Are Jobs Disappearing?

There have been articles and much discussion over the last year or so about how the economic recovery and more generally technological innovation have not generated many jobs.  Indeed it looks like technology is enhancing productivity to the detriment of job creation.

Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, both of MIT, wrote a somewhat scholarly op-ed article in the NY Times several months ago that noted the traditional increases in jobs and income that have followed productivity increases no longer seem to be happening.  See “Jobs, Productivity and the Great Decoupling”.

WIRED Magazine devoted its December 2012 issue to the impact of robots on jobs and life.  It led with an article by Kevin Kelly entitled: “Better Than Human: Why Robots Will — And Must — Take Our Jobs" and a sub-head "Imagine that 7 out of 10 working Americans got fired tomorrow. What would they all do?”  The magazine even presents a two-by-two matrix about jobs that makes the same point:  many of us won’t have a job for very long.

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Despite the sensational nature of the issue, there is a lot more to this question than robots and technological advances.  One small provocative aspect has only begun to get attention — maybe the traditional, 9-5 job in an office or factory is just disappearing.

So Douglas Rushkoff on CNN’s website had an article entitled “Are Jobs Obsolete" in which he argued that the standard industrial-style job we’ve been used to is an historical anomaly and not likely to last in a post-industrial society.

You can find books with similar themes and some self-help advice on what to do about the trend, such as “Making A Living Without A Job: Winning Ways For Creating Work That You Love” by Barbara Winter.

This line of thought also counters the robots-will-do-all-the-work argument.  As James Lee put it in the March 2012 Futurist, “Jobs are disappearing, but there is still a future for work.”  See his article “Hard At Work In The Jobless Future”.

By the way, this is not an altogether new idea.  In 1994, William Bridges wrote “Job Shift: How To Prosper In A Workplace Without Jobs”.

So part of — certainly not all of — the explanation for the elimination of jobs is their replacement by less structured forms of making a living.  I’ll write more of the story in a future post.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

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This blog explores the future of government, the economy, business and knowledge. It will be a combination of my own thinking and pointers to interesting stuff that I see. You can follow me (@NormanJacknis) on Twitter to learn when blogs are posted.

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