The jobless future

UPDATE: This is now the topic of my South by Southwest proposal. Please go vote for and comment on it here.

We’re not going to have a jobless recovery. We’re going to have a jobless future.

Holding out blind hope for the magical appearance of new jobs and the reappearance of growth in the economy is a fool’s faith. Politicians who think that merely chanting the incantation “jobs, jobs, jobs” will bring them and the economy back are fooling us if not themselves. When at least a tenth of Americans are out of work, for Wall Street to get momentarily giddy at the creation of 117k jobs is cognitive dissonance at its best. No one can make jobs out of thin air. Jobs will not come back. A few new jobs reappearing won’t fix anything.

Our new economy is shrinking because technology leads to efficiency over growth. That is the notion I want to explore now.

Pick an industry: newspapers, say. Untold thousands of jobs have been destroyed and they will not come back. Yes, new jobs will be created by entrepreneurs — that is precisely why I teach entrepreneurial journalism. But in the net, the news industry — make that the news ecosystem — will employ fewer people in companies. There will still be news but it will be far more efficient, thanks to the internet.

Take retail. Borders. Circuit City. Sharper Image. KB Toys. CompUSA. Dead. Every main street and every mall has empty stores that are not going to be filled. Buying things locally for immediate gratification will be a premium service because it is far more efficient — in terms of inventory cost, real estate, staffing — to consolidate and fulfill merchandise at a distance. Wal-Mart isn’t killing retailing. Amazon is. Transparent pricing online will reduce prices and profitability yet more. Retail will be more efficient.

The housing market has imploded and is not likely to reinflate for a long time to come. So the market for new homes will not recover and construction jobs will not come back.

I can and will keep going, but later. Technology and related trends, including globalization, lead to efficiency in companies and sectors. Transparent markets lead to lower prices. Digital abundance leads to both.

All this has profound implications on both business strategy and policy, but we’re not facing these issues as, instead, our leaders keep trying to resuscitate old markets and old ways. Bailing out banks only transferred debt from them to governments (read: citizens), leading to Europe’s mess. Bailing out GM gave life support to an industry that deserves disruption. Fighting over debt in Congress — and reducing the markets’ faith in the markets, leading to this week’s mess — isn’t the issue. The question is, what should government be doing — where it should be investing — to improve our lot in the future as the size of government with the taxes available will inevitably shrink with the economy.

Don’t fill potholes — or rather. don’t think that will fix the economy. Instead, we should be investing in the entrepreneurs who will create jobs — if fewer — and wealth — greater, thanks to platforms and efficiencies. Invest in education of our youth and our unemployed. Invest in efficiency — energy efficiency, for example.

As I say, these are ideas I want to explore now and I hope you’ll help me by sharing yours.

: MORE DISCUSSION: There is an amazing discussion going on not only in the comments here but also at Google+ here.

Paul Graham of Y Combinator led off another amazing debate at HackerNews here.

I crossposted to HuffingtonPost here.

Henry Blodget just crossposted it at Business Insider here.

Thanks to all this amazing discussion, I just substituted my South by Southwest talk from publicness to this topic. Thank you all for the inspiration and for pushing the ideas here.

This is the next topic I want to work on, as I said. So this discussion is invaluable to me as I explore these notions. Again, thank you.

: Here is the text I resubmitted to SXSW under the title, “Honey, we shrunk the economy.”

: See also Rob Paterson’s post on the end of the job and corporation as we knew them. And another thoughtful post from Ben Casnocha.

: Jason Calacanis riffs on the idea of creating a retraining program that would give people the opportunity to move to new jobs.

: Eric Reasons, who really kept me going on this topic when I first raised it on my blog a few years ago, answers the questions in my SXSW talk proposal.

  • Ben

    I agree wholeheartedly. I usually follow your blog on RSS and don’t comment much. You’ve been on fire lately and have inspired me to speak up.

    The answer is small government that doesn’t interfere with markets, but rather allows them to work themselves out. Ron Paul has been preaching this consistently for 20 years and happens to be running for President in 2012.

    • AlexMax

      And what do you do when the lack of meaningful government regulation and wealth redistribution allows corporations to buy laws, influence and power? That’s not a theoretical question either, since it is what precisely what happened over the past 30 years.

      • Dade

        You’re hilarious. “lack of meaningful government regulation and wealth redistribution..” Are you referring to the Obama Administration who increased the federal debt by 2.5 TRILLION in the first 19 months of being in office? You mean the same government who spent close to another TRILLION for a federal stimulus plan which failed miserably? And let’s not forget the 2 TRILLION he spent on his “Obama Care”.

        Your “meaningful government” and wealth redistribution has failed miserably and put this country on the brink of economic collapse.

        Ben has a great point. Let the markets work and keep the government out of way and let businesses work.

      • Dade

        You’re hilarious. “lack of meaningful government regulation and wealth redistribution..” Are you referring to the Obama Administration who increased the federal debt by 2.5 TRILLION in the first 19 months of being in office? You mean the same government who spent close to another TRILLION for a federal stimulus plan which failed miserably? And let’s not forget the 2 TRILLION he spent on his “Obama Care”.

        Your “meaningful government” and wealth redistribution has failed miserably and put this country on the brink of economic collapse.

        Ben has a great point. Let the markets work and keep the government out of the way and let businesses work.

      • Wade

        Dade, you’re so misinformed that it’s sad to read. You believe you’ve got real information but you don’t. Not at all. Wow.

      • AlexMax

        @Dade: When did I equate Obama’s policies with meaningful government regulation and wealth redistribution? He has introduced neither, preferring to let corporations write his polices while giving speeches full of platitudes to convince liberals that he is still on their side.

        Depending on who you ask, he’s either hopelessly naive or has been arguing in bad faith from the beginning, but he is a perfect example of what happens when corporations get too much influence over the government.

      • Andy Freeman

        > And what do you do when the lack of meaningful government regulation and wealth redistribution allows corporations to buy laws, influence and power? That’s not a theoretical question either, since it is what precisely what happened over the past 30 years.

        The phrase that you’re looking for is regulatory capture.

        The only way to avoid it is to keep govt out of such issues. In other words, if you let govt have certain powers, those powers are going to be exercised on behalf of the politically powerful. And no, it doesn’t matter how much good would happen if govt did something else with those powers.

        To quote a bad 80s movie, the only way to win is to not play the game.

        Note that even that is difficult, as the politically powerful know that if govt has those powers, they (the PP) will control said powers. That’s why they frequently lobby to get govt to grab such powers.

      • Joe

        Government MUST have some regulator authority in order to help guide the motivational power of capitalism in a way that prevents short-sighted abuse of the public trust for profit. The mortgage debacle is the direct result of deregulation. Likewise, California’s deregulation of it’s energy was a total failure and resulted in market manipulation. Another great example is the 1920’s in this country where poor farm girls toiled in dangerous mills for minimal wages (called sweatshops today). Without some protections from government, there is always a huge incentive for powerful corporations to abuse the environment, consumers and employees for the profits of CEO and shareholders.
        The myth that complete free-market economy results in equity is a dangerous one with countless examples of failure — that conservatives and libertarians somehow cling to. Does regulation slow growth somewhat? Undeniably. However, an appropriate level can have a modest impact — while ensuring that growth is sustainable, not a bubble of illusory wealth.

    • So why doesn’t everyone realize that when they speak up their connecting to the other people that want to say the same things or are already speaking. The government needs more help from the public, they need to know what we want/need and the ideas we have on how to get there. The government is more like a bunch of ants working towards a unified goal, then a bunch of beaver’s creating the initial idea and completing the work. We need to connect to the public to find out what to do and in what direction we really should go, that’s where the next big idea’s are going to come from, not from the politicians directly.

      We can change this with networks like contact our non profit at the website or at [email protected]

      Jon Pierson

    • Joe Harris

      Work is an entitlement. No one owes you a job! Why do you choose to stand in line for six hours in the sun at a job fair – instead of selling bottled water to the others in line. Try making money instead of begging someone to give you a job, you are not entitled, that’s why you are unemployed.

  • Particularly timely considering recent UK announcement to cuts in education funding in areas such as physics and engineering, which are exactly the types of areas where newer employment and entrepreneurship may come from.

    Recently a local politician was outraged to find companies proposing new warehouses in my local area which would predominantly utilise robots – and suggested we should force them elsewhere, rather than realising that we’d be far better off locally in investing in the education and infrastructure which would enable us to produce the software and hardware to support the inevitable changes…

    As @bengoldacre said on Twitter ‘Politicians literally don’t understand how the future is made’

    • “As @bengoldacre said on Twitter Politicians literally don’t understand how the future is made” I think that statement says it all. @jeffjarvis is right about propping up old models. It worked before so let us just keep it going. I wonder if that is why we have so many citizens out of work. I say invest in the disruption.

      • Governments picking national champions is the ultimate example of “propping up old models.” See the Great Leap Forward for details.

        The answer may be to accept the reality that government cannot be all things to all people and that government should be active where it makes sense: national defense, international diplomacy, protecting domestic property rights and protecting the environment.

  • Guy Bjerke

    Recent (incorrect) reports about Apple or Bill Gates having more money than the US government suggests exploring how the private sector could invest their current reserves to grow the new economy and jobs. Perhaps this is the first recession where the private sector will have to provide the stimulus that leads to real recovery.

  • Self sufficiency support products (garden, solar and other renewables) and locally produced tailor-made goods and foods will be growth areas as will bespoke mass-produced goods (not a contradiction). Think etsy meets walmart. Also I wouldn’t be surprised if people buy less stuff but want it to last so spend more (on furniture for example). I think the first cinema chain to do movies-on-demand (twitter or Facebook or something else driven) will make a killing. Being able to vote on seeing Rocky Horror on a Friday night and then go and do the whole dress-up water-pistol raincoat umbrella thing would be a hoot. Or having a Chaplin night with a bunch of work friends. Quality will win over quantity with people demanding value.

  • Charlie

    The politians(and most of the population) just don’t get how big a shift needs to be made to get us out of this mess. Technology and emerging economies are about to make a huge percentage of the western population unemployed.

    The divide between the haves and have nots is about to explode. The education system is broken because the teachers don’t have the skills to teach the children for tomorrow’s world. Many big companies used the recession to cut out the dead wood and get rid of positions no longer needed. Billion dollar multi-nationals can be run by a tiny number of people spread all over the world.

    This problem is only just beginning – there are still lots of people at the heads of companies that don’t really get technology(particularly small companies). Just wait and see what happens when the next generation gets hold of the reins.

  • Jeff, I think you are somewhat wrong about the potholes thing. I think now is the time for the government to build, repair and improve our crumbling infrastructure. If we were to put a massive push into it. Fix the thousands of bridges that are weak, build new roads, lay fiber optic cable in rural areas, add wi-fi to every city in America. Imagine the benefits of a truly modern infrastructure. Plus it would put people back to work. That is what we need. And we need to be investing in education – not cutting it. We should be paying people to go back to school if they would retrain into areas that are high need – medical, engineering, computer science, etc. But going to school is not high on your list if you just lost your job.

    • Jeremy

      I think Jeff was using the “potholes” comment as analogy more than literally, and in that sense, repairing infrastructure is just another form of filling “potholes”.

      Frankly, the potholes comment isn’t as accurate of an analogy as I think it could be – it assumes an infrastructure that could be repaired as Mr. Courtemanche suggests. I’d liken the “fixing of potholes” to more “rebuilding a house on a sinkhole”. That sinkhole is coming back again, and financing the rebuild of the same structure over top of the old broken structure ignores the source of the problem! I’ve spent time in big finance firms, and had my own headaches in the housing market, and nothing the government has done in the past three years has corrected any of the systemic problems in those massive systems.

      Additionally, rebuilding old infrastructure that no longer meets the need of current economic conditions also ignores the solution: go rebuild on a firm foundation – perhaps some kind of entrepreneurial, open, mass-communication, near instantaneous, global, information system that would make the playing field much more even for many many more people participating in the economy? Maybe we could call it “The Internet”, and then ban governments from messing with its structure so it doesn’t collapse in on itself??

    • eRobin

      Agreed. Jeff couldn’t be more wrong here. Not only would investment in our infrastructure create jobs as you say, it would also tie people emotionally to the country in a way that we are missing now. Plus money is practically free. Every day we don’t make that investment, we are losing billions.

      This essay could have been written in one paragraph that linked to the definition of “structural unemployment”. The knock against infrastructure investment is inexplicable.

    • Andy Freeman

      > Plus money is practically free.

      No, it’s not.

      Current interest rates are low, but that doesn’t imply that payback will be painless. (And, we’ll likely have to refiance those loans when interest rates are considerably higher.)

      > If we were to put a massive push into it. Fix the thousands of bridges that are weak, build new roads, lay fiber optic cable in rural areas, add wi-fi to every city in America. Imagine the benefits of a truly modern infrastructure. Imagine anything you’d like, but current experience with such projects suggests that they’re poor investments.

      > Plus it would put people back to work.

      They’re poor investments because they’re jobs programs combined with payoffs to the politically connected, so they cost far too much for what they actually build.

      Take the recent FAA funding debacle. One of the major obstacles was a (fairly small) subsidy to folks flying in/out of an airport near Harry Reid’s home town.

      Do you really think that folks who are willing to hold out for such a subsidy are going to make good decisions wrt infrastructure?

  • Jim

    We are entering the age of virtual workforces. Companies are going to realize they no longer need to invest in large buildings, and benefits, etc…. Instead, they can outsource tasks to independent professionals. In the future we are all contractors, which is why building a personal brand is so critical.

    The Jobs are not coming back, but we can all still make a living.

    • John

      If by we, you mean Indians and Chinese then yes we can. Those jobs have not and are not going to contractors they’re going to outsourcing firms and local employees located in lower cost countries.

      • Tom

        If you and your friends would prefer to make toys for $5/day then I’m sure I could find some work for you. Otherwise, Americans are going to need to upgrade their skillsets to be worth what companies are paying them. You can’t expect to make $15/hr with benefits when someone else will do it for 1/3rd the price, no matter how many misguided, protectionist laws our government passes.

  • Brian

    I agree with you. But, does that mean that technological progress should lead us towards communism (or at least more redistribution of wealth by government)?

    How should the status quo be upset to deal with your prediction of long term higher unemployment? Could it mean a cycle of deflation? Or do rising commodity prices offset that possibility?

    After all that, how do we make this hurt less? Short term will obviously hurt a bit, but how can we do some kind of ‘soft landing’?

    • Teacherhax

      I remember reading a sci-fi story when I was growing up about a future where robots were advanced enough to do all of the jobs society needed doing. The humans in this future lived in a socialist/communist utopia where every human’s physical survival was provided for as a byproduct of the thriving robot economy.

      The world we’re living in is not too different from that. Websites are replacing workers throughout the economy, and there will not be enough new types of jobs to support everyone. I think Socialism should cease to be a dirty word long enough so we can consider a world where the windfall profits big corporations are making firing workers were actually used to build a utopia for all.

  • My View From Somewhere:

    It’s going to be hard for Amazon and all the other ecommerce sites to get UPS deliveries out on time if we don’t fill potholes.

    Arguing this as a zero-sum problem distorts the debate. And who exactly suggested relying on “blind hope for the magical appearance of new jobs and the reappearance of growth”?

    Obama policies have worked better than Bush policies. Well enough? Absolutely not. But let’s have THAT discussion, not a categorical and ad hominem rant.

  • June

    the blog post says “Invest in education of our youth and our unemployed”

    sounds great.

    but how exactly do we do that? any ideas?
    especially if you don’t have any money to invest with?

    I am very interested in the topic and really liked the article but I know nothing about these things, and I’d like to get informed and involved in any way I can. (I am an unemployed woman in mid 30’s with a B.A. and J.D.)

    Thank you.

    • Joeri Sebrechts

      To solve the problem of how to invest in education when there’s no money, you could reform education to be structurally cheaper. It would involve moving a lot of the learning out of the classroom and onto the internet. But, that brings you back to the same problem: the result would be more educated people but fewer people employed as teachers.

      In the end, full employment simply doesn’t rhyme with innovation. Innovation is about replacing two old jobs with one new job. If you innovate enough, you’ll build everything people want without employing every person. We passed that mark a century ago. We solved it until now by artificially inflating demand, through advertising and a strong culture of consumption. People want steadily more things they don’t need, and this ensures that enough jobs remain for everyone. However, because those things require finite resources to make, any fool can see that this isn’t a long-term solution.

      Personally, I think the long-term solution involves building a consumption culture where everybody consumes, everybody produces, and the resources used are infinite. The internet is essentially an infinite resource. If we started earning our money producing online materials (books, movies, games, …), and we spent it consuming online materials (books, movies, games, …), full employment could be guaranteed indefinitely.

  • 84% of the population has an IQ < 115. What do they do?

    • Anon

      They don’t find jobs, starve, and do not reproduce. Then, the average iq increases :)

      • Mark

        That’s not what’s happening. Lower iq people are reproducing at a faster rate than the more intelligent.

        That’s why we need a baby tax! $25K per baby. Don’t pay and you get your tubes tied (male or female).

      • Tom


        So PhD students who are doing researching for $40/yr on grants shouldn’t be able to reproduce but trailer park residents that win the lottery should be able to pop out babies as fast as they can?

      • Peter

        This bullshit discussion tells me you both count to the 84%

  • “Perhaps this is the first recession where the private sector will have to provide the stimulus that leads to real recovery.”

    The first… Except for all of them. Administrations from both the ‘D’s & the ‘R’s have gladly taken credit for events beyond their control. A rising tide lifts all approval ratings.

    One of the problems today is that with an ever increasing influence of government over the economy, the parts of the private sector that aren’t rent seeking from the government, especially the smaller entrepreneurs (think “Joe the Plumber”, not Donald Trump) are more reluctant to act in a world where political pull means more than ability to produce.

    I believe that government should not be “investing” in entrepreneurs. Government help comes with so many strings that it hampers rather than helps, and encourages more rent seeking behavior, and not real economic development.

    What it should be doing is getting out of the way of entrepreneurs. Allowing them to reap the benefits (and incur the risks… business bailouts don’t help on any scale).

    The key to a growing economy is to allow people to experiment and change freely. Dynamism. Government is about control, and restrictions. The opposite of dynamism.

    Example: Jeff has been a champion of dynamism in the news business. That same spirit is best applied to the entire economy.

  • Jeff, first I have to say that I’m a big fan.

    I believe that the prevailing problem in our culture is that people are trying to solve 21st century problems with 20th century tools. The first decade of the 21st century was stressful for a variety of reasons. It is a law of human nature that people gravitate towards things that are safe and familar in times of stress. A couple of thoughts/examples:

    *For example, Howard Stern left terristrial radio because of the FCC, etc. But one of the advantages of moving to Sirius was now that anyone, anywhere on the planet could listen to his show 24 hours a today. Howard is no longer confined to the market of Americans listening to the radio from 6am to 10am. Howard wasn’t afraid to be an early adopter.

    *Another example would be Michael Rosenblum’s video journalism revolution. Why anyone would want to watch the network evening news is beyond me.

    *I am 28 years old. Our generation was led to believe that if you graduate from college, you will automatically get a job. Of course that isn’t the case. In order to get a job and then make it a career, young people have to develop a passion for life-long learning. Learning doesn’t end when someone hands you a diploma.

    Keep up the good work. I can’t wait to read Public Parts!!! Go Jeff go!

  • the agrarian revolution and subsequent technologies have wildly increased life expectancy and the ability for our world to fit ever more humans.

    technology, as you note here, is also slashing job opportunities.

    if we keep increasing our ability to hold more people, and cutting wealth creating opportunities, what the hell will all those jobless people be doing with their time?

    • Umm, gosh – 200 years ago, 90 percent plus of the people in the world worked on farms. I guess things collapsed with automation. Oh, wait….

      • Joeri Sebrechts

        They did collapse. We created the consumption culture to make people want stuff they didn’t need to increase demand.

    • Tom

      They will probably assemble into mobs of angry people and fuck shit up. It’s happened before.

      • Pangolin

        First intelligent reply on this thread. What happens when you get a critical mass of men with no damn work? They riot.

        You provide jobs or you live in a police state with a Gulag to hide the bodies in. Choose.

      • Norris

        Tom you hit the nail on the head. While all of those who believe they’re going to be in the entrepreneur class, spinning out efficiency to produce more products for people who can’t afford them. The gathering masses of unemployed are going to be gathering for the destruction of the society that leaves them idle, angry with little or nothing to lose. People need more entrepreneurs like they need a hole in their head.

  • Onlywords

    Though jobs now to go India and China etc. soon they will just go: to robots and then there will be no way for the common man – anywhere – to make money. We will have a world of mind structured for a world of muscle power. Endgame babes, we are at the end game. And thus we are at a point of great creation….I Hope.

    • Tom

      By “common man”, I assume you mean the type of person who is completely adverse to math, science, and learning of any kind and expects to put things together on an assembly line for $50k/yr + benefits for 25 years then retire with a cozy pension. Yeah, the common man is fucked.

      • Pangolin

        Because every engineer who wants a job in the U.S. is employed right? Nope.

        That’s not even close to true. The ‘you’re too lazy to get an education’ meme is a lie.

    • Arthur K

      Back in the 1950s, articles talked about how in the year 2000 people would have 4 hour workdays, as so much will be automated. Maybe that’s what needs to happen…

  • Don

    The labor market now as is underwork. Nearly twice as many people hold down multiple jobs as are involuntarily limited working part time and more than over half the multiply employed hold at least one full-time job.

  • I think this doesn’t go far enough. Yes, The Job is going away. Yes, people need to be prepared for change. This also means that we need to have mechanisms for delivering what people need – like food, clothing, and shelter – other than having all adults work in the formal, paid workforce and buy them with cash. No, I’m not talking about “communism.” E.g., @Peter touches on self-sufficiency products and activities. Our legal system does not support groups of adults pooling cash, health insurance, etc., while only one or two of them participates in the formal paid marketplace.

    • Pangolin

      Let’s see. If my choices are communism with reasonable housing, education, food, clothing and medical care or…….,,

      Capitalism and a place on the curb with a begging bowl……

      I’ll take communism any day. If that pisses the rich off I think Mao demonstrated how to deal with that little impediment.

      Or you could try socialism and bitch and moan about high taxes while still living a fairly nice life.

    • Andy Freeman

      Remind me – which communist countries don’t have walls to keep people in? Which communist countries would not be depopulated if the US decided to let their residents immigrate to the US?

      Yup Mao – he killed “the rich” and set back China’s economy by decades. See Zimbabwe and Cuba for other examples. (Venezuela is headed down that path.)

  • Mark Wilkins

    Whenever a politicians uses the word “invest” you should be hearing “tax and spend”. The government has NO BUSINESS investing in anything! It should not be picking winners (which also means deciding who loses). It should be an impartial ‘referee’ to ensure that the game is played fairly and no one gets injured. You want energy efficiency? Stop choosing ethanol, wind and solar and let the entrepreneurs make it happen.

    As far as taxes and the economy goes, the size of government has not adjusted to the new efficiencies of the digital age. The adjustment is at least 10 if not 20 years overdue. All of those government “analysts” that produce labor trends, weather trends, inflation measures, etc., etc., should be out-sourced and privatized. The results will be more accurate numbers (have you noticed that government figures are “revised” every month?), at lower cost, FASTER. When the government workforce is half what it is now and the tax rates cut in half, too, the economy will reinflate itself. No need for the politicians to choose who should hire and why.

    • Cody

      When they use the term “invest in education”, you should also be hearing “tax and spend”.. but they do have some business investing in that, don’t they? If not the government, then who?

      One big problem with education (at least this is true in my state of Texas, I’m not sure if it’s accurate of all the others) now is that there is too much focus put on standardized testing, because the government takes the approach of not trusting the teachers it hires to do an adequate job on their own. So they spend millions of dollars for companies to develop test standards, and then the teachers are forced to train the students to pass the tests, rather than to really teach them. We have a generation of students who are learning how to take tests.

      I don’t have a strong opinion of how to solve this, except to begin by reverting back to how the schools were 15-20 years ago. They weren’t fantastic then either, but they were better than now. One solution which is very popular among Republicans in my state is to have a voucher system, which would let students elect to use public money to attend private schools. My feeling is that this is intended more as a way to funnel taxpayer money directly into churches and religious schools, and private schools that employed highly-qualified teachers would most likely cost much more than the voucher money would provide.

      • @cody , what is the measure that makes you say schools 15-20 years ago (1991 to 1996) “were better than now”?

  • I really enjoyed reading this post today. You speak an unfortunate truth for many people of this country. And so far I think you are right.

    I think the only thing that could probably change it is war (on a massive level) or destruction of a state(s) (i.e. war or massive natural disaster).

    Neither one of those options is very pleasing, so investment in education and the next technologies are our best bet.

    Great post!

    • Shawn Levasseur

      “I think the only thing that could probably change it is war (on a massive level) or destruction of a state(s) (i.e. war or massive natural disaster).”

      Actually those things will not help an economy. (google “broken window fallacy”)

      • cm

        While wars are definitely economically damaging, they do get people to think about stuff that matters more than the size of their flatscreen TV.

        It is insane that the average house size in USA is now 2700 sq ft almost double the 1970 size of 1400 sq ft even though average occupant numbers have decreased. I live in a 1400sqft house and that is more than adequate.

        Yet in the rest of the world the average house size is well under 1000 sq ft. Should you have five times as much house and earn 5 times as much as the global average just because you are in USA?

        With inequalities like that is it any wonder that labour is being offshored and the manufacturing sector is being killed.

        USA has huge problems because its people have an inflated sense of entitlement and Joe Sixpack has an obscene level of consumption.

        That desire for consumption has moved the economy away from being productivity based to being consumption based. That drives down costs – forcing out labour – and puts more people into retail.

        Broken economic measures like GDP do not help becuase they don’t differentuiate between consumption (which generates no value) and production (which does).

        Wars – real wars that impact on the civilians – have had a way of resetting things. Whether that is still going to happen in this global age is debatable though.

    • We already went to war(s).
      We spent almost all our money.
      Then the banks gambled and lost.
      We had to bail them out (it is claimed).
      Now we don’t even have enough money to even defend our countries from predatory finance.

      Imagine if the Iraq war fund were spent on energy R&D instead of securing a future for BP?

      • cm

        “predatory finance”. So when someone lends you money to keep your consumption fix going it is predatory? How about rather taking some of the blame. Bite the bullet, tighten your belt, live within your means and start paying down debt.

        Unfortunately for USA that R&D you talk about is also being offshored. Engineers in other countries are just as capable as US engineers but are far cheaper.

        US patent laws prevent US R&D from resulting in huge benefits to the nation. Far too much just gets diverted into companies fighting with eachother. An industrial Mutually Assured Destruction.

  • Kat

    I do think one way the government should interfere – help – is by limiting the number of higher education scholarships (like Pell grants) given to students studying liberal arts topics (history, English) and instead allocating more money for funding the education of engineers and scientists.

    At the same time, the government should make it easier for foreign graduates from American universities who earned degrees in science and engineering to stay in this country.

    We don’t need your tired, your poor, your huddled masses. We need your best, your brightest, your energized scientists!

    • Tom

      Completely agree. The average 25 year old American is a bumbling idiot with math and science. Ask them to find the area of a triangle and they will look at you like you just offered to put their nuts in a blender.

      • Pangolin

        I get the feeling you think they deserve to starve. Or perhaps be engaged in some form of servile groveling to please your oh-so-educated self.

  • Looking to government for a solution is wasted. Particularly for this problem. I quote Yochai Benkler:

    “For the most part[…] the state in both the United States and Europe has played a role in supporting the market-based industrial incumbents of the twentieth-century information production system at the expense of the individuals who make up the emerging networked information economy. Most state interventions have been in the form of either captured legislation catering to incumbents, or, at best, well-intentioned but wrongheaded efforts to optimize the institutional ecology for outdated modes of information and cultural production.”

    –Yochai Benkler, 2006

    I also left a very lengthy response on your Google+ post. When is Google going to get around to integrating comment systems for us?! :-)

    Here’s a link to the response:

  • I think we need to totally rethink the world economy and what it means to work. We’ve got too many people making stuff people don’t need and are encouraged to buy with money they don’t have. Most of the “professional” economists talk about tweaking this or that to bring us back to where we were rather than talking about massive changes that might need to be made and how to do that.

    I have found more interesting discussions by people who aren’t economists by trade, but who have done research. One of them is Charles Hugh Smith. I don’t always agree with him on everything, but he says thought-provoking things. Here’s his piece on how to create more jobs.

  • It isn’t time for small or big government. It’s time for smart government that invests.

    Smart government would invest in education. Not just salaries but reinventing what we teach. The blue collar to scientist ratio is changing… We need education to shift from “make good factory workers plus the smart kids become scientists” to “make everyone a scientist and the few under performers become factory workers.”

    Smart government wouldn’t fix all the potholes. It would pause to come up with a strategy and figure out how to best maintain roads and how to do it cost effectively. For example (1) every year the 10% worst roads are repaved [creating a 10-year cycle], (2) in-source because now you need a constant amount of workers and vertical integration is the most cost effective way. Add more roads to your town? Pre-plan the maintenance cost because it is now predictable.

    But start with the schools. Really. The future is for innovators.

    • Andy Freeman

      > It isn’t time for small or big government. It’s time for smart government that invests.

      How about we don’t “invest” until we actually have said “smart govt”.

      Remember, “we need to do something useful” does not imply that we should do something. We’re better off doing nothing than doing dumb things, and dumb things are what we’re doing.

    • Tom

      The schools are the problem. Teaching is a “way out” degree for ambitionless, intellectually-adverse individuals who want a cozy job with union protection that demands very little of them. I know over 10 girls currently enrolled in colleges, all of whom are majoring in education of some kind. I wouldn’t want a single one of them teaching ANYTHING to my kids. But they will all put their 25 years in, collect their predictably low salary, and retire to further suck life from the social security system.

      • Jay


    • cm

      Your ideas are interesting, but like George Bush, you miss the point that half the population is below average intelligence and you need to be above average intelligence to be an effective engineer/scientist.

      What has emerged is that in a consumption driven (rather than production driven) economy, there is less room for industry as a whole. That immediately impacts on blue collar workers, but also has a secondary impact on cutting down on the engineers and scientists required to design the stuff that they used to make.

      Can USA recover? Perhaps only with a full re-boot.

      • So where do you set the scale to define “average intelligence”? Which country’s standards do you base it on? The US? Not anymore. China? They would like to have the world think so. Some unexpected third world country? How would they be taken seriously? It’s obviously not an easy question to answer.

    • jeremy

      Smart words Tom,

      “The blue collar to scientist ratio is changing… We need education to shift from “make good factory workers plus the smart kids become scientists” to “make everyone a scientist and the few under performers become factory workers.”

      Its too bad Jeff’s blog here seems about done, but there’s more I’d like to add to this part. Let me know if you have a blog or want to add to your theme on this point more as indeed I think it really is at the heart of what Mr Jarvis is talking about, but which ironically he himself is not yet at.

  • Ved


    100% agree with your point. I recently read “A Whole New Mind:Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future” by Daniel H. Pink who talks about the same thing. Many jobs are already gone to countries like India , China which are not coming back here so to think that by putting more government money in failed companies will save economy is foolish.

  • NatureIsUgly

    It’s getting to be time for one of two things: — scroll down, he advocates for a minimum income, $25K.

    — or —

    I read about how because of our aid, Somalia’s population has exploded to more than the land itself can support. So what do you do, keep endlessly shovelling food at them? Well now, the same reasoning would apply to us too, social darwinism, per Don McArthur at 11:26.

    • Tom

      Well, unfortunately for us, some African countries (Kenya and Nigeria, notably) decided to stop being dirt farmers and join the tech revolution. When these highly motivated emerging economies meet their American counterparts (i.e. our upcoming generation of ambitionless, celebrity obsessed weirdos) they are going to run roughshod over them.

  • Martin

    Jeff, you had me up until you made the transition from Borders, Circuit City, etc failing because of e-retailers like Amazon to the housing market “not coming (e.g. reinflating) back”. It was a meaningless conjecture, in my view.

    Other than that, you’re probably slightly more cheerful than a Friday night “Real Time With Bill Maher”.

    Jeff for President!

  • Valentine Smith

    Thank you for an intelligent article and some cracking comments.

    This reads like a mainly US contribution, but resonates well in the UK. Two points, firstly NatureIsUgly raises the issue of the elephant in the room, the more we can do things efficiently and without manpower, the lower a population we can support. In the UK, influential people of a green shade are just starting to get the courage to start asking questions; secondly and I say this I hope without naivety, what does it take to get political leaders to admit to major problems and from there to addressing them honestly. It was the catalyst of one action exposing that Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked that gave the UK political community the balls to face up to the tyranny of the Murdoch empire and it became obvious that they had wanted to do this for years, but were previously scared off.

    Surely we deserve better, we need political leaders who are appointed on a ticket of wishing to tackle the big problems and we need to vote with our heads and our hearts and not our wallets.

  • Eddb

    Yes, fill the potholes and fix the roads and bridges. And get the money from taxes or by cutting benefits for oil companies and corporate farms and the like. And if you want to be living under one of the bridges vote for Ron Paul and others like him.

  • The fact that typical free-trade orthodoxy discourages certain types of collaboration between government and private industry doesn’t help. Add that to the GOP’s current efforts to oppose each and every thing the President would like to do, and you have zero chance of us ever developing an effective industrial policy, at least in the short-term.

  • We’re going to need to do some more serious big thinking about the idea of “work”, which is too narrow a term now. We need to figure how how we’re going to /occupy/ people in the transition from post-industrial/service/information technology society to a roboticized, post-scarcity, arts and leisure society / AI-run utopia / whatever. If handled poorly, “social unrest”, mass protests, and outright violence may be become a regular part of the landscape, what with millions of always-idle, impoverished people just sitting on the sidelines, ignored. How long could this last? One hundred years, perhaps? That’s a long time to have constant social upheaval.

    Sci-fi has dystopias full of rebellious robots, human vs. robot warfare, grappling with what it means to be sentient, etc. but have startlingly little that deals with a much more realistic question: what does a society where human labor is being made redundant look like in terms of day-to-day human behavior?

  • Idea: our government could start encouraging, with grants, citizens to go abroad, to countries that could use more educated entrepreneur types. There they could open many kinds of businesses, and import USA goods and information to them. This would improve economies abroad, promote international relations, and keep our own in living-wages.

    We could export teachers and professors as well. You didn’t mentioned the inevitable shrinking of jobs in that industry, but is there an “industry” which won’t feel the squeeze?

  • Byron Hathaway

    Here are three possible helpful changes to govt. and taxes.

    Do away with all state borders, governments and associated costs. We would become the United State of the Americas. We don’t need 51 governments messing with the flow of capital to areas where it is needed most

    Eliminate the income tax (we don’t need accountants or tax attorneys, only bookkeepers) and change to a consumption tax of 22% of GDP with 5% of gross revenues paying down the debt

    Charge interested legal entities (corporations and limited liability entities) to send a military in to do their bidding

    These three things are not easy to talk about, but maybe we should begin a dialogue that uses new ideas as a platform different from the same old same old.

  • Anti-luddites

    Same response to you as to other luddites – should we still be using candles and horse drawn carts?

  • In reaction to the 3rd paragraph:

    What you’re saying is the fear that labor unions faced at the onset of industrialization way back into history and yet, the machines still haven’t taken over our jobs. So think 200 years of industrialization and we’re still here. Now think again, machines, globalization, and other market forces have threatened disorder, chaos, and the modern world’s implosion time and time again, but it hasn’t. Man’s resilience? I’d say imperfection.

    But yeah, you’re right about entrepreneurship and the next generation’s education. All nations & economies should invest in that.

    • Tom Mornini

      I’ve struggled with these questions, came to the same conclusions, and found myself forced uncomfortably close to ludditism as well.

      But, here it comes, it’s different now! :-)

      I believe the Luddites are finally right. The constant, exponential increase in technology may make retraining impossible given the pace of change.

      If your family had farmed for generations, learning to run machinery and farm more land, more efficiently, to feed more people was possible.

      But today, in almost every industry, you need to learn new things every day. In a couple of decades, it will be down to hours, then minutes, then seconds!

      We don’t need more education like we had. We need to turn everyone into a continuous learner and set them loose younger to pave their own way.

  • tag

    policians are lawyers, their education is based on argueing/fighting not createing jobs or managing budgets/economies, math is foriegn to them

    good layed off teachers can become self employed servicing the homeschool market, (sister is a teacher).

    yard/labor jobs focusing on the needs of the growing older

    transportation to difficult industries (ie, TWIC drivers at the ports) dont forget ‘runners’ for elderly and busy people (pets too)

    laundry services- many people dont have time and hate laundry

    as for taxes,, our country wasnt founded on the idea of paying alot of taxes,, until we change the current acceptance of paying too much in taxes mindset the monster will live and thrive. of course we need some basics

    if you want to tax the abusers usually corparations,, you hit them with a mega tax for every person they lay off or move their job overseas,,,,of course they will ignore it,,, so hit them with a real tax,,, boycott their products and services.

    ie,, we wont support warren buffett,, so we dont buy any of his products or services,, and i havent for nearly a decade now.–he isnt the saint his tv/media shrills advertise him to be–former buffetteer.

  • Trudy W Schuett

    I think people will need to change their approach to finding a “job,” that is, not sending out resumes and going on interviews in hopes somebody will “give” you a job, but learning to do something that is necessary, and not may people do.

    In some cases, you may also find yourself working on ways the company or organization can pay you, as well. Researching things like grants are looking like a good idea to me.

    • Pangolin

      Please oh oracle tell us humble plebes what is it that you need done that your are eager to throw fistfuls of cash at. The personal chef, masseuse, gardener, house-cleaner, assistant, trainer, pilates instructor and driver markets are all saturated with far more prospective employees than jobs available.

      As far as I can tell a person wealthy enough does little or nothing that they don’t choose to. The people who aren’t wealthy have no money to spare.

  • A first step: continue this conversation in the street one day.
    Crash a bank the next day.
    Continue this conversation in the street on the third day.
    On the fourth day, the government may begin worrying more about the interests of citizens than corporations. If they don’t, there is always a fifth day.

    An answer and a political will will begin to emerge.

  • This is an unprecedented time in history, been a long time coming, but never the less, a not if but when phenomenon. I have been thinking, writing and talking about this for over 40 years, and was roundly ridiculed every step of the way. I told you so! Nice to see many people finally catching on. Socialism is the only way to mitigate the situation, there is no solution as far as I can see. Bill Joy is pretty good on this topic.

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  • Dave

    This is the fourth article I have read in the last week blaming inventors and innovators for the economic collapse that has been caused caused by endless overseas wars against muslims, globalization, and bank bailouts.

    Interesting that the articles have different names and are on different blogs but use much of the same text, as if they were provided to bloggers from some PR firm that is coordinating this message that people should be angry at job creators who invent new products rather than be angry at the people who stole their wealth and lifestyle through their own greed and corruption.

    • The Luddite fallacy is getting lots of play these days. Certain people would rather not believe the grand efforts of our politicians these past few years have been worse than useless.

  • While I agree we have a global crisis of wage labor (are there *really* 3 to 4 billion decent jobs in the world when we get up and running? probably not, so… what to people do with their time), I want to point out as someone who drives a fair bit that filling the potholes and fixing the water mains and electrical grid would be a pretty good short-term scheme to buffer us against problems, while also providing some non-trivial benefits in the 20 to 50 year time frame. Not a solution to the existential crisis, but also not really all that hard to pull the trigger and do; it’d be a win.

  • Pangolin

    _ing worthless OP. There is going to be a jobless future and the way out of that is to put our faith in hand-waving, fairy-tale answers like “innovation” and “entrepreneurship.”

    Way to phone it in.

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  • Friedrich Bolle

    Dear Jim,

    an excellent comment.

    I recommend the book of Nicholas Carr:

    The Big Switch

    His proposal:

    A value-added tax regarding the technology innovations

  • Hans Suter

    it seems Jeff is showing a future with huge productivity increases. In the last 10 years the benefits of these increases went mainly to top management and share holders. Maybe that should change ?

    • Jay

      US productivity is higher now than in 2008, with less workers.

  • Bill McGarvey

    I agree that a fundamental paradigm shift has been going on and needs to be addressed, but to look at the bailout of GM et al as simply propping up businesses/ industries that are in a well-deserved and necessary death spiral is an oversimplification. They were attempts to forestall the enormous, catastrophic consequences that would inevitably happen to our overall economy if some of its major pillars collapsed. I welcome the economic conversation you want to investigate here, I just hope it rests more on the analysis of actual economists who understand the complexity of these questions and the organic nature of economic systems.

  • Ollie Jones

    Respectfully, I think you may have missed something on the GM “bailout”.

    The GM bankruptcy enabled that company to shed an enormous load of entitlements owed to a bloated and demonstrably unproductive dealer network.

    It also let them restructure pension and healthcare debts to retired workers. When protesting how unfair that was, remember how things went down for Polaroid retirees.

  • Jason

    This smacks of Karl Marx, who argued the same thing; namely, technology destroys jobs. I felt the same way before taking Economics 101, wherein I learned the folly of this belief. There are different types of technological advances, some which improve efficiency and replace workers, but there are also innovations that create a whole new market of jobs.

    Some day technology may free us from the yoke of work, but that will not likely happen for a few hundred years.

    • Pangolin

      Technology doesn’t destroy jobs? Since when? One guy on a bicycle can move the load of three porters and he can do it faster and with less food. Drop a rail line in and that one guy can now move the load of thousands of porters simply by feeding fuel to a boiler. One robot welder does the work of four human welders and it does a better job.

      All the hand waving economic theory in the world doesn’t change the fact that use of technology has led to a huge, global, labor SURPLUS. If there wasn’t a surplus nobody would work for 30 cents and hour.

      Marx was right on that point.

  • Bill Swill

    Lots of hot air around this topic. The facts are world jobs are vanishing and will continue to vanish until enough people are starving and forced to take it to the streets. There will be a revolution and it will not be pretty.

  • Robert Bonwell

    Get used to that boot in your face. Fascism owns you and all the apologists here as well. We are so screwed, most people have no clue how bad things are, and they are about to get a whole lot worse. Forget the social contract. Fascism won and everyone will be reduced to penury before it’s over.

  • So much amazing discussion here. sorry I haven’t joined in; been busy and now traveling. I’m digging in. Thank you, all who’ve contributed.

  • Jason,
    Yes, that’s the essence of the question Graham, too, raised at HackerNews: Is this technological shift different? I think in many ways I’ll explore, it is. But you’re right that we don’t know yet.

  • In the 1970s, Fort Wayne city council was trying to change their zoning to prevent new gas stations from being built. There were too many older, smaller gas stations that had closed, a blight on the community, they said.

    What happened to those closed gas stations? Well, they had service bays that worked nicely as miniwarehouses or shops, a retail area that worked nicely as a sales office. They were in high traffic locations, and they had ample parking. Entrepreneurs glommed onto them as ideal incubators for their ambitions, many of them later moving on to a larger location elsewhere, with a second, a third, even a fourth business being founded in that former gas station.

    You say that “Every main street and every mall has empty stores that are not going to be filled” but I’d argue that is highly unlikely. We’re likely to see a continuing consolidation of regional malls, with some of them bulldozed, but on main street and strip centers, I’m seeing those spaces filled by stores that are growing in size (for instance, small drug stores and pet shops closing while drug store and pet store superstores open nearby) and small storefronts are being repurposed by businesses that formerly were in less convenient office building locations.

    Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does the economy. Storefronts rarely remain empty for long unless government (zoning boards, building inspectors) insists.

    • Pangolin

      All over California brand new storefronts in brand new strip malls sit empty. Most have been empty since 2007-2008 when the economy crashed. Since their owners can write off the “full value” (ie, the rent value they pretend it’s worth) of their lost rents against other profitable enterprises they remain empty.

      Corporate shenanigans and twisty bookkeeping allow the owners of corporations to collect “salaries” and grow their corporations equity while claiming that said corporation is unprofitable.

      “Free market” theory goes to hell when confronted with a reality where corrupt interests get to write their own rules.

  • Not be a Luddite…

    Would an agrarian-based economy (not like the ones of the past, per se) keep people in meaningful work, self-sufficient, and not impoverished?

  • “jobs — if fewer — and wealth — greater, thanks to platforms and efficiencies.”

    So tax the ultra-wealthy for the greater good? Like descent schools? No reason United States shouldn’t lead the world in education & entrepreneurism.

    Shred the current budget. Re-focus.

    For Medicare, let’s lower healthcare costs. Meaning big insurance and medicine companies should get out of bed with politicians.

    For Social Security, idk, increase inflation? Lower living expenses though? Lower health-costs, food-costs, housing costs, energy costs… might go a long way towards solving social security problems.

    Strife in Politics, I say ban political labels. No one should call themselves a Rep. Or Dem. These big organization might be worse than huge corporations. Get rid of them. Make political funding public. As in a presidential candidate only gets ($500k) or something…

    Remove $$ from our political system, remove labels (I didn’t read anything in our constitution about arbitrarily coloring yourself red or blue), and I’d imagine genuine good ideas and politicians doing what’s right (instead of what’s expected, mob mentality, or getting bought) would be more the norm than the unexpected.

    Conservatives always talk removing struture and letting the market do it’s magic. We should apply the same thinking to politics and political discourse.

    I’m sick of only hearing two answers to every question. This “if your not with me, you’re against me” approach is crap when you’re trying to work together.

    Maybe the biggest problem we have is a systematic failure to solve the problems of the United States. These politicians needs to look at themselves and these side organizations that they’ve created (Rep./Dem. Parties) and ask themselves is this really good for our country?

    • Tom Mornini


      I’m done with two-party government.

      Republicans AND Democrats have nearly bankrupted us.

      I’ll not vote for members of either party again.

      I think “throwing the bums out, even those you like!” is the most important thing we Americans need to do.

      They’ve had their chances.

    • Andy Freeman

      > For Medicare, let’s lower healthcare costs. Meaning big insurance and medicine companies should get out of bed with politicians.

      Umm, they’re not going to do that as long as it is profitable for them to do so. It will be profitable as long as Medicare exists.

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  • I’m no economist or politician, but I have to wonder if the government invested in jobs like alternative energy sources and things like that if that would not create tons of new jobs.

    I saw a new tech for electric cars that was an outstanding idea. Putting induction wiring under the highways such that as you drive over them with electric cars, they would charge the vehicle like an electric toothbrush gets charged even though it’s not connected physically to the current. Putting those induction wiring under all the highways in the country would take thousands if not hundreds of thousands of jobs to complete in a reasonable amount of time and would make electric vehicles feesable. Not only for personal transportation, but public transportation as well as freight. Semi’s could be electric as well and our atmosphere would benefit.

    To be fair, that tech would cost a butt-load of money to implement, but I wonder if the benefit of having such a tech would outweigh the cost…

  • Steve

    I’m continually amazed by how many people think that their party’s overspending is okay, but the other party’s overspending is bad. They’re both bad. A government can’t spend more than it takes in in perpetuity, or there will eventually be disastrous consequences – period, end of story.

    The other thing that most people don’t realize is the Fed’s role in the current economic mess. Greenspan’s artificial suppression of interest rates was a principal cause of the bubble. There’s always been greed on Wall Street – the greedy people just had more to play with. It’s not like a whole business culture suddenly became greedy out of the blue, making the answer to regulate the crap out of them. Fix the root problem.

    The free market isn’t perfect, but it can work pretty well if left to its own devices. What would the economy be like today if interest rates had been say, 7 percent for the last decade?

  • In college in the early 90’s, I often mused about the jobless future with my friends. The trend was obvious even then; technology produces ever increasing productivity, reducing the need for labor. It seemed clear that things would come to a crux at some point in the future. We would eventually end up with an economy that provided sufficient goods to meet consumer demand, but failed to provide employment for a large percentage of the populace.
    This trend will undoubtedly continue. After decades of R&D, robotics is set to explode into the workforce. Varying levels of skills sets will become obsolete, eventually leaving humans with the sole responsibilities of creative endeavors and maintaining the machines that make things. What do you do when a large and growing fraction of the public has nothing to do?

    • jeremy

      This is just plain common sense from one of a small percentage of humans with a decent imagination. Really thats the issue.. most people cannot imagine, cannot process, scenarios into the future very well. Its just not in our make up. But some can and do and create the future- a rare few. And unfortunately these few will never be in positions of power and these few even if brought to power will be shut down by the majority.

      Unfortunately Mr. Jarvis and his celebrity (his google+ friends looks like a G20 guest list for goodness sake) technologist colleagues (who meet at special conferences that the poor people are not allowed to attend) cannot see the big picture- when he writes “Yes, that’s the essence of the question Graham, too, raised at HackerNews: Is this technological shift different? I think in many ways I’ll explore, it is. But you’re right that we don’t know yet”—- the basic points and facts about the labor force, as posited by posters like Sam U and Pangolin are blown away with the same establishment rhetoric we have heard over and again…”we have to wait and see”. This is not a good answer as the slaves and machines throughout the world continue to out-work the millions who came before. The future is bright and technology can make it so, but it won’t involve millions of coders and new tech workers getting paid 70k plus, lets realize this. Indeed the emperor has no clothes or food. There are no industries waiting for millions and millions to come rushing in earning decent middle class wages. No we don’t need to “think” about this some more. Its time we begin the conversation about what people can do with their lives, with their abilities, while still being able to live with a modicum of civility, intelligence, self-worth and dare I say happiness. I work in AI myself and everything I build will replace more and more people who do any sort of algorithmic routine activity- millions more to lay off and “think about”. jeremy

  • Read the End of Work written years ago. I’m doing IT, automation document exchange from up here at home in Canada for a US client in Chicago, before that it was a large US client out of Boston.

    You need to be able to adapt, go back to school, learn a new skill, travel to another part of the country or another country to get the experience and skills you need to stay employed. Or start a business. Sell your knowledge. I sell guitar lesson video courses and PDFs and webcam lessons. Do whatever it takes. Pay off your mortgage and car payments. I have neither. Or sit back and bitch about the government, it’s your choice.

    • Pangolin

      That’s still “I got mine _ck you” None of that education is free and there is a notable shortage of jobs that will support a student in the time available after working on an engineering degree.

      You might also talk to a recent graduate in engineering who’s over 40; no job offers are coming their way even if they can get an interview.

      In short; you’re wrong.

      • Jay

        @Pangolin So what is your solution ?

  • Hi Jeff – guessing you’ve already read it but if not Venkat Rao has a fantastic macroeconomic piece up on his blog that I think you’ll find helpful as you flesh this thesis out:

    I took a lightweight swing at extending his framework into my little corner of the economy – which is early stage tech venture formation – here:

    Looking forward to following your thoughts on this topic – it’s the heart of our political and economic future.

  • David Nelms

    A very good, thought provoking article, Jeff. I agree with the main points and premises, but I have an even “darker” view of the outcome. Short term, we’ll go with your theory…. long term is what I fear. Not for me, probably not for my kids, but more their kids. I firmly believe that this country has set a course that this “great experiment” will implode and the United States of America will have to start over with a changed set of rules.

  • When people stop thinking the government is responsible to solve their problems we’ll all be better off. Government IS the problem.

  • Tom M.

    This is as right as it is wrong.

    First, there is an aging and underfunded basic physical infrastructure in the U.S. that needs to be upgraded or we will all suffer massive consequences. Bridges collapsing? Look at the Portland OR public school buildings and their ratings for collapse during earthquakes? We send our kids to schools that are unsafe, never mind we don’t fund the schools to educate the kids.

    Funding entrepreneurs is great, if the start ups are assessed on the quality of life and jobs they create, not the scale and flip mandate. U.S. investors aren’t ready to invest in sustainable businesses. No one has asked for a 5-year plan and pro-forma in what? At least three years.

    The “rock star” mentality of Angels and VCs who barely have the patience for a :30 second pitch is as responsible for the lack of interesting new businesses that will aid in job creation and improved quality of life as anything. Show me a VC who will dedicate a half-an-hour to grasp a business pitch and actually make an informed decision? Nope. It’s all about the “show” now. Seriously, I’ve heard the “you’ve got one minute to impress me” line too many times by those reeking of self importance (and the wallet to back that up).

    To be clear, there used to be more “entrepreneurs” in America, they were small businesses that were killed off by WalMart and the box stores. Now WalMart is under threat by Amazon. Centralization has destroyed many jobs and those jobs aren’t coming back. Entrepreneurial spirit is not only in the tech world, but, it’s been stifled in most other areas.

    Empires rise. Empires decline. Were hanging CHADS the tipping point? The banking debacle (banks continue to be closed weekly)? Or the countries Credit Rating downgrade? Doesn’t really matter, does it?

    I don’t think it’s going to be fixed. #sad

    • Tom,
      I think you’re right and wrong. ;-)
      Good point on VCs and investors; do we want the future in their hands any more than we want it in DC’s hands?
      But it’s not necessarily their goal with their capital to create jobs; it is to get a return and — my point is — that return will often be greater because there are *fewer* jobs needed. That’s the economics of it.
      Of course, there are policy questions that then emerge: Is it government’s role to compensate for that or not?

  • John Lutz

    Make culture, sell: Made In USA.

  • Larry

    – The “rise of the rest” has lowered the market wage for low-skilled, tradeable jobs way below what we pay in the US. Unskilled immigrants bring that competition home.
    – Automation is destroying low-skilled non-tradeable jobs faster than any foreseeable growth rate can create new ones. Just wait until Google’s autonomous drivers take over the trucking, bus and taxi industries.
    – The level of skill that automation can replace is rising rapidly (legal research, pharmaceutical sales…)
    – Our ability to raise the median skill level of Americans has not shown itself for several decades. Our educational system is obsolete and imploding at all levels. Perhaps reinventing it will get skill level growth back on track. More resources per se (doubled real $ per student) has not.
    -Government spending on infrastructure will not employ many. Infrastructure now requires skilled workers using incredible machines, not guys with shovels. Restrictive wage protocols such as Davis-Bacon reduce the # of projects we can afford/the # of jobs we can create.
    – Green jobs are no panacea. Green energy is still mostly not competitive and we’ve run out of money for subsidies.
    – Government’s ability to palliate these changes is mostly limited to keeping business’ interactions with it as simple and infrequent as possible. Make it easy to start, easy to grow, easy to compete, and easy to prosper.
    – The biggest bounded (more easily fixed) mess is the tax code. Simple fixes: kill the corporate profits tax (the owners, employees and customers are the ones who actually “pay” now); kill the personal income tax; replace them with a progressive personal consumption tax (the more you spend, the higher your rate.)
    – The combined effects of early retirement among the secure and/or prosperous with those of prolonged unemployment are eroding the culture of work. I know of no replacement.

    • jeremy

      Larry is another creative common sense guy. Why cannot connected media/tech elites understand what imaginative/generative minds like Larry see and which can be learned by those with not such great imaginations? Why cannot people understand that most industries be they… energy, customer support, IT, manufacturing, logistics, healthcare, banking, construction, accounting, mathematics, transportation- indeed MOST industries you can name, will be improved, streamlined and outsourced by computers and robots.

  • Manoj

    W. Brian Arthur (PARC Visiting Researcher) talks about how technology is recreating the 21st-century economy.

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  • Terrance Stamper

    Your clueless. Go to China, where there is virtually no regulation, and you will find the worst pollution anywhere. The air, the water, its all tainted there. Your fascist sugar daddies went to china, liked what they saw, and are gradually reducing us all to the hell the is modern china, where a few corrupt crooks make it big and the rest suffer.

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  • Jeff’s post resonates with my 2009 presentation “Innovating in Education, Educating for Innovation” ( — if the future of our younger generation is likely to be mostly jobless, what should we be doing about their education?

  • This movement is already under way and has been for years now. The keyword here is “entrepreneurial.” The jobless cannot find work because the companies that laid them off cannot hire anyone with a mortgage (read entire middle class) because they were artificially inflated by wall street. In other words, while technology has enabled high productivity, there are plenty of tech positions that go unfilled because nobody with the skills can live off what those positions pay anymore. The people with those same skills are better off starting a lifestyle business than getting back on the rat wheel.

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  • Bob Cat

    While I agree that technology has displaced many retail workers in traditional brick and mortar companies, I must point out that many of the retail jobs eliminated didn’t pay much anyway. Also, a significant number of jobs were created at online retailers. So I look at this as more of a transfer. I agree that it’s probably irreversible.

    By far the greater loss of employment was caused by offshoring and outsourcing the untold numbers of manufacturing and engineering jobs abroad. Both in terms of quantity and quality, the loss of our ability to make things here has hurt the most. For example, consumer electronics manufacturing is completely gone and the engineering jobs with it. The manufacturing jobs paid 3 or 4 times what retail did. The engineering jobs probably paid at least 10 times what retail did.

  • Bob Cat

    “… if the future of our younger generation is likely to be mostly jobless, what should we be doing about their education?”

    Teach them to be farmers.

  • Roland

    Ok, here’s how it works …. today, global labor arbitrage moves meaningful work to India/China. Then, as COL in the aforementioned two go up, the work moves to Vietnam & Indonesia.

    Now, in parallel to the above track, increases in computational power, robotics, etc, reduce the amount of white collar and blue collar work in total. Here’s a cue, one supercomputer (now in a desktop, come 2020) replaces a floor of actuaries. The certified Actuarial Fellow of that firm, rubber stamps the work for legal reasons. The savings is in the millions per year.

    What’s the net result? …. all western nations, esp ones which don’t export raw materials, will have major declines in living standards. How to stop it? … In ten years, it’ll be virtually unstoppable. Computing prowess and robotics will in effect, make even general internal medicine doctors obsolete. Only the AMA will protect them from being reduced to nursing support staff, via legislation and litigation. Most other white collar workers won’t have the *muscle* to keep themselves employable.

    When the above occurs, all these nonsensical blogs/threads about the GOP vs the Liberals vs Party ‘X’ will have gone by the wayside. We’ll be living in a surveillance society. When people lose their jobs, they’ll most likely be incarcerated so that they don’t create petty theft, etc, and be a menace on society. During this phase, it would have been prudent to have sent your kids to either the NSA, FBI, or Police academies.

  • I’m a brand-new convert to the Jarvis world – great post and even better discussion. FWIW, then, my2sense:

    You could have an intense, month-long seminar among the poster and commenter-types here and still just be nibbling around the edges. IMHO, it’s past time for a paradigm shift vis-a-vis Homo sapiens social order.

    The demise of Capitalism – and I do mean its total collapse and failure as a sustainable organizing principle of human societies – both the freebooting, laissez-faire style of the Yanks as well as the more muted Social Capitalism of th EU, Japan and others, will be the catalytic event that will bring on the concatenation of, at least, 4 more ‘horsemen’ we will have to deal with if our species is to last 1/20 as long as the dinosaurs:

    ECONOMIC COLLAPSE (currently, nicely underway) of the totally corrupt and unsustainable class system that renders 80% of us to economic penury, and reserves control of 60-70% of the planet’s wealth to .00001% of us;

    CLIMATE CHANGE the only way we can save our little blue ball is to be denied the funds to continue on our present counterintuitive and destructive path;

    ENDLESS WARS ditto on denying the funds to prosecute these useless answers to anything, save obscene profit reaped by the infinitesimal few;

    NUCLEAR ARMAGEDDON this last horseman is the most insideous. We humans have a nasty habit of resorting to ‘whatever it takes’ when in extremis in order to forfend the inevitable. The elites will not go quietly, but go they must; for all our sakes. We must, finally, end societal organization that rewards avarice and Machiavellian deception (as now) and fails to provide meaningful consequences for those who, by cynical design, try to destroy any and all counters to their accretion of overweening power.

    “The issue … which will have to be fought sooner or later is the people versus the banks.” – Lord Acton

    Power does not give up its power easily. Assertive refusal to cooperate in our own debt slavery is key, though there may be the need for a kick in the shins along the way to assist progress. No material benefit is worth giving up one’s soul for.

    From the ashes of the chaos to come, too bad on us if we revivify the failed model of competition instead of its natural successor, cooperation. NjW

  • I totally disagree.

    The problem for jobs has been that the 20th century infrastructure has been squashing 21st century creativity.

    Yes, you can do the old stuff more efficiently.

    But the new stuff? Imagine each person as a creative movie studio…taking his Android around and scanning, creating, reporting.

    That is a job. That is also a value to the economy. As the 20th century economy become robotized, costs are lower (we see this happening now) and so capital can move into the hands of people providing the things that have value. Art. Creative projects. Entertainment. Travel. All the leisure activities. Science is another future industry. Science could employ thousands more people in research…people who previously had to accept a job in industry can now be freed to pursue free thinking research.

    • Roland

      “Imagine each person as a creative movie studio…taking his Android around and scanning, creating, reporting.”

      “Science is another future industry. Science could employ thousands more people in research”

      Ok, I get it, the rise of the renaissance men and women.

      Now, here’s the flipside to that … who pays the bills? Remember, both Leonardo da Vinci and Johann Goethe were supported by noblemen for their activities.

      If each person makes his or her own ‘Avatar’ film, it’ll be just be another free, home made video for the YouTube/Facebook crowd. Granted, it’ll be nice to look at but I don’t see a revenue stream coming out of it. Think about it, how many musicians make it, by simply putting up their free material on the net? Without selling out crowds at stadiums or downloads from Amazon’s music store, there’s no money for a sustainable career in the arts.

      And likewise, without corporate sponsorship, very few persons will be able to build a rocket in their apartment complex. If you think today’s glut of postdoc labor is bad, wait till everyone in the world tries to be the next genomics expert.

      But you’re correct, if everyone were independently wealthy, then yes, we could have a world where everyone pursues one’s dreams.

      • jeremy

        “Imagine each person as a creative”

        Well looks like we have another creative right in the form of Roland! Roland like many other creatives, knows these notions as pedaled by the corporates and academics at “conferences” all over the world- that everyone can eventually be paid market value for their hard work and creativity is absurd. It does make the attendees very proud of themselves and feel better about “humanity”. Nobody likes it when someone makes a statement that requires serious re-thinking and reordering of the status quo. Least of all the major academic, military, and corporate interests. j

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  • We’re not going to have a jobless recovery. The Future-Jobs-O-Matic! is your key to Careers of the Future.

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  • And the lion’s share of the North America workforce will somehow morph into a giant squeeky-mush coco-creamed Corpo-teckie friendly aider and abbetor of the monetary vaccum that has been relentlessly sucking up the goodies since not Christ (but certainly Obama) was a child?


    I haven’t heard one reasonably educated individual say this within my ear or eye-shot: There is not enough to go around.
    Why is that? Perhaps because it ain’t true?
    We’ll see……………..

    Our brainiest producers and expungers of technology have systematically (and at an obviously accelerated rate) spun off a surplus workforce, by design. This, apparently, is brilliant. (its sparkle somehow escapes me.)

    My grandkids are to become the babysitters of robots?

    There is hallucinated wealth (exotic financial instruments) which is shared among precious few…..
    then there’s real wealth – which used to come as a byproduct of people making stuff.
    Oops. Something fell off the back of the wagon, there….

  • Steve

    I agree that technology destroys or disrupts existing jobs. I agree that Wal mart and Amazon have meant bad news for “mom & pop” stores (what we call corner shops in the UK) and small chains. The theory is that the money saved can be spent on something else- more at the hairdressers or beauty salon or more on healthcare or petrol (gas).

    Where I think Jeff is wrong is that jobs are in fact created “out of thin air” through debt-financed company expansion. The money created is then repaid over time, plus interest etc etc.

    The current problems are really about global imbalances. Americans insist on paying themselves in expensive dollars and China wants things to stay that way but there now appears to be insufficient profitable investment opportunities in the USA (and UK for that matter). China, India, Brazil etc have the potential to create more domestic demand, but the US economy is not geared up to meeting that demand.

    Part of the answer is devaluing the dollar. Investing in things like energy efficiency matters because overall the USA is not as rich as it thought it was, so this would be a relatively painless “cut” in living standards.

    I do believe there is a place for focusing on job creation at almost any price. The banks who owe us everything should be made to lend- for infrastructure investment, for R&D etc. The problem correctly identified here is that politicians and corporations aren’t always great at picking winners. There will always be malinvestment. But leaving a tenth and more of the population to rot seems like a pretty bad waste of resources too.

  • jobless future sounds like a beautiful thing if we have the right economic structure. #postscarcity or bust!

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  • Andy Oresto

    The future we are trending toward is one of ownership and gain from capital held; rather than the ability to support based on a job. Those who own the technology, the patents, interest in the companies that hold the patents, property– will be able to thrive in future economies. As we shift further and further in mobile technology beyond the smartphone and the tablet, and to robotic type mobility (google cars, military automatons moving into mainstreams robotic devices) our labor will matter less and less. The rational and physical actions will be done better by robotics and software–the only jobs that will hold and pay enough are those employed with empowered creative minds that can reach out beyond binary codes we digitized around us. On the one hand, American manufacturing may come back as a result of no longer having to compete with cheap labor. Automation will prove to be cheaper and work longer and harder than what a person can physically do. Science fiction–somewhat, but I think it’s much much closer than we think. This is the future we need to prepare our children for.

  • Isn’t this the inevitable consequence of the Internet? Doesn’t the more efficient technology simply render most conventional jobs (ie, Borders) simply obsolete?

  • Jorge

    Who wrote this crap? Complete crap, utter crap … this pure, uninformed rant?

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  • What’s Next?

    There is a popular saying that is often quoted about software developers:

    “Go away or I will replace you with a very small shell script”

    My thoughts on the economy of the future (agrarian => manufacturing => service => what?)

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  • re: Our new economy is shrinking because technology leads to efficiency over growth.

    This is part of the issue. There is also the equally significant issue of the shift of work offshore. That is also in part facilitated by technology.

    Refer Nobel Laureate Michael Spence:

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  • I spend a lot of time in Asia – holidays, not business I am glad to say. Over the last 20 years I have watched the general standard of living there rise enormously because of better education and an ingrained work ethic. The USA and the rest of the Western world need to accept the fact that the future will bring massively increased competition from countries that have just started their growth – we cannot be complacent about this.

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  • For me the key personal issue is to stop looking to the job as my salvation. Once you cross this bridge, you can start to see what the alternatives will be. Ironically I see a hug future in micro food production. Just as the Ag revolution pushed millions off the land and into the cities and into jobs – so the end of the job will reverse the flow into a new ag system

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