Two stories at The Fiscal Times capture our predicament nicely.
“MIT already has a BakeBot that can read recipes, whip together cookie dough and place it in the oven. The University of California at Berkeley has a robot that can do laundry and fold T-shirts. Robot servers have started waiting tables at restaurants in Japan, South Korea, China and Thailand – and just last week, a robot served Passover matzah to President Obama during his trip to Israel.
“Every year, machines are getting more capable of doing low-level tasks,” says Professor Seth Teller, a robotics researcher at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab.
Many experts worry about what robots in the service sector could do to employment. The national unemployment rate remains at 7.7 percent — not remotely close to the 4.7 percent unemployment in 2007 before the recession. Job growth isn’t expected to return to pre-recession levels until 2017, and the recent sequestration could easily derail it. Manufacturing has already shed nearly 6 million jobs since 2000.
“When machines and robots start taking over service sector jobs, that’s when we’ll really start to notice,” says Martin Ford, robotics expert and author of “The Lights In the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future.”
“If we want to ensure that our children and grandchildren have the brightest possible future, the national debt is not the most important problem to address. Reversing the polarization of the labor market – the hollowing out of the middle class and the associated rise in inequality over the last thirty years or so – is much more important. But money driven politics and a political class that has all but forgotten about the working class – Democrats in particular have forgotten who they are supposed to represent – stand in the way of progress on this important problem….
If reducing the debt was the true goal of Republicans, then tax increases would be on the table. Republicans see the large debt, much of which was caused by the recession, as a golden opportunity to reduce the size of government and, by extension, to reduce the chance that high-income households will have to pay higher taxes to support social programs, the overriding political goal.
I don’t blame Republicans for their efforts. I wish the working class was more important to Republicans, and I cannot understand the indifference to the struggles of so many people. But that’s not who Republicans are. Fundamentally, it’s the party of the rich and this is a chance to lower government spending and reduce the pressure for tax increases on high-income households.
I do, however, blame Democrats for allowing them to be successful. Even though unemployment is extraordinarily high and job opportunities, when they exist at all, are mostly at reduced wages, and even though the future for the working class looks increasingly bleak, too many Democrats have aided and abetted Republicans in this diversion of attention from jobs to the national debt.”
Thoma appears to explain the lack of attention to the plight of working people by citing the demise of unions and their inability to act as a countervailing economic and political power to corporations. However, the failing power of unions is itself a symptom of the overall decline in market power for working people, due to trends such as those explored in the first place. More and more wealth created by fewer and fewer people tends to concentrate that wealth.
And if Democrats aren’t proposing a solution, it may very well be because they can’t think of any.
– Jay Bookman