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Technology is eating jobs faster than we can replace them
Time for a little steam control?

Date published: 2/3/2013

By Howard Owen

IN the 1957 Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn movie "Desk Set," Hepburn plays a reference librarian confronted with one of the earliest computers. The machine answers a question in seconds that would have taken Hepburn and her staff 45 minutes.

The librarians bravely wait for their pink slips, but in the end, everybody's job turns out to be safe. Hollywood loves happy endings.

The endings aren't so happy for many people these days. Technology is chewing up middle-class jobs like Godzilla at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Almost anything that can be done, it seems, can be done much more quickly and much more cheaply by a computer.

NOTHING NEW, BUT

Progress has always destroyed jobs.

The "dark, Satanic Mills" of William Blake's 19th-century England put millers and other skilled laborers out of work and mobilized the Luddites. But the factories also created jobs.

The automobile did a number on the buggy-whip industry, but Detroit hired tens of thousands of workers, ushering them and their families into the middle class.

This time could be different.

According to an Associated Press story last week, computing power is doubling every 18 months to two years. It is becoming impossible for the human race to come up with new jobs as quickly as technology eliminates the old ones.

And there's another big difference, the story points out:

Computers are making humans irrelevant across the board, in just about any occupation you can imagine. The sweep of this revolution far surpasses anything in the past, and much of the pain is being absorbed by the ever-shrinking middle class.

As the middle gets smaller, fewer homes and cars and boats and TVs will be bought, and the economy will grind to a halt.

There is much talk about the 1 percent being job creators. Well, it's time to starting creating.

In 1914, Henry Ford announced that his male employees (or those, at least, who agreed to follow Ford's moral strictures) would begin receiving a wage of $5 a day. The old wage had been $2.34. He also cut the work day to eight hours.


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