It's time to rethink our perspective on jobs and technology
By Curtis S. Chin and Meera Kumar Friday, August 4, 2017, 7:58 am TWN
NEW YORK — Technology and jobs, whither goest thou?
Whether in Taiwan or the United States, it is time to pause and assess the very real impact of technology's advances on those who will lose their jobs today as the so-called "jobs of tomorrow" are created.
It's a topic made even more relevant by Hon Hai's recent announcement of a US$10 billion display panel plant in Wisconsin.
Too often, "globalized" business leaders and macroeconomists blindly welcome every advance in productivity, while investors in turn reward news of resulting job reductions with an upward tick in share prices.
As technology advances, and wealth is increasingly concentrated, the challenges of job creation and the need for bipartisan discussion on a way forward grow more increasingly pressing.
According to Credit Suisse's Global Wealth Report 2016, the top one percent in Russia controls nearly 75 percent of that nation's wealth. For India, the figure is 58.4 percent; Indonesia, 40 percent; Brazil, 48 percent; China 43.8 percent; and the United States, 42 percent.
And in a report released early this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos by Oxfam, the world's eight richest billionaires now control the same wealth as do the poorest half of the earth's population.
It is no surprise then that inequality — its causes and possible solutions — is an ubiquitous topic of discussion. The debate over economic inequity rages in the East as in the West. Raising employment levels is seen as a major challenge for developing and developed economies alike.
No industry is exempt, and no country, no matter how protected, is able to escape the elimination of jobs "of the past" — too often with little consideration of the "people of today."
All too often the blame is laid squarely on the shoulders of globalization. Witness the breakout of protests in Hamburg at the G-20 summit. Witness also the relative success of politicians who promised protections in the form of trade tariffs and a closing of borders. Enduring wage disparities and outdated and imbalanced tax structures are also seen as contributors to growing inequality.
However, is it only the export of jobs that has led to unemployment or are we entering a brave new world of technology steadily eroding once secure foundations of employment?
Directly addressing that question can help lead to possible solutions, drawing perhaps on apprenticeship programs and new management-employee relationships that may well disrupt our present thinking of the workplace.
A revolution is certainly on the way. 3D printing and the potential impact on design and manufacturing of "printing" in a multi-dimensional manner is an example.
Essentially one can design a pair of shoes, use a 3D-printing facility and see the immediate gratification of creativity.
Take another example — driverless cars, which threaten to disrupt a range of every day jobs, from that of traditional drivers and mechanics to those of the few who may still be managing gas stations. Self-service gas pumps displaced attendants. Charging stations for electric cars may well further disrupt gas stations eroding employment opportunities.
The ruthless advance of technology has implications for Asia, particularly in the garment industry. In many countries, the clothing industry did for Asia what the auto industry had once done for the United States in terms of offering rising wages and providing non-farm employment.
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