The Inevitable End of Jobs, and Then Economics

Jobs in Capitalism rest on the simple idea of supply and demand. That is, when a good is demanded out of either necessity or preference, suppliers will supply the good. And in order to supply the good, labor is used as a resource. Under this system, people idealistically champion free-market business as a way to increase the well-being of humanity, for businesses need labor, and so they create jobs to employ people’s labor capacity, which in turns increases society’s standard of living through wages. However, there is an inherent problem with this system when applied to the real world: labor does not need to come from humans, but can come from technology.

The assumption I am resting this on is that in the long-run, technology takes away more jobs than it creates. Of course, many technical innovations create new jobs in the form of specialists or technicians, but overall it takes more jobs away. An obvious example is self-checkout counters at supermarkets. Here, while before 4 employees were needed, now only 1 is needed to monitor 4 self-checkout counters. Similar examples are found in many other industries, such as manufacturing. Even teaching isn’t safe, since the rise of MOOCs will reduce a class to one prerecorded lecture, as opposed to multiple sections that require many teachers.

This direction is inherent in the capitalist system, which seeks efficiency and profit-maximization. Take the perspective of a corporation: would you rather employ a bunch of people, who always seem to demand certain work standards, or a machine to do their work? Surely the machine is both more cost-efficient and more productive (since it doesn’t need to conform to biological needs). As Marx shows, this reasoning is an inherent property of companies, especially during an economic bust. In a rough economy, businesses must downsize in order to lower costs, but since they still seek to maintain profits, they must adapt. The most common way to do that is to use technology. Then, when the economy bounces back, since these businesses have already adapted to survive with less human employees, they have no incentive to rehire those they fired. Simply put, if the free-market’s goal is efficiency and innovation, then machines will prevail since machines are always more efficient than humans.

You may counter that history has proven this theory wrong, since despite technological advancements, we still employ most of the world. At this point, I’d like to remind you that this theory takes place in the long-run. The long-run may be in ten years or it may be in a million years, but regardless, it is an inevitable end as there are only a discrete number of possible and potential jobs. A way to counter this would be to create a series of unnecessary jobs. It would mean not only would we have inspectors, but inspectors of inspectors, and inspectors of inspectors of inspectors. This is contradictory to Capitalism’s goal for efficiency, and is quite frankly absurd. And so, we are left with the inevitable end of jobs.

Another criticism may be that some jobs inherently need humans, such as being the President. While it may be too early to make this claim considering the advances of artificial intelligence, it certainly is possible. Yet, even if this is true, only a few of these jobs exist compared to the world’s population, and so the majority of the world will remain unemployed.

The implications for this are that we must make a choice between allowing the majority of the world to suffer or to end Capitalism. I assume most people would not accept the demise of the majority of humanity, and so Capitalism must die. In its place, a system of distribution must be created. Perhaps a command economy of this sort is worse than the free-market, as the USSR has shown, but there is no alternative.

If we go further than what I have laid out, then something even larger gets destroyed – economics. That is to say, scarcity, which is the basis of economics, will be solved. This is because with the rise of technology, individuals of society will have free and easy access to any good they want. 3D printing is the precursor to this, and it is only a matter of time before we achieve molecular or atomic printers that can rearrange atoms to make anything.

I’m not arguing for this out of pessimism, but rather so that we can prepare. The mystery of this theory is the uncertainty of where we are. That is, the demise of jobs won’t be a sudden jump, but will happen gradually as different technology fulfill the needs of different industries. It is therefore possible that we are somewhere in this process now, and so whenever economists try to reduce unemployment to the natural level, it is actually futile. Of course, I do not claim to know if we are in this process or where we are in it, but the fact that we will inevitably reach this process means we should be more conscious of where we are. This is important for humanitarian concerns, since if we can’t rely on the wage market to uplift those in poverty anymore, then we must start limited redistribution. The point of all this is that we must stop our blind faith in the free-market, because it is doomed to fail, and in fact, it may be failing already.

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One thought on “The Inevitable End of Jobs, and Then Economics

  1. Does this argument rest on some type end to progress? It seems like for jobs to be completely replaced there would have to be some type of end where humans decide they are content. Maybe it is just an underestimation of the power of artificial intelligence. In your argument (assuming there is no end state) machines would also have to be making progress and advancing, without the aid of humans, not just maintaining the current condition.

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