I was listening to the news this evening which was mentioning increasing automation levels in many industries in Australia (and many other countries).
I am not sure if we truly realise the potential difficulties that automation will cause with regards to people and their well being. Having worked in a number of industries over the last 25 years, I can see a variety of different issues, both positive and negative.
On the positive side:
Automation reduces injuries for workers. When it comes to manual work, lifting heavy weights and undertaking repetitive tasks result in injuries to workers at some point in time. This affects both workers well being, but also a company’s bottom line over time. Therefore reducing injuries by increasing automation will benefit the overall health of workers and reduce business costs.
Automation can provide a high degree of both accuracy and precision. In other words, a machine that is welding a car body, can do it more often in exactly the same way when compared to a person who is more likely to make mistakes due to tiredness or fatigue.
Automation may also reduce costs to a business over time. If a company installs a machine that reduces labour costs, then over time, this is likely to be beneficial to a majority of companies. Stacking bricks on a pallet may take 10 people, but only one machine.
The insidious side:
But, there is a more insidious outcome over time, and that is reducing labour employed by employers, resulting in increasing unemployment across all industries.http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-05-28/robots-could-cost-australian-economy-5-million-jobs-expert-says/5484740
Let’s consider this for a minute. If Australia were to lose 47% of jobs due to automation, where do those people work, and in what industry?
In Australia, we currently have around 6% unemployment, and about 12% underemployment (people who need/want more work). This varies from year to year, but rarely falls below 4%. If we were to add another 40% to that how are we going to employ those people? What industries are they likely to be able to work in. Where will the jobs be found for them.
If we were to contribute to their welfare through taxes, as we currently do in the way of the Newstart allowance – an amount that currently falls below the poverty line (that the current imbecilic Liberal Government is about to lower further – particularly for younger people below 30 years old) then how are people going to survive? Where do they live, what do they eat?
What will automation eventually mean for Australian people?
Sure the big companies will make more money, but what about the people? Where do the people fit in in this economic rationalist society that we have built?
These are questions that have continuously arisen since the rise of the Industrial Revolution and automation more than 150 years ago – and they are questions that are about to become significantly more concerning as automation rapidly increases in volume.
I am not suggesting that automation in itself is inherently bad, only that if we are not careful, we will have a host of unemployed people and no jobs for them to work in.
This is something that we will have to carefully consider into the future if we want a reasonable way of life for people!
The question that we need to ask ourselves is this:
Is reducing costs and making more money more important than the well being of people and a good quality of life?
If not, then what are we going to do about it???
That’s is tonight’s thoughts,