The Future of Work & Income Disparity

The following is an extract from Chapter #5, “Leadership for Extraordinary Success”of my forthcoming book, “The CIO: Role, Talent, Pace.” Preceding the following paragraphs is an extended discussion on the impact of computers (especially automation, robotics, and AI) on “The Future of Work” and the related and accelerating shrinking of manufacturing and management jobs.

The time is not far distant where income disparity will cause large numbers of people to disengage from our democratic institutions and seek hope for a better life from crowd pleasing demagogues. Such preachers, with their promises of a glowing future, will only lead to disappointment – but after much damage to Western Civilization’s long cherished values.

Thus, the increasing disparity of income will have disastrous consequences unless addressed soon and meaningfully. If not addressed, our civilization’s values of freedom, of equality of opportunity, of justice for all, of the worth of the individual, of governments that seek to serve and not to dominate – all of these and more will be at risk of being lost.

A major factor determining who gets the relatively few (as a percent of all jobs) high paying jobs will be a job candidate’s education (extent, quality, and content). While STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) graduates are, and will continue to be, much in demand, recent statistics suggest that the STEM-graduate supply is adequate. The core differentiator seems to be education in all its various forms.

Besides disengagement from our democratic institutions, the interviewees suggested some less earth-shaking consequences, including a decline in the average work week, trending towards a “new normal” somewhere in the 20-30 hours/week area.

In its February 2015 issue of the Communications of the ACM, Moshe Y. Vardi, that journal’s Editor-in-Chief, commented directly on the economic disparity issue. He summarized the remarks of MIT labor economist, David Autor, at the 2014 Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank’s annual symposium in Jackson Hole, WY. Autor’s paper, “Polanyi’s Paradox and the Shape of Employment Growth” points out:

  • Automation is destroying more and more routine office and manufacturing jobs.
  • Concurrently, IT is creating new high-skill jobs which require cognitive skills that computers cannot match.
  • The dual outcomes of this are a shrinking middle class and a growing income and wealth disparity.

Thus, in the view of the majority of the interviewees [I interviewed 20+ folks on this topic], of Yuval Harari, Daniel Kahneman, and David Autor, we are facing a major socio-economic disruption. Jobs might not go away but the chasm in pay for those jobs will rankle the masses. We must do something about this. The power of those masses to revolt has not been entirely lost.

The pace with which this is happening is quite fast. When pressed to suggest a numeric time frame, no one exceeded ten years and several suggested something like “five years or so” – virtually tomorrow when you consider the topic.

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