We had a brief, but interesting, conversation with our host, Vilbert, in Keflavik about the radical transformation that is about to take place in the world economy. This is currently one of my favorite topics, but it seems to have barely penetrated the consciousness of most people, so I was delighted when Vilbert brought it up. What will happen when robots and computers handle transportation and shipping, clerical tasks, transactions, and so on? Fishing is the largest industry in Iceland, according to Vilbert, but currently employs only 5000 workers. That’s 5000 workers for the whole country, in the nation’s largest industry. (In case you’re curious, aluminum (bauxite) mining is the second largest, and tourism ranks third). A large fishing and processing vessel can be manned by a crew of only 18 people, and even that is a padded roster due mainly to labor regulations. Soon these and other operations will be so fully computerized, hardly any human workers will be needed.
What then? The world is in the early stages of an immense transformation. There have been economic revolutions before —the agricultural revolution, industrial revolution, the Information Age— which have displaced many workers, but which have always resulted in a net increase in jobs, economic expansion, and overall prosperity. This time, it really isn’t clear that there will be new jobs for people or how this economy will work. Perhaps the automated, robotized world of our near future will be so efficient and productive, everything will be nearly free, and we will at last achieve that utopian leisure society dreamed of in science fiction novels.This entry was posted in Vacation 2016: East/South Africa