By Frank Grieco
John Maynard Keynes, a famous American economist, predicted in the early 1900's that the United States economy would become so prosperous that people would only have to work for 15 hours a week. The prediction he made never fully materialized. The American economy is the most prosperous in the world by many measures; however, the number of hours has not decreased despite the phenomenally productive American worker. Not only has the number of hours not dropped, but wages are not keeping pace to reflect worker productivity.
Productivity measures the amount of output of labor produces, “stuff”, each hour. From 1948 to 1973, productivity and wage growth were relatively evenly distributed. Hourly productivity increased at the rate of 96.7 percent, while worker compensation increased at 91.3 percent. Wages and productivity were increasing in tandem. There was a remarkable change from the period of 1974 to 2016. During that period productivity increased 73.7 percentage points while hourly wages increased only 12.3 percent. American workers are producing more and not getting as much in return. The majority of productivity gains have been going to the owners in the form of profit. This is why the American worker feels as though they are not getting a fair hand.
Technology is one factor that has lead to higher worker performance, but there is a growing concern that technological advancement will replace the worker completely. President Trump has even placed a provision in his new tax bill to allow corporations to accelerate the transformation from worker to computers by allowing corporations to fully write off investments in the first year of purchase. If workers are replaced as jobs become obsolete, how will they get income? Either way, technological and productivity gains should not just go to those who are the owner class. For the past couple of decades that is exactly what has happened. Maybe Keynes solution is a good one. A shorter work week would allow the worker segments of society receive the gains from technology and the fruits of productive laborer, not just the owners.
By Jennifer Lawson
A New Year is at hand and we've got a lot to be excited about here at The New Floridian. Recently, our team grew significantly. I welcome our new contributors and encourage you to learn more about them on our About Us page.
Lately, I have renewed my interest in workers rights, a universal basic income, a shorter workweek, and more. I have written about these topics here at The New Floridian and in other places. In 2018, I believe we can invigorate our society and begin the process of putting into place new and improved policies that benefit everyone.
I have also begun the process of doing research on artificial intelligence (AI). I initially became interested in AI because one theory is that automation and robotics will soon take away jobs. Indeed, this is already happening. Then I got interested independently in AI, thinking about whether AI can become self-reflective and truly "human." My current view is that it can be. It's only a matter of time.
Some worry that AI will eventually take over and enslave and destroy humans. Maybe I have no reason to be optimistic about this, but I am. I am hopeful about the future and I think what many people do not see is the potential for AI to help us develop better theories of, say, ethics and justice. If AI can help us develop these things, I welcome future bot-friends even more!
Join us this month in discussing these and other topics.