There has, and perhaps always will be, an endless fear among people that technological innovations will harm the economy in the long run. People from all parts of the world and all periods of time have rallied and held conferences, telling others to be wary of new advancements, for they will take away jobs and cause massive waves of unemployment. This was especially true during the Industrial Revolution. Workers would literally destroy machines during the Industrial Revolution because doing so, they believed, would save their job.
Yet, time and time again, there hasn’t been a single instance where the advancement in technology made the economy of a society worse, let alone created a net loss in employment. And there is no reason to believe that will change anytime soon.
First, we need to look from a logical perspective on this argument. If every new advancement or idea since prehistoric times has increased unemployment to some extent, the conclusion to be drawn would be revolutionary. Taken to the most literal extent possible, all of the technological progress of the past should be destroyed and the advancements of the future be avoided.
But this is where so-called “technophobes” are logically inconsistent. No sane person honestly believes this because we all know that each individual looks to save his/her own labor by achieving an end using the most efficient means possible. Every business owner looks to create the biggest profit in the most economically efficient way. The fact that unemployment, for as long as records have been kept, has stayed relatively stable proves otherwise. In fact, technological innovations often create far more jobs than they take away. And not only are more jobs created, but the new technology increases production, which subsequently increases workers’ wages.
Take, for example, a situation where fast-food chains decide to set up self-serve kiosks at their franchises. These kiosks eliminate the need for a cashier, so cashiers lose their job. While technophobes will be quick to point this out, it is commonly overlooked is that jobs must be produced to make and maintain a self-serve kiosk. Yes, on a short-term basis, these people will be out of a job, but now that the demand for self-serve kiosks increases, manufacturing companies that create kiosks will see an increase in job openings to meet the demand. Another group of people will get a job in troubleshooting when the machines malfunction.
Lastly, to put the icing on the cake, consumers can now buy fast food at a cheaper price since labor costs have gone down. Consumers can now use that extra money to invest in other businesses, which indirectly creates jobs for those businesses. Perhaps the laid off cashiers can now pick up jobs in these businesses, and if this happens, we can conclude that the introduction of self-serving kiosks increased employment by creating jobs that didn’t exist before. The main fallacy of technophobes is that they focus only on the cashiers who lose their jobs, and only for a short-term period, while disregarding all others who are positively affected by the investment in kiosks.
One strategy used by technophobes is the use of unions to stifle technological advancement and save jobs. Many unions will intentionally give workers the lowest level technology possible to perform their job on the basis that. Since they will be so inefficient, many workers will need to be hired to make up for the lack of efficiency, thereby increasing employment. While their heart may be in the right place, all this does is make our economy less efficient and lower our standard of living.
A union of painters, for example, may use only paintbrushes rather than paint guns, solely because paint guns are more efficient and less time consuming, which reduces the amount of necessary labor. But this will obviously increase labor costs for the business owner. Entrepreneurs, like all people, invest their money in other businesses too. Every dollar the business owner has to spend just to maintain his/her business is a dollar that could be used investing in other businesses, and again, this indirectly creates jobs there. The conclusion can be drawn that because low-level technology was used to perform a task, other businesses are losing out on potential employment opportunities.
If these arguments don’t convince technophobes otherwise, my last argument would center around their existence as a human being. The world population, as of the time of this writing, is over 7.5 billion people, creeping up to 8 billion people. That is well over 10 times larger than the world population before the Industrial Revolution began in the mid-18th century. In fact, just since the beginning of the millennium, our population has increased about 1.5 billion people. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the population of the world sat around 500 million, and population growth was slow and gradual.
The primary reason for the human population to escalate in such a short time is precisely due to technological advancements. Advancements in the effectiveness and production of everything from vaccines and GMOs to farming and medical technology contributed to the rapid increase in human population. You could, therefore, make the argument that most of us are alive on this planet due to advancements in technology. Without these machines and advancements in technology, the world would not be able to support our population. If their very existence does not convince them of the positive trends of advancing technology, I have to believe nothing will.