Job loss and job creation seem to occupy a lot of the national conversation these days. A recent article talked about an aspect of job loss that doesn't get much press coverage.
It explained how America's work force is once again changing, how advanced techniques and equipment are continuing to lessen the need for human labor, resulting in a productivity boost just last year of nearly 2.5 percent. So when people lament the job losses, and attribute it to jobs shifting overseas, they overlook the fact that part of the losses are due to this higher productivity.
I don't think many of these lost jobs will be coming back. We may have reached a point where we could produce everything we need, and most of what we want, with the labor force that exists right now. With the number of jobs farmed out, combined with the increased productivity, we may be bumping up against a jobs wall.
History shows us that work force upheavals occur. We went from an agrarian society to an industrial one, and that dramatic change was painful to many people. I think we are now undergoing such a change. Just as we had major work force realignment when we found ways to produce all the food we wanted with drastically fewer farm workers, I think we are seeing the same realignment away from manufacturing, and that means a permanent job loss in that sector of our economy.
Of course, no one can tell you what these displaced workers will be doing any more than someone could have told you what all the displaced farm workers would be doing in the early part of the last century. I am sure, though, that most people at that time predicted mass poverty and starvation.
After all, how could more than half of the population survive if they were no longer needed to work our farms? The answer of course embodies one of my favorite economic precepts: You can always sell something for how much it costs to make it. Before the mechanization of farming, producing food was very costly. Most workers had to work full time at farming just to feed their families. The very same mechanization that put them out of work made food plentiful and cheap enough that they could afford to feed their families with the wages of only a few hours of work, should they be able to find it.
I think it would be a safe bet that there were countless people predicting that these displaced workers would not be able to find jobs. After all, what was there to do? As we now know ... plenty. Freed from farming, these people went on to create a whole new societal lifestyle with plenty of jobs. Think for a moment of all the major inventions of the Twentieth century, and the jobs that resulted. The electrification of the country, aviation, the automobile, the telephone, radio and TV all provided jobs for millions of people.
And so it is today. We have a gigantic realignment of our work force, this time moving away from manufacturing. We have found ways to produce things with far fewer workers, so again we must find new things for people to do. And, as in the past, we have the doomsayers predicting that there will not be enough jobs.
I believe jobs will appear that we cannot even envision today, just as we could not envision the industries that took the place of all the farm jobs
Just as we left the agricultural age to enter the industrial age, experts say that the next age will be the information age. While knowing little of what that will encompass, I have to say that Google, e-Bay, Twitter and Facebook could probably be viewed as being part of that new age, and I would venture to say that there are probably thousands of people making a living just in those new businesses.
Any attempt by us to fully grasp what the future job market will look like is probably as doomed as any guess would have been in 1900, but I think history has demonstrated that as long as we retain Capitalism and the free market, there will be jobs for those who want to work.
Moadus is a Girard resident.