Analysis of The End of Work By Jeremy Rifkin – Part III: The Decline of the Global Labor Force

I must admit I was pretty excited to read this section of Rifkin’s book. I come from a long line of farmers, factory workers, and service workers, so I can identify with these particular groups of people. Indisputably, I have noticed a drastic decline in the farming and factory sectors in the state of North Carolina, since the 1980s. I have, indeed, saw a few of my family members lose jobs in recent decades. Yet, I am not sure automation is completely to blame for this dynamic.

Mo More Farmers

When Rifkin wrote this book, back in the 90s, he claimed that, even though half of the world’s population still farmed land, “new break throughs in the information and life sciences threaten to end much of the outdoor farming by the middle decades of the coming century.” (Rifkin, 1995) What Rifkin is saying here is my children and grandchildren may know a world with effectively little to no farmers. I do feel like some of the information Rifkin shared does contradict his claims, such as the development of agricultural software. Although this software has alleviated the need for manual methods for such things as soil evaluation, in turn, it has given farmers the ability to devise more complex, yet quicker and more effective, ways of doing prep work. This means they now have a better way to prevent soil erosion and the ability to predict how often crops should be rotated without waiting for several crop cycles to pass, before being able to pinpoint any issues. Also, the fact remains, plants still need soil, light, and water to reproduce. The location dynamic of location may have changed, but the fact remains automation has yet to take the place of the essential elements a plant needs in order to thrive.

Hanging Up the Blue Collar

In this section, Rifkin discusses the effects of automation on the automotive industry. Over time, robotics with the ability to create tasks much quicker than humans has emerged to the forefront of the trade. According to the author, “Robots are becoming increasingly attractive as a cost-cutting alternative to human labor on the automobile assembly line.” (Rifkin, 1995) If you have been keeping up advancements in the automotive industry, you have also probably noticed this trend. After reading an article in Business Insider, I learned the fear of robotic breakthroughs is not a new things. According to the article,  “Here’s How Robots Could Change The World By 2025,” every time there has been a shift in technology, people often wonder where new jobs will come from when previous jobs are lost. Contributor, John Mauldin, states:

“As I’ve noted more than once, in the 1970s (as it seemed that our jobs were disappearing, never to return), the correct answer to the question, ‘Where will the jobs come from?’ was ‘I don’t know, but they will.’ That was more a faith-based statement than a fact-based one, but whole new categories of jobs did in fact get created in the ’80s and ’90s.” (Mauldin, 2014)

If we look back on history, one thing looks certain, when jobs were lost, due to the creation of more innovating technologies, new jobs were created which filled the need for employment by those displaced workers.

The Last Service Worker

Extending on what I said in the last section, we have always found a way to create new jobs. Look no further than the service industry. In the past, when manufacturing workers lost their jobs, due to changes in the industry, those workers were able to find employment in the service industry. Rifkin argues that this will soon be a thing of the past, because automation has also had a huge impact on the service industry. For example, Mutual Benefit Life (MBL) “re-engineered” the way the company processes claims, cutting the processing time down from 22 days to just four hours, by finding more effective ways to do the work. (Rifkin, 1995) Of course, this new process eliminated the need for many positions in the company. But, a I previously stated, the birth of new technology has always created other opportunities in other areas of work.

Conclusion

Job loss in any industry is always a contentious subject to tackle. Rifkin is directly saying that eventually automation is going to destroy most jobs in every sector, if not all of them. Such a development could be detrimental to the human race. Are we really heading in that direction? What do you think?

Resources

Mauldin, J. (2014, August 20). Here’s How Robots Could Change The World By 2025. Retrieved February 26, 2019, from https://www.businessinsider.com/heres-how-robots-could-change-the-world-by-2025-2014-8

Rifkin, J. (1995). The end of work. 1st ed. New York, N.Y.: Putnam’s Sons.

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