plan to broaden capital ownership to the point where every citizen becomes a capitalist with a substantial income from personal ownership of capital assets. This would achieve an economic system where income from ownership of capital assets would supplement—and eventually supplant—wages and salaries as the primary source of income for the average citizen. Albus believes this would lead to a world of prosperity and opportunity without poverty, war or pollution.
Marshall Brain and Martin Ford are IT engineers who worry that advancing IT will displace workers faster than current economic structures can absorb them back into the economy. Ford presents an argument for why the Luddite premise, although fallacious for two centuries, might nevertheless become valid as the speed of development of new machine technology differs substantially from the past. He compares this to the standard warning in financial prospectuses that "past performance is not a guarantee of future results". Brain and Ford both advocate pursuing some permutation of basic income or guaranteed minimum income, simply to keep the recirculation of value throughout the economy from stalling due to low employment. Although the earliest variants of these ideas involve direct support from the government, which could tax highly automated companies and use the revenue for both basic income and select reemployment, they have also evolved to include market-based mechanisms, comparable to minimum wage laws, requiring the private sector to employ humans but leaving the job descriptions to private innovation. In these lines of thinking, it is recognized that automation can continue to yield ever higher per capita standards of living (in contrast to classical Luddism), but the basic income or new markets decouple consumer purchasing power and confidence from the traditional labor market, which can suffer from fluctuations in the business cycle or (as Ford argues) even potential market failure. In its place would grow a new labor market insulated from these concerns.
Non-market-based ideas 
The Zeitgeist Movement, The Venus Project, Free World Charter and Technocracy Movement all explicitly reject market-based approaches to technological unemployment and instead suggest new kinds of global economic organization:
- Resource-based Economy
- Earth-based Economy
- Nature-based Economy
- Steady state economy
See also 
- Babbage Science and technology (2011-11-04). "Artificial intelligence: Difference Engine: Luddite legacy". The Economist. Retrieved 2013-03-28.
- Brain 2003.
- Ford 2009.
- Tabarrok, Alex (2003-12-31). "Productivity and unemployment". Marginal Revolution. Retrieved 2007-03-11.
- Keynes, John Maynard (1930). Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren.
- Roberts 2011.
- Lyons 2011.
- "Hours of Work in U.S. History". Economic History Association. 2010-02-01.
- Whaples, Robert (June 1991). "The Shortening of the American Work Week: An Economic and Historical Analysis of Its Context, Causes, and Consequences". The Journal of Economic History (Cambridge University Press) 51 (2): 454–457. JSTOR 2122588.
- Jerome, Harry (1934). Mechanization in Industry, National Bureau of Economic Research.
- N.V. (Nov 04 2011). "Difference Engine: Luddite legacy". Babbage (blog) (The Economist).
- Paepke, C. Owen. The Evolution of Progress: The End of Economic Growth and the Beginning of Human Transformation. New York, Toronto: Random House. ISBN 0-679-41582-3.
- Ayres, Robert U. (1998). Turning Point: An End to the Growth Paradigm. London: Earthscan Publications. ISBN 978-1-85383-439-4.
- The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better. Dutton Adult. 2011. ISBN 978-0525952718.
- R.A. (Nov 9 2011). "Race against the machine". Free exchange (blog) (The Economist).
- "When Machines Do The Work". On Point with Tom Ashbrook. 90.9 WBUR (Boston NPR). November 2, 2011.
- Kendrick, John (1991). U.S. Productivity Performance in Perspective, Business Economics, October 1, 1991
- [Alezander J.] (2007). U.S. Economic Growth in the Gilded Age, Journal of Macroeconomics 31. pp. 173–190
- Ayres, Rober U; Ayres, Leslie W; Warr, Benjamin (2002), "Exergy, Power and Work in the US Economy, 1900-1998", Working paper (INSEAD's Center for the Management of Environmental Resources (CMER)), retrieved 22 November 2010
- * Subsequently published (March 2003), "Energy, Power and Work in the US Economy, 1900-1998", Energy 28 (3): 219–273, doi:10.1016/S0360-5442(02)00089-0
- Ayres, Robert U; Warr, Benjamin (2009), The Economic Growth Engine: How Energy and Work Drive Material Prosperity, Cheltenham, UK & Northampton, Massachusetts: Edward Elgar Publishing, ISBN 978-1-84844-182-8, retrieved 22 November 2010
- "The Luddites". Spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-03-28.
- Easterly, William (2001). The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. pp. 53–54. ISBN 0-262-55042-3.
- Tabarrok, Alex (2003-12-31). "Productivity and unemployment". Marginal Revolution. Retrieved 2007-03-11.
- Bray, Ronnie. Luddite Spring — The Huddersfield Luddite Uprising of 1811-1812.
- Kevin Binfield, Writings of the Luddites. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8018-7612-5. An excerpt from the book is available at Luddites and Luddism History, http://campus.murraystate.edu/academic/faculty/kevin.binfield/luddites/LudditeHistory.htm
- Hartness 1910, p. 7–12
- "Economics: Whatever happened to Keynes' 15-hour working week?". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 April 2012.
- Hayes B. (2009). Automation on the Job. American Scientist.
- Noble 1984.
- Rifkin 1995.
- James S. Albus, Peoples' Capitalism: The Economics of the Robot Revolution (free download)
- James S. Albus, People's Capitalism main website
- James S. Albus Curriculum Vitae
- "Dr. James Albus". James-albus.org. Retrieved 2013-03-28.
- "Free World Charter Q & A". Freeworldcharter.org. 2013-03-22. Retrieved 2013-03-28.
- "The Technocracy Movement". Technocracy.org. Retrieved 2013-03-28.
- Bajaj, Vikas (2009-11-04), "Should India worry about jobs?", Economix: Explaining the Science of Everyday Life (New York, New York, US: New York Times), retrieved 2010-12-12. The CEO of Infosys talks about long-term perspectives.
- Brain, Marshall (2003), Robotic Nation, Raleigh, North Carolina, US: Marshall Brain. (e-book available free online.)
- Ford, Martin R. (2009), The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, Acculant Publishing, ISBN 978-1448659814. (e-book available free online.)
- Foroohar, Rana (2010-03-18), "Green Technology Won't Create Jobs", Newsweek, retrieved 2010-12-12
- Hartness, James (1910), Hartness flat turret lathe manual: a hand book for operators, Springfield, Vermont, US and London, UK: Jones & Lamson Machine Company, OCLC 49472727. (e-book available free online.)
- Herbert, Bob (2009-09-15), "The hole in the economic recovery", LexisNexis. One of many news articles focused on intractably high unemployment rates and containing the phrase "yet another jobless recovery".
- Hounshell, David A. (1984), From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States, Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press, ISBN 978-0-8018-2975-8, LCCN 83016269
- Lyons, Daniel (18 July 2011), "Who Needs Humans?: As if American workers don't have it rough enough, with unemployment skyrocketing and jobs moving overseas, now there's another threat: robots", Newsweek 158 (4): 28
- Morning Call (2003), "Forging America: The History of Bethlehem Steel", Morning Call Supplement (Allentown, Pennsylvania, US: The Morning Call). (e-book available free online.)
- Neher, Juliann (2010-11-22), "Warren Buffett Tells ABC Rich People Should Pay Higher Taxes", Bloomberg Businessweek
- Noble, David F. (1984), Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation, New York, New York, USA: Knopf, ISBN 978-0-394-51262-4, LCCN 83048867.
- Noble, David F. (1993), Progress Without People: In Defence of Luddism, Chicago, Illinois, US: Charles H. Kerr, ISBN 978-0-88286-218-7. Republished in 1995 as Progress Without People: New Technology, Unemployment, and the Message of Resistance, Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Between the Lines Press, ISBN 978-1-896357-01-0.
- Rifkin, Jeremy (1995), The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era, New York, New York, US: Tarcher–G.P. Putnam's Sons, ISBN 978-0-87477-779-6
- Roberts, Russell (2011-06-22), "Obama vs. ATMs: Why technology doesn't destroy jobs [Op/Ed]", The Wall Street Journal
- Tutelian, Louise (2010-11-22), "Disappearing Jobs: High-Paying Careers With No Future", Yahoo Finance, retrieved 2010-12-12
Further reading 
- Ramtin, Ramin (1991), Capitalism and Automation: Revolution in Technology and Capitalist Breakdown, London, UK and Concord, Massachusetts, US: Pluto Press, ISBN 978-0-7453-0370-3
- Scott, Ellis L.; Bolz, Roger W.; University of Georgia; Reliance Electric Company (1969), Automation and Society, Athens, Georgia, US: Center for the Study of Automation and Society
- Ayres, Robert U. (1998). Turning Point: an End to the Growth Paradigm. London: Earthscan Publications.