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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Your descendants probably won't have careers

Don't even get me started on the "unemployment rate." A bigger snipe-hunt couldn't possibly exist. If the trends shown in these graphs are extrapolated forward, the future looks bleak. It seems likely that employment participation will continue to decline, population will continue to grow and people receiving government benefits―whether that be food-stamps, social-security, unemployment, disability benefits, or welfare―will continue to grow at a much steeper rate than overall population growth.

The last chart is unusual in that it seems contradictory to the preceding charts. Even though a smaller percentage of the population right now is productively employed than ever before in history, gross national productivity has never been better. ACME is still cranking out their widgets at an ever-more-rapid pace. How can this be? Even though eight million or more people have forever departed the workforce, our national productivity has not really suffered at all. Fewer workers are doing more work than ever. How is this possible?

The answer is of course technology. People are being replaced by machines at an exponential pace. People with high school diplomas hoping for a manufacturing job, a service job, an unskilled labor job are less likely than ever to find that job. This trend is likely to continue. As computers take up the slack in call-centers, and as robots and machinery replaces assembly line workers, today's and tomorrow's graduates will have a tougher and tougher time landing a job.

Obviously technical school at the least seems a wise choice going forward. If your child assumes that McDonalds or something similar will be available, let him or her know that fast-food and retail positions of every kind will disappear much more rapidly than they can imagine. The self-checkout is already a feature in most grocery stores, and this business model has already proven so successful that competition will force retail store after store to follow suit or face bankruptcy.

The future is self-checkout, on-line sales, automated manufacturing, and a stratified system of technicians maintaining these mechanical processes. Everyone else will be unemployed. Can our society continue to exist with this kind of system in place? I honestly don't know. It seems doubtful. When only a small percentage of the population is productive the logical outcome would seem to favor population decline. A family living on the dole would face ever greater pressure from society to limit family size.

The obvious exception would be The Waltons paradigm. A self-sufficient family that provides all its necessities through farming and trade would be able to exist outside of this ever-more-mechanized societal system. In the event of a catastrophic mechanical failure, the kind of massive failure that would be engendered by a massive electromagnetic pulse from the Sun for instance, only the rustic Waltons family farming-style society would be capable of survival. Billions of city dwellers living on government assistance would likely perish, as would a stratified priesthood of technological savants and techno-wizards living on some ephemeral and artificial societal apex.

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