The Key To Surviving In The Age Of Automation

On February 7, 2016, Richard Eisenberg writes on The Aspen Institute Web site:

A confession: Although I’m the editor of Next Avenue’s Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels, I’m not a regular reader of The Economist, the 174-year-old weekly British magazine. But its recent 11-page Special Report cover story, “Lifelong Learning: How to Survive in the Age of Automation” caught my eye and I strongly recommend others in their 50s and 60s — as well as America’s employers, colleges and policymakers — do, too. It’s online here.

The theme of The Economist’s package, by the magazine’s business affairs editor Andrew Palmer, is that training can no longer be just for people starting out in their careers, if that was ever true. Given today’s technological (the robots are coming for your job), demographic (the Millennials are coming for your job) and economic changes (the future is coming for your job), continuous learning has become essential.

What Older Workers Know

And workers — especially older workers — know it. My Next Avenue colleague, career coach Nancy Collamer, recently wrote that nearly 40 percent of workers over 50 told the Pew Research Center that they believe continuous training is essential to their future career success.  FWIW, Mark Zuckerberg gets it, too: As The Economist notes, Zuckerberg sets himself new personal learning goals every year.

Problem is, as The Economist points out clearly and bleakly, employers and policymakers are doing precious little to provide the necessary training to keep U.S. workers at the top of their game. In fact, Palmer maintains, “employers seem to be less willing to invest in training their workforces” than in the past, partly due to financial pressures and the growth of automation and outsourcing.

Employers seem to be less willing to invest in training their workforces, partly due to financial pressures and the growth of automation and outsourcing.

Lifelong Learning Seedlings Are Sprouting

Fortunately, Palmer notes, “the faint outlines” of a system connecting education to employment are beginning to emerge.

For instance, Massive open online courses (MOOCs) from the likes of Coursera and Udacity are adopting employment-focused models and granting “nanodegrees.” LinkedIn now offers courses through LinkedIn Learning and a startup called Degreed aims to be a central bank of credentials for workers.

A few businesses have developed reputations as places where workers keep learning, such as United Technologies, which pays employees’ tuition bills of up to $12,000 a year. The Economist says Microsoft’s performance review system now includes an appraisal of how employees have learned from others and how they have applied that knowledge. AT&T employees must maintain a career profile with a record of their skills and training; they can also earn Udacity nanodegrees.

Next Avenue blogger Kerry Hannon recently wrote about Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding Apprentice School, now available to employees of all ages (one recent 58-year-old graduate called the program “life-changing”). It was featured in the AARP Public Policy Institute report: Disrupting Aging in the Workplace: Profiles in Intergenerational Diversity Leadership.

The Role for Government

The Economist believes, however, that governments need to step up to help bring together workers, employers and education providers.

Ours could take a tip from Singapore, whose $600 million annual Skills-Future Initiative requires employers to forecast likely changes ahead for their industries and cite the types of skills they’ll need. Every Singaporean, The Economist says, now gets a $345 credit towards training courses from 500 approved providers; residents age 40 and older get additional subsidies of up to 90 percent.

The Aspen Institute’s Good Companies Good Jobs Initiative

I recently learned about a few encouraging examples of companies “making work work” during the Aspen Institute’s recent Good Companies Good Jobs webinar.

At the Anne Arundel Health System in the Baltimore area, for example, medical assistants now get trained to do some of the work physicians there did in the past. This allows the doctors to see more patients and the assistants to feel more needed — with less burnout. Equally important, said Dr. Robert Eden, who devised the system: “The patients see they have a team supporting them, as opposed to just a doctor alone.”

Eden proudly told the audience a story about his assistant Stacy and a local neurologist who traditionally wouldn’t see one of Eden’s patients unless Eden personally spoke to the physician on the phone. “Stacy called and was accidentally put through to him directly before I got on the line,” said Eden. “She said: ‘I know the case. I’ll just present it.’ He let her, and now he will take all calls from Stacy. She feels very good about that.”

This article, regardless of the focus on life-long worker education, fails to come to grips with the reality that there will be  hordes of citizens of zero economic value, unless we can reform the system to provide equal access to acquiring future wealth-creating, income-producing capital assets resulting from technological invention and innovation, without the requirement of past savings.

While numerous authors envision a dire result as the technological revolution advances and less and less human labor is required to produce and distribute the products and services needed and wanted by society, with just a tiny few reaping ALL of the financial rewards, virtually every solution to counter the tectonic shifts in the technologies of production poses the same old redistribution approach that results in socialism, instead of making EVERY citizen individually productive through their personal ownership stakes in the wealth-creating, income-producing capital assets resulting from technological invention and innovation. They never address the issue of concentrated ownership, nor use the therm OWNERSHIP. Instead, the ONLY solution is a redistribution of income and wealth from the rich owners of breakthrough technologies to the rest of us.

What is direly needed are honest leaders with the communication talent to advocate for making EVERY person a productive contributor to societal development through their personal ownership stakes in the productive capacity of our future. This can be accomplished without the requirement of past savings or a reduction in wages (if one is employed) or benefits using insured, interest-free capital credit to finance technological invention and innovation with the credit extended paid off out of the future earnings generated by the investments. In this way, we can build a future economy to support general affluence for EVERY child, woman and man, while at the same time generating, over the short-term (say a generation), virtual full employment and simultaneously creating new private property sector capital owners, who will benefit from growing purchasing power and financial security, and not dependent on a job that is being replaced by “machines” or a welfare State of elites determining who gets what.

The problem is that technological invention and innovation––change––makes the non-human means of producing––tools, machines, structures, and computerized processes––ever more productive while leaving human productiveness largely unchanged (our human abilities are limited by physical strength and brain power––and relatively constant). This means that fewer and fewer people are necessary to produce the products and services needed and wanted by society. But when a job is one’s ONLY way to be productive and earn an income and when jobs are disappearing and the worth of labor is being devalued, we have a problem.  The problem is magnified by the fact that upward of 95 percent of the products and services are produced by physical productive capital––the non-human factor––which is owned by less than 10 percent of the population and highly concentrated among less than 1 percent of the population. The result is that primary distribution through the free market economy, whose distributive principle is “to each according to his production,” delivers progressively more market-sourced income to capital owners and progressively less to workers who make their contribution through labor.

Put into context, a recent study from researchers at Georgetown University projects that there will be 55 million new jobs by 2020 for which there will be a growing call for more educated workers with the necessary education and training to meet the demand.

This is a report that is out-of-sync with the economics of reality.

Given the current invisible structure of the economy, except for a relative few, the majority of the population, no matter how well educated, will not be able to find a job that pays sufficient wages or salaries to support a family or prevent a lifestyle, which is gradually being crippled by near poverty or poverty earnings. Thus, education is not the panacea, though it is critical for our future societal development. And younger, as well as older people, will increasingly find it harder and harder to secure a well-paying job––for most, their ONLY source of income––and will find themselves dependent on taxpayer-supported government welfare, open and disguised or concealed.

For decades employment opportunity in the United States was such that the majority of people could obtain a job that could support their livelihood, though, in most cases related to a family, it eventually required the father and mother to both work, if they aspired to live a “middle-class” lifestyle. With “Free Trade” those opportunities began to disintegrate as corporations sought to seek lower-cost production taking advantage of global cheap labor rates and non-regulation, as well as lower tax rates abroad. This resulted in a chain reaction forcing more and more companies to outsource in order to stay competitive (thus the rise of China, India, Mexico, and other third-world nation economies).

At the same time, tectonic shifts in the technologies of production were exponentially occurring (and continue to do so), which resulted (and continues to result) in less job opportunities as production was shifted from people making things to “machines” (the non-human factor) of technology making things. The combination of cheap global labor costs and lower, long-term-invested “machine” costs has forced the worth of labor downward, and this will continue to be the reality. Our only way to far greater prosperity, opportunity, and economic justice is to embrace technological innovation and invention and the resulting human-intelligent machines, super-automation, robotics, digital computerized operations, etc. as the primary economic engine of growth.

But significantly, unless we reform our system to empower EVERY American to acquire, via pure, interest-free insured capital credit loans, viable full-ownership holdings (and thus entitlement to full-dividend earnings) in the companies growing the economy, with the future earnings of the investments paying for the initial loan debt to acquire ownership, the concentration of ownership of ALL future productive capital will continue to be amassed by a wealthy minority ownership class. Companies will continue to globalize in search of “customers with money” or simply fail, as exponentially there will be fewer and fewer customers to support their businesses worldwide. Why, because the majority will be disconnected from the dividend income derived from the non-human means of production that is replacing the need for labor workers who earn wages and salaries, which are then used to purchase products and services.

Soon, industrial monopoly capitalism will reach its twin goals: concentration of productive capital ownership among the elite ownership class and work performed with as few labor workers and the lowest possible wages and salaries. The question to be answered is “What then?”

The transition to the non-human factor of production has been occurring for decades but is now experiencing exponential development––the result of tectonic shifts in the technologies of production. As costs for computer-controlled machines become less than the cost of human workers, and the skills and productivity of the machines exceed those of human workers, then robot worker numbers will rapidly increase and enable our society to build architectural wonders, revitalize and redevelop our cities and build new cities of wonder and amazement, along with support energy, transport, and communications systems. Super-automation and robotics is transforming the world of manufacturing as robots become lighter, more mobile, and more flexible with better sensing, perception, decision-making, and planning and control capabilities due to advanced digital computerization. Super-automation and robotics operated by human-intelligent computerization will dramatically improve productivity and provide skills and abilities previously unique to human workers. This will effectively increase the size of the labor work force globally beyond that provided by human workers, no matter what the level of education attained. With advanced human-level artificial intelligence, computer-controlled machines will be able to learn new knowledge and skills by simply downloading software programs and apps. This means that the years of training that apply to personal human development will no longer apply to the further sophistication and operation of the machines. The result will be that productivity will soar while the need and demand for human labor will further decline.Unfortunately, in the long term, unless the vast majority of people have a substantial and viable source of income other than wages and salaries, the impact of technological innovation and invention as embodied in human-level artificial intelligence, machines, super-automation, robotics, digital computerized operations, etc. will be devastating.

There are ONLY two options: either “Own or Be Owned.” The “Owned” model is what our society practices today and is expressed as monopoly capitalism (concentrated ownership) or socialism (taxpayer-supported redistributed social benefits). The “Own” model, or what my colleagues and I term the Just Third Way, has yet to be implemented on the scale necessary to empower every man, woman, and child to acquire private, individual ownership stakes in the future income-producing productive capital assets of the “intelligent automated machine age”––facilitated by the future earnings of their investments in the companies developing and employing this unprecedented economic power.

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Unfortunately, the disruptive nature of exponential growth in technology and its impact on productivity––tectonically shifting production of products and services from human workers to non-human means––is not understood and ignored by the economic establishment, academia, and our political leaders.While the rate of technological progress is directly proportional to the number and quality of the people engaged in the fields of science and engineering, economic policy is the mechanism that fuels investment and development of technological innovation and invention. This is where education is critical to our future societal development.

Education should be encouraged and expanded. Everyone should have the opportunity to personally develop their own exceptional innate abilities and unlock their creativity.

But except for the personal development benefit to advancing one’s education, the reality is that far less “educated” people will be necessary in the long term to produce the products and services necessary and valued by society. This is due to the exponential development of human-level artificial intelligence, which is embodied in advanced automation and robotics.

Those college graduates who do succeed within the fields of science and engineering are hired workers to do what? Our scientists, engineers, and executive managers, who are not owners themselves of the companies they work for, except for those in the highest employed positions, are encouraged to work to destroy employment by making the capital owners’ assets more productive. How much employment can be destroyed by substituting machines for people is a measure of their success––always focused on producing at the lowest cost.

We need to realize that full employment is not a function of businesses. Companies strive to keep labor input and other costs at a minimum. Private sector job creation in numbers that match the pool of people willing and able to work is constantly being eroded by physical productive capital’s ever-increasing role.

We need to reform and restructure our economy and set as the GOAL broadened private, individual ownership of future wealth-creating, income-generating productive capital assets among ALL Americans, with capital estates ever building as the economy grows. Without a policy shift to broaden productive capital ownership simultaneously with economic growth, further development of technology and globalization will undermine the American middle class and make it impossible for more than a minority of citizens to achieve middle-class status. By changing course, over time and within a few decades, our “machined-powered” growth economy would produce greater wealth, and widespread private, individual ownership would assure prosperity, opportunity, and general affluence for every citizen. Broadened productive capital ownership would strengthen our democracy and individuals and families would be less or non-dependent on government welfare, whether disguised or not.

This prosperous society is achievable because, fortunately, in the near term, we can begin to grow our way out of the swelling unemployment and underemployment by increasing our investment significantly as a ratio of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) resulting in double-digit growth, while simultaneously broadening private, individual ownership of future income-producing productive capital investments, thus initiating the process of empowering every man, woman, and child to build over time a viable capital estate and reap the income generated. The key operative is BROADEN OWNERSHIP. Such investment would, in the short term, generate millions of new “real” productive jobs. The result would not only be that the GDP would dramatically grow but tax revenues from the high rate of economic growth would enable us to balance the federal budget, fully fund Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, provide Universal Health Care, Universal University Education, lower tax rates, and maintain a strong military, all simultaneously.

We have the opportunity to free economic growth from the “enslavement” of human labor and from the financial mechanisms that are based on the slavery of past savings. Technological progress, though, is no longer dependent on the number and quality of human workers. This fact will become obvious eventually to anyone who can think and analyze as they realize the reality that human labor will cease to be the primary source of wealth production in the future. As a result we can expect over the long term that unemployment and underemployment will remain high indefinitely. But the difference will be that people will drop out of the labor force voluntarily because they will be able to live off their dividend earnings via their ownership portfolios. This will create swelling demand for human workers who want to continue working. And with both dividend and wage and salary incomes for everyone there will be more customers to purchase the products and services produced, which in turn will create further dividends and earnings, which will create more customers, etc.

While the future holds less promise for universal job employment due to the ever-progressing contribution of technological-driven production using human-intelligent machines, super-automation, robotics and digital computerized operations, the jobs that will be in demand will require some mastery of technology, math, and science. As long as working people are limited by earning income solely through their labor worker wages, they will be left behind by the continued gravitation of economic bounty toward the top 1 percent of the people that the system is rigged to benefit. If we don’t re-chart our economic policies to broaden private, individual ownership of new productive capital formation, then more troubling is that the continued stagnation of the American economy will further dim the economic hopes of America’s youth, no matter what their education level. The result will have profound long-term consequences for the nation’s economic health and further limit equal earning opportunity and spread income inequality. As the need for labor decreases and the power and leverage of productive capital increases, the gap between labor workers and productive capital asset owners will increase, and the conditions will become very frightening and very chaotic.

Sadly, our leaders are not prepared and are not preparing the American people for the coming economic collapse and the next Great Depression, due to their lack of wisdom and foresight to understand that full employment is not an objective of businesses and private sector job creation opportunities are constantly being eroded by physical productive capital’s ever increasing role––as the use of human-intelligent machines, super-automation, robotics, digital computerized operations, etc. replaces labor workers to produce products and services.

The question that requires an answer is now timely before us. It was first posed by binary economist Louis Kelso in the 1950s but has never been thoroughly discussed on the national stage. Nor has there been the proper education of our citizenry that addresses what economic justice is and what ownership is. Therefore, by ignoring such issues of economic justice and ownership, our leaders are ignoring the concentration of power through ownership of productive capital, with the result of denying the 99 percenters equal opportunity to become productive capital owners. The question, as posed by Kelso is: “how are all individuals to be adequately productive when a tiny minority (capital owners) produce a major share and the vast majority (labor workers), a minor share of total goods and service,” and thus, “how do we get from a world in which the most productive factor—–physical capital—–is owned by a handful of people, to a world where the same factor is owned by a majority—–and ultimately 100 percent—–of the consumers, while respecting all the constitutional rights of present capital owners?”

The path to prosperity, opportunity, and economic justice can be found in the writings about the Capital Homestead Act. For more overviews related to this topic see my article “The Absent Conversation: Who Should Own America?” published by The Huffington Post and by OpEd News.

Also see “The Path To Eradicating Poverty In America” and “The Path To Sustainable Economic Growth“, and the article entitled “The Solution To America’s Economic Decline.”

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