The Great Debate
I would like to begin this post with the idea that as a society are reactive instead of proactive. Reactive in the sense that instead of staying ahead of the effects of technology, we are always playing catch up. In the “The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era.” Jeremy Rifkin discusses 1960s national debate on the probable effects of automation on the economy and employment—fueled in large part, by the increasing loss of jobs in the black community (Rifkin, 1995 p. 81). While many wanted to institute a form of regulation mandating job retention despite new technologies, there were more arguing that the workforce would naturally work itself out.
The Ad Hoc Committee, a group of notable scientists, economists, and academicians started the conversation by writing a letter to the President John F. Kennedy, warning Him about the dangers automation could have on the economy. They proposed that the government get involved and guarantee “an adequate income as a matter of right” as a way of distributing funds to the millions of people made jobless by new labor-saving technologies (New York Times, 1994).
President Kennedy responded by proposing a National Commission on Automation, which was later enacted by President Lyndon Johnson. After his executive order was signed President Johnson stated, Automation is not our enemy. Our enemies are ignorance, indifference, and inertia. Automation can be the ally of our prosperity if we will just look ahead, if we will understand what is to come, and if we will set our course wisely after proper planning for the future. That is the purpose of this commission. I hope, and I expect that its work will benefit the working man and benefit the businessman, and serve the interests of the farmer and the professionals and all of our people in America. The techniques of automation are already permitting us to do many things that we simply could not do otherwise. Some of our largest industries, some of our largest employers would not exist and could not operate without automation (L. Johnson, 1964).
The commission agreed with Ad Hoc on the premise that technology would adversely affect the economy. Unfortunately, the commission eventually recanted and stated that although technology would cause unemployment, it would only be temporary. There is no documentation that suggests such commission exists today. In my opinion, the commission is still in needed. I affirm everything President Johnson said. The commission would only serve as a supervisory committee that would try to mitigate the job displacement impact because of new technologies. I am not sure if it could work or if automation could actually be regulated, but as I have stated before it is something we need to continue to monitor and pay close attention. We cannot afford to be reactive; we must prepare for the unknown.
Rifkin, Jeremy (1995). “The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era.” 1st trade paperback edition New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2004. p. 81
“The American Economy,” New York Times, February 27, 1994, p. F6
Lyndon B. Johnson: “Remarks Upon Signing Bill Creating the National Commission on Technology, Automation, and Economic Progress,” August 19, 1964. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, the American Presidency Project. Retrieved from http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=26449