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American Unemployment, Is It the Natural Progression of Technical Darwinism?

Unemployment is the cause of anger, frustration and worries about the economy.  Neither political party is immune from the backlash.  The House of Representatives changed hands, incumbents from both parties were tossed out and the approval ratings for all are dismal.

But is it fair to blame government or our political parties?  There is a school of thought that blames deficit spending for our economic troubles.  There is another school of thought that blames our economic condition of the lack of government spending.  Are our taxes too high?  Are our taxes too low?  What is the correct balance for economic growth and stability?

Many blame globalization as the cause for unemployment.  With companies outsourcing everything from manufacturing to accounting to programming, the loss of American jobs to overseas workers is an easy target for unhappy and/or unemployed Americans.  So what should the government do?  Should they increase import taxes on foreign goods?  Should the government penalize US companies for outsourcing?  Keep in mind that in a global economy, the United States also exports goods and services.  What we do via taxes could also happen to us in reverse.  So what’s the right answer?

These are the questions that the American politicians debate and as we watch CNN, FOX or MSNBC, we debate these same questions.  However, regardless of your point of view, we may need to look at another question.

Are technological advances causing a decline in employment?

When Henry Ford created the first production line for cars, he increased output, productivity and the workforce.  Early on, technology increased labor because it enabled output and production to meet demand.  Early technologies enabled the American worker to achieve more.

Today however, technology can displace people.  Any task that is repetitive can be automated.  This is true on the factory floor, and it’s also true in an office environment.  How many bank tellers have been replaced by ATM’s?  How many bookkeepers have been replaced by accounting software?  How many retail clerks have been replaced by e-commerce sites such as Amazon.com?

It’s true that ATM’s need to be maintained, websites are modified and accounting software is updated.  But the number of ATM technicians is far less than the number of displaced tellers.  The same is true for clerks and bookkeepers.

As technology advances, more and more specialized skills are needed.  Unfortunately, the number of people needed does not replace the number people displaced.  Those with technical abilities thrive and those without, as Darwin might say, are the ones that die out.  

This new economic and technical structure could be one of the root causes for our current economic problems.  Add to that, outsourcing and government spending to see the big picture.

Even with infrastructure projects such as bridges, roads and dams, or investments in new technologies, the picture does not really change.  Bridges, roads and dams are big projects that create a lot of temporary jobs during the construction phase.  Once built, without more projects, these jobs disappear.  New technologies such as renewable energy will help.  But again, they will fall into the same economic Darwinism.

So what does this have to do with our usual topics of online document management and workflow?  Well, what’s true for individuals is also true for organizations.  Those with the right technology thrive.  Those without, well you know Darwin’s thoughts.

Companies are the driving force behind any economy.  For an economy to grow, companies need to innovate and prosper.

So maybe the problem is government.  Maybe the problem is outsourcing.  Maybe the problem is technology.  Or maybe the problem is not having the right technology.

Topics: Government, Technology

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