Socialist Sweden Finds Automation Unthreatening
The New York Times had an interesting cultural analysis about automation in Sweden, where the workers appear not to fear they will be made unemployed by smart machines. Americans, by contrast, are suspicious about the effects of automation according to a recent Pew poll, with more than 70 percent admitting they worried about job loss, social disruption and worsened economic equality.
The Times put the story on its front page December 28, including a photo of a modern miner using a remote control to run a loading machine.
Socialism looks like a good fit with the automated future if governments adopt the program of a guaranteed basic income, as recommended by Martin Ford, the author of Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future. The lefty countries are already set up to distribute free stuff, so the transition to a robot economy with cash for all would be no big deal. Certainly the Swedish miner Persson was agreeable and comfortable with the change. Still, the Times reporter seems to have become a little beguiled by Swedish socialism.
Curiously, the story had only one bland mention of the violent muslims who have made parts of Swedish cities no-go zones and transformed the once safe nation into the world rape capital:
Yet as Sweden absorbs large numbers of immigrants from conflict-torn nations, that support may wane. Many lack education and may be difficult to employ. If large numbers wind up depending on government largesse, a backlash could result.
“There’s a risk that the social contract could crack,” said Marten Blix, an economist at the Research Institute of Industrial Economics in Stockholm.
That’s one way to describe the civil war that’s brewing.
The Times story was reprinted in the Anchorage Daily News:
The robots are coming, and Sweden is fine, Anchorage Daily News, By Peter S. Goodman, The New York Times, December 28, 2017
GARPENBERG, Sweden — From inside the control room carved into the rock more than half a mile underground, Mika Persson can see the robots on the march, supposedly coming for his job here at the New Boliden mine.
He’s fine with it.
Sweden’s famously generous social welfare system makes this a place not prone to fretting about automation — or much else, for that matter.
Persson, 35, sits in front of four computer screens, one displaying the loader he steers as it lifts freshly blasted rock containing silver, zinc and lead. If he were down in the mine shaft operating the loader manually, he would be inhaling dust and exhaust fumes. Instead, he reclines in an office chair while using a joystick to control the machine.
He is cognizant that robots are evolving by the day. Boliden is testing self-driving vehicles to replace truck drivers. But Persson assumes people will always be needed to keep the machines running. He has faith in the Swedish economic model and its protections against the torment of joblessness.
“I’m not really worried,” he says. “There are so many jobs in this mine that even if this job disappears, they will have another one. The company will take care of us.”
In much of the world, people whose livelihoods depend on paychecks are increasingly anxious about a potential wave of unemployment threatened by automation. As the frightening tale goes, globalization forced people in wealthier lands like North America and Europe to compete directly with cheaper laborers in Asia and Latin America, sowing joblessness. Now, the robots are coming to finish off the humans.
But such talk has little currency in Sweden or its Scandinavian neighbors, where unions are powerful, government support is abundant, and trust between employers and employees runs deep. Here, robots are just another way to make companies more efficient. As employers prosper, workers have consistently gained a proportionate slice of the spoils — a stark contrast to the United States and Britain, where wages have stagnated even while corporate profits have soared.
“In Sweden, if you ask a union leader, ‘Are you afraid of new technology?’ they will answer, ‘No, I’m afraid of old technology,’” says the Swedish minister for employment and integration, Ylva Johansson. “The jobs disappear, and then we train people for new jobs. We won’t protect jobs. But we will protect workers.”