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Cepeda: We can't let robots steal all our jobs


In a world that seems in constant danger of going over the edge, why isn’t more effort going into making sure robots don’t steal every last job and leave our kids fighting, cage-match style, for whatever’s left?

Jobs are a key measure of how well the economy is ticking along, but they have become a partisan battleground.

The elites of Silicon Valley, sensing a backlash against a system in which no-wage robots toil 24 hours a day without complaint, have suggested a universal income to provide those displaced by technology with a small, guaranteed stipend for basics like food, housing and health care.

Though initial research suggests that such a universal income wouldn’t lead to laziness (and might even increase productivity by leading people to take creative and entrepreneurial risks), it’s not an idea that has caught fire.

Douglas Rushkoff, the author of the magnificent book “Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus,” recently noted that the instinct for some to jump on the bandwagon for a universal income is self-serving: “[Leaders at Silicon Valley tech firms] understand the basic math undermining their long-term business plans: If they automate all the jobs, who will be left to buy their services? Even the data that companies such as Google mine from our otherwise free online activities would be worthless if we had no money to spend. The penniless have no consumer behavior to exploit.”

On the other extreme, the Trump administration ignored its own lamentation that mid-skill jobs have left for China when it issued guidance for “state efforts to test incentives that make participation in work or other community engagement a requirement for continued Medicaid eligibility” for able-bodied adults.

If it’s 100 percent true, as some research suggests, that employment is beneficial for physical and general mental health, then this would likely make Medicaid recipients less reliant on welfare in the future. It still leaves open the question of where the jobs are going to come from.

However, it’s not inevitable that automation will result in mass job loss, despite the scary statistics. (And they are scary: According to a recent report by Bloomberg and the think tank New America, nearly one-quarter of the workforce is projected to be 55 or older by 2024, and we’re smack dab in the middle of a decades-long fall in the rates at which Americans start businesses, switch jobs or move for a new job.)

Those who look on the sunny side of automation love to cite the economist David Autor’s observation that the introduction of the ATM increased, rather than decreased, the number of bank teller jobs that require more creativity and problem-solving than just counting money and making deposits.

The real problem underlying this tension is that it’s not anyone’s priority to figure out how U.S. corporations, societies and governments can work together to ensure the future holds meaningful jobs.

For their joint study, Bloomberg and New America convened a commission of more than 100 leaders in business, technology policy and academia. The resulting report, “Shift,” underscored these points about American labor:

  • The central role of employers in society has eroded, and we don’t know what will replace them—but we need “networks of small businesses, modern guilds, worker associations, and entrepreneurship training, while at the same time facilitating new ways to administer worker benefits.”
  • “The future of work fails to align neatly with traditional political coalitions,” and “for the first time, automated systems could affect prospects for people in every demographic and skill level.”
  • We worry about millennials’ ability to forge careers, but “the fastest-growing segment of the workforce ... continues to be—and will be for the foreseeable future—older workers.”
  • The richest cities aren’t reflective of the rest of the country: “Commission members from noncoastal areas and smaller towns pointed to discrepancies in education, technology, access to capital and networking opportunities. Long-distance moves are on the decline.”

While it’s fantastic that a group of thoughtful experts came together to establish ideas for ensuring that the remainder of this century offers meaningful, decently paid work, it’s long past time that tomorrow’s jobs become a national priority.

One thing is for sure: We can’t let Silicon Valley and multinational corporations determine the future of our work for us.

Our Views: Couple's sacrifice deserves recognition

When we speak of the men and women who’ve sacrificed for this nation, our first thoughts often concern those killed or wounded in war.

But the story of Heather and Dustin Baker forces us to reconsider our assumptions about sacrifice. The Janesville couple have been married for five years but together at home for only 11½ months. For most of their marriage, Dustin has been deployed in either Iraq or Afghanistan. The couple sacrifice every day for this nation, trying to make a family work while serving in a war.

Until Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans understood war to have a definitive start and end. The Vietnam War dragged on for years like current conflicts, but it also involved a military draft. Whether a young man went to Vietnam, he was never completely removed from the war or its consequences.

In this new era of perpetual war, there’s little to remind us that we’re still fighting in foreign nations. Both troop commitments and casualties have been too low to trigger a draft (4,424 U.S. troops in killed in Iraq and 2,350 in Afghanistan as of Jan. 16, according to the Department of Defense). There’s neither public outcry nor celebration, except the occasional Veteran’s Day program. The two wars have become political background music, and we go about our days—sending kids to school, scraping ice from our windshields, eating dinner with loved ones—without a thought of those risking their lives on foreign soil.

To fuel these wars, some troops are deployed multiple times, though Dustin Baker’s 10 deployments are unusual. A disproportionate share of the nation’s war-time burden falls onto people such as Dustin. He doesn’t complain, but his arrangement comes with hardship. In a Sunday story, Gazette reporter Jonah Beleckis wrote how Dustin and Heather have persevered through rocky times (What couple wouldn’t be tested?) and have found a way to make their marriage work, despite Heather taking on the bulk of child-rearing and home-related duties stateside.

Technological advancements make easier connecting with family, but FaceTime is no substitute for real time. Anyone who’s been apart knows a goodnight kiss via the internet is better than nothing, but it does not remove the pain of distance between you and your loved ones.

War has changed and so, too, must our understanding of sacrifice. Heather is part of Dustin’s story and this conversation about sacrifice because our troops abroad need support. As we learn more about the psychological toll deployments can take, loved ones help keep the nation’s troops healthy. Heather’s not a service member, but she plays a crucial role in Dustin’s deployments.

If you’re a parent with children either at draft age or near it, thank the Bakers and thousands of volunteers like Dustin for keeping your son (and maybe someday daughters) out of harm’s way. These endless wars are easy to forget in large part because an all-volunteer military has taken the place of a draft, which has become a distant memory.

But failing to recognize these veterans’ sacrifices would be a shame. You don’t need to die or get wounded to sacrifice for this nation. Putting a marriage on the line is sacrifice enough.

Letters to the editor for Thursday, Jan. 18

Gazette lacked class in publishing vulgarity

I’m embarrassed by The Gazette’s coverage (and other papers, as well) of the president’s comments at his immigration policy meeting. I am offended at his stating we should not want more people from poor black African countries or from Haiti. I’m even more offended at the coarse, uncouth language he used to make his point. I wouldn’t use such language around my grandchildren or around my immediate family or my house or any of my polite friends.

Nor would I want any of them reading it or hearing it on radio, TV or any public media. In just today’s paper (Saturday), it is spelled out eight times in the first section. At least the cartoonist (Page 4A) had the good taste to use “s***”. A week ago, you would have had as much class as the cartoonist and nobody would have misunderstood what was said. As often as the media have complained about the deterioration of civil discourse, could you (and most of the current media) please try to give us some example?

Thanks to the cartoonist for showing some class!



Wanted: Congressman with backbone to stand up to Trump

I just read Rep. Paul Ryan’s response to Trump’s comments about countries with peoples of color. Ryan stated these comments were “unhelpful.” I get tired of our Wisconsin congressman voicing mild dissatisfaction with Trump’s obvious racial beliefs and then his going out and supporting Trump’s agenda, such as supporting a pedophile running for office.

Wisconsin needs a congressman who stands up for what Wisconsinites believe and stops supporting the evil Trump continues to spout. Ryan goes wherever the wind blows. I want someone with the backbone to say, “This is wrong, and Wisconsin does not support it.”



Democrats, not Trump, acting mentally unstable

Democrats accusing the president of being unstable and incompetent are “the pot calling the kettle black.” It’s like Al Capone calling the Justice Department corrupt. Their attempts to delegitimize this president grow more pathetic every day. It’s the left that can’t seem to get a grip on reality. I’ve never seen a political party so unhinged and delusional to this magnitude.

Donald Trump is the best president we’ve ever had, which is magnified by the fact that he repealed and replaced the worst one we ever had. He’s keeping his promise like no other, and his accomplishments are already resonating in big ways, such as our economy and immigration. More blacks are employed than ever, and the fact that he is defunding the United Nations is a monumental feat. The UN is nothing more than refuge for terrorists and a vehicle for world government.

He will not sell out his constituents like Rep. Paul Ryan and other establishment types. Unlike them, he shows no willingness to betray his country. That is why he is despised by the elite.

He won’t accept anything less than a constitutional form of immigration reform, and he puts climate change issues pretty much dead last on his priorities.

To question his mental stability is a lame attempt to get him out of office.

I believe he is divinely protected and the hand of God has been on him from the start. Christ knows what it’s like to be unjustly persecuted and what Trump is enduring and will help him stand firm.



Testosterone is going to get us all killed

Why can’t we all just get along? Well, we can, and we have in the past, but currently a few patriarchal authoritarians won’t sleep until they control everyone.

The world today isn’t divided into right and left; it’s divided into winners and losers.

Despite the consternation, I’ll bet most of us can agree on some key issues pegging our stress meter.

The following seem headed for the stratosphere along with our anger and frustration: the cost of housing, education, medical care, money in politics, the wages of multinational CEOs and carbon monoxide.

If you haven’t noticed, the one percenters have the rest of us on a slippery slope that’s greased with stagnant income. Think “tax reform” and “trickle down.”

I don’t look for things to change until America has a Bastille Day, or another Kent State, or Sterling Hall, or a few more Fergusons. I’m not advocating nastiness, just acquainting a few folks with human nature.

In place of an apocalypse, I’ll hope Harvey Weinstein is the catalyst for a matriarchal world.

Call me a dreamer, but testosterone is going to get us all killed.