Stop Saying Robots Are Destroying Jobs—They Aren’t

If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them.     ~Isaac Asimov

If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them.
~Isaac Asimov

Change and the unknown may be the commonest fears, along with public speaking. All of which hold the potential of limiting progress. Perhaps some adhere to a notion of singularity, maybe ignorance, perhaps others are prone to the narratives passed down from parents. I don’t know, and I accept that. What I do know is that we all have the power to educate ourselves, and to choose. For the sake of balance I offer you this.

via MIT Technology Review

Many experts would have us believe that robots and other technologies are behind the job drought. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

The article focuses on MIT scholars Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, authors of the widely cited book Race Against the Machine. For them, workers are “losing the race against the machine, a fact reflected in today’s employment statistics.” They go on to argue that, “As we head … into the period where continuing exponential increases in computing power yield astonishing results—we expect that economic disruptions will only grow as well.”

Brynjolfsson and McAfee rely on a key data point to make their case: “The pattern is clear: as businesses generated more value from their workers, the country as a whole became richer, which fueled more economic activity and created even more jobs. Then, beginning in 2000, the lines diverge; productivity continues to rise robustly, but employment suddenly wilts. By 2011, a significant gap appears between the two lines, showing economic growth with no parallel increase in job creation.”

But the reality is that there is no logical relationship between job growth and productivity. To see why, imagine two nations with annual productivity growth of around 2 percent. Nation A has a declining workforce because more people are retiring than are getting to prime working age. Nation B has a growing workforce because of higher fertility rates workers and immigration. As this example of real nations shows (Japan asnation A and the U.S. as nation B), an economy can have high productivity and low or high employment growth. The reason why job growth slowed after 2000 was largely demographic. The number of adults in the workforce (employed and unemployed) grew 18 percent in the 80s, 13 percent in the 90s but just 8 percent in the 2000s as baby boomers got older and women’s entrance into the workforce peaked.

The data are just as clear on the lack of a relationship between productivity and unemployment. If “robots” really are the cause of today’s sluggish job growth, then productivity growth should be higher since 2008 than before. In fact, from 2008 to 2012 productivity growth was only 1.8 percent while from 2000 to 2008 productivity grew 2.6 percent while we had close to full employment.



  • Simon Valentine

    orchestra drummer mantra, tumbling at a tic
    a tic that floats in a sea, all as holy as could be

    steal his stick, and re-acquaint
    variables, arguments, parameters
    evaluate an old slogan
    technocracy soft spoken

    hitting the drum harder we would hear Zombies Destroy Jobs
    keep it speaking, the sea keeps tweaking
    some won’t see the light until boils pop on rabid hound dogs addicted to $
    some won’t die soon enough
    some won’t die by my hand, will, or mind
    some won’t learn the magic they’re crushed with this time
    people destroy jobs, because they’d rather not destroy people directly, viscerally, literally, or non-destructively

    ever heard of the Ashen, from Stargate SG1? that’s the zietgeist.

    America retired.

    • Rhoid Rager

      Escape from the money system costs money.

      Retirement is copyrighted. So is bankruptcy.

      Royalties are required to be paid to their rightful creators.

      • Simon Valentine

        “yup” *thoughts* “death…” “i am so going to buy d3 reaper of souls”

        ravenous for whatever can be metabolized for development, having an increasing accuracy or taste, and experiencing a decrease in food source or effectiveness; it is a strange thing, to know that peculiar verisimilitude of impossibility which dictates as if fact “one cannot know who one is, for knowing not the outcome of one’s deeds, ideas, and creations, one cannot ensure they remain true to one’s self” … and even if one is many it does not erase the issue, merely increases the distance between impossible and verisimilitude … i know nothing.

  • BuzzCoastin

    if you have a 9 to 5 job
    you’re already a robot
    jobs have been over since the 60’s
    now there’s only role play
    and robots can’t do that

    • Haystack

      Being paid to behave like a robot, perhaps. Some of us still have souls.

      • BuzzCoastin

        9 to 5 by its very nature is soul crushing
        I did it for decades before I accidentally escaped

        • Haystack

          No kidding.

          I plan to be self-employed in 9 months.

    • Simon Valentine

      as strikingly accurate as ever, buzz *v*

  • Anarchy Pony

    Machine apologists!

  • VaudeVillain

    Of course it isn’t because of robots, it’s because there are more people trying to work than there is work worth doing.

    Blame Malthus.

  • Charlie Primero

    Technological advances have always obviated certain jobs and always will. Casting that fact as having some huge effect on Keynesian macroeconomics has always played well with the Malthusians, socialists, and Luddites.

    More importantly, it gins up e-book sales for MIT e-professors specializing e-commerce blatherings for e-retailers and e-investors.

    • bobbiethejean

      On what logical grounds do you group socialists along with Malthusians and Luddites?

      • Andrew

        All forms of evil and error are socialist.

        • Charlie Primero

          You got it upside down. Socialism is only an one predictable effect of evil and error.

        • bobbiethejean

          I shit you not, damn near every day I see someone in the editorial section of my newspaper complaining about socialism and how evil it is. Meanwhile, a lot of socialist countries are doing a fucklot better than we are.

          • Andrew

            Well… All countries are socialist to a degree and all countries are capitalist to a degree. And I believe all countries should be a combination. My problem is with how the two are implemented.

      • Charlie Primero

        Top ten failed ideologies from last century that got people killed.

  • Ted Heistman
  • sgtdoom

    I heard those two idiots from MIT (Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee) espousing their bulltwacky quite some time back on one of those (pro-status quo, pro-Wall Street) faux liberal NPR talk shows, and they sound like complete imbeciles.

    The overwhelming data shows that a country (the USA, in this particular case) cannot keep offshoring jobs indefinitely (bolstered by the importation of foreign visa workers — and with the passage of the TransPacific Partnership (TPP), and the TransAtlantic Free Trade Area (TAFTA), this will be the case in ALL job categories) without the eventual destruction of the country’s jobs base.

    America hit critical mass in jobs offshoring around 1999, when this country became a net importer of tech services, as opposed to previously being a net exporter of tech services.

    Likewise, the American-based multinationals have offshored investment (predominantly to China and India) and technology, together with their increased jobs offshoring.

    It’s basic arithmetic, and like Rogoff at Harvard, no matter how many “mistakes” they continue to make on their Excel spreadsheeting, the facts don’t act up to their faulty premise.

    As a starting point in this argument, would recommend reading the book titled, The Surplus American by Derber and Magrass.

  • UncleB

    Americans – too fucking stupid to champion Thorium LFTR reactors, electric bullet trains, Solar Wind Wave, Hydro Tidal, Geothermal, Biological domestic Energy and adapt lifestyles to these and the twenty first century technological realities. America a Capitalist Democracy filled with hope and a share for all, since the Nixon Shock of 1971, a Corpocracy, ruled by Plutocrats and their Bishops the Corporations, Princes the CEO’s, no longer holds out hope for the common man, and has come full circle to the situation the original Brits settled there to escape.
    Now that the gateway to U.S. warring and plundering lesser countries for their oil has been closed at Syria by the Russian/Chinese/Iranian/ U.N. collusion, America will have to give in and give away the Oil intensive Jet plane flights for
    Electric bullet trains?

  • Qebesut Aker Usekhnemmet

    human has problems with the natural habitat, has problems with his physical health, more so with mental health, has problems created of his own civilization, like jobs & all, has problems with his technological world, but nothing that cannot be solved.

    rebellion & denial is the best way for the irresponsible to just solve the problems away as they also give glorious speeches of how human’s world “Has Problems!”. I’d say the main problem of humanity is mental infancy & abortion.