I think Brain might be overestimating the ability of machine-vision and natural language processing to supplant human intelligence, but the general trend towards fewer and fewer jobs is real one that I’ve written about a lot lately.
In your research, which jobs did you find to be the most stressful?
You might think that jobs that require the biggest amount of work or the longest hours would be the worst, but that’s not actually the case. The most anxiety-producing jobs are the ones in which the employee has very little control over what he or she does during the workday. One of the more compelling studies that I talk about in the book compares musicians in smaller, chamber groups with those that play in a larger orchestra. The former proved to be a lot less anxious than the latter because they got to decide their own schedule. Orchestral musicians tend to be at the mercy of a tyrannical conductor who decides when they play, what they play and when everyone can take a bathroom break. The notion of executive stress syndrome — the idea that bosses and corporate executives experience much higher levels of anxiety than their underlings — has proven to be total bullshit. Executives tend to have more control over what they’re doing, and they often displace their anxieties on the people that work beneath them.
So a run-of-the-mill production assistant is more stressed out than an air traffic controller?
We love to point a finger at air traffic controllers, but we may need to stop. Objectively speaking, their job has gotten more stressful in the last quarter-century. There are fewer of them employed now and they’re dealing with more traffic than at any point in the history of air travel. The difference is that Ned Reese, who headed the training for our country’s air traffic controllers for a number of years, has completely radicalized the selection process. Rather than pick people based on their physical proficiency, he began hiring controllers with a very a specific psychological makeup. We might see their work as stressful, but they tend to think of it as simply challenging.
I have a new piece on the dismal impact of information technology on the workforce at ReadWriteWeb:
Last week we told you that enterprises are investing more into business intelligence and analytics initiatives. This week there’s more good news for professionals in this area: according to KDNuggets, salaries are rising for analytics and data mining professionals.
Based on a poll with approximately 250 respondents, KDNuggets found that salaries are up from its 2010 poll in North America, Western Europe, Asia and Latin America. (There is no mention of Eastern Europe, Africa or Antarctica.)
It’s a good time to be a geek, particularly one with a background in statistics, analytics and data mining. But a bad time to be almost any other type of worker.
For example, The New York Times reported on software that can process legal documents at a fraction of the cost of hiring lawyers and paralegals:
“Some programs go beyond just finding documents with relevant terms at computer speeds. They can extract relevant concepts — like documents relevant to social protest in the Middle East — even in the absence of specific terms, and deduce patterns of behavior that would have eluded lawyers examining millions of documents.”
That’s good news for the people who develop that software. But for people in the legal profession? Not so much.
Here’s my coverage of how information technology may be hurting the economy:
Forrester released today a report called Caution: IT Investment May Be Hurting US Job Growth. The report’s authors – Andrew Bartels, Christopher Mines and Sarah Musto – note that despite record corporate profits, unemployment remains unchanged. Forrester notes that poor job growth both causes and is caused by poor economic growth. It’s a vicious cycle.
The report suggests that corporations are investing in IT instead of hiring workers. The analysts looked at research from 62 industries to find out what’s going on. The report says that the industries with the highest IT investment are also the ones with the biggest decline in jobs. The analysts conclude that there is a causal connection between IT investment growth and the lack of employment growth.
Forrester is not the first to suggest this. Gartner VP and fellow Tom Austin’s blog post on the same subject lead us to ask last year “What Can IT Do To Stimulate the Job Market?” And AMI Partners claimed last year that cloud computing would result in 200,000 – 250,000 job losses over the next decade. […]
“Looking across these 62 private sector industries, we found a modest but statistically significant inverse or negative correlation between IT investment and employment,” the report says. The effect was most pronounced in manufacturing.
Evergreen Solar announced last week that it was closing its plant in Devens, Mass., laying off 800 workers, and moving production to China.
Evergreen’s factory had received more than $40 million in subsidies, which led many to see the plant closing as lesson in the futility of green energy and industrial policy. But what does Evergreen’s story really teach us about solar energy, public subsidies and the future of American manufacturing? […]
America has had many high-tech breakthroughs over the last half-century, but those innovations rarely provided abundant employment for the less educated workers who need jobs most. The Devens closing reminds us that even when ideas are “made in America,” production is almost always cheaper in China.
Failed public investments, like the money spent in Devens, reflect the fact that public officials are rarely skilled venture capitalists and that governments pursue many objectives that lead them away from solid investments. It’s easy to see why any governor would be excited about a green-energy manufacturing plant in a less prosperous area of his or her state. But the same forces that made Devens political catnip meant that it was unlikely to be a long-term success.
Beginning in the Carter years, the Democrats later called neoliberals supported the deregulation of infrastructure industries that the New Deal had regulated, like airlines, trucking and electricity, a sector in which deregulation resulted in California blackouts and the Enron scandal. Neoliberals teamed up with conservatives to persuade Bill Clinton to go along with the Republican Congress’s dismantling of New Deal-era financial regulations, a move that contributed to the cancerous growth of Wall Street and the resulting global economic collapse. As Asian mercantilist nations like Japan and then China rigged their domestic markets while enjoying free access to the U.S. market, neoliberal Democrats either turned a blind eye to the foreign mercantilist assault on American manufacturing or claimed that it marked the beneficial transition from an industrial economy to a “knowledge economy.” While Congress allowed inflation to slash the minimum wage and while corporations smashed unions, neoliberals chattered about sending everybody to college so they could work in the high-wage “knowledge jobs” of the future. Finally, many (not all) neoliberals agreed with conservatives that entitlements like Social Security were too expensive, and that it was more efficient to cut benefits for the middle class in order to expand benefits for the very poor. […]
Instead of the updated Rooseveltonomics that America needs, Obama’s team offers warmed-over Rubinomics from the 1990s. Consider the priorities of the Obama administration: the environment, healthcare and education. Why these priorities, as opposed to others, like employment, high wages and manufacturing? The answer is that these three goals co-opt the activist left while fitting neatly into a neoliberal narrative that could as easily have been told in 1999 as in 2009. The story is this: New Dealers and Keynesians are wrong to think that industrial capitalism is permanently and inherently prone to self-destruction, if left to itself. Except in hundred-year disasters, the market economy is basically sound and self-correcting. Government can, however, help the market indirectly, by providing these three public goods, which, thanks to “market failures,” the private sector will not provide.
As the number of jobs across the nation dwindles, more Americans are joining the military, lured by a steady paycheck, benefits and training.
The last fiscal year was a banner one for the military, with all active-duty and reserve forces meeting or exceeding their recruitment goals for the first time since 2004, the year that violence in Iraq intensified drastically, Pentagon officials said.
And the trend seems to be accelerating. The Army exceeded its targets each month for October, November and December — the first quarter of the new fiscal year — bringing in 21,443 new soldiers on active duty and in the reserves. December figures were released last week.