Automation and Education

Posted in error. Consider this tomorrow’s post–sorry to clutter your inboxes!

I  think there was a movie titled “While You Were Sleeping.” I feel as though that would be an excellent title for America right now.

While we are being governed by ideologues and fools intent upon destruction of our already inadequate social safety net, our most pressing problems go unaddressed–and in a number of cases, unidentified.

Unlike Congress and the Trump Administration, most Americans are concerned about climate change, and with good reason. Far fewer of us recognize that we are about to experience vast changes to our economic landscape. Automation and the Internet are already profoundly changing the way America does business.

A study from the Brookings Institution notes that prior automation has not eliminated the need for human work.

The Luddites in 19th Century Britain were convinced that machines would largely eliminate human work over time. Much more recently and in the U.S., anxiety appeared in the “automation scare” of the late 1950s and early 1960s, when many Americans first became aware of computers and their potential to displace workers. And, even in the previous decade, fears that technology would enable employers to “offshore” vast quantities of US jobs to China or India have also been common at certain points in time.[1]

In each of these cases, the worst fears expressed by critics of automation have never come true; indeed, there has been no long-term trend whatsoever towards higher unemployment over time as automation has increased. As economists frequently explain, automation creates new jobs while eliminating older ones, in patterns that have held up again and again over time.

But is this time different?

The article concludes that many workers whose tasks can be automated will be displaced, but that demand for skilled employees—technicians or engineers and other tasks that the machines cannot perform, will increase.

The question is: will that increase be enough to offset the jobs lost? and what about older workers and those that lack the capacity to be retrained for more intellectually-demanding jobs? And what is our obligation to those who are permanently displaced?

One thing that is very different this time around is the ubiquity of the Internet and its effect upon retailing. Brick and mortar stores are closing at an alarming rate, displacing sales personnel, managers and others employed by those retail outlets, and reducing the need for property managers, realtors and others involved in the construction, maintenance and leasing of stores

What if this time is different? What if advances in automation and e-tailing reduce employment significantly, leaving millions of Americans permanently unemployed?

If we do nothing, we invite riots and a degree of social unrest previously unseen. Policymakers will have to consider social supports far more robust than any America has previously offered–most likely, something like a UBI, or Universal Basic Income stipend.

Mass unemployment would also require significant changes in education policy. The short-sighted emphasis on job training rather than actual education would be shown to be unwise; the jobs that remain, should this scenario become real, would require critical thinking and a broad liberal arts education.

Whether the worst-case scenario comes to pass or not, we know that the not-so-distant future is likely to bring massive change: as previously fertile parts of the globe are no longer arable, we can expect migration on a scale we’ve never before seen. Terrorism is likely to increase.

Meanwhile, as Americans are sleeping….the EPA is firing scientists, Congress is attacking healthcare and both state and local legislatures are making it harder to get birth control.


  1. You are asking hard questions which require forward thinking, long range planning, and telling hard truths. All three are in very short supply these days.

  2. Your posts are never clutter in my inbox. Sleep a little later in Wednesday. Thanks for helping us to hold onto our sanity a little longer.

  3. I remember when we all were panicky over computers and printers. I hated printers. I hated giving up the card file. I hated switching to the graphics interface. What happened was all the repair people who were there almost daily. Also lots of middle age people getting retrained for new skills. I’m

  4. Oops. ” I’m” not needed there. All that before cell phones and immense leaps in technology. One thing. The govt offices, some of, still use typewriters because they can’t be hacked.

  5. This time it is different, and especially with accelerating niceties being taught to robotry (see Silicon Valley’s teacing of emotional intelligence). I have been writing for years on the massive displacement of human labor by automation and those who will be involved in making a better mousetrap (aka automation for specific tasks heretofore human) will not begin to come close to those who will be unemployed as a result of such superalitive mousetraps. If such is to eventuate, then we should already have been having conclaves of not just those in Silicon Valley but also with economists and sociologists to plan how we are going to accommodate an increasing population with so few jobs in sight. It was the Republican Nixon who first came up with a GAW (guaranteed annual wage) idea but it was quickly shot down. His proposal was deemed a way to end welfare, but a GAW or its equivalent now would be deemed essential to keep people who have been smarted out of a job to literally survive, and if Republicans and Democrats think they have seen welfare before, I have news from the street for them: They ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. I can only imagine the brawls in the offing as we are forced to confront the entrenched Protestant ethic of no work, no pay to a new more of pay but no work and note in passing that an increasing population only works to exacerbate public outlay of funds to those who are involuntarily lazy, a turnoff for many, but someone tell me what an alternative is to such innovation how it plays out in transition, and speaking of transition, transition to what? What could possibly be next? The answer to that is beyond my pay grade, but perhaps an assembly of those smarter than I (and they are legion) could lead the way.

  6. As you noted before, what will happen to all the bus, truck, and cab drivers when cars and trucks become driverless? Since our political leaders never seem to be ahead of the curve, I worry about very tough times ahead.

    Educators have known for years that cuts to vocational education to prepare the skilled workers of tomorrow are penny wise and pound foolish. Equipping schools with vocational education equipment and supplies is more expensive than buying textbooks, so Washington has cut and underfunded it since 1998. While there is renewed interest in voc. ed., we have SO much ground to make up.

    We continue to push students into STEM subjects (science, math, and technology) but have an over-supply of PhDs in math and science whose jobs are undercut by importation of foreign scientists and computer workers who are used to working for less elsewhere. I’d have more faith if I felt we were staying even. Employment IS increasing, but much of that is because people must work 2-3 jobs at low wages and still aren’t keeping pace. Is it any wonder family life and adult supervision of children is suffering? I so wish it were otherwise, but I’m very worried about our nation’s future.

  7. “Meanwhile, as Americans are sleeping….the EPA is firing scientists, Congress is attacking healthcare and both state and local legislatures are making it harder to get birth control.”

    And we will have a rude awakening when Pence is president – do any of you doubt that is in our near future – he will have his Bible at the ready; the religious zealots will be knocking on our doors and Betsy DeVos will be educating our children to use creationism against us in her “God’s Kingdom” voucher system. Automation is not found anywhere in the Bible; will DeVos phase most automation out and replace the Constitution with the Bible? Will history books be rewritten in all states to fit the Pence/DeVos evangelism? With Pence’s RFRA at the federal level and getting his wish of a total lack of birth control and national anti-abortion; we will be overpopulated to levels seen only in “Soylent Green”; will we resort to their form of cannibalism in wafer form to survive?

    The too sudden back-pedaling of the Republican determination to force passage of the health care bill makes me uneasy; more uneasy than if they had fought all the way to Friday. The partial blackout of government news is increasing at the same rate of Trump’s Tweets…and Trump is smiling too much amid these seeming setbacks. Will his threats against Syria, with no visible evidence of planned chemical attacks, result in his ordering more bombings? What a great fireworks display that would be…seen world wide as we celebrate America’s Independence Day this weekend under the control of a mad man with a bad “do”.

  8. We have always been reactive, rather than proactive. We need people who can see and plan what needs to happen to increase employment, in spite of robotics. People need to relearn their own world and we need to prepare to teach them.

  9. America has proactive seers, and many of them speak their mind. It is through them that we have always had a chance to view and plan for the future. The problem now, as it always has been, is that we…WE… reject the wisdom of the seers. We marginalize them. We defund them. We fire them. We arrest them. We kill them. And then we elect leaders who dare not look ahead because we demand to be comforted by status quo and backward vision. I am beginning to see ahead to the day that America must reduce the voting pool to individuals who can demonstrate a competent mind. After all, it is merely an assumption that the people know best. And maybe the Trump election is bitter proof of the fallacy of that assumption.

  10. I interviewed an educator in Anderson, Indiana who, about twelve years ago, was leading an effort to retrain GM workers for new jobs. She had applied for and received a federal and state grant, as well as some financial commitment from industry. She rented space, hired teachers and created a connection to IVY Tech.

    But no one showed up to be retrained.

    I mention this often to ex-GM workers, especially when I hear them complaining about their situation. Without exception, they turn hostile, angry, threatening. And then they express their utter loathing for progress and anything or anyone progressive enough to look ahead and try to prepare for change.

    Give me a population of progressives and I will show you a nation that solves its problems and employs its workers.

    Give me a population of conservative, regressive, Bible-thumper, “work ethic” goons and I will show you a nation in deep trouble without a clue as to how to save itself.

  11. We have a state with guaranteed income! Look no further than Alaska that shares its sale of oil with the citizens. Every man, woman and child gets a check, every year. That is a Red state. Why don’t all states come up with that?

  12. It has already happened! There are up to six million “disconnected youth” — those adolescents, 18-25 who are not in school nor employed. There are millions of others who, like my son, are part-time employed, struggle with academics and cannot seem to find it within themselves to learn a skilled trade. We are there! Various foundations are supporting research into what an be done. Many states and cities are trying to respond. We need a way to motivate and empower those who are deeply convinced they cannot and will not fit in or succeed. Mental health services must be a part of this. Six million (and growing)!

  13. Larry and Kelly,

    Is it possible that much of the current crop of “disconnected youth” are the sons and grandsons of those ex GM former workers?

  14. To: Larry at 8:23am
    “I am beginning to see ahead to the day that America must reduce the voting pool to individuals who can demonstrate a competent mind. After all, it is merely an assumption that the people know best. And maybe the Trump election is bitter proof of the fallacy of that assumption.”
    On the other hand, Larry, “people” voted overwhelmingly in favor of anyone EXCEPT Trump. Blame for the Trump victory is entirely in the lap of the few “people” that make up the Electoral College, the system where the dollar is followed and too many people are glitz-blinded.

  15. Just because the Luddites were not exactly correct about manufacturing doesn’t mean they won’t be right about the computer age.
    I say this one is different :: and it’s really serious, and I do this from farming. When I was growing up and then started teaching (50s and 60s), the average farm was something like 160 acres. Every township had enough farmers and their families that it was still common for the boys to miss school a day or two in the fall for making silage or picking corn.
    Today? Here’s the best explanation. In our consolidated school district of 5 1/2 twps., there only about 10 farmers left. Extend this to other areas of the national economy.

  16. Stephen F. Smith; the end of the local “farming era” and the beginning of importing foods from other countries may have been a financial savings for the produce and canning companies. They are not a financial savings for consumers. I wouldn’t mind paying a little more for produce if it had any flavor and I sorely miss the wonderful roadside fruit and veggie stands where we could buy really fresh foods. While picking up last minute groceries for our Father’s Day cookout, my daughter-in-law and I were thrilled to see the last two real watermelons in our Kroger store. The oblong shape with seeds and flavor; I bought one and was shared it, sorry I didn’t think to save the seeds.

  17. I posted this comment late yesterday and am not sure if anyone saw it so I am re-posting it today.

    Listed below is a phone number we can call to request public hearings on the health care legislation. I made the call yesterday. A human being answered, asked for my zip code and said my call/request will be recorded.

    If enough people call, maybe we can actually get the senators to hold public hearings. It is probably a long shot, but doesn’t take much effort to try.

    Original post was from Periods for Pence/Politicians on FB:

    Feel like calling your own Senators is getting you nowhere? Have Senators who are smart enough to oppose the AHCA, but you want to call SOMEONE?
    Thanks to our friend, Megan, for sharing this info and solution with us!
    “The Finance Office (202-224-4515) is keeping count of Americans requesting public hearings on the Senate ‘Healthcare’ bill. Call & request that public hearings be held. 8:30am – 6:30pm EST”

  18. As a kid I recall seeing a sign that said, “A computer can do the work of 100 people. But it takes 50 to operate it and 50 to maintain it.” I’m not sure that still holds, but we certainly live in changing times.

  19. Inside the garages of several hundred Americans are the answers to most of the questions raised by the readers of Sheila Kennedy’s June 28 blog about the future employment of U.S. citizens. That’s where today’s computer industry got started … not that many moons ago. And look what a factor the computer is in everything we do.

    Even more recent are I-Phones. I don’t care where I am … in a restaurant or in a Rotary meeting … half of the people around me are engaged in the thrilling activity of I-Phone watching. I’d love to have the income generated by the sale of those phones.

    In my humble opinion, the future of our country will be strengthened by inventions that do not presently exist … or are dramatic improvements of something or the other. Get that dumb ass out of the White House and these improvements will happen sooner rather than later.

  20. >>>> The Luddites in 19th Century Britain were convinced that machines would largely eliminate human work over time. Much more recently and in the U.S., anxiety appeared in the “automation scare” of the late 1950s and early 1960s, when many Americans first became aware of computers and their potential to displace workers. And, even in the previous decade, fears that technology would enable employers to “offshore” vast quantities of US jobs to China or India have also been common at certain points in time. <<<<

    "Fears" hell this offshoring has already happened. My computer, my keyboard, my printer, my monitor, my TV are all Made in China. None of the clothes, I wear is Made in USA. I know from first hand experience tech support and input of data has been out sourced to China and India.

  21. When I teach history classes, I often give students assignments that ask them to—as we say in the profession—“historicize” themselves. At a superficial level, it’s easy to absorb this fundamental insight of historical scholarship: that an individual’s ideology doesn’t come from inside them, but is an effect of time and place. But it’s much easier to understand how this was true of some stranger in the distant past than to accept it about yourself—that you’re a product of the social processes of your time, and your ideas are not crystals of pure rationality, but the residue of these processes.

    This dismal outcome—and, beneath it, the fantasy of grafting the Democratic Party onto an electoral base of affluent moderates in areas like Ossoff’s Atlanta suburbs—are a product of historical forgetting. Elite Democrats seem not to remember where they came from, or what it was like when working-class people actually turned out for them. Today’s Democratic leadership and its strategy are the offspring of a process of social transformation in the late twentieth century. Yet they seem to be blissfully unaware of this historical process, and thus unable to grasp that it has become a trap—much less why it has, or how to escape it.

    The American working class is, after all, less white than the rest of American society, and, by all survey evidence, has more left-wing political views—by dint of its composition by race and gender, as well as its class experiences.
    The danger that the Democratic Party and elite liberalism now face is that they cannot conceive of the American working class as it actually is, insisting instead on addressing a specter from decades ago.

  22. I think to those who pay attention to the biggest of pictures we are at what mathematicians call an inflection point. A relatively sudden transition from the norm to a new norm in a great many things.

    We will be forced into an energy transition by some combination of running out of fossil fuels and the cost of the consequences of their waste. We will be forced into an education transition by the irreversible growth in collective knowledge vastly exceeding our capabilities to transfer it to individuals. We will have to deal with the reality of one world and its affect of race, religion, culture, politics, business, etc. We will be forced to confront dysfunctional wealth distribution. America will have to finally join the rest of the world in the management of health care costs. Business will have to confront the reality that endless growth is not possible.

    So much is ending but here and now nothing is starting to replace what was.

    Because of the impact of fake news (propaganda, advertising, brainwashing) on politics and the extremism it creates, President Obama, arguably the best ever, could only extend what must go for eight more years. I am personally sure that President Trump, arguably the worst ever, will erase that gain and bring forward both the timing and violence of our collision with history.

    I believe that we have already passed by our opportunity to achieve the transition with grace and dignity and as a result will absorb much trauma as reality has its way with we who are slaves to it.

    The only thing of lasting importance will be what will have emerged when the dust settles? A new happy place of satisfying life for humans or the triumph of our dark side?

    I’m very sorry that I won’t be here for that chapter.

  23. Critical thinking, and forward planning driven by patriotism are what it will take to save us, and none of these exist in Washington in any significant number, especially in the White House. Did you see the latest story about Chump having fake “Time Magazine” covers with his picture and favorable statements about him printed, framed and hung in all of his golf resorts? That tells you all you need to know about him.

  24. Speaking of education. IPS is in the midst of more school closures and theres nary a peep from most. I guess since IPS is the system most used by “those people” it is of no concern for folks (moderate Republicans).

    It’s too bad IPS doesn’t have the funds needed to educate the children within its district. However,when it comes to the funding of our states’ biggest welfare queens –The Pacers and The Colts–we seem to have the funds needed by them immediately. It’s hard for me to muster any respect for the legacy of former Republican Mayor Hudnut,because the slow disintegration of IPS is a part of his legacy.

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