Home Economics The BBC Isn't Grasping This Economics Stuff

The BBC Isn’t Grasping This Economics Stuff

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True, the World Economic Forum isn’t grasping this economics stuff either but that’s no excuse. The BBC’s remit is to explain to us proles isn’t it?

Half of all work tasks will be handled by machines by 2025 in a shift likely to worsen inequality, a World Economic Forum report has forecast.

Machines already do more than half the work. Obviously, this is as clear as the scythe that isn’t in your hand right now. Think back a millennium. 90% of the population lives and dies working in the fields by hand. The 10% we read about in the history books – doin’ all that fightin’ and conquerin’ ‘n’ crusades, cathedrals ‘n’ stuff is just that, 10% of the population. Somewhere between then and now we get the horse collar, combines, tractors and the rest and now 2% of us (for the UK) work in the fields. We’ve already replaced 88% of the worlds jobs with machines that is. In just this one sector too. This applies to everything as well. The vacuum cleaner has replaced the housemaid, it’s machines that get phossy jaw from matchmaking now.

The basic contention, that machines doing half the work is something we’re awaiting in our future is nonsense from the very start.

The think tank said a “robot revolution” would create 97 million jobs worldwide but destroy almost as many, leaving some communities at risk.

Routine or manual jobs in administration and data processing were most at threat of automation, WEF said.

But it said new jobs would emerge in care, big data and the green economy.

Actual reality is that the new machines will do some old tasks for us. And the new machines will also require some amount of labour to be added as they take on new tasks for us. Fair enough. But what is actually going to happen to jobs overall is that entrepreneurs will look at the vast mountains of now unused human labour and ponder, well, wonder if I can do summat with that?

Human desires are, after all, unlimited, the resources with which we can sate them are scarce. Human labour is an economic resource and even with 7 billion of us it’s still scarce. That is easily proven – can you get someone to come mow your lawn, for free, this afternoon? Nope? Then there’s a human desire that could be filled by human labour which ain’t being – human labour is a scarce resource when it comes to fulfilling human desires.

Piles of labour unused, summat, pondering – and as is always true those new uses, organised by those entrepreneurs, will start out at least in new and small companies.

The Forum’s research spanned 300 of the world’s biggest companies, who between them employ eight million people around the world.

That is, you survey large companies to find out how much labour is going to be surplus to requirements in current large scale production lines. For large companies generally are shedders of labour over time. It’s small – and as yet non-existent – companies which are the job creators. Which makes them rather hard to survey as they’re not there to be surveyed as yet.

WEF said currently around a third of all work tasks were handled by machines, with humans doing the rest, but by 2025 the balance would shift.

It’s mindgargling nonsense, isn’t it?

Try another example. Spinning of thread. Pre- about 1400 every woman we meet in any form of literature is spinning, by hand. Post-1800 or so it’s simply not something mentioned, ever. It was a major use of female human labour over millennia, the spinning of thread from wool, flax, cotton, silk etc. There aren’t enough women actually in the world currently* to spin the amount of thread that the machines currently produce for us. We have already automated vastly more than half of all work.

Yes, yes, of course the World Economic Forum are dingbats. But the point is that if we’re forced to pay for the BBC at gunpoint – yes, try escaping from jail after you’ve not paid the licence fee and it does come down to that in the end – so that they can educate and elucidate for us could we, just possibly, see a bit more of that educating an’ elucidating? Like, reminding us that the WEF are dingbats?

*Possibly an exaggeration but it would be interesting to see the real numbers, wouldn’t it?

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Spinsters, as my about-to-be wife was labelled by the Registrar, described their occupation. My wife has never spun anything more than tall tales.
    I worked for 40 years in Industrial Automation – destroying the very jobs you highlight! But not really, as the companies would have been noncompetitive without such innovations, so automating was a stark choice between loss of all jobs or the retention of most of them. I saw many less-aware companies, making similar products, fail economically because they did not ‘keep up’.

  2. “entrepreneurs will look at the vast mountains of now unused human labour and ponder, well, wonder if I can do summat with that?”

    I very much doubt that entrepreneurs do that. What they do do, is to try some enterprise which becoming successful has a second order effect that people get employed. The producers of lightbulbs were never thinking about redundant candle makers.

    The outcome is the same – there aren’t armies of the unemployed. However, the benevolent entrepreneur remains the exception..

  3. @ Ed P
    You’re jumping to a false conclusion – Tim is *not* talking about women being called spinsters. He *is* talking about women in ancient literature spinning. Penelope, Queen of Ithaca is reported in the text of “The Odyssey” to both spin and weave; the Norns spin, Frigg, Athena and Asherah are goddesses in different pantheons who spin …

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