One of the things that makes me nervous about the future of my children is the gradual disappearance of opportunities to earn a living. There are a few aspects to this, including the automation of many jobs and processes – and I know that “other jobs will be created”, but never at the level that jobs were lost…and in case you haven’t noticed, the global population is growing pretty rapidly. Here is an example of job-killing automation: Self-driving Trucks (and yes, if you go through the comments and come across Peculiarist, that’s me).
However, this post is inspired by this post: Adapt to What? – An Open Letter, by David Newhoff, about the devaluation not just of artistic work, but all work in general. He makes some very good points in a very clear way.
there’s like 80 million of you millennials in America, and the digital-age market only has room for one or two (usually one) major player in any category at a time. So, in terms of realistic ratios, even if a million of you might invent killer apps or become YouTube stars, neither of those enterprises will create and sustain real jobs for the the other 79 million.
I’ve seen this point before, and it’s a good counter to the “progress creates jobs” mantra that is mindlessly repeated. Industries in the past are often held up as shining examples of job creation, but they don’t correlate to modern technological advances. In the Self-Driving Trucks post above, someone argued in the comments that “people were worried about telegraph operators losing their jobs, but the invention of the telephone created a lot more” – which was irrelevant to the discussion, because having a telephone in every house was a completely new service greatly enhancing communication, whereas self-driving trucks are not a new service and won’t result in extra freight being trafficked. Even new services aren’t creating jobs – most of the tech startups that are being sold or floated for billions of dollars have employee numbers in dozens, so while they’re making a few people very wealthy they are not creating the jobs that, say, Ford did when he started mass-producing automobiles. In the past, one person with a good idea would create jobs for hundreds of thousands of others, but nowadays they simply don’t.
read between the lines in any number of trends and we see a hyper-efficient, data-centric view of the world, of culture, and of market value that appears to be fueling the growth of monopsonies empowered to dictate terms to every kind of worker from book authors to carpenters to truck drivers. And it occurs to me that for all its fluffy futility, OWS demonstrated that many of you were on the right track. You should be pissed off at the 1% and angry as hell at Wall Street. But I’m sorry to say that the business models of the digital age are not the antidote to Wall Street; they are its worst intentions on speed…major business owners in many sectors seem to be learning from these tech-based models how to take advantage of your talent, your time, and your costly educations for pennies on the dollar. They know the more that labor is devalued across multiple sectors and the more desperate your circumstances become, the more bargaining power they have.
If the above quote doesn’t make any sense to you (maybe because you’ve been in a steady job for 30 years, or maybe you’ve just gotten lucky) go and read the full article, it’s definitely worth it. It’s true that Amazon has created a way for independent authors to sell to a wide marketplace, and I’m grateful for it, but let’s never forget that the entity which profits the most from Amazon’s business model is Amazon. At the moment its goals often align with those of authors and readers, but if its (meager) competition disappears it’s likely to start getting aggressively awful. They’ve already done some things like this, such as the pay-per-pageview move recently introduced (I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing, but it’s a good example of them dictating to the market). That’s why I think giving Amazon exclusivity is a bad idea in the long run, because it’s better for authors if there are multiple markets for their books. However, as long as Amazon’s interests align with those of authors, everybody wins.
I picked Amazon because I’m an author, but it applies to everything – someone might make a few extra dollars driving for Uber, but it’s the creators of Uber who are pulling in the billions. So everything might be on demand and appear cheap, but that’s because people are getting underpaid for the services they provide. Buying local is a good start, but as Newhoff points out piracy also directly funnels money away from content creators and to major corporations. It may seem like there’s no way to derail this train of wealth inequity and hard-scrabble living the future promises, but there is: The consumer has the power here. When you buy something, you are tacitly supporting someone in the most effective way possible, with cash. To quote Newhoff again: “It may not occur to you that it is contradictory to hate on Wall Street and then order up an Uber car or pirate a movie or a book, and the VCs whose names you don’t know are counting on you not to notice.” You don’t have to change all your consumption habits, but just changing a bit will make a huge difference.
(Seriously, read his open letter).