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August 5, 2011 21:00:04.000

I was reading an article by Jeff Jarvis, in which he posits the "jobless future" due to automation. This passage, for instance:

Take retail. Borders. Circuit City. Sharper Image. KB Toys. CompUSA. Dead. Every main street and every mall has empty stores that are not going to be filled. Buying things locally for immediate gratification will be a premium service because it is far more efficient — in terms of inventory cost, real estate, staffing — to consolidate and fulfill merchandise at a distance. Wal-Mart isn’t killing retailing. Amazon is. Transparent pricing online will reduce prices and profitability yet more. Retail will be more efficient.

That came to mind because the USB hub I ordered on Amazon - a replacement for the one that up and died yesterday - arrived a few minutes ago. Making do with an ancient 4 port hub for less than 24 hours was a lot simpler than heading out to Best Buy, which is what Jeff is partly on about.

His larger point is just wrong though - consider agriculture. Over the last 200 years, that's gone from a field employing nearly all people to one that employs very few, while also growing more. Did that lead to a huge problem of idle hands? The problem is simpler: the current crop of elites we have in this country (and, I think all over the world, really), is simply not ready for the future. They are desperately trying to regulate the status quo back into existence, and all they are accomplishing is stagnation. Back when the revolution of automation hit agriculture, governments mostly stood aside, and it all worked out (yes, with many bumps and problems along the way).

What we face now isn't a jobless future; it's a complete lack of useful governing elites, right across the political spectrum. They really, really don't know what they don't know.

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posted by James Robertson

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