Fantastic Jobs and Where To Find Them

When you are in the grip of an ideology, you simply cannot grasp its contradictions. Like xenon, the currents of its incursion into your mental environment are invisible to you and when too much of it is in the air, it becomes deadly. One of the most apparent (to those not in the grips of the ideology) is the idea that as automation increases, somehow jobs magically will be created elsewhere in the economy that are as good or better than what existed prior.

The “logic” usually goes something like the below.

The “replacement” for these jobs was supposed to be service sector jobs. We’ve been simultaneously told that these jobs would replace the lost manufacturing jobs, and then when the low salaries are questioned, we are told that these jobs are only for teenagers or people living with their parents, despite these businesses being open year-round and during school hours, not to mention being the plurality of the newly-created jobs. Any attempt to raise salaries in this sector, we are told, would spur automation and joblessness, yet we are simultaneously told that “automation does not kill jobs,” and the “the amount of work to do is unlimited.” Left unsaid is that, by this logic, only by paying salaries that are so ultra-low that they are competitive with machines can we have sufficient jobs for people.

With an ever-falling labor participation rate (and not just due to Boomer retirement) and concomitantly with the vast majority of jobs being created consisting of low-wage, no-benefit service jobs, it is just not the case that the neoliberal economist’s Harry Potter fantasy of magical job creation is occurring, or will ever occur.

As automation’s effects were masked by the focused immiseration of urban blacks, the risks could be denied by economists as this population simply didn’t count. Now that it is affecting whites and with the rise of Trump, it’s harder to ignore.

Society, to be clear, does not have to be this way. Automation could allow us to have lives of comparative leisure. If we lived at 1960 levels of consumption, a 10-hour workweek for most would be more than possible.

That’s not the choice we made or will make though it appears. No, we’ve chosen to give the bounty of all this automation to the rich and to leave the rest of us brawling over the one percent of scraps left over.