Oxford academics have studied the way technological innovation is impacting society, and its likely impact on jobs. They conclude a third to a half of all jobs in the US and the UK are at risk, as wages stagnate and inequality grows.
It is easy to write off such dramatic headlines. Is this another long-range forecast like others in the past that have proved to be optimistic? Authors Frey and Osborne don’t give us a timeline. But they claim it’s not far off: ‘Around 47% of jobs are at risk of displacement by technologies that are largely already available’.
Their concern is not just about jobs. They raise wider economic and social concerns. The beneficiaries of previous technological revolutions have been consumers, workers and owners. This time owners are benefiting, as are consumers. The sharing economy gives us AirBnB, Uber, Dropbox and numerous other services that lower costs and – to a greater or lesser degree – improve our lives. But this time innovation and higher productivity is not leading to wage growth, so workers are being left behind. That’s not true of all workers – those who are highly skilled (with skills for future jobs?) will be amongst the winners.
Overall the result is continued growth in inequality (of wealth and income). In 2013 Oxfam calculated that the richest 85 people owned the same wealth as half the world’s population.
Hope, according to the Oxford report, lies in ‘creative destruction’ of new businesses (which also destroy old wealth), in taxing consumption rather than income, in supporting the self-employed who are still on the rise, and – above all in my view – by creative destruction in the education sector. Vast higher education costs should – and ultimately will – be upturned by creative destruction like the Khan Academy (with the flipped classroom) and the MOOC.
Analyse your own employment prospects here: Will a robot take your job?