David Autor: Why are there still so many jobs?


There is a TED talk David Autor: Why are there still so many jobs?.

Here’s a paradox you don’t hear about: Though machines and computers are constantly being created to do human jobs, the proportion of adults in the US with a job has consistently gone up for the past 125 years. Which begs the question: Why hasn’t human labor become redundant and our skills obsolete? In this talk about the future of work, economist David Autor takes on the question of why there are still so many jobs — and comes up with a surprising, hopeful answer.

Now this is an example of a TED Talk that goes seriously off the rails.

I agree that there can be work to do in a future economy, but it won’t be nearly as certain as he makes out. In the teller case, the work that he outlines for today’s tellers is not necessarily good. They may sell more product in our over financialized economy, but they aren’t necessarily products that are good for the economy. All you have to do to understand the problem is to read up on the Wells Fargo scandal of how they found work for their employees by getting them to “sell” products to customers who weren’t even aware that they were “buying” something. OK, so he picked a bad example.

He mentions the importance of education in solving our problems in the past. In today’s world where other countries with lower wage levels are already out educating their citizens compared to ours, pushing more education on us is necessary to stave off collapse, but it isn’t enough to make progress for our citizens.

A large part of the problem is who gets to benefit from the wealth created by increased productivity. If all the wealth goes to a few at the top, we won’t need that many workers to supply what the wealthy need. If the non-wealthy get a fair share of the benefits of increased productivity, then the work needed to fill the needs of everybody and the declining number of work hours needed to be middle class (because of the fair share) will keep this country on the road to better lives for all.

This is the political work we need to do. We need to be working on, trying out, and voting for ways to make the wealth shared in a reasonably equitable way. We need to develop better ways to measure the success of the “economy”. The measure of how much GDP we produce without considering who is getting the increase and who is not, is a very poor measure that we need to stop using.

If you read the comments that others made about this talk, they also raise serious issues with it that aren’t even covered by what I had to say.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.