Friday, January 28, 2011

The jobs of the future:
Tyler also argued that we faced a great recalculation problem, with lots of jobs opening up that need high tech skills, but way too many poorly educated workers. Yet the facts he presents seemed to point in the opposite direction. He mentions that the new high tech firms like Facebook can get the job done with an extremely low number of workers. This webtopia that Tyler foresees won’t require many workers at all. In that case, what should all our surplus workers do? How will they find jobs? Not in agriculture, 2 million farmers can feed the whole country. Not in manufacturing, we are falling below 10% in that sector. And most people don’t want three washing machines and four cars. Where would they put them all? Here’s what I think most people still want:

1. A bigger and nicer house, with granite counter-tops.

2. More restaurant meals.

3. More fun vacations.

That means we need more construction workers, and granite miners (quarriers?) We need more cooks and waiters. We need more hotel receptionists and maids. More people to work on Carnival cruise ships. I think our workforce is skilled enough to fill those jobs. It’s very lucky that the high tech companies that will provide all sorts of wonderful services do not need many workers. We aren’t Singapore, and would have trouble supplying them.

This reminds me of a 1996 Paul Krugman essay about 2096:
Late 20th-century America was supremely efficient at growing food; that was why it had hardly any farmers. Late 21st-century America is supremely efficient at processing routine information; that is why the traditional white-collar worker has virtually disappeared from the scene...

If you want to devote yourself to scholarship, there are now only three options (the same options that were available in the 19th century, before the rise of institutionalized academic research). Like Charles Darwin, you can be born rich, and live off your inheritance. Like Alfred Wallace, the less fortunate co-discoverer of evolution, you can make your living doing something else, and pursue research as a hobby. Or, like many 19th-century scientists, you can try to cash in on scholarly reputation by going on the paid lecture circuit.

But celebrity, though more common than ever before, still does not come easily. And that is why writing this article is such an opportunity. I actually don't mind my day job in the veterinary clinic, but I have always wanted to be a full-time economist; an article like this might be just what I need to make my dream come true.

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