Jobs, ZMP, and Creative Debt

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  • Run a games company called Six to Start, and I write about technology for Telegraph, plus I’m writing a book called A History of the Future in 100 Objects. Recently, been thinking a lot about how technology is changing how we work, and I want to take you on a short 3 part journey about all of this. \n\nIt’s going to be quite serious talk that some people won’t like, so I’m going to start out with very quick short story first. Not first time I’ve spoken at TED.\n
  • Awards\n
  • First part is about jobs. Read a speech out to you, given by David Cameron last year about the new Tech City in London. He said:\n
  • It sounds great. Those numbers are big. Thousand. Million. Billions. If we believe David Cameron or any number of politicians and entrepreneurs and economists, we will get return to economic growth by innovating and by creating the sort of cutting edge tech companies that we all hear about in the news.\n\nI mean, just imagine if we had a Twitter or a Facebook or an Apple in the UK - that'd solve our problems in no time. But let’s take a closer look.\n
  • Seems like it’d be a real job creator.\n\nBut maybe VCs are crazy. How about company that makes real money.\n
  • Seems like it’d be a real job creator.\n\nBut maybe VCs are crazy. How about company that makes real money.\n
  • OK... but what about a really big company, one that makes an actual physical product... like Apple! We all have MacBooks and iPhones here, right?\n
  • OK... but what about a really big company, one that makes an actual physical product... like Apple! We all have MacBooks and iPhones here, right?\n
  • Let's make a comparison with the UK. Sainsbury’s has less than half the revenue and less than a tenth of the profits of Apple. But it would take three Apples to employ the same 150,000 people as Sainsburys. Or it would take 75 Facebooks. Or 230 Twitters. \n\nWe have 2.5 million people unemployed in the UK right now. Even if the UK had a thousand Twitters, with all their profits, it wouldn't solve our unemployment situation. And it's precisely because innovation - and in particular, software and technology - is about doing more with less. It's not about making jobs. Let me give you an example.\n
  • Let's make a comparison with the UK. Sainsbury’s has less than half the revenue and less than a tenth of the profits of Apple. But it would take three Apples to employ the same 150,000 people as Sainsburys. Or it would take 75 Facebooks. Or 230 Twitters. \n\nWe have 2.5 million people unemployed in the UK right now. Even if the UK had a thousand Twitters, with all their profits, it wouldn't solve our unemployment situation. And it's precisely because innovation - and in particular, software and technology - is about doing more with less. It's not about making jobs. Let me give you an example.\n
  • Let's make a comparison with the UK. Sainsbury’s has less than half the revenue and less than a tenth of the profits of Apple. But it would take three Apples to employ the same 150,000 people as Sainsburys. Or it would take 75 Facebooks. Or 230 Twitters. \n\nWe have 2.5 million people unemployed in the UK right now. Even if the UK had a thousand Twitters, with all their profits, it wouldn't solve our unemployment situation. And it's precisely because innovation - and in particular, software and technology - is about doing more with less. It's not about making jobs. Let me give you an example.\n
  • Let's make a comparison with the UK. Sainsbury’s has less than half the revenue and less than a tenth of the profits of Apple. But it would take three Apples to employ the same 150,000 people as Sainsburys. Or it would take 75 Facebooks. Or 230 Twitters. \n\nWe have 2.5 million people unemployed in the UK right now. Even if the UK had a thousand Twitters, with all their profits, it wouldn't solve our unemployment situation. And it's precisely because innovation - and in particular, software and technology - is about doing more with less. It's not about making jobs. Let me give you an example.\n
  • This is IBM’s newest supercomputer, Watson, which beat the best of the best Jeopardy quiz show champions last year. You don't hear IBM saying that Watson is so inefficient it'll suddenly generate the need for thousands more jobs. No, they made Watson and they performed this stunt so they can sell the same expert system technology to companies that want to save money by eliminating lower tier call centre jobs and customer service jobs.\n
  • For every invention we make, whether calculator or online shopping or self-checkout tills or iPhones or driverless cars, we eliminate 100ks jobs elsewhere. That's the point - these inventions are supposed to save time and labour.\n\nI suppose the idea is that we all gain from the wealth that these new inventions create, and that people who lost their jobs can simply retrain into a role that’s more in demand, like, well, programmers, perhaps! But we all know it's not that easy to learn a whole new speciality. Alternatively, mfg - but even that’s employing fewer people, with automation. Things are changing so quickly that entire classes of jobs seem to be disappearing every year. Yet even now, many people think that the current wave of unemployment is driven by moral failings. People are too lazy, too stupid. They don't deserve to be employed. Therefore, they don't deserve our sympathy or our help. Well, just wait until the computers come for you!\n
  • And all of this is related to the cryptic acronym I used at the top, ZMP. \n
  • Stands for ZMP workers, and it came from an observation that over the last few years in the US, economic output began recovering, but not employment. They had a smaller number of workers, but they were making just as much stuff as before, which means that the workers who were laid off apparently didn’t do much at all, if anything - they created 'ZMP'.\n\nNow, ZMP is far from an accepted idea in economics. There are a lot of criticisms from it from people like Paul Krugman that it fails to measure some economic activity. But you know, I think ZMP is kind of a seductive argument, because we all believe that there are some workers out there that don't seem to contribute anything at all to the economy. You know who I mean. \n\nYet at the same time, there's another twist to this, because we all know smart, hardworking people who have been unemployed for months and just can’t seem to get jobs. We don't think that they're, from an economic viewpoint, literally useless. It just seems crazy that so many people could be out of work for so long.\n
  • Now, recessions and unemployment and changes in productivity aren’t a new phenomenon. We've had labour saving invention for centuries. Back in 1932, Bertrand Russell touched on the same problem. Let's just read one of this thought experiments:\n\n
  • So, it's not a new problem in the slightest, and you know, compared to the 1930s we seem to be doing fine. And in some countries, particularly Scandinavian and Northern European countries, job sharing is on the rise, the equivalent of Bertrand Russell's pin makers each working for four hours instead of eight. I think it's better than the alternative.\n\nBut I don't think that's the whole solution either, because I think eventually we make so many inventions there just are too few jobs to spread around. I suppose everyone could just sit around being totally idle, but unlike Bertrand Russell, it doesn't seem like a recipe for happiness to me. I happen to think that if you had four extra hours free every day, the route to happiness would involve being productive in some other way that really engages you.\n
  • Unfortunately, the problem is that we are so rarely able to do that. Due to our educational system, we have just one or two chances to pick the career we stick with with the rest of our lives. And due to difficulty of raising capital or getting loans at the moment, you can't just get money to start up a new business easily. And finally, due to our welfare system, we can't really sit around doing nothing for four hours every day because we wouldn't have enough money to eat or live, so you end up looking for another job.\n\nIf you're really unlucky, you don't find anything. If you're slightly unlucky, you get a boring job that pays just enough to distract you from the prospect of being made redundant by a new computer. \n\nAnd if you're really lucky, then you can work in the creative industries like media and advertising and so on that are harder for computers to automate. But even there, practically everyone I meet in those industries *really* wants to be writing books or making films or designing games. So why aren't they? \n
  • Well, like I said before, it takes money to make a film or design a game, and right now the problem is that there are only a few places you can get that money from, like a games publisher or a newspaper or a bank or the government - and then you'd need to get distribution. So that’s a double whammy of having to convince some overworked and overlobbied commissioner that you have a good idea, and then having to convince a distributor to take a punt on you. So despite the fact that we're supposed to live in a free market, it's nothing even close to that.\n
  • Brings me to third part of talk - Creative Debt\n
  • Now, things are changing and these funders and distributions are becoming less important. You can get money directly from the public from crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to make your project, providing you have enough friends or you have a good enough idea, and once you've made it, you can go direct to market on iTunes or Amazon or wherever and self-publish. \n\n
  • That's great - increases efficiency and it levels the playing field. But it has bad side effect, because one of the fantastic things that publishers used to do was distribute risk. They would use the profits from a successful book or film and use it to fund riskier projects. But if you don't have that distribution of risk any more, you might actually reduce the number of projects that get made overall; there's just no incentive for a skilled or lucky creative to share their wealth and help get other projects made.\n\n
  • So I don't think crowdfunding on its own is enough. I think that if you have the good fortune to have a big hit, you should figure out some way of passing it on. Abd here's why. Anyone who is creative often gets asked where they get their ideas from. And the answer is simple - we get them from each other. They don't arrive from the heavens, they come to us through a thousand books and films and games and articles that we've read over years. \n\n
  • We really owe a creative debt to one another.\n\nSo I think that there is a moral obligation for artists in particular to share the fortune and to pass it on. And even this idea is one I've stolen from Lewis Hyde, who wrote about it in the Gift. It also recognises the importance of the gift economy and co-operation throughout history, something that seems to have been ignored in recent years.\n\nBecause ultimately, this is about what our innovation and technology and software have bought us. They have made us so productive that we are finding it hard to create work for ourselves. And like Bertrand Russell's factory, we now have millions of people out of work. It's not a cause for celebration. People desperately need jobs, not just for the money, but for their self-respect and happiness. \n
  • And I'm afraid I can't end on an uplifting note here. There is no quick fix, no technological solution, no way to turn all of this into a game that people can solve. It just comes down to us helping one another in big ways and small by repaying that creative debt, person by person, project by project. We need to recognise where technology is taking our society, and make sure that it works for us, and not the other way around. Thank you.\n
  • \n
  • Jobs, ZMP, and Creative Debt

    1. 1. Jobs, ZMP, & Creative Debt Adrian Hon @adrianhon TEDxSheffield
    2. 2. Part 1 of 3Jobs
    3. 3. "The world of business is changing at anastonishing rate. Insurgent companies are takingadvantage of thousands of new innovations andmillions of new consumers to generate billions inrevenue within a matter of years. This is whereso much of the promise of new jobs andopportunities lie."
    4. 4. $7 billion valuation
    5. 5. $7 billion valuation 650 jobs
    6. 6. $1 billion profit
    7. 7. $1 billion profit 2000 jobs
    8. 8. $65 billion revenue
    9. 9. $65 billion revenue $14 billion profit
    10. 10. $65 billion revenue $14 billion profit $75 billion assets
    11. 11. $65 billion revenue $14 billion profit $75 billion assets 50,000 jobs
    12. 12. Technology is labour-saving
    13. 13. Part 2 of 3ZMP
    14. 14. Zero Marginal Product workers
    15. 15. Bertrand Russell, 1932
    16. 16. Job Sharing is the Answer?
    17. 17. Easier said than done
    18. 18. Funding and Distribution
    19. 19. Part 3Creative Debt
    20. 20. No more Risk Distribution?
    21. 21. Crowdfunding is not enough on its own
    22. 22. We owe a creative debt
    23. 23. No quick fixes:Just repaying that creative debt.
    24. 24. @adrianhonadrian@sixtostart.com

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