Will jobs ever come back?: maybe there is an answer to the employment bomb

Is our recession another blip in centuries of economic rises and falls or is something darker happening?

Part of me agrees with the recent post from media critic Jeff Jarvis, who voiced a concern I’ve been working through myself: efficiency-creating technology has continued to speed and, well, there are a lot of old people coming.

There is a real conversation happening that a new normal rate of unemployment should be expected, though there is counter to that — we’re just too close to the economic collapse to have any sense of what is normal.

But here’s one additional thought I keep gnawing over.

Whenever we have predicted the end — most famously, the common 20th century prediction that overpopulation would create wild hunger issues — something has happened. Well two things happened.

(1) Technology, in some form, created an answer. (2) Someone was born to make and harness that technology.

Now, yes, there is a very real possibility — sitting here in 2011 — that jobs are becoming obsolete (hiring sure seems to be at the moment).

But there has always been this answer about harnessing population: with more humans, we have more ideas, more creativity, more solutions to have a better, longer life with less an impact on the planet. In the case of the population bomb, hunger issues today have more to do with political instability than food shortages (though that impacts short term hunger concerns).

So, intuitively, as technologies reduce available jobs and we have more people who need/want jobs, we have an employment bomb. But, prognostications in the past suggest we live in a world of our own creation, so the answers may come in unexpected ways and from unexpected places.

4 thoughts on “Will jobs ever come back?: maybe there is an answer to the employment bomb”

  1. Yours points are well taken. Peter Thiel recently spoke to these concerns in a very high level analysis of the slowing pace of advancement and what it could mean if technological progress fails to materialize in the way we’re (increasingly desperately) expecting it to.

    From his piece:

    “The technology slowdown threatens not just our financial markets, but the entire modern political order, which is predicated on easy and relentless growth. The give-and-take of Western democracies depends on the idea that we can craft political solutions that enable most people to win most of the time. But in a world without growth, we can expect a loser for every winner. Many will suspect that the winners are involved in some sort of racket, so we can expect an increasingly nasty edge to our politics. We may be witnessing the beginnings of such a zero-sum system in politics in the U.S. and Western Europe, as the risks shift from winning less to losing more, and as our leaders desperately cast about for macroeconomic solutions to problems that have not been primarily about economics for a long time.”


    Another tangentially related piece of food-for-thought is something Jonah Lehrer picked out on optimism bias as it plays out among equity analysts for S&P 500 companies. The same phenomenon, I’d hazard, plays out on both sides in politics in terms of the expected messianic results in policy matters.

    That we’re no longer really seeing and shaping our own future, in the way Thiel cites folks like Robert Moses, probably says something about our likelihood for future prosperity and the health of the middle class, especially.

    In other words, like you say, we very well might get lucky, in a sense, but that’s little comfort in terms of actionable leadership planning or economic strategy.

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