We know that automation can rescue human workers from dangerous, dirty, and dull work, lifting human beings into jobs that are safer and more interesting. We tend to think that this will make up for job losses through caused by automation.
But a new article at VentureBeat takes the benefits of automation further. Automation, author Amar Hanspal says, can do something no other economic force can.
“It also has the unique power to turn unpaid labor into paid labor,” Hanspal claims. “Consider the example of the washing machine: the introduction of the common appliance monetized unpaid time spent cleaning clothes (previously a household chore) as washing machine manufacturers and laundromats took off and created a booming industry.”
Unpaid work is the fudge factor that makes global economies, including that of the United States, look better than they really are.
We don’t count the labor involved in feeding people, cleaning homes, caring for children, or looking after the sick unless someone is paid for it. Since people can’t really work full time unless someone is doing that work, the result is that we treat a lot of essential supportive work as free.
If nobody gets paid for it, the cost of that work does not get reflected in economics statistics. Hanspal points out that early agriculture automation didn’t take away any paid jobs. It made the unpaid work of farm family members more productive. It increased the value of their work and the incomes of those families.
McKinsey predicts that unpaid domestic work will enter the market as automation increases. They’re confident that human beings will have enough work to do in 2030. But they also figure that people who start being paid for work instead of doing it for free will be spending more money…and that someone will have to produce the goods and serves for this increase in consumer demand.