The Great Displacement is coming

Daryl HattonSocial issues

Technology is driving a massive change in the availability of jobs.

And it will hurt everyone, not just the low end of the socio-economic spectrum.

We are already seeing the edge of the wave. At the new restaurants in Toronto airport you place your order on a tablet at your table. People bring the food. It means half the staff to service the same number of customers. Or half the jobs of a similar size restaurant. When autonomous robots get a little cheaper even the food delivery staff will go. All but a handful of jobs will be gone.

Check out this article on LinkedIn:

The article gives stats on the forecast disruption to driving industry jobs. Adding 2 to 3 MILLION people to the pool looking for work in the US will drive wages down for those that remain. It may take a decade to get going but then the impacts will be felt quickly and intensely.

I’ve seen a stat where in the auto industry 70% of the jobs at one plant were replaced by robots and defects dropped by 80%. These people don’t just go down the road and get another job. They are out of that line of work permanently. And they are not the best group for job retraining at the scale needed to give them a new career. The result is they drop out of the economy (lowering the “participation rate”) and sometimes succumb to substance abuse and/or depression. Without income they also don’t buy as many goods and services depressing the economy for everyone.

We need to rethink our social compact and figure out how to get through this coming “Great Displacement” and take care of these people. After all they are not some abstract group but our relatives, neighbours, friends and especially our kids. If not, those people out of work will become desperate and angry. They might even elect an autocrat to represent them who will promise to make things great again. It isn’t possible – there is no going back. And the charade of pretending it can be done is not good for anyone.

The first step to solving a problem is acknowledging you have one. And we have a big one.