Bots aren’t going anywhere. It’s up to us to figure out how our society can still function economically with an ever increasing automated workforce. We need to start planning now because it will happen sooner than you think.Edgy considers for you the impact of an automated economy.Click To Tweet
Your Replacement Never Complains
From check-out aisles and automated customer support to self-driving cars and the robots that assemble them, industry is becoming automated worldwide.
The number of robots entering the workforce is projected to increase steadily for the foreseeable future, and with this automated economy inevitability comes fears about how society is supposed to adapt to its new robot demographic.
Already, it is projected that the U.S. will lose 35% of tax revenue from household and business’ employee income taxes.
In the next 20 years, 20 to 70 million people will lose their jobs to automated labor in the U.S. The workers being replaced by robot labor are people who, like most people, generally cannot afford to lose their jobs.
Here’s what an automated economy might look like:
Bread and Circuses
In a The Rest of Us video about the economic possibilities for an automated economy and society, the narrator makes comparisons of big businesses’ current, and quickly multiplying use of robots to that of the Roman landowners’ use of slaves labor.
In 122BC, after having replaced their labor force with slave labor, the Romans were plagued by an increased dissatisfaction among the resulting unemployed population. To correct this dissatisfied part of the citizenry, the government began providing literal “bread and circuses” to the people of Rome, which helped to stimulate the economy and keep up morale in the republic.
The same basic bread and circus strategy would be a way to circumvent the economic depression that would occur when the majority of the workforce is replaced by robots.
Instead of landowners like the Romans, we have shareholders. Instead of mass slave labor, we have robots. Instead of the government providing real bread and entertainment, we would be able to buy it ourselves with our universal basic income (UBI). When thinking of it this way, the concept is basically the same, though, I think, a lot less condescending to the republic.
With a UBI, the government would provide a set income to citizens to offset their unemployment and thus help stimulate the automated economy as people would be able to purchase products that were made by robots.
The shareholders who use automated labor would be required to pay regular business taxes, and additional taxes based on the amount of automated labor that they use. The fewer robots in the factory, the less they will be taxed on their labor. The UBI is determined by the amount in taxes that the business pays for robots, so in that way it is directly tied to the economy and the wellbeing of their own business. This should keep them from shirking away from automation because of the taxes.
A universal basic income sounds, at first, like a nightmare solution to our free market capitalist society. It is, however, possibly the only solution for an automated economy that would not completely collapse governments, societies, businesses.
As Industry 4.0 continues to pull us into the future, it will be important for shareholders to think about more than just immediate profits. The fate of society balances in their hands, which is a scary thought, considering how much power companies have generated over the years. Soon, our global society will have to make a difficult decision between having continuous growth, or consistent prosperity. Having the two as projection models for the future is not sustainable.
There are some more modern examples of how societies have made economic adjustments to a new labor force.
With the certainty of slavery ending, “poor whites” were nervous about the flood of cheap and more skilled labor that they had to compete with. Thinking about the value of a worker, and what it means to be inherently worth money as a slave was a concept that southerners had to reckon with as the institution of slavery crumbled around them.
Whatever fears they had about the loss of jobs were mostly abated, however, since it was not long before Jim Crow laws and reconstruction era failures, including a prison system that targeted blacks and used (and still uses) slave labor to prosper had become ingrained into society.
What they had briefly considered to be a more intrinsically valuable part of the “labor force” no longer posed an economic threat. It is also true that reconstruction acts were legislated by the government, and they benefited specifically poor whites whose land and economy were decimated after the American Civil War. In a way, poor whites in the south had received and created their own version of “bread and circuses” to make up for the addition of cheaper and more skilled labor to the workforce.
It is also interesting to think about how many whites throughout the south and the Union were becoming frustrated by the amount of slave power in the south. That is, the amount of power that plantation owners had because of the number of slaves that they owned (three-fifths compromise).
One of the reasons that peoples were interested in ending slavery was to take power away from a small few. Using the same analogy of slaves and robots, how will society react to the new “robot power” that shareholders will have. If they pay taxes on robots, there are probably ways for them to game the system and benefit from their robot labor force as well.
Time to Redefine the American Dream; Automated Economy
Maybe it’s time to start rethinking about how we think about labor and the workforce. Just as the end of institutionalize slavery totally transformed the economy and, perhaps, was an aid to the industrial revolution, the new robot workforce will dramatically morph Industry 4.0 into something that we as a society have never seen before.
Norway has had successful results offering benefits to private citizens for labor that they have not technically participated in. Currently, and for the past ten years, the government of Norway has been setting aside some of its huge profits form petroleum business and investing it back into the citizens with the Norway Government Pension. It is the largest pension fund in the world, and the money comes from revenue generated that protects national business and
It is the largest pension fund in the world, and the money comes from revenue generated that protects national business and self-interests.
Although the presence of robot workers is inevitable, there are still very few theories or solutions being presented in major public discourse about how our society intends to adapt to the coming workforce.
The only solution, it seems, will require a dramatic shift in our cultural and economic values. Otherwise, we will be plagued with extreme unemployment and a stagnant economy that will ultimately be a disadvantage to businesses, the government, and the people.