The man who made billions at his full-time job running Google thinks you should stop worrying so much about losing your own full-time job to the robots that his company is building.
Google CEO Larry Page said last week that one possible answer to the serious problem of humans struggling to find work, partly because they are being replaced by robots, could be to "just reduce work time." He was speaking at a "fireside chat" with his fellow Google co-founder Sergey Brin and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla. All three men are billionaires who never need to work a day again.
Page seems to think we all have that luxury (the economics talk starts at about minute 14 of this video):
Most people, if I ask them would you like an extra week of vacation?, they raise their hands ... Most people like working, but they'd also like to have more time with their family or to pursue their own interests. So that would be one way to deal with the problem, is if you had a coordinated way to just reduce the workweek. And then, if you add slightly less employment, you can adjust and people will still have jobs.
Much of this work we do is simply unnecessary, in Page's view:
If you really think about the things that you need to make yourself happy -- housing, security, opportunities for your kids -- anthropologists have been identifying these things. It's not that hard for us to provide those things ... So the idea that everyone needs to work frantically to meet people's needs is just not true.
In a way, Page is placing himself in the progressive tradition of the labor movement, which since at least 1919 has demanded more "time to eat, time to live, time to be happy." There are obviously real physical and mental benefits to working less. A survey of Utah state employees who switched to working four days per week during the Great Recession found that 70 percent preferred the shorter work week.
Except what Page seems to forget is that many, many people still do need to work "frantically" just to meet the needs of housing, security and opportunities for their kids. Because working frantically is often the only way you can make enough money to make ends meet -- if you're lucky.
It's unclear if, in Page's Tomorrowland, workers will get paid the same amount to work less, or if everyone must take home less pay so that more people can work.
What we do know is that the current economic recovery has been hobbled by not enough full-time hiring. The U.S. government reported last week that 288,000 jobs were added to the economy in June, driving the unemployment rate to 6.1 percent from 6.3 percent. The dark lining of that otherwise bright report was a surge in the number of part-time workers who want full-time jobs. Belt-tightening companies have trimmed hours and kept wages flat, weakening consumer spending and the broader economy.
Meanwhile, about 45 percent of jobs in the U.S are "at high risk" of being computerized, according to an Oxford University study. Vulnerable job fields include sales, transportation, administrative support and construction. Eventually, jobs in engineering and the arts may be done by bots, too.
And Google is hastening this robot economic takeover. The company bought at least eight robotics companies in the past year and has said that one of its next "moonshot" ideas is building robots to streamline manufacturing.