John Tamny is the Director of the Center for Economic Freedom in Washington, DC, and a prolific writer on monetary policy, free markets, and the meaning of work.
The great fear is that robots and artificial intelligence will take jobs away from millions—and perhaps your job in particular—thus creating a poorer, unemployed, and despairing workforce.
Simultaneously, work means drudgery for many or most people, as individuals found few-to-no options and ended up in uninspiring jobs. Monday morning’s start of the work brings dread, and many drag themselves to work and go through the motions.
In contrast, Tamny argues that robotics and AI will create more jobs and more interesting jobs. “We should embrace technological advances, not only because they make life easier but also because they lead to more interesting work…. As prosperity grows, work opportunities of all kinds expand” (109).
Often we see the jobs lost but we don’t see or anticipate the jobs created. For example, tractors put some manual field workers out of jobs, but how many more jobs were created to design, build, and service tractors? How much more food is grown, increasing the need for more workers in packaging, transport, and sales? (108)
New technologies make economies richer. “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Richer people eat out more, creating opportunities for those whose passion is to open a restaurant, as did Wolfgang Puck and Charlie Trotter (45-46). New technologies create entire new industries, as did radio, movies, and television, creating new kinds of jobs: sound editor, camera operator, film director, or television actor (48-49).
“Abundant profits make possible the work that isn’t.” Robert Goizueta, as CEO of Coca-Cola, took the company from a market valuation of $4 billion in 1981 to $145 billion at his death in 1997 (51). Non-profits that had been gifted with Coke shares became richer and many were able to pursue careers they otherwise would not have been able to—at health clinics, universities, in research, for example.
The idea that one can find or create work that fits one’s interests is a recent phenomenon, due to innovative and prosperous economies. “In poor countries, where even primitive robots like the car, computer, and washing machine are scarce, people have to work all the time with little choice of jobs. It’s in rich countries that people have a choice about how they’ll earn a living, not to mention how often they’ll work” (111).
What is the true end of work? Happiness results from developing one’s talents and achieving one’s goals: “Work itself is the surest path to happiness” (xix).
Each individual has unique aptitudes and interests. So an economy with a wider range of jobs to one’s advantage. That solves much apparent laziness. “Most people are not lazy, but many people appear lazy because they’re in the wrong job” (101).
Every generation’s worriers decry the lazy young and predict a future of “unfulfilling work and declining standards of living” (62). Tamny holds that every generation’s worriers were wrong, including this one’s: “Wait and see: the generation that supposedly doesn’t know how to work will be the richest generation yet” (65).
Find Tamny’s The End of Work here. Summary by Stephen Hicks, 2020.
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