According to folklore, John Henry, a mythical archetype (universal symbol), challenged the speed of machines. He noticed that big business tycoons were eager to use automation to save manual labor. In some tales, he was eight feet tall and started work at three weeks of age, hearsay providing evidence that he either never existed or was misinterpreted as a type of superhuman.
Disappointed in machines threatening to take human jobs, he challenged the contraption. The competition ended. The sun sank below the busy world. John Henry had driven more steel with his 14-pound hammer than the mechanical machine, but dropped dead once the task was finished.
Whether or not this post-Civil War Reconstruction-era tale holds any truth, we can learn from it: Technology can be useful to keep workers from dying. But it possesses the power to destroy job growth. In our dire economy, jobs must increase … not deteriorate.
Technology has revolutionized society. Its economic and social impacts are almost unprecedented. Due to technological advancements, chemotherapy, vehicles, airplanes, and more are all available. However, it is reasonable to ask if technology has gone too far. The answer is straightforwardly yes.
Mechanization is taking jobs at an exponential rate. For example, machines are now doing the work of hundreds of coal miners. Few people understand this common sense assertion. But economists are starting to become more outspoken on the matter. Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist and director of the M.I.T. Center for Digital Business, and Andrew P. McAfee, associate director and chief research scientist at the center, are two leading experts on productivity. They have written a book entitled “Race Against the Machine,” a thought-provoking work about automation replacing human labor.
In his 2012 State of the Union address, President Obama said: “Technology made businesses more efficient, but also made some jobs obsolete.” Labor-saving machines should be like bouncers, observing until needed for a severe problem. They can do the sweat-rendering, tear-jerking work.
Humans and machines should work cooperatively and sensibly. Otherwise, automation will out-compete humankind, erasing jobs from the “chalkboard” of economics. Corporations are responsible for a large number of labor-saving machines (along with outsourcing). CEOs are primarily concerned with deepening their pockets, while the middle guy suffers. The “one percent,” in other words, is gutting the country. For example, in 2010, over 90 percent of national income went to the top one percent of taxpayers. Inarguably, this greed has led to an overflow of technology and outsourcing, America’s maladies.
In conclusion, the dilemma of technology needs to be more publicly acknowledged. Some facts stay underground. But it is my hope that economists will dig, raising the problem of technology to the surface.
Cooperation is often helpful. Most of us cooperate with friends, family, lovers, and co-workers, building stronger relationships. Businessmen must apply technology in moderation (as the ancient Greek philosophers would surely say) to save the jobs that are so quickly disappearing into the deepening seas of our recession.
(Lee, a resident of Hilltop, is a senior at Fayetteville High School.)