The End of Work as We Know It

1. July 2015

Date: 01-07-2015
Source: Project Syndicate

JEAN PISANI-FERRYPisani-Ferry CC

Jean Pisani-Ferry is a professor at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, and currently serves as Commissioner-General for Policy Planning for the French government. He is a former director of Bruegel, the Brussels-based economic think tank.

PARIS – In 1983, the American economist and Nobel laureate Wassily Leontief made what was then a startling prediction. Machines, he said, are likely to replace human labor much in the same way that the tractor replaced the horse. Today, with some 200 million people worldwide out of work – 30 million more than in 2008 – Leontief’s words no longer seem as outlandish as they once did. Indeed, there can be little doubt that technology is in the process of completely transforming the global labor market.

To be sure, predictions like Leontief’s leave many economists skeptical, and for good reason. Historically, increases in productivity have rarely destroyed jobs. Each time that machines yielded gains in efficiency (including when tractors took over from horses), old jobs disappeared, but new jobs were created. Furthermore, economists are number crunchers, and recent data show a slowdown – rather than an acceleration – in productivity gains. When it comes to the actual number of jobs available, there are reasons to question the doomsayers’ dire predictions. Yet there are also reasons to think that the nature of work is changing. Read the rest of this entry »