Technology Ã¢a¬a friend or foe?
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
The amazing technological advances of the last several decades have brought us such wonders as the computer revolution and robotic production lines for automobiles and a large number of other manufactured products, resulting in tremendous savings in man-hours and increase in production efficiency. The result has been significant reductions in the cost of the manufactured products and services we purchase. It has increased the profits of corporations, but without a corresponding increase in their employeesÃ¢a¬a¢ real wages, which have pretty much stagnated, or actually decreased, since 1990.
But these increases in productivity have brought with them some unintended adverse consequences, which the current economic doldrums have brought into focus. The truth is that our great production efficiency allows us to produce more goods and services with fewer and fewer people until there may no longer be enough jobs to keep everyone productively employed. The automotive industry is a perfect example. The number of cars and trucks produced per year in 1995-2005 was 1 1/2 times the yearly production between 1950 and 1980, while the labor force for their production has declined precipitously.
But during the boom years since 1990, the fact that we were overproducing the market was concealed because people were over purchasing by running up debt on their credit cards and by taking on more mortgage debt. The current recession and resultant loss of jobs has drastically cut into purchases as people have less money to spend and are putting their money into savings as a hedge against the possibility of further income losses. Consequently we now have even more overproduction, resulting in cutting even more jobs, still further reducing purchasing power.
What can be done to break this vicious cycle? The days of rushing into debt to buy even more are over, so we canÃ¢a¬a¢t look to that to bail us out. The only answer seems to be to cut back on productivity without creating more unemployment. This could be accomplished by shortening the work week, say from five days to four, but this would also cut into purchasing power. Another possibility would be to hire people to replace the automatic answering menus, so people would once again be able to have their questions answered by a real person. The obvious outcome is a decline in our material standard of living Ã¢a¬a which may be inevitable, especially when compounded by the rise in the cost of steadily declining resources, especially energy.
Advances in medical technology in the pat few decades have made available miraculous diagnostic devices like CAT-scans and MRIs, and surgical techniques and robotic operating procedures that were not even dreamed of just 10 or 20 years ago. And the pace of these discoveries only seems to be increasing. But unfortunately the cost of this life-saving and life-extending technology is driving the price of health care so high that we can no longer afford it. The only way of dealing with this unsustainable situation is to recognize that there are limits to what can be included under a universal health care plan. Everyone should be guaranteed a basic level of health care, and those who want more could purchase insurance to cover the more exotic, and consequently more expensive procedures. This may seem cold-hearted, but we have to recognize that in the real world not everyone can have everything that anyone else has. IsnÃ¢a¬a¢t it better to have a system that provides everyone with a fundamental level of health care, than to go broke trying to provide everything to everyone, ultimately bankrupting the system?
We are going to have to learn to adapt to the unintended consequences of our rapidly advancing technology, even if it may not be easy or to everyoneÃ¢a¬a¢s liking.
Glenwood Springs resident Hal SundinÃ¢a¬a¢s column runs every other Thursday in The Post Independent.
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