Friday, Oct 31, 2014
Columns

Reiniers: The intimidating new world


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Not the "Brave New World" of Aldous Huxley - a hopeful vision of things to come - but an odd confluence of events which has economists speculating about employment opportunities both in the immediate future and long term. Three factors are in play. First, small and big business blame the lack of job creation on the economic policies and burdensome costly regulations of the Obama administration. Secondly, the outsourcing of low-skill jobs to emerging markets with cheap labor. Finally, and more importantly, the impact of technology on both the type and number of jobs it will create, and whether and to what extent workers will be displaced.

The first two could be short term. The electorate could reject Barrack Obama's vision of a government centered economy with its legions of government trade union employees, rather than supporting the private sector. (I would argue the United States will keep moving left toward socialism regardless of any short term gains to the center right.)

Outsourcing could taper off as wage scales and labor unrest escalate in the Far East. The Chinese are increasing investments in textile manufacturing in Vietnam, and thousands of auto worker jobs already have been outsourced from Germany, Japan and South Korea to American factory workers. Yes, we do live in a globalized economy.

Technology is the 800 pound gorilla in the room because we have no idea of all the kinds of new jobs that will be created. There will be jobs out there that aren't even on drawing boards yet because nobody has yet thought of the concept.

For example, nobody understood electricity until perhaps the 18th century, but it wasn't until the late 19th century that it was put to practical use. Subatomic particles were unknown to scientists. Given the astonishing number of applications that have been invented using electricity, it would not be an understatement to say that electricity is directly or indirectly responsible for billions of jobs on the planet.

Thomas Edison alone created millions of jobs with the invention of the light bulb. To this day, how many well educated people understand the physics of electricity or nuclear power?

Some jobs were lost. It is said that one petroleum powered wheat combine replaced 1,000 farm workers (Some are equipped with A/C and GPS's). A far cry from the primitive iron scythe. This was capitalism and creative destruction at work.

Here is where it gets dicey and is one of the reasons today for inequality in both income and wealth. The potential for social unrest accelerates when technological unemployment is coupled with job outsourcing of low skilled jobs. A low-paid Asian worker can push a button on a machine and monitor output just as well as a unionized American worker.

History has shown that every stunning innovation has produced its share of naysayers predicting disaster. But it never seems to fail that in the long term overall jobs increase.

In the new millennium these exciting ideas will be the product of well educated, highly skilled innovators who will be joined at the hip with computing machines that exponentially have improved in speed and mind-boggling memory. The new age technologist will be capable of producing products that will startle even the highly intelligent, and be incomprehensible to the average person.

This is one of the reasons economist Tyler Cowen believes these über talented self-disciplined people will dramatically explode the upper one percent to the upper 15 percent - even more hated millionaires from whom progressive liberals will demand retribution.

Correction -will demand redistribution. Wait; now that I think about it, I was right the first time.

We will be in Obama territory. These will be trying times. There will be no easy answers for progressives or conservatives. We live in a hyper-technological age. Whatever the answer will be, it must be the product of thoughtful discussion and not politics.

3-D printers now are being used to make life-size models of a patient's heart prior to surgery. One surgeon said that nothing beats holding a life-sized model of a patient's heart in your hands, and then planning or even practicing the procedure to be used to repair the damage or defect. Whoever designed this software stands to make a lot of money, since other organs also can be modeled. This will create jobs for well-paid technologists, not unlike ultrasound or X-ray techs.

Everyone recalls when "Watson," IBM's super computer, beat Jeopardy's champion Ken Jennings. The Wall Street Journal reported on Jan. 7 that IBM has invested $10 billion into turning "Watson" into big business. Its incredible memory has many applications.

We are at a time when high school guidance counsellors have far more responsibility. To a certain extent I would question the utopian dogmatism of the Jan. 23 Tampa Tribune editorial (Higher education accountability). While I do not favor a top down approach to counselling students, it would be irresponsible for guidance counsellors not to inform students of the pluses and minuses of the array of career choices in this digital technological age. The counseling process needs to start at the secondary school level, not in college. For one thing a four-year college degree might not be the right choice for every student.

Educators, parents and the private sector should sponsor workshops for parents and students to give them an overview of the panoply of rewarding careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).These fields of study will always be relevant in a first world economy and at the very least provide transferable skills.

On the other hand with newsrooms shrinking, starry-eyed students are still attracted to careers in journalism, only to panic upon graduation. Did they make an informed career decision?

All college students are now well aware of what they call "bad" degrees. These are usually students, unaware of their choices who "followed their academic passions" or had no guidance at all from their parents or school, and felt cheated and bitter when they went out into the marketplace. All of us should agree that our millennials will be graduating into an intimidating new world -which will not be the exciting post-World War II Huxley-like "brave new world" when the United States dominated the global economy.

It will be a world which will require students to make informed decisions dictated by reason, not passion.

John Reiniers is a retired lawyer and regular contributor who lives in Spring Hill.

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