I made a quick comment on self checkouts recently, which resulted in a debate on Facebook. I’m really not that opposed to self checkout in particular, aside from the fact that they rarely seem to work correctly, but it’s more the principle of the thing. Machines replacing people has been a major concern for a long time, and while the point that it’s cheaper for businesses is generally true, it’s also quite dehumanizing. The workers who are being replaced are actual human beings with their own needs, while the machines aren’t.
Not yet, anyway. We’ll see what happens if the technological singularity ever occurs. It’s made even worse by the fact that it’s typically working-class people who are hit the hardest. There aren’t too many mechanical doctors around, even if there is a tendency to use WebMD instead of going to the doctor.
I mentioned in my post on American tall tales that the fear of workers being replaced by machines was a major part of the story of John Henry. The Jetsons presents a world where machines doing most of the work has led to a near-utopia where people can get by on working six-hour weeks.
As I’ve seen mentioned before, we have plenty of people working six-hour weeks these days, but they’re hardly able to live comfortable middle-class lives. I’d say part of this is because there hasn’t really been a paradigm shift to reflect the changing workplace, so to speak. The President recently made a speech about how the rich continue to get richer while the middle class stagnates. I can’t help but feel this is largely because the idea of businesses hiring people and paying them for their work has gone out of fashion. They cut corners, whether by using machines, sending jobs to countries where people are willing to work for much less money, or simply paying low wages and not providing job security. I know a lot of low-income people supplement their paychecks with food stamps and other such government programs, but it seems like the same people who are opposed to regulating business are also against these programs. You can’t have it both ways! Well, okay, you can, but then you can’t reasonably say you value life.
I suppose one significant question is whether businesses that can afford to hire people and pay them decent wages have an obligation to do so. After all, they’re in business to make money, not to help people out. Laissez-faire capitalists would likely argue that they don’t, but I see laissez-faire capitalism as essentially letting the inmates run the asylum. That’s not entirely fair, though, because some mentally ill people have a sense of compassion. I believe those who have benefited from the economic system owe something to those who don’t, but how to implement is an issue. Our elected officials are supposed to be regulating business and helping out the poor, but many of them are in league with big business.
Everyone talks about job creation, but what we mostly have nowadays is job destruction.
Sure, we can make up jobs for people to do, but if they aren’t really necessary, how is that going to benefit society in general? One sort of job that does remain when machines put people out of work is that of maintaining the machines, but not everyone has the relevant skill set. I really think the subject requires more attention than it’s being given. So many proposed and implemented solutions are top-down, and while in some cases that’s better than nothing, it often just makes sure the rich stay rich even when their businesses fail. And while I don’t want them to starve either, they’re in much less danger of doing so.