Attenuating Disruptive Employment Caused by Automation

In his new book, Rise of the Robots, Martin Ford describes the reality of the impact of automation on jobs. Automation is already happening, but will continue at an accelerated rate to disrupt employment patterns in America and the world. Imagine manufactured goods costing half of what they do today. It doesn’t take an imagination because we already know that automation will do this. The negative consequence of automation of course, is what it does to workers. They will lose their jobs in droves. This is particularly perplexing in the case of manufacturing where the jobs pay well. Many of these manufacturing workers are essentially unskilled and the workers are not mobile and therefore not easily reemployable. We know how unemployment and poverty causes terrible lives of crime and incarceration. Knowing these negative outcomes, what can we do to prevent them? The obvious solution is to have manufacturing employees retrained for other jobs. The problem that we have seen with this solution is the lack of alternative good paying jobs.

This disruption to our employment pattern is accelerating and we really do not have a choice but to create an intelligent solution for it. Automation is here now and is only going to increase. Machines don’t get tired after an eight-hour day. Machines don’t need time off or need benefits. Automation is our new reality whether we like it or not. Therefore, it is incumbent upon American leaders to create an alternative future that includes decent paying work for everyone. We must reject the concept that we can pay people not to work. The reality is people are not happy with little money and you get unacceptable crime and incarceration as a result. The best solution is a full employment society that retains the self-esteem of the workers. This self-esteem is essential to maintain a quality society. The potential for mass unemployment literally poses a challenge to our democracy. Crime and riots in the streets are certain outcomes of inaction regarding automation.

The solution that we have not yet faced is that we, as a society, must reconstruct our employment pattern to attenuate the new reality of automation. This means governmental intervention in the economy on a scale unprecedented in our history. In order to create a place for displaced workers, we must raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour in 2018 dollars. We must create a high skilled, high wage society. As we pay less for automated items and services, we must pay more for other services in order to create a place for dislocated workers. To some extent, this is already happening with skilled workers such as computer repairers, appliance repairers, electricians, construction workers, and plumbers getting high levels of pay. Yes, dining out will cost more, although this will be attenuated with tipping going away. A friend pointed out that home healthcare workers would cost too much and older people and infirm people must have help. Ultimately, this means Medicaid must cover this incremental expense. We’ll have to pay more taxes for the service. This means a portion of our new disposable income saved by automation will have to go to taxes. This is one of the impacts necessary to attenuate the economic impact of automation on workers.

This restructuring of the workplace is necessary, but is complicated. It is an essential intervention process to maintain our society. We have a Rousseau social contract that when people are willing to work, there must be decent paying jobs. This contract is in peril of being broken. A thin veneer holds our society together. The underlying glue that holds us together is economics. People are good citizens as long as the society fulfills its part of the contract to provide jobs that deliver a decent living. Our differences can be papered over as long as decent jobs can be found. Corporate America has offshored jobs and is already buying machines as fast as they can. Their motivation is not people, but exclusively profit. This corporate driven profit value of capitalism means the only entity that can intervene for workers is government.

This reality of automation changing our employment structure requires governmental intervention to help working people. We all must understand that the large worker unions of the past are gone. There is no one to speak for workers now. This restructured workplace will require skilled workers with excellent soft employment skills. Thus, the governmental intervention must include a permanent, systematic method to prepare young people for skilled employment. It is essential to do this preparation as early as possible. Therefore, the most appropriate public institution to provide this occupational education is the high school career academy. The necessary governmental intervention to restructure occupations in America must lead an expansion of career academies across the country to provide an ongoing stream of highly skilled people. We must have a highly skilled workforce to compete in a global economy and to maintain peace at home.

James C. Wilson, Ed.D.

Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Education or Incarceration? available on

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Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Eucation or Incarceration? on
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