Do we prefer people or profit?

May 15, 2017

Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull watches a robotic packing machine at a small business factory in the western suburbs of Sydney. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

Those presently with work in the Goulburn Valley may well have a rather thorny future.

Some estimates forecast that technological change in the next 10 to 15 years will make nearly 40 per cent of jobs in Australia redundant, including many highly-skilled roles.

Comments about the end of work as we know and understand it were made recently in an article by the University of Melbourne’s Dr Gwilym Croucher.

He said: ‘‘Technology has long been predicted to disrupt working lives, but as inequality grows and many lose out, its wide-reaching effects become all too clear for whole communities.’’

Considering that, what do we do?

Rejection of the technology will not work as it was tried in the 19th century by a group of English textiles workers and weavers who destroyed the new weaving machinery as a form of protest.

The ‘‘Luddites’’, as they became known, were protesting about the use of machinery in a fraudulent and deceitful manner to avoid standard labour practices.

History illustrates that their efforts were for naught as technology leapfrogged them, continued its inexorably march and is now poised to pounce upon work never imagined to fall victim to technology.

Interestingly, technology is of itself neither good nor bad for it is neutral and so it is how we use it and for what purpose that colours its value.

Economics has been the primary driver of technology and its growth can easily be traced and linked to what it will do to financially enrich individuals, companies and corporations.

Of course, countless examples can be identified in which technology was good for people, irrespective of their station in life, but again that technology was only developed because it brought profit to someone, somewhere.

If finding work in the future is going to be thorny, working through the issue of about whether or not we care more for profit than people is going to be prickly in the extreme.

As with most everything the understanding of something depends entirely upon from where you stand and whether or not the prism through which you view life is that of an idealist or a pragmatist.

Up front, idealism has my favour for if we are not doing what we are doing to make things better for people, then what are we doing, and why?

Immediately the conversation gets particularly prickly — for better is subjective and what is ‘‘better’’ for one in measurably worse for another.

And so here we stand in the Goulburn Valley, a place inextricably intertwined with the market-orientated capitalist system, something we unknowingly signed up to on the day we first drew breath.

The capitalist economic system has given us many wonderful things, but within that has been the God-like technology that has sprung what many see as a trap in taking away our work.

It’s not a trap, rather an opportunity for us to reconsider our behaviour and decide, at least here in the Goulburn Valley, whether we prefer people or profit.

- Rob McLean is a former News editor

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