My recent column — about a future in which U.S. jobs will increasingly be sent offshore for cheaper labor or be done by the robots that are rapidly replacing humans in many manufacturing/service sectors — brought a number of responses.
Steve Turner, head of the Department of Agricultural Economics at Mississippi State University, wrote: “You hit the nail on the head about job creation. I’ve been telling my students for years their biggest threat in the labor market is automation (robotics, etc.), and that they’d better prepare themselves to have unique and demanded skills.
“I believe that’s why our graduates in agribusiness are in demand: they not only have the required business knowledge, but they can talk the language of agriculture. Most importantly, they have a work ethic employers consider necessary for success. Another key factor is that demand is still strong in this sector.
“Economic theory implies that capital replaces labor over time. This has been going on since the dawn of mankind. The challenge is, what to do with all these people in terms of work? Agriculture is probably the most classic example of capital replacing labor — that released labor gravitated first to manufacturing and then to services.
“The question that confronts educators today is: Which skill set does the future employee need to possess? The natural (evolutionary) answer is to cultivate lifelong learners who can adapt to a changing environment. But that doesn’t answer the question: Where will all these jobs for the world come from?
“One hypothesis is that no one source will be responsible, that it will require a collection of sources. For any individual though, the responsibility lies within — that is, creativity will rule the day. I repeatedly tell my own two kids (ages 12 and 15) that the world belongs to creative people. But, what about the rest who are not creative?
“The need, I guess, is to find those creative people and help them create products and services that are in demand — find those who appear to have a clue what future demand will be, and gravitate towards them. Or create a new product (book, blog, etc.). The key is to know what is the foundational ingredient.
“For policymakers such as President Obama and [Mississippi] Governor Haley Barbour, the challenge is, how do we transition and change attitudes of a population which thinks jobs somehow pop out of the sky? Again, I tell my students to always remember: If you are not bringing value to an organization, your job is at risk. And if the organization is at risk, your job is definitely at risk. So again, the responsibility lies with the individual — but the effect is communal, and the costs are also communal.”
And then there was the anonymous responder who succinctly observed: “The major problem I see today is that politics always trumps economics. And often, the best political strategy is to appeal to the basest instincts in human beings rather than the noblest.”