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Computers Can’t Take All The Jobs Without Ruining The Economy As We Know It

There’s been a lot of back-and-forth about computers making people’s jobs obsolete. Zeynep Tufekci writes in The New York Times, “Yes, the machines are getting smarter, and they’re coming for more and more jobs.” Okay, everybody panic.

scary computer
Illustration via

But wait—if a huge swathe of the people who formerly had disposable income are unemployed, it’ll wreak havoc on the economy. When people don’t have money to buy things/services, businesses will stop making things and providing services. Supply and demand, right?

Purely hypothetical example: Whole Foods lays off a logistics analyst because software does the job faster, cheaper, and possibly better. The unemployed analyst can’t afford to shop at Whole Foods anymore. Therefore Whole Foods has lost a customer because of its new software.

Picture this happening on a massive scale, and consider the cross-company effects. Laid-off analysts or middle managers — or whoever — also can’t afford Apple products, or fancy branded clothes, or [insert product purchased with disposable income, frivolous or not].

Am I missing something here? I feel like this is a big problem with the idea that computers are going to take all the jobs and we won’t figure out new occupations for people. If you have thoughts on this, please actually respond!

The Facebook comments are interesting, as is the thought my dad posted below.

3 thoughts on “Computers Can’t Take All The Jobs Without Ruining The Economy As We Know It

  1. In the long run, it’s not really useful to think of automation as “taking jobs.” Automation changes the value of certain tasks so that skills centered on those tasks become less valued in light of automation. But, what we notice is that the job market gradually reshapes itself around this new economic reality. If we think over a longer time span, we could say that all the automation of household tasks (gas stove, dishwasher, washer/dryer, prepared foods) freed women from being bound to the household, enabled freedom from a certain kind of “lower level” activity, and enabled women to enter the workforce and take on more challenging roles. In that example, automation created both employees and jobs.

  2. Each player in the game makes choices that maximizes his own profit, even if the sum of these individual decisions is less profit for everyone.

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