The New Renaissance and Industrial Revolution
First came the Renaissance, an age of enlightenment that pushed back the Dark Ages and set the stage for Western Civilization’s climb out of centuries of serf-monarch-church dominated stagnation.
Learning and discovery followed, a cascade that culminated with the birth of the Industrial Revolution. Adding to mankind’s occupational portfolio of hunting, gathering, agriculture and crafts, permanent industrial change paid dividends of leisure time to replace drudgery.
In combination, these two process-based events built for the first time in human history a middle class that traded labor its for purchasing power, a mutually beneficial cycle of exchange. The laborers built goods, but they also earned the money to buy those goods.
Passing time, we entered the Technology Revolution in the post-World War II period, an ever-faster acceleration of the Industrial Revolution’s promise.
The question to ask now is: Are our strides being undone by our own employment of these technological tools and processes?
Anthropologists point to climax civilizations of the not-so-distant past that abandoned reason and embraced mysticism and fantasy as public policy. In essence, they gave up practicality and science they knew had served them well in favor of dreaming without substance.
Which makes more sense when your pueblo or jungle capital begins to starve from a prolonged drought or other natural disasters? Should you employ your best efforts to prop up the civil order using tools of logic and science, or meditate, chant and try human sacrifice in a vain attempt to appease a higher power? We have abandoned Anasazi cliff dwellings and jungle-covered pyramids to tell us the answer.
Public policy in today’s world seems to be shifting to mysticism and appeasement of lesser gods rather than retaining its grasp on sane and proper options.
Take the national quest for a “fair living wage,” as its backers promote it. Who can argue that those working entry-level jobs meant for the unskilled should be paid equally for their labors as experienced professionals and journeymen? The answer is: Those who think through the consequences.
One consequence is working its way out here in California. The dominant political forces of this state have passed a cascade of these “fairness” propositions into lasting law. They raised the minimum wage. They provided new mandates for free parental leave. They dictated shorter workweeks with more liberal overtime.
Look at just one response: Hall Winery. Faced with a future characterized by labor cost spiraling out of control through political coercion, Hall is investing serious capital into automation. They have a new grape sorter/grader that does in hours what dozens of workers took far longer to accomplish. Utilizing a conveyer, camera and computer system that photographs every grape at a rate of more than 100,000 pictures per second, it evaluates the quality of every berry and sorts them to the crusher or to the waste bin.
As many as 90 agricultural employees will lose their jobs, but Hall will continue its operations and stay profitable. It’s wine will also be higher quality and higher priced.
Another case: Robo-ordering at fast-food chains. When entry-level workers become too expensive to pay even when employers charge $10 for hamburgers and tacos that used to be a couple of bucks, look for a kiosk to replace them. Now we’re talking about serious numbers. Millions of entry-level jobs.
How’s that “fairness” working out now, political class? You are about to begin reaping the consequences of what you have wrought.
On the flip side, millions without paychecks will not be buying much wine or hamburgers with fries. Not everyone is genetically equipped to jump over entry-level to upper division. Which brings this conjecture to its penultimate point.
What will the society’s dominate political class do next to provide gainful employment and maintain consumption when their failed policies force a broad segment of consumers from the job marketplace and leave behind a detritus of misery, dejection and hopelessness?
We’re not just talking about production and service jobs at the lower end of the labor spectrum. Look for automation and technological replacement of labor in much larger settings, from manufacturing to banks, insurance to healthcare.
I watched a demo several years back of a startup that had a hospital bed that changed its own soiled linen for fresh while the patient rested on the bed, dispensing for the need for hospital orderlies and practical nurses.
Remote-sensing scalpel-wielding surgeons are performing operations with human physicians, but one can clearly see the day when that human touch won’t be needed. All you need is competent programmers, we suppose. Hope they had some way of supporting themselves while they got that education.
Yelp and Uber already dispense with drivers and predict that they will adopt driverless technology now in testing. Crossing industries, Amazon seeks to dispense with deliverymen and women as they already dispensed with many in their warehouses.
This is a wake-up call. We are months or short years away from hundreds of millions of displaced unemployed seeking retraining — for what? What jobs will they retrain to perform? How many jobs will robot and automation maintenance require?
Artificial intelligence never has a sick day, never has its mind wander and is always on the job, 24-7-365. Will we be?
The question we must answer isn’t how to stop the bleeding of jobs and corporations to overseas locations and bringing them back to the U.S., it’s finding a way to maintain our consumption-based economy in the face of a determined, powerful, ignorant and superstitious political leadership and a cabal of equally powerful enablers with an agenda to undo five centuries of progress.