Saturday, May 15, 2010
You have been replaced by a machine
Here's an interesting blog post, which brings up the ominous possibility that our current huge level of unemployment is not "cyclical" (i.e., due to the financial crisis and big recession), but rather "structural" (i.e. due to jobs vanishing permanently). The basic idea is this: over the past 10 years, computers have become good enough to make whole classes of jobs (e.g. travel agents) obsolete. However, it's hard to fire a ton of people when times are good, so companies waited until there was a big recession to get rid of people whose jobs had been rendered obsolete by new technology. Now, those laid-off people can't get new jobs unless they learn an entirely new skill set. But that takes time and money, and many of those people are old already, and meanwhile technology is changing so fast that by the time they learn something new, that new thing might be made obsolete pretty quickly as well.
This is a strong argument for implementing a national-level government policy to help people retrain for new industries.
As a side note, at the bottom of the post is a link to a really excellent paper by my advisor, Miles Kimball, which shows that improvements in technology - which "neoclassical"/"RBC" economists claim are the cause of booms - are actually a cause of recessions. Booyah!!