There are going to be a great number of people out of work who have been replaced by technology. How will any of our economies afford to have so many people out of work?

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Comment by Andrew Dreasler on July 30, 2010 at 6:58am
The 'Peak Oil Disaster' do give it a name, is a serious concern, and there are a number of possible outcomes when it happens. I'll start with the scenarios where a new energy source is not available to replace petroleum.

- In a 'peaceful' scenario, we would simply need to 'gear down' from a technological, industrialized society into a collection of agricultural societies. This is where the Melting Pot of American life shines, because we already have role models and teachers to guide us into the 'new Agrarianism': the very same Dutch Friends who have been living a 'plain life' while the world has changed around them. Engineers will still be welcomed, because our knowledge of Basic Physics will still be a big help in 'reinventing' the 'pre-electric' technology we as a society have left behind.

- in the 'violent' scenario, well, it's every family for themselves until the maniacs kill each other off, then it moves on to the peaceful scenario above.

If we do find a replacement energy source in time, it will be up to the Engineers to nurture and develop the new technology unto something that can support society, much like when we shifted from Whale Oil to Rock Oil.

Really, the best advice I can give is a bit of ancient wisdom:
"Learn and plan as if you will live forever, live as if you will die tomorrow."
Comment by Stewart Bowland on July 4, 2010 at 4:17am
Gentlemen, I fear that my initial statement about technology putting people out of work was misleading as far as what my real concern was. And, as Gerald pointed out, this site is supposed to be for engineers so possibly I'm taking things to broad when I say "people out of work" which reflects our entire society as a whole. I'm not worried so much about engineers in general. They are a dynamic, resourceful group who will likely be more necessary in the future if and when we have to deal with a more rapidly changing world. My real concern was around issues like Peak Oil ( I do subscribe to the view that fossil fuels are history ) and how society, without cheap abundant energy from them, will have to contract and therefore the economy shrink and massive numbers of people will find themselves without an occupation, or at least the one they currently have. If our economies shrink or contract, there won't be demand for our skills in the same way they are in demand now. If people have no job, no money to spend, who is going to pay an engineer to engineer? At 43 I'm not sure if I'm going to get thru Peak Oil without much ill effect, but I'm sure not sure how it will effect my teenagers lives and career choices.
Comment by Gerald Pellett on July 3, 2010 at 10:01am
I agree that the economy cannot afford to have lots of people out of work. However I'm not sure that it is technology's fault, nor am I sure that it's permanent. Technology is a tool, and like any tool it can be used inappropriately or inefficiently. Economies are shaped by people’s actions. They may use tools (technology) to forge the economy but the tools themselves are passive. People can learn to use new tools, and many doors are open to train them, so if a technology makes certain jobs obsolete a person can adapt and change. It takes effort, but life isn’t free.
Most technology changes are due to companies and individuals who wanted to make more money by either creating more product or service at less cost, or by offering a new solution. Labor is expensive so it is no surprise that executives want to minimize it. Executives’ main loyalties are to profits, not people. To compete and survive, companies must keep finding tools to trim costs. Aggravating this situation is that many workers get lazy and do not want to improve themselves. They’d rather just go in and do pretty much the same job every day, with pay increases every year. Soon they become stale and their productivity costs more than a company can tolerate. So technology is developed to replace labor. Like swimming, if you quit stroking whose fault is it if you start sinking?
This site is for engineers, so let’s focus upon them. I think that you can split people who choose engineering into two camps: people who are truly curious about how things work and how to improve them, and people who thought that engineering might be a good way to earn a living. The truly curious never become obsolete because they have enough drive to keep pushing their knowledge. They are involved in more than just a 9 to 5 job. The others start sinking. Unfortunately, both types can become unemployed due to circumstances beyond their control – circumstances orchestrated by executives. But the curious group can bounce back. Society still wants technical solutions to many problems, and many situations cannot be outsourced (require hands-on). You have to be willing to work, and willing to take a few steps back before you can climb a new ladder. Unemployment becomes permanent only when you stop trying.
Comment by Scott McCafferty on May 28, 2010 at 9:43am
Great post Andrew -

Glass half full or half empty?

A little bit of pity soup never really cured any problems. The reality check is that we must be willing to re-educate ourselves, accept lesser pay, and work our tails off in our new jobs, so that we get back to where we were in income and professional rankings.

Work harder than your colleagues, look out for the best interest of your company, and always be nice to your competition and good things will always happen.

Most of all, never, never give up.

Comment by Andrew Dreasler on May 28, 2010 at 6:48am
Prom your cross-post in another blog, you pointed out that you are thinking about the people who can not or will not 're-engineer' themselves to keep up with the changing economy and employment scene. There are a lot of subgroups within that group, and there is no 'one size fits all' solution. Let's start by breaking the mega-group into categories.

In the 'can not re-engineer themselves category, we have the following.
- Aged members of the workforse, who have become too set in their ways to learn new things. These people are also most likely nearing retirement age, so there is a solution already set up, in fact it may be the thoughts of impending retirement that is making them resistant to change, "Why learn a new system if I'm going to retire before I can get fully trained on it?"
- The mentally and physically challenged. Institutions are already in place to help these people get through life.
- The 'poor & uneducated', This group, who do not have the education & training to compete effectively in the job market, and do not have the funds to get the education they need, have been a puzzle that society has been trying to solve for generations, one more change in the job market won't really affect this group one way or the other, these poor souls are already locked out in the cold, as it were, the number of locks on the door is mere trivia when there are no keys available.

As to the category of those who can re-engineer themselves, but will not do so, In can only think of two categories:
- Aged members of the workforse. Yes, the same category that headed the last group, it's often hard to determine if "I'm too old to lear new things before I retire' is due to being overwhelmed by the modern world, or by being stubborn and not wanting to take on new challenges as the employment lifecycle draws to a close.
- 'Outsiders,' for lack of a better term, people who have the means to keep up to speed with the changing face of technology, but chose not to. I don't know what to say about this group, because it ranges from the kids who dropped out of school because it was 'cool' to do so, all the way to the diligent, hardworking, technology shunning Mennonites. At one end you have people who are choosing to be a burden on Society, at the other you have people who are choosing to maintain a Society of their own, separate from 'those crazy English' as our Dutch Friends tend to call us when they quietly chuckle at our mishaps with modern 'conveniences,' )after all, you've never seen an Amish buggy pulled to the side of the road because it's out of fuel, have you?)

This is a fascinating topic, and I'm looking forward to seeing some spirited debate over what we can, cannot, should, and should not do to try and 'solve' this problem.


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