2013 January 02 Wednesday
Are You Preparing For Unstable Employment?

Maybe are aren't preparing for it because you are already experiencing unstable employment. So you are reacting to it rather than preparing for it. But reacting to it means you have fewer options for dealing with it and a more urgent need to deal with it.

If you are not dealing with unstable employment by preparation or reaction why not? You think you are immune? Unless you are either wealthy or retired with a great pension or have an extremely secure job you are not immune. So what are you going to do about it?

My take: you need to overshoot the level you want to reach. You need more skills, more successes, more money saved, a bigger reputation, and more connections than your desires for physical goods requires. You need to overshoot because the economy can deliver a pretty big blow to whatever level you've arrived at. Got technical skills? You can find them made obsolete by technological advances. Working in some industry as a medium or high level executive or marketer? Your industry could get gutted by foreign competition or new goods that render it irrelevant.

Look at watches: people aren't wearing watches as much because they look at the time on their phone. News reporters: road kill to craigslist and other internet advertising and information services. Are you a young truck driver? You aren't going to retire as one. Robotic vehicles are going to lay off cabbies, bus drivers, long haul truck drivers, and even quite a few bulldozer and backhoe operators.

Farming has already shrunk to a very small fraction of what it used to be. But it will shrink far more. Tractors will drive themselves and even refuel themselves. Crop picking will be automated. Mining is a similar story as Caterpillar and Komatsu produce autonomous mining vehicles.

My advice: Start training for your next job. Start saving for your next period of unemployment.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2013 January 02 10:42 PM 

Alfalfa said at January 2, 2013 11:30 PM:

Mr. Parker,

I'm a regular reader of your blogs and agree with you on essentially all the issues you write about. I enjoy your writing because you have a good mix of optimism tempered with steely realism.

I think your thoughts on automation and looming mass unemployment are correct. The transition period from our current world to whatever lies beyond the robotization of the workforce will be rocky and difficult. Here's my question: if things will be so difficult (and I agree with you that they will), what is the point of reproducing? Why put my kids through this crap?

T S said at January 3, 2013 12:22 AM:

Alfalfa, there is so much to do in life other than mass production. If the only thing in life were menial labor, and menial labor were going to disappear, then you might have a point. But there is so much more, and there will be even more that you can't imagine. If you are beautiful and smart and strong, then you should be having the children who will create and enjoy that world.

Even if all production is automated, there will still be the task of distributing that production. And fighting over it. Things could get very exciting.

And there will be plenty more.

It is probably the case that in most places and at most times in human history, there was a huge mismatch between labor and production. But they did a lot of amazing things anyway in their amazingly screwed up economies, and they kept going. Should you go back in time and let them know that they should not have continued.

Mthson said at January 3, 2013 5:07 AM:

95% of humankind is lazy and pleasure-oriented, so there are always opportunities.

And we can gain an additional advantage by living with voluntary simplicity. My monthly costs are half of most of my peers' costs, but our happiness levels are the same.

Consider having kids skip highschool and go straight to online community college. When people get their undergrad by age 20, they're doing humankind a favor.

More smart kids in the younger generation means society will cure aging faster. There's a lot to look forward to.

Firepower said at January 3, 2013 3:57 PM:

I am READY for the Good Fight
Slay the Mastodon

I'm preparing to go on Welfare...and vote Democrat Party
Just before I retire.

Randall Parker said at January 3, 2013 7:59 PM:


A few points about having kids:

- If you are smart then your kids stand a pretty good chance of being smart. If the prospective mother is also smart then ditto.

- If you enjoy the prospect of having kids you can do it for your pleasure.

- You can still kids if you are a winner. Do you want to win? Are you motivated? Willing to work hard, study hard, strive, stretch, learn in many dimension? Even as most people become losers some will be winners.

I am really advocating the separation of how you look at the prospects for the country (write it off as in long term decline) and how you approach your own prospects. Accept the decline of the West. There's jack shit you can do about it. The rational realists have lost the battle in US national politics. We are way way outnumbered. The long term decline calls out for personal action.

I expect very few of my readers to heed my call. Most will not act out of complacency, laziness, depression defeatist thoughts, whatever. They won't put up a fight. I'm appealing to the fighters to fight for themselves. Know that things are getting worse for the country. Know that several macro scale developments are going to continue to go in directions that are bad for the average citizen and really bad for just about everyone. Say to yourself that as a striver you can do better than most people and can thrive even as most people get pulled down by the decline that is already underway.

I've shifted much of my reading in more constructive skill-oriented directions and also toward psychological research aimed at enabling me to manage myself and others better. I am trying much harder at my career. That's why I do not post as much as I used to: I'm following my own advice.

If that all sounds like too much work then just watch TV shows and movies and drink some brewskies. I'm not addressing those who have given up in their own lives. If you still want a political savior I have nothing to say to you. If you don't want to do anything in your own life in response to the decline, well, I hope you can find a way to be happy. But beyond that I do not have a lot to say to you.

Not fair said at January 4, 2013 1:53 PM:

@ Randall:

Why prepare for unstable employment, when we could be preparing for revolution. Oh, I forgot. We've grown to fucken fat, dumb and lazy for that.

Nope, never mind. Prepare for unsable poorly-paid employment, while the boss makes you think the owner wants you to, wear a twisted fucken smile and a name tag as part of your uniform, and feel happy about it. "Have a nice day", our kids will be constantly chanting for years and years.

That really is fucken worse than socialism! Imagine a dictatorship in which people love to be stepped on by the lazy rich parasite owner, no employee of his gets to even see!

Nanonymous said at January 4, 2013 3:53 PM:

Unstable employment is a reality for majority of people involved in biotech. Go to LinkedIn and look through employment histories of scientist-level R&D people in biotech. On average, they change employer every ~4 years. It is completely insane. Every job ad attracts 300-400 applications. Every entry-level job attracts 20-30 supremely qualified people with decades of experience. Ultimately, these are people who brought you Herceptin, Avastin and Novolog yet >90% of them won't make it to retirement fully employed.

Robots > Humans said at January 5, 2013 11:35 AM:

My grand-dad and I had a discussion about this yesterday. He reminded me that there used to be an guy in an elevator that would take you to what floor you needed to go.

Gone the way of the dinosaur.

All those truckers who barely make a living hauling needed goods from state to state are going to one day be as obsolete as the Elevator Man. Safer, no need stop and sleep, no need to pay them. There might be one or two guys at the Fuel Stations to pump gas and another at the Docking Bay to back the truck up. Google Cars are the future.

There are new good making robotic technology: fresh pizza and gormet burgers that can make 400 of them in an hour in a Red-Box style vending machine. All those McDonalds burger markers and Pizza makers are going to get laid off.

What do we do? Get paid to play video games or musical instruments? Get a paycheck from the goverment to work out or pick up trash? Who knows.

Randall Parker said at January 5, 2013 6:26 PM:

Not fair,

Well, go ahead and organize a revolution in your country and we here in the US can watch to see if that helps any.


Those resumes competing for those biotech jobs are nature's way of telling all those people to find something else to do for a living.

So glad I switched from bio to software. A prof told me it was going to be as you described. My advice for the biotech folks: Learn a skill that overlaps between biotech and some other field. For example, write software to control experiment robots or software to analyze results. Get yourself work experience that transfers well into other industries.

So are you in biotech? If yes, are you going to stay in it and keep getting laid off?

Robots > Humans,

You ask:

What do we do?

First, accept the need to learn more skills. Accept that you will have to spend hours every week on study and skills development. You have to decide whether you are going short term easy passive route or if you are going to even make a small daily effort to learn stuff that reduces your vulnerability to unemployment.

You can take the easy path of telling yourself there's nothing you can do about it. Or you can take the hard path of learning stuff that'll give you a better future.

James Bowery said at January 6, 2013 1:26 PM:

Income volatility has been increasing since women began entering the workforce. This, alone, has made the proposition of having children a loser -- even ignoring birth control -- which is why there has been a demographic collapse in European derived countries which is used to justify electing a new people.

In the old days, the "Iron Law of Wages" could bottom out at "subsistence" without committing genocide against Euro-derived peoples because their women were still producing children at "subsistence" levels of affluence. They have not been doing so for over a generation now. The up-coming problems are taking us beyond genocide through mere socioeconomically-imposed infertility. If genocide were all that mattered, race replacement wouldn't be necessary. No, race replacement is the objective. Outright killing the founding stock Americans in their old age helps hasten the race replacement.

What's the rush?

Nanonymous said at January 6, 2013 3:21 PM:


Get yourself work experience that transfers well into other industries ... So are you in biotech? If yes, are you going to stay in it and keep getting laid off?

I am in academia (which probably will tank next) but my wife is in biotech. Changing careers is easier said than done when you are around 50. You will end up wanting entry-level jobs and competing with the similarly underemployed twenty- and thirtysomethings. All else being equal, guess who gets the job? But yes, my wife finally broke, switched to part time and went to nursing school. It's an intellectual vacuum but she feels good about future employment. Curiously, her M.S. in physics and Ph.D. in bioengineering are troublesome marks - everyone suspects something is very wrong with her.

Randall Parker said at January 6, 2013 7:01 PM:


In software development masters and doctorates in physics, math, engineering disciplines, and other subjects are not seen as weird. Rather, they are seen as indicators that the person is probably smart enough to do software development and might even be smart enough to do the really hard kinds of software development.

Randall Parker said at January 8, 2013 7:15 PM:


Yes, I definitely believe there's a very rapidly rising tide of change heading right at higher education. Does your academic job have any overlap with what is valued in industry? Have you thought about beginning to retool?

Randall Parker said at January 12, 2013 2:04 PM:


Regards voting for the Democrats before you retire: Obamacare diverts money from Medicare to medical care for poor folks. Medicare gets cut and the money flows into Obamacare funding. The Democrats are split over the poor and the old. Since the ranks of the lower classes are growing the finite amount of tax revenues is going to have more competition for it among Democratic Party interest groups.

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