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How Will Our Children Earn A Living?

Technology will destroy more jobs and leave fewer for the under-qualified. Are countries prepared to deal with the social exclusion being forged by this work revolution?

"Work in itself is a market"
"Work in itself is a market"
Luis Rappoport*

-Opinion-

It seems unlikely that our great grandfathers, or their fathers, asked themselves, "What will my son do for a living?" They would know that the countryside in which they grew up would remain a home for their children, and that the family would continue to be the core of economic subsistence for all.

Their descendants did not have the good fortune foreseen for them by those fathers and grandfathers. They migrated to the city or to North America because the countryside expelled them. Many industrial workers of the 1960s and 1970s were confident that their children would find jobs in a factory like the one they worked in. Few were lucky enough for that. Many of their children work in the service sector and, for those who did not study, began to live the drama of odd jobs, informal work and exclusion young people continue to face today.

Besides domestic work and in contrast with our great grandfathers, all work is destined for the market and there is no production for self-consumption. Work in itself is a market.

Changes in the labor market are the result of technological changes taking place, mainly, in countries where the knowledgeable society predominates. Those countries are presently producing changes that will affect many jobs across the world.

There are five ways in which people are linked to the work market:

1. Being part of the knowledgeable society.

2. With low wages.

3. Exploiting natural resources.

4. Selling services to one of the above three.

5. Being excluded from the work market.

These five forms co-exist in every country in the world, though depending on the relative predominance of each form, the country has greater or lesser social equilibrium.

People are excluded when the dimension of jobs tied to knowledge, low wages or exploitation of natural resources is not enough to sustain the sector of simple services that could be filled by less qualified workers. Taxi drivers, waiters, cooks, gym teachers, apprentices, masseurs, shop employees, hairdressers, etc. live off the demand for services by those who produce goods and services tied to the international market.

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In Buenos Aires — Photo: Gustavo Gomes

Ongoing innovations, or those that will take effect in the coming years, are in the process of pulverizing many work posts. Driverless cars, drone deliveries, manufacturing without a direct workforce, online shopping, self-checkouts in supermarkets, e-papers and e-books: These will disrupt the amount of low-skilled jobs in a similar way the initial phases of the Industrial Revolution did, when millions were forced to emigrate to America. But this time, there is a difference: New jobs being generated require ever-higher qualifications, and they’re increasingly difficult to attain. Every country is seeing an increase in inequity and exclusion.

The problem is that the excluded are looking at the knowledgeable society through a glass, unable to enter. On the other side are human beings who love and want a better fate, who vote and can use mobile phones and social networking resources — not to mention Kalashnikovs — who can immolate themselves in public squares and put up street barriers. And without better options, they can quickly learn to distribute drugs, steal or kill. So democratic governability in the 21st century depends on the number of excluded and how each country processes the exclusion of a part of its citizens.

For the same reason, global competition between countries is now increasingly based on quality and equity in educational systems, so the largest possible number of young people are able to take part in the knowledgeable society, innovate and start new ventures.

Countries like Argentina, heavily reliant on natural resources, are those facing the greatest challenge as the massive inflow of dollars from activities generating few jobs boost the value of their currencies in a way that blocks the path to social inclusion through low wages. This is why they are countries with the greatest social inequality, where educational quality and equity must become an urgent priority.

Education, innovation and the development of knowledge-based enterprises are the challenges facing Argentina's democracy. The possibility of its continuity depends on its response to the challenge, and on the answer to our question — how will our children earn a living?

*Luis Rappoport is an economist and member of the Club Politico Argentino.

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