That was the lead in this column by Eduardo Porter in the New York Times. Thirty-five years ago people debated whether machines, technology, would ever replace humans in the workforce. Many respected economists dismissed the idea until the great economist Wassily Leontief made his analogy regarding equines.
The rest of the very interesting column discussed universal income and other aspects of the economy. I kept thinking about jobs.
Because horses were replaced. Their jobs went away. And they never came back. Oh sure, there are a few horses still in use today. Under two million, down from over 20 million at the time when the automobile and the tractor pretty much put them out to pasture. Over 90% of their jobs went away in the span of just a few decades.
What we need to learn from our hard-working, four-legged co-workers is that when jobs go away, whether it’s because technology has automated the work or the demand for a product shrinks, those jobs aren’t coming back. So you have a choice. You can hang on dearly hoping that somehow you won’t be affected (you will be), you can mourn the fact that your job no longer exists (you won’t bring it back) or you can adapt.
You’ve really no choice but to adapt. Figure out what you will do next. Because as certain jobs exit, others come along and replace them. There are no SEO specialists with 20 years experience. Ten years ago no one had a job monitoring tweets. The skills, the people required for those jobs were found in other industries and were adapted to the needs of these new functions. The people who filled these newly created jobs were the ones willing to adapt rather than mourn what was lost. And they’ll have the last laugh.