“Cool!” That’s how most people have responded to news of spectacular advances in robotics. Somehow it never occurred to them that a new wave of industrial mechanization was soon to come, i.e., that many humans would lose their jobs to robots.
Although I have known generally what to expect, I was shocked by one aspect of a report that Foxconn will increase the number of robots in its plants from 10 thousand to 300 thousand over the coming year. The plants are in China. If it is already cost-effective to replace cheap Chinese labor with robots, then workers in the United States and other wealthy countries should worry. To be more explicit, they should expect companies to redesign processes to incorporate more robots and fewer humans.
I use the generic term “processes” because robots have applications outside of manufacturing. Sooner or later, they will be picking crops. (Although this will ameliorate problems with illegal immigration, let’s not forget that many field laborers in America are legal residents.)
The robotic revolution will bring an old question to the fore: When the number of menial jobs decreases sharply, how do people with poor cognitive skills — 16% of us have IQ less than 85 — find work? The Christian majority in America will respond moralistically, not mercifully. It will cling to the delusion that everyone has equal opportunity, and will insist that anyone who does not succeed has only himself to blame.
Humanitarian considerations aside, joblessness carries high economic costs for a nation. The American individualist cuts off his snout to spite his jowls by objecting to governmental work programs. It is fiscally conservative to put the unemployed to work on public projects, with time off for job interviews, rather than hand out unemployment checks. (There’s time in the evenings for a job search.) The pay should be enough to keep people out of poverty, but not in comfort.
The nerve-dead conservative reaction to what I have in mind is simply to label it Big Government. I do not care about the size of the government, but about its contribution to the overall wealth and well-being of the citizenry. For the government to pursue projects with workers that the private sector presently cannot or will not employ is to generate public wealth while providing social security, not to rob the economy.