Baristas everywhere — plus the entire service economy — be worried about your job security. That’s the message economist Jeffrey Sachs is delivering.
Speaking at George Mason’s Mercatus Center on April 7, Sachs noted how manufacturing employment has shrunk, and he expects the trend to strike the service economy, as well, given advances in technology and automation.
“You don’t need baristas in Starbucks,” Sachs told professor Tyler Cowen. “We will walk in soon to a Starbucks, and our iris will be scanned, and your default mode of mocha latte venti will come out, automatically, of a machine, and you’ll take it out the other door.”
“They’ll predict which days you’re going to come?” Cowen asked.
“Yeah, they’ll have a very good idea,” Sachs said. “They’ll welcome you by name, of course, as you arrive. ‘We were expecting you, but you’re 10 minutes late. Is everything okay, Mr. Sachs?’ Because Google will know where you are at any moment anyway. So that’s coming, and it will transform fundamentally the labor market.”
While calling himself a technophile and “technobeliever,” Sachs warned about the negative impacts as automation, computing and robotics eliminate the need for jobs traditionally handled by humans.
“We’ve been trying to escape heavy labor. If the robots will do it, fantastic,” Sachs said. “But there is actually a deep conceptual question, which is, there is something right theoretically about the argument that the demand for labor falls, the wages decline and that can actually lead to a downward spiral in our economies.”
But Sachs also noted that with proper government intervention everyone can be made better off during times of technological change. Those interventions might be retributions from old to young or capital owners to labor owners.