William Lee, invented the stocking frame knitting machine in 1589. He had the chance to show his machine to Queen Elizabeth I. The Queen refused to grant him a patent, claiming that: “Thou aims high, Master Lee. Consider thou what the invention could do to my poor subjects. It would assuredly bring to them ruin by depriving them of employment, thus making them beggars”. The guilds’ opposition was so strong that William Lee had to leave Britain.
There have been many examples of guilds trying to stop the diffusion of inventions. The “Luddite” riots between 1811 and 1816 were a manifestation of the fear of technological change among workers.
On the other hand we have John Maynard Keynes’s prediction of widespread unemployment due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour.
In our days we have unions rightly oppose the decline in manufacturing employment and the disappearance of other routine jobs that is causing the current low rates of employment.
In effect a recent survey by the McKinsey Global Institute shows that 44% of firms which reduced their personnel since the financial crisis of 2008 had done so by means of automation.
It is a fact that a manufacturing occupations following repetitive procedures can be codified in computer software and thus performed by computers. But the pace of technological innovation is still increasing at a very high speed and computerisation is no longer confined to routine manufacturing tasks.
Many studies on this issue have been produced. Science and technological evolution is not easy to predict and the effect on social situation nearly impossible to foresee.
We may only refer on recent analysis on jobs at risk, from low to high (our elaboration from Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne):
– Bus Drivers
– Technical Writers
– Rail-Track Laying and Maintenance Equipment Operators
– Sewing Machine Operators
– Taxi Drivers and Chauffeurs
– Human Resources Assistants, Except Payroll and Timekeeping
– Transportation Inspectors
– Tour Guides and Escorts
– Gas Compressor and Gas Pumping Station Operators
– Electrical and Electronics Installers and Repairers, Transportation Equipment
– Dining Room and Cafeteria Attendants and Bartender Helpers
– Office Machine Operators, Except Computer
– Pharmacy Technicians
– Loan Interviewers and Clerks
– Insurance Sales Agents
– Cabinetmakers and Bench Carpenters
– Painting, Coating, and Decorating Workers
– Retail Salespersons
– Combined Food Preparation and Serving Workers, Including Fast Food
– Service Unit Operators, Oil, Gas, and Mining
– Machine Feeders and Off bearers
– Model Makers, Metal and Plastic
– Radio, Cellular, and Tower Equipment Installers and Repairs
– Extruding, Forming, Pressing, and Compacting Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders
– Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors
– Tax Examiners and Collectors, and Revenue Agents
– Forging Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic
– Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators
– Accountants and Auditors
– Drilling and Boring Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic
– Mail Clerks and Mail Machine Operators, Except Postal Service
– Waiters and Waitresses
– Budget Analysts
– Couriers and Messengers
– Interviewers, Except Eligibility and Loan
– Excavating and Loading Machine and Dragline Operators
– Helpers–Painters, Paperhangers, Plasterers, and Stucco Masons
– Hotel, Motel, and Resort Desk Clerks
– Tire Builders
– Door-to-Door Sales Workers, News and Street Vendors, and Related Workers
– First-Line Supervisors of Housekeeping and Janitorial Workers
– Agricultural Inspectors
– Paralegals and Legal Assistants
– Textile Cutting Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders
– Bill and Account Collectors
– Nuclear Power Reactor Operators
– Gaming Surveillance Officers and Gaming Investigators
– Library Assistants, Clerical
– Operating Engineers and Other Construction Equipment Operators
– Print Binding and Finishing Workers
– Electrical and Electronic Equipment Assemblers
– Postal Service Clerks
– Receptionists and Information Clerks
– Office Clerks, General
– Switchboard Operators, Including Answering Service
– Counter Attendants, Cafeteria, Food Concession, and Coffee Shop
– Secretaries and Administrative Assistants, Except Legal, Medical, and Executive
– Surveying and Mapping Technicians
– Model Makers, Wood
– Locomotive Engineers
– Cooks, Restaurant
– Ushers, Lobby Attendants, and Ticket Takers
– Billing and Posting Clerks
– Shoe Machine Operators and Tenders
– Electromechanical Equipment Assemblers
– Dental Laboratory Technicians
– Pesticide Handlers, Sprayers, and Applicators, Vegetation
– Motion Picture Projectionists
– Counter and Rental Clerks
– File Clerks
– Real Estate Brokers
– Telephone Operators
– Payroll and Timekeeping Clerks
– Credit Authorizers, Checkers, and Clerks
– Hosts and Hostesses, Restaurant, Lounge, and Coffee Shop
– Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks
– Legal Secretaries
– Radio Operators
– Driver/Sales Workers
– Credit Analysts
– Shipping, Receiving, and Traffic Clerks
– Procurement Clerks
– Packaging and Filling Machine Operators and Tenders
– Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials
– Insurance Appraisers, Auto Damage
– Loan Officers
– Order Clerks
– Brokerage Clerks
– Insurance Claims and Policy Processing Clerks
– Data Entry Keyers
– Library Technicians
– New Accounts Clerks
– Photographic Process Workers and Processing Machine Operators
– Tax Preparers
– Cargo and Freight Agents
– Insurance Underwriters
– Title Examiners, Abstractors, and Searchers
Jobs more at risk to disappear are naturally those concerning repetitive processing, clerical duties and assisting services, mainly in administration, sales, transportation, construction, mining, energy and production. Less at risk, but not completely, are positions in skilled management, arts and media, law, education, healthcare and financial services.
The pace of disappearing of those jobs depends from the science and technology speed and it would be useless and unfair to oppose that. There are political and social means to reduce the damages. It is the Third Industrial Revolution.
Jeremy Rifkin envisages hundreds of millions of people producing their own green energy in their homes, offices, and factories, and sharing it with each other in an “energy internet,” just like we now create and share information online.
That is: shifting to renewable energy; transforming the building stock of every continent into green micro–power plants to collect renewable energies on-site; deploying hydrogen and other storage technologies in every building and throughout the infrastructure to store intermittent energies; using Internet technology to transform the power grid of every continent into an energy internet that acts just like the Internet (when millions of buildings are generating a small amount of renewable energy locally, on-site, they can sell surplus green electricity back to the grid and share it with their continental neighbours); transitioning the transport fleet to electric plug-in and fuel cell vehicles that can buy and sell green electricity on a smart, continental, interactive power grid. (Jeremy Rifkin, Third Industrial Revolution)
Rifkin’s vision is already gaining traction in the international community. The European Union Parliament has issued a formal declaration calling for its implementation, and other nations in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, are quickly preparing their own initiatives for transitioning into the new economic paradigm.
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