Why Luddites might be making a big comeback

Employment Work creation schemes risk being left behind by technology. But we still do not know where digital and robotic developments will take us.

BHP Billiton's plan to cut the cost of producing iron ore in Western Australia by 25 per cent while increasing output capacity by 65 million tonnes a year illustrates the disruptive potential of evolving technology.

The savings and the expansion will be largely underwritten by the introduction of driverless trucks, drills and trains.

By coincidence, BHP's strategic plans were released on the same day the Labor opposition leader in the Victorian Parliament, Daniel Andrews, outlined his proposal for a billion-dollar job creation program. The centrepiece of the scheme would be a $500 million fund that would be invested by a Labor government on the advice of a panel of business leaders.

It's easy to be cynical about the Labor proposal. The history of governments picking winners inspires no confidence in the prospective success.

History also tells us technological progress has been a net enhancer of employment. To question the favourable continuation of this relationship has carried the risk of being labelled as a victim of the "Luddite fallacy".

However, the slow pace of the labour market recovery, especially in the developed economies since the formal end of the global financial crisis in 2009, has encouraged growing concern that emerging technologies such as computers, robotics and artificial intelligence are displacing human jobs.

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Max Walsh

Contributor

Max Walsh was for many years one of Australia’s top economic and political commentators, highly regarded as a journalist, author and broadcaster. Throughout his career, Max was involved in all dimensions of the media industry, which has encompassed positions with two of Australia’s largest publishing companies and television networks.

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