No technological solution
Posted by aogSunday, 13 July 2003 at 20:07 TrackBack Ping URL

The boys were were watching Ring of Fire which got me to thinking about robotic factories and wondering if the latter might be an escape from the demographic problem facing Japan and Europe.

I think that’s clearly out for Europe. A large part of its problem is over regulation of the labor market and excessively strong unions. These are precisely the factors that would prevent a sufficiently wide spread adoption of robotics. The 35 hour work week is emblematic of this — France should be working as hard as possible now because every day a smaller percentage of adults is non-retired.

Japan has a better shot because despite its over regulation it has embraced robotics from the early days (and indeed competed with the US for leadership in the area). However, I suspect that even there that while robotics are likely to be widely adopted and boost productivity this boost will do more to increase expectations than provide a cushion for the graying of the nation. It’s also difficult to see where the will to invest massively enough to make a difference will come from in a deflating economy.

Given that technology probably wouldn’t solve the problem and that there’s little chance of suffcient reform it looks like it’s going to be a bad few decades for Europe and Japan. But in one’s schadenfruede over dismal futures it’s important to keep in mind the aphorism “if it can’t go on forever, it won’t”. Those nations will eventually do something, it’s just going to be quite drastic because it will happen so late in the process.

Comments — Formatting by Textile
David Cohen Tuesday, 15 July 2003 at 11:48

Robots may be a partial answer, in that they might postpone the inevitable. But productivity, in this sense, is strictly a supply side phenomenom. On the demand side, the three big drivers are population growth, age and wealth. More people buy more stuff than fewer people. Young people buy more stuff than older people. Wealthy people buy more stuff than poor people, athough, because of diminishing returns, this is perhaps the weakest of the drivers.

Robots (i.e., increased productivity) may increase the third driver, but can’t possibly offset the weakening of the first two drivers.

Annoying Old Guy Tuesday, 15 July 2003 at 19:53

Turing & Church! I meant “technology probably would not solve the problem”. I’ve updated the post.

There’s the whole aspect of service vs. manufacturing as well which doesn’t bode well either.

David Cohen Tuesday, 15 July 2003 at 21:08

Come to think of it, there might be more “robots” in the service industry than in manufacturing. ATMs, voice mail, automated call systems, vending machines, web sites, etc. I understand that McDonalds is now testing automated kiosks for ordering your meal, which is then brought to your table.

pj Thursday, 17 July 2003 at 09:34

The technology Europe may turn to in order to address demographic problems is cloning. I won’t be surprised if Europe pioneers human cloning. They seem to have their share of narcissists.

Annoying Old Guy Thursday, 17 July 2003 at 17:17


Is that the real origin of the Eloi and the Morlocks?

End of Discussion