What if I told you that, contrary to the alarming headlines and eye-catching infographics you may have seen ricocheting around social media, new technologies aren’t shaking up the labor market very much by historical standards? You might think I was as loopy as a climate-change denier and suggest that I open my eyes to all the taxi drivers being displaced by Uber, the robots taking over factories, and artificial intelligence doing some of the work lawyers and doctors used to do. Surely, we are in uncharted territory, right?
Right, but not in the way you think. If you study the US labor market from the Civil War era to present, you discover that we are in a period of unprecedented calm – with comparatively few jobs shifting between occupations – and that is a bad sign. In fact, this low level of “churn” is a reflection of too little, not too much technological innovation: Lack of disruption is a marker of our historically low productivity growth, which is slowing improvement in people’s living standards.
I was in McDonald’s the other day, and was checking out the menu on the wall. This wasn’t a static menu like in the past, but was 5 LCD screens showing the menu and video of the food available. The change to LCD screens produced several jobs that did not exist at McDonald’s before. There are installation and maintenance of the screens themselves, along with the technology required to drive the display and get updated menus. Then you have the designers who lay out the menu on the screens, and also a video production team.
The article talks about how technology destroys jobs, but also how technology creates jobs, and that the ratio isn’t anything to be alarmed of… Yet.