Is technology a job killer? A few lessons from history

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Is technology a job killer? A few lesson from history. (Thinkstock) Is technology a job killer? A few lesson from history. (Thinkstock)
SummaryMillions of middle-class jobs have been lost in developed countries the world over.

a half-million.

Start-ups account for much of the job growth in developed economies, but software is allowing entrepreneurs to launch businesses with a third fewer employees than in the 1990s. There is less need for administrative support and back-office jobs that handle accounting, payroll and benefits.

It's becoming a self-serve world. Instead of relying on someone else in the workplace or our personal lives, we use technology to do tasks ourselves. Some find this frustrating; others like the feeling of control. Either way, this trend will only grow as software permeates our lives.

Technology is replacing workers in developed countries regardless of their politics, policies and laws. Union rules and labor laws may slow the dismissal of employees, but no country is attempting to prohibit organizations from using technology that allows them to operate more efficiently _ and with fewer employees.

Some analysts reject the idea that technology has been a big job killer. They note that the collapse of the housing market in the US, Ireland, Spain and other countries and the ensuing global recession wiped out millions of middle-class construction and factory jobs. In their view, governments could bring many of the jobs back if they would put aside worries about their heavy debts and spend more. Others note that jobs continue to be lost to China, India and other countries in the developing world.

But to the extent technology has played a role, it raises the specter of high unemployment even after economic growth accelerates. Some economists say millions of middle-class workers must be retrained to do other jobs if they hope to get work again. Others are more hopeful. They note that technological change over the centuries eventually has created more jobs than it destroyed, though the wait can be long and painful.

A common refrain: The developed world may face years of high middle-class unemployment, social discord, divisive politics, falling living standards and dashed hopes.

In the US, the economic recovery that started in June 2009 has been called the third straight “jobless recovery.''

But that's a misnomer. The jobs came back after the first two.

Most recessions since World War II were followed by a surge in new jobs as consumers started spending again and companies hired to meet the new demand. In the months after recessions ended in 1991 and 2001, there was no familiar snap-back, but all the jobs had returned in less than three years.

But 42 months after the Great

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