Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: ‘Automated Out of Work’ a Good Thing

During a discussion at this year’s SXSW, U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY 14th District) suggested that automation could ultimately prove a good thing.

“We should not be haunted by the specter of being automated out of work,” she told the audience, according to The Verge. “We should be excited by that. But the reason we’re not excited by it is because we live in a society where if you don’t have a job, you are left to die. And that is, at its core, our problem.”

Automation, she added, could free up time for people to create art, invent things, and generally “[enjoy] the world that we live in.” However, she didn’t offer a specific plan for automating the U.S. workforce to the point of fully automated luxury communism (as Boing Boing so adeptly put it).

A cursory glance at Twitter shows that Ocasio-Cortez praising automation was enough to trigger a lot of Very Smart People on the Internet.

Nonetheless, automation (and its impact on jobs) is always worth a discussion. At this point, analysts generally agree that A.I., machine learning, and other automation-centric technologies will continue to erode human jobs in key sectors, including technology.

In late 2018, for instance, a report from analyst firm Forrester suggested that automation would kill 10 percent of jobs this year. Even as software reduces the need for customer-service agents, warehouse workers, and other employees, it’s also boosting demand for human app builders, machine-learning specialists, and robotics experts. All told, Forrester estimated, intelligent software will create the equivalent of 3 percent of the current job stock.

But if the trend toward automation continues apace, the job cuts could accelerate, and that could have a negative impact on a lot of employees (no matter what Ocasio-Cortez says). This past holiday season, Citi analyst Mark May stated that Amazon was succeeding in its long-term plan to automate its warehouses, based on seasonal hiring data. And Amazon isn’t the only company rushing to cut human costs. It’s unrealistic to expect that every human worker who loses a job to a machine will quickly find a new one.

A few years ago, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates floated the idea of a “robot tax” to help mitigate the societal disruption related to automation. “If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level,” he said in a video posted by Quartz. In theory, that money could go to job training or some form of universal basic income (although as FiveThirtyEight pointed out at the time, determining eligibility for universal basic income would prove a logistically nightmarish task, even before you tackle the program’s insane cost).

Those who ultimately keep their jobs will have skills that machines can’t replicate, such as creativity and empathy. In fact, older tech workers who have mastered the gentle arts of communication and collaboration might find themselves “safer” than younger workers who have technical skills but can’t necessarily manage human beings. No matter how sophisticated the machines become, “soft skills” can prove vital to maintaining your current position—and advancing your career.

12 Responses to “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: ‘Automated Out of Work’ a Good Thing”

  1. wageSlave

    “Even as software reduces the need for customer-service agents, warehouse workers, and other employees, it’s also boosting demand for human app builders, machine-learning specialists, and robotics experts.” Apparently, Forrester doesn’t understand the nature of software development. I would even call her naive. With automation you give up permanent jobs for small number of short term temporary jobs. Eventually, when the tech workers are finished all the jobs are finished in perpetuity.

    Which brings the real question to mind, what does a jobless economy look like? Currently, most artists don’t make enough to pay the bills. They live in poverty their whole lives. Is that what a jobless economy looks like? 99% poverty? I see the impoverished buying lottery tickets all the time. Is that going to be the retirement plan in all our futures?

    • Wage-wise, in relation to experienced IT professionals, most Millennials ALREADY live in poverty with dimming hopes up upward compensation mobilty. Relative to the massive explosion of billionaires and multimilionaires, these same IT people live in poverty. Wages have stagnated in the IT industry for the last 20 years (even un-adjusted for inflation). Large corporations view us as a commodity, and with the wide proliferation of foreign-based recruiting companies, there has been a race to the bottom to please companies with ever lower bill rates for contractors. And desperate IT workers who have mortgages, keep giving in instead of refusing to work for less. Unionization anyone?
      The bottom line is that this hypercapitalism is UNSUSTAINABLE. Margaret Thatcher once famously said ““The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money”. She was dead wrong on so many levels. The fact is, ripping off middle and lower class workers, in order for the super-rich to amass fortunes that can’t be spent in 10 generations is unsustainable. As anyone who has played Sim City can attest, when the general population does not have enough food to eat and money to buy things, birth rates dip, which implies that in the long term aggregate demand for goods and services goes down, and fewer people will exist that the ultra-rich can rip off. At some point you can’t extract any more productivity from an ever more impoverished workforce.

      • A.) You seem to forget the “Ultra-rich” die. Their fortunes go to Government with Estate Taxes. Most will give to charity on death. And yes a few leave it to over-privileged children who turn around and squander it. The general population atrophy you describe generally takes 40 years to kick in. The Ultra-rich don’t hold on to their money that long.
        B.) The Scrooge McDuck money bins, alluded to in the way Media and certain politicians talk about the rich, do not exist. All that money they want you to believe is being hoarded somewhere is actually in investments, creating jobs, new products and new businesses. Jeff Bezos is not sleeping on $192 Billion dollars in his mattress every night. Most of that “wealth” is valuated from Amazon’s share price and if something happens to Amazon’s share price Bezos could see $100 Billion dollars of net worth disappear overnight. Warren Buffet started his fortune at the Wall St. Casino and is now a household name because his investment savvy.
        C.) “Unionization” is a fast way to make outsourcing even more lucrative to employers and price yourself out of the job market entirely.
        D.) As a Millennial starting in I.T., I completely disagree with your assessment of upward compensation. Am I happy with my salary? No. Am I going to ask for a raise this year? No. Am I going to ask for more challenging projects? Hell Yes. Am I going to trade the raise for a better job title? Again hell yes. Why? Because I understand the value of a job title and accomplishments when it comes to negotiating pay from one employer to the next. You need to be able to be creative and flexible enough to look at your situation and determine if trade offs, like benefits or commute reduction are not in fact a raise for you.

        • A) What is the source for your claims here? Did you know 83.6% of all quoted statistics are made up right on the spot? 🙂

          B) Dead wrong. This fantasy that the ultra rich use most their money to create jobs must stop being parroted. It’s simply not true. Most jobs in this country are created by small businesses. That’s a fact. If we were to take all of Bezos’s net worth and distribute it among small business owners throughout the country, the amount of jobs created dollar for dollar would be VASTLY greater. And it’s easy to make money once you have a vast sum of it. Buffet is no genius. He’s a ruthless businessman who benefits by being able to bully his way into getting good deals. The rich just keep getting richer because they buy the rulemakers.
          Bill Gates is a billionaire. Tell me what brilliant thing he did in the computing field? What was his area of technological genius? He never had one. He got rich because he’s a sleazy anti-competitive businessman who had a lawyer for a father who taught him to never give away anything–unlike the open source movement which has advanced the state of software development for the benefit of everyone. And Buffet’s latest moves (losing billions) proves that he was mainly lucky all these years by moving markets to his advantage. Oracle of Omaha? Yeah sure, and I have a bridge to sell you.
          C) That ‘s true only if you have laws written by corporations, through their bought-and-paid-for politicians who have weakened regulations and made sure that there is no penalty to outsource jobs to other countries. Modifying the tax code appropriately would stop this.
          D) Your own answers bolster my point. You are already wage stagnated and you’ve just started. What’s worse, is that you have been so brainwashed, you won’t even ASK for a raise. Corporate America has you house-trained at an early age. I am a human, not a dog. If you come to the table and don;t ask for food, you will leave the dining room hungry. I’ll give you a piece of advice: Titles mean NOTHING, unless you plan on spending your life an a know-nothing, do-nothing, middle manager, who really doesn’t understand technology. There are too many of these people clogging up the IT field and causing great distress for the rest of us who know what we are doing technically , and enjoy doing what we do because it is both professionally rewarding and just plain cool most of the time.

    • Wage-wise, in relation to experienced IT professionals, most Millennials ALREADY live in poverty with dimming hopes up upward compensation mobility. Relative to the massive explosion of billionaires and multimilionaires, these same IT people live in poverty. Wages have stagnated in the IT industry for the last 20 years (even un-adjusted for inflation). Large corporations view us as a commodity, and with the wide proliferation of foreign-based recruiting companies, there has been a race to the bottom to please companies with ever lower bill rates for contractors. And desperate IT workers who have mortgages, keep giving in instead of refusing to work for less. Unionization anyone?
      The bottom line is that this hyper-capitalism is UNSUSTAINABLE. Margaret Thatcher once famously said ““The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money”. She was dead wrong on so many levels. The fact is, ripping off middle and lower class workers, in order for the super-rich to amass fortunes that can’t be spent in 10 generations is unsustainable. As anyone who has played Sim City can attest, when the general population does not have enough food to eat and money to buy things, birth rates dip, which implies that in the long term aggregate demand for goods and services goes down, and fewer people will exist that the ultra-rich can rip off. At some point you can’t extract any more productivity from an ever more impoverished workforce.

  2. Conrad Seelye

    I wish the media would not give the opinion outliers so much publicity. There are 634 other members of the House and Senate, so surely some of them have made more useful statements. But if the media doesn’t report on those statements, does anyone hear them? No.

  3. C. P. Klapper

    As a software developer who wrote his first program-writing program in 1976, as a college sophomore, and has formulated a style of software development, which I call “abstract development”, I can unequivocally assert that technical jobs, particularly those based on coding, are easily automated. In fact, I worked myself out of several jobs, both my own and others. By the Curry-Howard isomorphism, all programmers can be replaced by logicians. Those are the cold, hard facts of technical work.

    Yet the problem is not automation. The problem is democracy and the notion that we have to have a coercive state in order to get anything done. Specifically, the problem is that we cling to the prideful phrase “working for a living” because we adhere to the democratic ideology of ruling over others, the vicarious rule of the “people” over the “non-people”, “barbarians”, “savages”, “deplorables”, etc.

    It is that pride which keeps people from reading and digesting my magnum opus, “Popular Capitalism”. For there I prove that ALL political economies in a state MUST together provide the necessities to ALL of its residents. “Working for a living” is simply the provision conditioned on employment. I further conclude that the most EFFICIENT provision is one with no conditions or requirements. Such an unconditional provision, the #1500DollarWeeklyStipend I have been suggesting as of late, would monetize the survival demands of the people and unleash the creative genius of the people, working beyond mere survival, as their audiences are funded by their own work. This would not be a job-less economy, but a creative economy freed from the chains of tedium.

  4. P. Carter

    Before we panic about all the jobs going away, think about how many people now work for the NFL, in entertainment, in fast food restaurants, as computer programmers, etc. etc. compared to 50 years ago. In the 18th century, most people worked in agriculture. The problems are 1) we don’t know what jobs will be needed in another 20 – 30 years and, 2) we don’t handle the transition to those new jobs well – geographically and skill-wise, among other factors