Danny Crichton’s essay “Fear Not the Robot” (May 4) is optimistic about robots, but even more optimistic about a basic law of economics: Jobs are created by the money to pay for them. Robots generate productivity, productivity translates into money, and money creates jobs. We don’t have to worry about what kinds of jobs or how much they may or may not pay. We may assume robots will create low-paying jobs, but the price of jobs is determined mainly by social convention rather than by their presumed productivity. Robots are not consumers of anything except the energy to run them (and of course the labor to build them and repair them), so the productivity they create has to go into jobs for consumers.
Even if robots do create low-paying jobs, at some point they will generate more jobs than there are workers to fill them. Competition for scarce labor will then raise wages — no matter what the jobs are. And we don’t even have to be able to imagine them. We have always been creating unimaginable jobs.
We don’t have to worry about all the money going to the owners of the robots. If they have income, they will buy things with it, and what they buy, no matter what it is, will translate into labor. The richer one is, the more labor one purchases in relation to goods. Evidence of this is amply provided by history. In the era (and in the countries) of low productivity, wealth accumulated for the powerful, and the poor were poor simply because there was not enough productivity to generate money to pay for jobs. But in the early days of the Industrial Revolution, though the “robber barons” were obscenely rich, the income of the working class rose steadily. This was true in England and America as they industrialized in the 19th century, and Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Korea in the 20th. And now we are seeing it in Thailand, China, and India. This is all due to mechanization of one sort or another, and will continue as long as robots raise productivity.
Correction: “The Week” (May 18) asserted that the Battle of Gallipoli was fought as part of World War II. In fact, Turkey’s decision to side with Germany, and the resulting campaign to “knock it out,” happened in World War I.