Coming to an Office Near You

The Economist, January 18, 2014

Innovation, the elixir of progress, has always cost people their jobs. In the Industrial Revolution artisan weavers were swept aside by the mechanical loom. Over the past 30 years the digital revolution has displaced many of the mid-skill jobs that underpinned 20th-century middle-class life. Typists, ticket agents, bank tellers and many production-line jobs have been dispensed with, just as the weavers were.

For those, including this newspaper, who believe that technological progress has made the world a better place, such churn is a natural part of rising prosperity. Although innovation kills some jobs, it creates new and better ones, as a more productive society becomes richer and its wealthier inhabitants demand more goods and services. {snip}


Optimism remains the right starting-point, but for workers the dislocating effects of technology may make themselves evident faster than its benefits (see article). Even if new jobs and wonderful products emerge, in the short term income gaps will widen, causing huge social dislocation and perhaps even changing politics. Technology’s impact will feel like a tornado, hitting the rich world first, but eventually sweeping through poorer countries too. No government is prepared for it.

Why be worried? It is partly just a matter of history repeating itself. In the early part of the Industrial Revolution the rewards of increasing productivity went disproportionately to capital; later on, labour reaped most of the benefits. The pattern today is similar. The prosperity unleashed by the digital revolution has gone overwhelmingly to the owners of capital and the highest-skilled workers. Over the past three decades, labour’s share of output has shrunk globally from 64% to 59%. Meanwhile, the share of income going to the top 1% in America has risen from around 9% in the 1970s to 22% today. Unemployment is at alarming levels in much of the rich world, and not just for cyclical reasons. In 2000, 65% of working-age Americans were in work; since then the proportion has fallen, during good years as well as bad, to the current level of 59%.

Worse, it seems likely that this wave of technological disruption to the job market has only just started. From driverless cars to clever household gadgets (see article), innovations that already exist could destroy swathes of jobs that have hitherto been untouched. The public sector is one obvious target: it has proved singularly resistant to tech-driven reinvention. But the step change in what computers can do will have a powerful effect on middle-class jobs in the private sector too.

Until now the jobs most vulnerable to machines were those that involved routine, repetitive tasks. But thanks to the exponential rise in processing power and the ubiquity of digitised information (“big data”), computers are increasingly able to perform complicated tasks more cheaply and effectively than people. Clever industrial robots can quickly “learn” a set of human actions. Services may be even more vulnerable. Computers can already detect intruders in a closed-circuit camera picture more reliably than a human can. By comparing reams of financial or biometric data, they can often diagnose fraud or illness more accurately than any number of accountants or doctors. One recent study by academics at Oxford University suggests that 47% of today’s jobs could be automated in the next two decades.


If this analysis is halfway correct, the social effects will be huge. Many of the jobs most at risk are lower down the ladder (logistics, haulage), whereas the skills that are least vulnerable to automation (creativity, managerial expertise) tend to be higher up, so median wages are likely to remain stagnant for some time and income gaps are likely to widen.

Anger about rising inequality is bound to grow, but politicians will find it hard to address the problem. Shunning progress would be as futile now as the Luddites’ protests against mechanised looms were in the 1810s, because any country that tried to stop would be left behind by competitors eager to embrace new technology. The freedom to raise taxes on the rich to punitive levels will be similarly constrained by the mobility of capital and highly skilled labour.


Yet however well people are taught, their abilities will remain unequal, and in a world which is increasingly polarised economically, many will find their job prospects dimmed and wages squeezed. The best way of helping them is not, as many on the left seem to think, to push up minimum wages. Jacking up the floor too far would accelerate the shift from human workers to computers. Better to top up low wages with public money so that anyone who works has a reasonable income, through a bold expansion of the tax credits that countries such as America and Britain use.

Innovation has brought great benefits to humanity. Nobody in their right mind would want to return to the world of handloom weavers. But the benefits of technological progress are unevenly distributed, especially in the early stages of each new wave, and it is up to governments to spread them. In the 19th century it took the threat of revolution to bring about progressive reforms. Today’s governments would do well to start making the changes needed before their people get angry.


Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.
  • jambi19

    I for one look forward to the day when a computer screen instead of a third worlder with gold teeth ask me “would I like fries with that?”

    • And when you say “Yes’ to the third worlder, when you get home the order is screwed up anyway.

    • QuinnTheEskimo9

      Amen. The reason I patronize self-service registers at the supermarket, use self-service gas pumps etc., as much as possible.

      • IstvanIN

        At the market closet to my house I use the self-service check-out because that market is staffed by surely blacks, and I only use it when necessary. I drive the few extra miles to the white market where they have well trained cashiers, and no self-service, for my big shopping.

        In NJ we can not pump our own gas, a law I hope is never overturned. The Arabs and Sikhs may not be my cup of tea but I’d rather them shiver and stink then me.

        • I like self-service checkout at supermarkets, but we’re currently down to zero vehicles that run: three cars and one truck. Does that make us “rednecks” under the old Jeff Foxworthy definition? One of the neighbors took Ariadne and me to Wal Mart today, so I really loaded up on food for us. The self-service checkouts are intended as express lanes, I think the limit is 20 items.

          I prefer mail-order for most things, but that doesn’t work well with perishables.

          • IstvanIN

            For the first time in my life, I have two newer (the older one a 2010) cars and nothing “disabled” in the driveway. My buddies used to tease me that the only thing missing in my life was an El Camino on blocks (a common site in SJ at one time). I love mail order for toys and clothes as I hate to shop.

            As for Wal-Mart, God bless you if you can walk through one and not either throw up or lose your temper. Maybe in Colorado they aren’t as bad as here.

    • JohnEngelman

      How will you feel when your job is computerized?

      • bear grylls

        For those of us with college degrees its called continueing education. Someday it might take someone with a college degree to change the oil in your car.They were wise to put highschool students on the a to college.They were dumb to think they could do it with blacks and hispanics and think they would get the same results as with whites and asians.

        • JohnEngelman

          When it takes a college degree to change the oil of a car the person with the college degree will be paid as much as high school drop outs used to be paid when they changed the oil to cars.

          • IstvanIN

            A college degree today, at least in the arts and soft-sciences, isn’t worth the lambskin it is printed on. I have been fortunate enough to interview job applicants, and when given a choice, I choose the individual who either went to college for one of the hard-sciences or an over 50 person. Today’s BAs are BS.

          • MikeofAges

            Griggs v. Duke Power. A Supreme Court decision from the early 1970s that altered the fabric of life. Literally, it banned aptitude testing. Sociallty, it banned the concept. No longer could you “just go to college” in order to prove yourself, and then get an entry level job related to your native abilities. People are different. Some speak better. Some write better. Some are thorough. Some aren’t. Some are persuasive. Some have numerical and quantitative ability. Some don’t. But not in the good old USSA. Not since then. Whatever gets marked off on the checklist, that’s what you are. And don’t argue, or you’ll never eat lunch in this town again.

          • bear grylls

            When you can operate a computerized machine that can change the oil 20 times faster than one high school drop out then they would be worth much more and paid much more.

  • thomas edward

    This is a new world we’re entering. There’s been nothing seen like this before in this world. I heard it put this way. In 1799, George Washington died. At the time of his death, he was technologically closer to 4,000 years before his time than he was to today. Think about it.

    • MikeofAges

      I saw a movie just the other day where Elizabeth Bennett went through a magic door and adjusted very quickly to contemporary London. But that’s Elizabeth Bennett. She was special. And in the story (Lost in Austen) she obviously, although the point was not belabored, very quickly picked up on the fact that she had in the world of today special gender privileges to go with her class privileges.

      Can’t say I agree with the 4,000 year thing. In George Washington’s time, they already had printing, magazines and newspapers, cross-oceanic travel, representative government and constitutional monarchy, higher education, a banking and monetary system, the stationary steam engine, cannons and small arms, and even diversity.

      George would have an easier time coming forward 250 years than going backward 4000. If he came to our time as a youth he might become a college quarterback. He might even be president someday. If being in a fraternity didn’t ruin him. LOL.

  • No matter the technology of the brave new world, blacks will still be blacks, browns will still be browns, and whites will still be whites. Thus, stone age and third-world minds will still exist, and whites will still be trying to self-segregate. Unless tech helps that self-segreation process, then it’s not of much use in dealing with cultural and social problems. Things may be worse for whites if artificial intelligence becomes widespread, so that our superior minds have less value. Hopefully, our superior character still has value.

    • JSS

      I wouldn’t sweat A.I. making things to much worse for Whites. It’s just whomevers hands the technology is in that matters. The diversity will never be able to maintain or invent anything like A.I. In the short term I think the more tech reliant our governments become the better. As they force out Whites to make room for diversity the more the system will fall apart. Look at South Africa and former Rhodesia. Diversity just can’t maintain what we build. We just need to keep from going the way of the Rhodesian and South African Whites in the meantime.

      • RisingReich

        In my experience, dark skins can barely operate a workstation, let alone understand networking, architecture, and programming languages.

        They are luck to get them powered on. Sometimes they need help with that, also.

        • Brian

    • Jesse James

      Big I probably share with you a pretty similar idea of what a traditional superior character entails but just to shake up our assumptions a bit let me ask does the idea of a “superior” character depend on the situation. Would the manly virtues of honesty, loyalty and fair play do us much good if say our situation changed and we suddenly found ourselves locked in a Georgia prison that is 80% black? The sagging pants Atlanta gangsta has a character that has evolved to better fit that circumstance and our thousand years of Anglo-Saxon virtues and values are suddenly not just meaningless but mark us for destruction. What happens as the outside world changes so much – as it will as whites become a minority- that we are no longer suited to succeed in the new Amerika? How likely is it that our descendents will become mestizos in both race and culture?

      • Sick of it

        Honor can be put into the closet for a few generations so that a people can focus on survival. Do people simply lack the desire to live these days? Sometimes I wonder.

        • Jesse James

          I know what you mean and I think most of us are physically sickened by the modern world. It is unhealthy for a person with a certain type of mind and soul.

        • QuinnTheEskimo9

          We’ve been conditioned to believe by our enemies that genocide is the best option for us.

  • LovelyNordicHeidi

    Innovation has brought great benefits to humanity. Nobody in their right mind would want to return to the world of handloom weavers. But the benefits of technological progress are unevenly distributed, especially in the early stages of each new wave, and it is up to governments to spread them. In the 19th century it took the threat of revolution to bring about progressive reforms. Today’s governments would do well to start making the changes needed before their people get angry.
    Making changes!? Who are they trying to kid! The whole demographic composition of every Western nation needs to be reverted back to the pre-multicultural mode. That is the only change that we need right now.

  • Have you noticed that there has been a lot of media stories about the impending automation of jobs and the resulting redundancy of a big percentage of the current human work force?

    I get the feeling that while it’s true to an extent, that there’s partially a political agenda at work:

    “Please don’t blame Obama.”

    • Oil Can Harry

      I had the same thoughts when I saw Steve Kroft’s 60 Minutes piece blaming the high unemployment rate under Obamarx on automation.

      Now if Dems and union leaders are claiming automation will lead to permanent high unemployment then that totally undercuts their justification for amnesty.

    • evilsandmich

      Yeah walk into a manufacturing shop and ask them how easy it is to find qualified machinists who want to work. My guess would be that there’s not a whole lot of engineers and machinists hopping the border and this great ‘automation’ won’t run itself (despite claims to the contrary).

      • I like machining and welding as much as I once loved laboratory chemistry, though I’m not as good at it yet. I wish I was better at woodworking. I just don’t want to work for someone else anymore.

    • NM156

      This sudden media attention to a statement made by a Google exec may be a coded message from progressives both in the media and Silicon Valley that they’re working to crush demand for low-skilled Third World labor in the US. The demographic implications of AI are apparent with little thought. Technology is moving ahead more quickly than experts predicted, especially in agriculture, for example, which will soon have reliable intelligent harvesting machines for every crop grown on Planet Earth.

  • JohnEngelman

    Computer technology increases the relationship between intelligence and income. One of the few people to discuss this with courage and candor is Charles Murray. Unfortunately, people think he is advocating, or at least gloating about, the problems he is describing.

  • Progress is a euphemism for destruction.

  • Extropico

    Keep in mind that this article is coming from one of the prime Anglospheric, open-border advocates. They have advocated a higher population of consumers to pay for the earlier ponzi debt; their silly faith in money printing hasn’t produced the jobs for all the new consumer wannabees and now they are forced to hedge their bets in a balkanizing society.

  • Jesse James

    The big shock will be to the children of the white American middle class as whole career fields that used to provide the path to a comfortable middle class living disappear. Accounting springs to mind and was mentioned in the article as was surprisingly enough doctors. Think about what you do and ask yourself do I basically apply a set of rules or calculations that could in fairness be done as well or better by a computer. Another field that is ripe for takeover by computers is purchasing agent. My son who works doing programming jobs he finds on line tells me that a lot of what computer programers do will also be done by computers. I do think that there will be new types of jobs created but we will see a period of confusion and misallocation of educational resources by both individuals and society as a whole until we get a clearer picture of what is changing. What we may actually be seeing now with the number of people on SSA and unemployment is a transition to some form of guaranteed “living wage” for the growing number of people who are simply not needed in the transitioning economy. Think about how many people were needed in one of Henry Ford’s original automotive plants compared to how few are needed to produce a world class automobile in a modern computerized manufacturing line. If the powers that be want to keep things from flying apart they will have to do something about the people who are being left out. So far it looks like birth control, homosexuality, video games and the permanent dole are the solutions they have hit upon.

    • Sick of it

      As pathetically backward as computing technology and software are today, we could be replaced, but only for the most basic of functions. Now people used to living in a ghetto or who do not mind being mere slumlords may not care, just don’t expect a better standard of living from these developments (rather expect a worse one!).

  • So CAL Snowman

    “But the benefits of technological progress are unevenly distributed, especially in the early stages of each new wave, and it is up to governments to spread them.”

    This article is one big argument for Communism. Technological progress is “unevenly distributed” i.e. Whitey hoards it all and keeps it from the blacks and browns. Yes technological progress, like heavenly mana, just falls from the sky but Whitey just happens to know where and when it’s going to fall. How is it the government’s job to spread the benefits of technological progress? What does that even mean? In a true free market society, the market shall determine who benefits from the technological achievements of the individual. It is not the government’s job to provide the individual with the benefits of technology. That is called government dependence. I imagine the author believes that the government should provide every black and brown minority with free Wi-Fi, a free computer, and a $100 I-tunes gift card. After all how else would these people have access to the benefits of technological progress?

    • “Provide every black…with free Wi-Fi, a free computer…”

      At that point Twitter would be almost nothing but Ebonics-sputtering morons in 140 characters or less. The ultimate fail whale.

  • Tim_in_Indiana

    I’m glad AmRen is covering this. This is the third leg of the triad that is killing American jobs: immigration, outsourcing, and automation.

    The old claim is that as rapidly as automation eliminates some jobs, it creates new ones. The problem is that the new jobs require greater and greater training and intellect–jobs such a scientist, mathematician, physicists, and so on.

    Even jobs that have been seen traditionally as being safe from automation, such as doctors and lawyers are under threat. A lot of jobs at once required legal aids are now handled by computer databases and robots can even perform surgery these days.

    While it is true that automation has existed since the time of the Luddites, the difference today is that automation is rapidly filling cognitive as well as physical jobs.

    That means it’s hollowing out the middle of the job market, leaving only the decently paid but extremely high-skill, high intellect jobs and the menial, poorly paid positions, such as burger flipper.

    • MBlanc46

      Well said.

    • evilsandmich

      That’s why accountants and lawyers keep fumbling with the rules and making them fuzzy: so that no machine can possibly keep up!

  • JohnEngelsman

    More proof that whites will end up foot servants for the more intelligent peoples. I for one can’t wait to welcome my Oriental overlords when most work is completely automated and we lesser peoples will have to serve our natural masters. With their higher intelligence, we will be treated with compassion and fairness.

    • Tim_in_Indiana

      Great use of sarcasm there, Engelsman!

      • QuinnTheEskimo9

        Flag for removal and downvote. Complain to the site administrator using AR’s e mail.

        Unless you enjoy reading Engelman’s constant anti-white screeds on a pro-white issues site.

    • E_Pluribus_Pluribus

      Read even the most obscure Shakespeare play. Imagine an “oriental overlord” writing anything remotely comparable.

      Or, as British historian Thomas Macauley put it in referring to the literature of India and Arabia:

      “I have read translations of the most celebrated Arabic and Sanscrit works. I have conversed both here and at home with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues. I am quite ready to take the Oriental learning at the valuation of the Orientalists themselves. I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. The intrinsic superiority of the Western literature is, indeed, fully admitted . . .”

      Macauley could have said the same of the literature of China.

      Intrinsic superiority of western culture and the biology that is its foundation. Innate, intrinsic.

  • Sick of it

    The Economist is starting to sound like the Communist Manifesto.

  • Hal K

    In the long run we are all genetically engineered bio-machine hybrids. Lets not worry about that, though, and just focus on trying to save the white race.

  • RisingReich

    I can’t help but wonder how many jobs I eliminate every time I install a server.

    Having said that, I wouldn’t worry as much if we eliminated AA BS hires in totality.

    More jobs for good, solid White folk.
    Just to clarify, I’m not speaking of Jews either, Engleman.

    • evilsandmich

      It depends. I was party to a system install that should have eliminated at least two positions in a 30 person organization, but since the company made the same amount of money they never fired anyone, leaving extra ‘chat’ time for the ladies.

    • JohnEngelman

      As the relationship between intelligence and income increases, Jews will continue to prosper.

  • MBlanc46

    “Optimism remains the right starting-point, …”

    Whistling past the graveyard. Our graveyard.

  • WR_the_realist

    Don’t forget that our congressional overlords believe we need to import even more workers, Their owners tell them so.

  • evilsandmich

    Sounds like Democrats talking about voting machines….

  • a multiracial individual

    The disgusting truth about capitalism is that the creation of jobs is NOT a feature of it, it is usually just a necessary consequence of it. When cons say that rich people will always be “jobs creators” they are lying (or ignorant). If they could develop a computer program to accomplish what their employees do they would fire every last one of them in a heartbeat. I think that the economists who argue that there will “always be new areas to employ people” are kidding themselves as well. Technological innovation is progressing at a faster and faster rate. The idea that there will always be work for humans to do is wishful thinking.

  • pcmustgo

    And I just got an email the other day from the phillipines offering to do any kind of office work for me for $4 a day. We are doomed!

  • Dan Poole

    Not surprisingly, the Economist ignores the key difference between technological change in the 19th century compared to the 21st century: Whereas the former took place within the context of all-White nations in Europe and 85% White America, the latter will take place within the context of multiracialism and multiculturalism. This means that whereas 19th century changes were sustainable, 21st century changes won’t be. Capitalism and it’s accompanying technological change can’t sustain itself without the engine of White/European creativity and White/European ingenuity. So as our race declines demographically around the globe, technological innovation will follow suit. Capitalism, as with government, is only as “good” and “efficient” as the quality of the people behind it.

  • FransSusan

    I’ve wondered that, too. What would happen if we did away with affirmative action and changed to merit-based employment. What would we do with all the fired AA blacks?