The Machines Are Coming!

Recently, I have seen a lot of discussion about the future of employment. Many people, from futurists to Leftists, are saying that machines will replace people and most people will be unemployed. This is hogwash, though it has been popular for at least 200 years, when the Luddites were smashing machinery.

Perhaps they didn’t know better, in the early days of Industrial Revolution. Maybe they really didn’t think of machines as providing an escape from drudgery.

They might not have thought that people were freed from long days of backbreaking labor. They may not have considered that increasing productivity benefits the worker, the investor, and the customer—pretty much everyone.

Today, we don’t have their excuse. Economics teaches these points clearly, and this is not my point in writing this essay.


700364-real-world-robotsMotoman caught in flagrante delicto, stealing the job of a short order cook. Somebody's got to do something!

(Photo credit: AP)


My point is that we have too many closet central planners, screaming to get out. Workers are afraid of losing their jobs. Social thinkers worry about unemployment.

Economists refuse to understand rising productivity. Futurists fret that there is a dark side to progress. All of them are lending their support to central planning, whether they realize it or not.

Implicit in every one of these views is a simple confession. The worker, the social thinker, the economist, and the futurist do not know what the next big industry, the next big employer, will be. And, it’s not their job to know that!

This is the flaw in central planning. The central planner does not know.

It’s the entrepreneur’s job to figure out how best to put people to work.


bmw robots

Industrial robots in a BMW factory. Today, more and more manufacturing is done by machines. As Bastiat pointed out, it is the task of economists to look beyond that which can be seen. What this revolution in manufacturing has brought about is not only a big decline in manufacturing employment, it has also enabled consumers to enjoy more, better and cheaper manufactured goods than ever before. Nobody thinks of complaining today that over 90% of the back-breaking jobs that once existed in agriculture have disappeared. Neither does such a complaint make sense in the context of manufacturing. People once complained bitterly about the long work hours and drudgery they were subjected to in factories. Now they are complaining of being relieved of it…it just makes no sense. They seemingly don't realize that there are categories of jobs today that didn't even exist ten years ago. As long as there is more land (in the widest sense) than labor, and as long as not all human wants are 100% satisfied, there will be remunerative work to do for everybody who wants to work. Involuntary unemployment is entirely due to so-called 'pro labor' laws hampering the market (picture comments by PT, photo credit: BMW).


Dr. Keith Weiner is the president of the Gold Standard Institute USA, and CEO of Monetary Metals.  Keith is a leading authority in the areas of gold, money, and credit and has made important contributions to the development of trading techniques founded upon the analysis of bid-ask spreads.  Keith is a sought after speaker and regularly writes on economics.  He is an Objectivist, and has his PhD from the New Austrian School of Economics.  He lives with his wife near Phoenix, Arizona.




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One Response to “In the Future, Will Everyone Be Unemployed?”

  • Kreditanstalt:

    Good points! The trouble is that the benefits accruing from increases in productivity go to the very limited numbers of immediately-involved entrepreneurs, business-owners and highly-paid technicians/employees.

    I’m *NOT* calling for any kind of government action in response to this, though. In fact, were I freed of property taxes, mandatory municipal bills, base-rate utility costs and sundry taxes and deductions I could live for a very long time on my savings and a very minimal income from part-time employment!

    We live in an era of unprecedented leisure – something we could realise IF government and its multitudinous misallocations of capital, propping-up of inefficient employees and industries, cronyism, favouritism, and monopoly-granting were eliminated.

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