Monday, July 30, 2012

It’s the Technology, Stupid!

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Just four years ago during America’s presidential election, outsourcing to India and China’s currency manipulation were the bogeymen, the former blamed for the loss of jobs and the latter for the weakness of exports. But increasingly the culprit is the robot. Automation now removes as many manufacturing jobs from the economy as outsourcing. Witness the U.S. Postal Service, which will have to cut 35,000 jobs by 2015, and how digitization has forced bookstore chains such as Borders into bankruptcy [..].

If technology drives economics — rather than the reverse — then we should elevate the notion of geo-technology above that of geopolitics and geo-economics as well [..] Samuel Huntington chided his fellow political scientists for not recognizing that “economics is the most important source of power and well-being.” Today that same statement is true of technology.

Even though technology has become a scapegoat in American politics, it is also widely recognized as part of the solution. The internet creates 2.6 jobs domestically for each one that is lost to automation. The new great hope for a grassroots economic revival is the advent of 3D printing, which some call the “next industrial revolution,” for its potential to revive a nationwide DIY manufacturing movement. Small-scale prototypes can be produced in much smaller quantities, and bought and traded on increasingly popular websites like Etsy.com, which has over 15 million users and growing.

Technology also enables the increasingly wide and liquid market for task bartering and skill exchanges: Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is already the world’s largest part-time workforce. The next wave of job creation could come from green construction, meaning retrofitting for low-emissions buildings and installing smart grid equipment such as solar cells and constructing wind farms.

Our political discourse today obsesses over economic headlines at the expense of technological foresight. In America it passes as penetrating wisdom that Obama will be re-elected if unemployment drops below 8%. But America’s structural unemployment won’t be unwound by statistical sleights of hand. What every citizen and worker in the world today needs is not higher IQ or EQ but higher TQ: technology quotient.