Smart robots will take over a third of jobs by 2025 by some estimates. One common proposal is better education as a solution to the massive labor disruption automation will soon cause. It promises continued economic growth and social prosperity with no major reformative action. Quality education is essential to human progress, and should be accessible to all members of society regardless of their income. However, on its own, it will not do enough to mitigate technological unemployment in the years ahead.
A World of tech Workers Isn’t Realistic or Optimal
Everyone cannot become a programmer, or any of the other limited occupations which will be left as automation continues to progress. Previous waves of automation and globalization have shown how flawed this idea is. The rust belt didn’t transform into a booming tech sector when all the auto jobs disappeared. People have a wide range of abilities which should be celebrated. Currently, there is much essential work done in our society which we do not financially reward. This includes raising kids, learning, community service, and early stage entrepreneurship: ironically, many of the things which cannot be automated.
Skill Scarcity and Pay
Even if it were realistic for everyone to learn STEM skills, this still would not solve the problem. More education means that the skills necessary to actually create value in the information age will become less scarce. As the last 40 years have demonstrated, the value a worker creates is entirely uncoupled from their pay. So, if everyone had the skills to get STEM jobs, they might be making as much as fast food workers do today.
Raising the Barrier to Entry
More widespread education raises the minimum amount of time and money people must invest in training before being able to enter the workforce and make a living wage. This is an especially significant problem for people who are poor and already disadvantaged. In the past 40 years we have seen the cost of going to college increase rapidly, while the returns grow only at a gradual pace. Many college graduates are now struggling members of the American precariat, working long hours to pay off debt and taking on unpaid internships to stand out in a job market where their degree is not worth the invested time and money.
The idea that education can sufficiently mitigate technological labor displacement is a comfortable one that appeals to people because it allows us to carry on as usual without any fundamental change in our society. While fantastic for many other reasons, better education alone will not save us from a jobless future.
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