The Future of Work

by | Apr 17, 2004

A front page article in the WSJ (“The Future of Jobs”, 4/2/04) made a very interesting point: “‘If you can describe a job precisely, or write rules for doing it, it’s unlikely to survive. Either we’ll program a computer to do it, or we’ll teach a foreigner to do it,” says Frank Levy, a Massachusetts […]

A front page article in the WSJ (“The Future of Jobs”, 4/2/04) made a very interesting point: “‘If you can describe a job precisely, or write rules for doing it, it’s unlikely to survive. Either we’ll program a computer to do it, or we’ll teach a foreigner to do it,” says Frank Levy, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist. The subheading of the article read: “Outsourcing, Technology, Cut Need for Rote Workers; Brainpower Is in Demand.”

The article also outlines how wages for highly skilled jobs have been rising sharply relative to wages for the lowest-skilled jobs.

A hundred years ago, when the vast majority of men still labored at rote physical jobs (whether in the factory or the field), it might still have been quite abstract and difficult for most people to induce the principle: the mind as the source of wealth/production. But, as this article indicates, I think we’re rapidly approaching the time when it becomes much more concretely apparent that rote, mechanical human activity adds little economic value; and that what does add value is creative thought. Concomitantly, we are rapidly approaching a time when the perceptual-level, anti-effort mentalities will have no safe (employment) quarter in which to withdraw and stagnate (stubbornly imitating the mechanistic activities taught to them by others).

Meanwhile, the market flawlessly performs its function by increasing skilled wage rates relative to unskilled wage rates. This fact is (of course) derided by the Left. Few on the Left these days echo the fallacies of the past, namely that free trade and automation will create massive, permanent unemployment (the evidence contradicting such past predictions is just too overwhelming). Instead, what “concerns” them nowadays is the idea that, yes, though the jobs lost will undoubtedly be replaced by new jobs, these new jobs will come at much lower wage rates than the jobs lost. This is undoubtedly true–for those laid off from jobs paying union-coerced wages of $30/hour for brute manual labor, who have no intention of exerting any greater mental effort in the future.

Currently, the market is providing an ever-growing economic incentive for a worker to improve himself in his education, training, and willingness to exert mental effort. Yet this “growing inequality” in wage rates is bemoaned by the Left. “What if the laid-off workers don’t want to retrain for some other job?” Rather than praising Capitalism for offering strong incentives (and limitless opportunities) for people to better themselves mentally and spiritually, the Left damns Capitalism for not allowing people to subsist (and prosper) in a stagnant, unthinking state.

Rob Tarr writes for Capitalism Magazine.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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