Watch highlights of the Open Society Foundations’ half-day event about the transformation of work and what the labor market might look like in 30 years.
The Open Society event brought together speakers and participants from across the social justice, labor, technology, and business sectors. You can watch it here:
At the event, Columbia Business School’s Andy Stern, who is also on the OSF U.S. Advisory Board, addressed the inevitable changes and uncertain challenges we face in the future of work:
[We are] at a strategic inflection point, at a turning point, one dramatic change will occur – and I believe we’re at that point where dramatic change will occur. And the only question is really whether it’s going to have a positive or a negative result. And that’s the question the Future of Work intends to think about. Is this actually, 20 or 30 years from now, a moment where it’s the end of jobs as we know them? And since currently, jobs and work is the way most of us earn our money, it’s the way most of us earn, support our families, what will it mean to not have enough jobs for people who want to work?
Meanwhile, Barclay’s Steven Berkenfeld discussed the inverse relationship between technology development and workers’ bargaining power:
So much of the equilibrium, the supply and demand, is being affected by technology, that ultimately it’s pushing down for your workers the ability to have any kind of effective bargaining or any ability to kind of raise the price of their labor.
While Berkenfeld focused on the quantitative impact of technology on the labor market, the University of Georgia’s Bethany Moreton added that technology not only hurts the quantity, but also the quality of future jobs:
The historical record is really clear: every time we automate, perhaps we come out with roughly an aggregate number of jobs, but the jobs, the majority of them, get worse and worse.
So could and should we stop the advancement of technology in order to go back to the good old days of employment utopia? The National Guestworker Alliance’s Saket Soni says no:
Hope is not a strategy by itself. Neither is nostalgia. We’re not going to go back to a time in the past where we go back to permanent jobs…We need to figure out new forms of bargaining that go beyond the work place and perhaps cut across industry and get to the people who write the rules of the economy, because it is not just the case that work has become disaggregated. It is all, also the case that power and wealth has become aggregated. So there’s disaggregation at the bottom, but aggregation on top.