Tag: economics

Future-Proof Jobs

Future-Proof Jobs

US Navy photo by John F. Williams

Over recent weeks I’ve seen a couple of[1] articles about the jobs that it will be most difficult to automate[2] and therefore destroy. I’m a little bit sceptical about these lists. One had primary-school teacher high up[3] the list while, at the same time, we are told that 25% of university classes will be online in just[4] three years’ time. My (thankfully limited) experience of small children suggests that handing[5] them an iPad is the best way to get them to quietly concentrate on something. A soft robot with an imbedded[6] screen[7] that could stop them climbing out of the windows would seem to have many advantages over a primary-school teacher. Yes, I am suggesting that a Teletubby will replace Miss Pritchett in the foreseeable[8] future.

Another list had lawyers and doctors at the top. But surely all medical knowledge and all legal knowledge could be available in an app if not now then very soon. Medicine is just[9] matching[10] symptoms to diseases[11]; the legal profession is just remembering precedents that could be relevant to a specific case. OK, I’m exaggerating a little but both diagnostic medicine[12] and law are memory-based professions and those are precisely the ones most threatened by[13] modern technology.

Really future-proof professions are those that require a bit of creativity, a bit of social skills[14] and a lot of precision motor coordination manipulating non-standardized objects. Over the last fortnight[15] I have seen a state-of-the-art[16] robotic chef (in Korea) and a cutting-edge[17] robotic bartender[18] (at the Google conference[19] in San Francisco). They were both crap[20]. The incredibly slow automaton cook[21] got more food on the floor than in the salad bowl, while the android barman took three minutes to pour[22] a pint of beer. Whatever the experts say, for my money[23] the best future-proof jobs right now are those preparing food and drinks.

One final – more serious – comment about the future of work: the complaisant[24] often say that new jobs always emerge when technology replaces obsolete ones (e.g. when farm machinery replaced agricultural labour). However, this is the same fallacy as dismissing[25] anthropomorphic climate change because the earth’s climate has always changed. The problem isn’t evolution; it’s the speed of the change. If species don’t have time to adapt, then there’s mass extinction. If the labour market doesn’t have time to adapt, there’s mass unemployment. We read that, “65 per cent of primary-school kids[26] will have job types that don’t yet exist.” That’s putting a very positive spin[27] on the fact that two-thirds of today’s jobs won’t exist in 15 years’ time; it may just9 mean that over half the workforce will be out of work[28].

[1] a couple ofseveral

[2] to automate – replace with a machine

[3] high upnear the top of

[4] just – (in this case) only

[5] to hand – give

[6] imbedded – that is an integral part of sth.

[7] screen – the part of a computer or a TV where the images appear

[8] foreseeable – predictable, near

[9] just – (in this case) only, simply

[10] to match A to Bmarry A with B, pair up A with B

[11] diseaseillness, sickness

[12] I’m not referring to surgeons and dentists, whose jobs are very safe

[13] threatened by – in danger from

[14] skillstalent, ability

[15] fortnight – two weeks

[16] state-of-the-artultra-modern, cutting-edge

[17] cutting-edgeultra-modern, state-of-the-art

[18] bartenderbarman or barmaid, sb. who serves drinks

[19] conference – (false friend) convention

[20] crap – (informal) useless, very inefficient

[21] cook – chef

[22] to pour – (in this case) serve

[23] for my money – in my opinion

[24] the complaisantpeople who accept what they are told without protest

[25] to dismiss – ignore

[26] kidschildren

[27] spin – interpretation

[28] out of work – unemployed



Photo by http://elvertbarnes.com/protestphotography

President-elect Donald Trump has promised a massive investment[1] in the renovation of public infrastructure – bridges, highways[2], frontier walls, etc. – in the USA (originally, a Democrat proposal). He is right that many bridges and other structures badly need repairing[3]. However, as an indirect solution to US economic problems, it is a wrongheaded[4] idea.

The USA – in contrast to most of the developed world[5] – does not have an employment problem in absolute terms. US unemployment currently stands at[6] around 5%, which is pretty[7] close to full employment. The problem is not the quantity of jobs available but the quality. The job market has polarized – as it has all over the developed world5 – between a lot of McJobs[8] and a few very highly paid positions. Those who considered themselves middle-class (in terms of salary) have seen their relative social status and their absolute economic position eroded more or less continuously for decades.

An infrastructure building program is the perfect solution to high unemployment. Indeed[9], it saved the USA in the 1930s and 1940s. But construction jobs are not what Trump’s supporters[10] want. In fact, the construction boom would be a draw[11] for immigrants under normal circumstances, except that Trump has vowed[12] to expel millions of them. Unless unemployment rises[13] significantly, it will be very hard[14] to find the workers needed for Trump’s building boom.

The fact is that skilled[15] manufacturing jobs are not coming back and neither are middle-class clerical[16] jobs. Don’t expect to get a job in an office unless you are willing to[17] pay extra to be attended by[18] a human at the travel agency. If cheaper manufactured goods[19] from abroad[20] are banned[21] so that they have to be made in the USA, then they will be made by machines, not humans. The whole dynamic of late capitalisms is toward the concentration of wealth[22] in the hands of the few; victimizing immigrants or putting up tariff barriers[23] will only make matters worse[24].

Mr Trump understands speculative construction and has gambled[25] very successfully – and spectacularly unsuccessfully – on such building projects in the past. However, his wealth over the past two decades has been based primarily on brand management[26]; the name ‘Trump’ was linked to[27] conspicuous consumption[28] and the high life[29] so that it could be used to make ordinary[30] ties[31], steaks, whiskey and a string of[32] other products seem like luxury items. Could this be a model for future US prosperity?

Perhaps. An important aspect of the boom of the early years of the Blair Government in the UK was the ‘Cool Britannia’ rebranding[33]; selling the UK as a modern, open, cosmopolitan, sexy, fashionable place. Incidentally[34], Brexit has shown how uncool Britannia really is! Transferring Trump’s branding[35] success within[36] the USA to the world is a tall order[37]. The election campaign has created an international image of Mr Trump as a sexist, racist, loud-mouthed oaf[38] – ‘a punk[39] to use Robert de Niro’s description. No doubt in private Mr Trump isn’t quite so obnoxious[40] but rebranding at this point will be almost impossible. Blair had Blur, Oasis and a period of national optimism and openness on his side[41] (until he got involved in[42] somebody else’s war); Trump has a nation divided and a world that is both hostile and fearful. His infrastructure proposals[43] won’t solve the malaise[44] but they will increase the astronomical national debt. His other big economic proposal is to reduce taxes on companies and the very rich. This will lead to[45] more polarization and more resentment.

Most people understand “Make America Great Again” as referring to the 1950s. Well, at that time the top US marginal tax rate was 90%. This meant that the Administration had the resources[46] to promote the biggest consumer boom in world history. Trumponomics will not make America great again. When Donald fails[47] his resentful followers, who will they turn to[48] then?

[1] investment – expenditure on useful things

[2] highwaysintercity roads

[3] need repairing – should be fixed, need to be mended

[4] wrongheaded – misguided, showing bad judgement

[5] the developed world – the First World, rich countries

[6] to stand at (stand-stood-stood) – be

[7] pretty – (in this case) reasonably

[8] McJoblowpaid job with few prospects

[9] indeed – (emphatic) in fact

[10] supporterfollower

[11] draw – (in this case) magnet, attraction

[12] to vowpromise

[13] to rise (rise-rose-risen) – increase, go up, augment

[14] harddifficult

[15] skilledspecialist

[16] clerical – administrative

[17] to be willing to – be prepared to, be ready to

[18] to be attended by – interact with

[19] goodsproducts

[20] abroad – overseas, foreign countries

[21] to ban – prohibit

[22] wealthriches, capital

[23] tariff barrierfiscal impediment to importation

[24] to make matters worsecause the situation to deteriorate

[25] to gamble – take risks, speculate

[26] brand management – the supervision and promotion of a specific name in business

[27] to link A to B – associate A with B

[28] conspicuous consumptionbuying luxury products to increase one’s prestige

[29] the high life – the extravagant life of the rich elite

[30] ordinarynormal, standard

[31] (neck)tie – a piece of textile worn around one’s neck (typically by a businessman)

[32] a string of – a series of

[33] rebrandingchanging the public image of a corporation (or in this case, of a country)

[34] incidentally – by the way, en passant

[35] brandingbrand management26

[36] within – inside

[37] to be a tall order – be a formidable task, be sth. that will be very difficult to do

[38] oaf – ‘Neanderthal’, ‘gorilla’

[39] punk – (US English) worthless person, criminal

[40] obnoxious – extremely unpleasant

[41] on his side – in his favour

[42] to get involved instart to participate in

[43] proposal – plan, program

[44] malaise – unhappiness, anxiety

[45] to lead to (lead-led-led) – result in

[46] resourcesmoney, financing

[47] to fail – be unsuccessful, not triumph

[48] to turn tofollow, support