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Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Google CEO: Fight Unemployment With Job Sharing

Google CEO Larry Page suggests we can reduce unemployment by dividing jobs in half.

In the future, we will work less and enjoy more leisure time, while being shuttled around in self-driving cars, attended by artificial intelligence that makes better decisions than we do.

That might sound like the setup for an episode of Star Trek, but it's the world Google's founders see ahead of us.

In a video interview published last week and moderated by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, Google CEO Larry Page and co-founder Sergey Brin discussed a range of topics that spanned the company's history, its future focus, and its founders' views on economic issues.

[Are there (more) robots in your future? Read Robots Rising: 7 Real-Life Roles.]

After touching on the importance of Android, Google Now, Google's experimental projects, and machine learning to his company's future, Page asserted that we should be able to work less and be happier.

"I totally believe we should be living in a time of abundance, like Peter Diamandis's book," said Page. "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." (Certainly it's not hard if you're a billionaire.)

Driverless cars and other automation will eliminate jobs, say Google founders.
Driverless cars and other automation will eliminate jobs, say Google founders.

Abundance (Free Press, 2012) is a book by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler that reviewer Timothy Ogden describes as "techno-utopianism at its worst" because it sees every problem as something technology can solve. The New York Times review is a bit more charitable, finding the book's optimism appealing despite some quibbles.

Anyway, Page contends that people don't need to work that hard to take care of life's necessities. He also says people aren't happy when they're idle, so they need to be given something to do.

And it appears that idle workers will become more common. In a recent Fortune article, Martin Ford, author of The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, argues there's mounting evidence that unemployment will remain high for years because automation obviates the need for a growing range of human skills.

Others have said as much. In a recent interview, Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the MIT Center for Digital Business and co-author of The Second Machine Age, said, "I don't know how you can make the case that [manufacturing] technologies are creating as many jobs as they're destroying."

Page's answer to all this is sharing, specifically job sharing. "I was talking to Richard Branson about this," said Page. "They don't have enough jobs in the UK. He's been trying to get people to hire two part-time people instead of one full-time. So at least, the young people can have a half-time job rather than no job. And it's a slightly greater cost for employers. I was thinking, the extension of that is you have global unemployment or widespread unemployment. You just reduce work time."

There is, however, a problem with this scenario. Sharing a job means a 50% salary cut, unless companies are keen to double wages across the board, and that isn't likely. With 50% less income, the things people need to be happy -- which probably extend beyond Page's list of housing, security, and opportunities for offspring -- become harder to afford.

According to a recent Zillow survey, San Franciscans spend an average of 40% of their income on rent. With half as much income, housing suddenly consumes 80% of available funds. Then comes food. Although Americans spend far lower a percentage of their income on food (less than 10%) than do people in many other countries, even this small percentage becomes significant when income is halved. Sharing a job in San Francisco would mean housing, food, and maybe a few dollars left over for Internet access.

Page doesn't appear to have taken steps to encourage Googlers to work less, and Brin voiced his disagreement with the idea, so don't expect widespread job sharing at Google or other Silicon Valley companies any time soon.

Yet without job sharing to mitigate technologically induced unemployment, more and more people might become idle. Khosla goes as far as to predict the need for a vastly expanded welfare program. "Looking 40 years out, I find it hard to imagine why we won't need to support half the population to not work but pursue other interests that are interesting to them," he said.

Just think, you could get paid to post cat pictures on Google+. Techno-utopianism indeed.

Network engineers need broader expertise for their careers to thrive in the coming software-defined networking era. Also in the new SDN Careers issue of Network Computing: Don't be a networking dinosaur.

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio
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User Rank: Apprentice
7/9/2014 | 12:38:46 PM
Re: Nice Joke
"Why can't they reduce reduce their FAT and ugly CEOs, CTO, CFOs and white color criminals salary and share their fat pay with 100s of people."

Companies don't decide to hire or not hire based on money. (Money is a factor but never the reason). A company hires when demand increases and labor is less money than technology to meet that demand. This is it, the bottom line. 

We are in a world where technology is much cheaper than labor and as long as that is true, labor will be in less in demand unless labor reduces its cost, which it is doing. 

Sharing makes a lot of sense, if the majority did it. People could work for basic necessities and housing. Of course wages would go down as would aggegrate demand for things like housing. But as prices go down, more people could afford. Once the market adjusts and reaches more of a homeostasis things would be better because people could have their own side business to follow their passions, including freelance and consulting work, and have a for sure income to take care of necessities. 

This could seriously reduce government subsidies and the need for government borrowing and have other major postive impacts. The hard sell is to convince those that have a lot to take less for the betterment of the whole. This is probably going to be the reason it will never happen. 
User Rank: Apprentice
7/9/2014 | 12:23:12 PM
Job sharing doesn't have to be 2 for 1
Why do they jump to job sharing as 50/50?  I'm sure there are departments that have 3-5 people doing the same basic work.  How about job sharing represent 3 people doing 2 jobs?  I work as a programmer and there are 12 of us that have the same base skills.  Why not have 15 people doing those 12 jobs?  I would love to work 30-35 hours per week instead of 40-50.  Happier employees = more work and more quality work.


Just my 2 cents.
User Rank: Apprentice
7/9/2014 | 12:21:38 PM
College Grads--Zero future
If I was an ultra rich I would make sure my home was very well guarded. I am not sure how many more graduating classes, whom have massive debt, and only find $30M a year jobs out there or part time work; are going to sit around prior to rebelling against the current system.

While they seem distracted by the internet and so on and so forth. The time will come when the Mommies and Daddies can cover them anymore due to lack of money. They will then relaize that their future is quickly being denied to them by the current greed presiding over this country.

Young people start revolutions and I don't know how many of them will abode by this toning down of their dreams.

User Rank: Strategist
7/9/2014 | 12:02:43 PM
Re: Nice Joke
"I mean, people making close to, and over, a million dollars a year are already taxed close to 50%"

I'm sorry, but this is precisely the type of ignorance that keeps us facing the problems we face.  

There's been a number of prominant, wealthy individuals who have revealed that their total tax rate (that of their salary AND investemnt income) is well under what the average American pays, some as low as 11%.  

If you seriously think the wealthy are paying 50% of their income in taxes, you're a fool.  The tax rate on income over $375,000 is 35%.  But considering people at that level make a significant proportion, if not the majority, of their income from investments, NOT salary, and capitol gains taxes rates are 15-20%, their effective tax rates can be much less than 35%.  

50%... what a fool.  Keep drinking the koolaid.  
User Rank: Apprentice
7/9/2014 | 11:46:01 AM
Re: Disconnected...
User Rank: Apprentice
7/9/2014 | 11:44:57 AM
Re: Nice Joke
You don't want to share your job or your income. I don't either.

Why should CEOs be forced to? Isn't that the opposite of freedom?

I mean, people making close to, and over, a million dollars a year are already taxed close to 50% between state and federal. How much more do you want going back into the system?
User Rank: Apprentice
7/9/2014 | 11:34:54 AM
ancient greece
Back in ancient greece, advanced thought and philosophy was cultivated because slave labor provided non slaves with leisure time to sit around and think. With google's robot army, we could be entering a new era of leisure. This time around we will spend the free time watching kitten videos on youtube and posting pictures of our half eaten big mac on instagram.
User Rank: Apprentice
7/9/2014 | 11:02:39 AM
Nice Joke
Why is that always this ultra rich as holes always go behind people living to ends meets ?

Why can't they reduce reduce their FAT and ugly CEOs, CTO, CFOs and white color criminals salary and share their fat pay with 100s of people.


They can easily manage unemployment. No wonder why this country is creating United states of Poor Land of America,
Shane M. O'Neill
Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
7/9/2014 | 10:51:04 AM
Re: Fight Unemployment With Job Sharing
An out-of-touch billionaire thinking out loud, and not thinking very clearly. I can't tell if this is his cock-eyed utopian vision where people will be happy with just the essentials and give up half their salaries for more free time OR if it's a last ditch scramble to create half-jobs as unemployment surges and social and economic circumstances deteriorate. Either way Larry, test it out at Google and let us know how it goes.
User Rank: Apprentice
7/9/2014 | 10:33:15 AM
Job sharing could work in some instances
Re; Job sharing.  I make more money than I need.  I have a friend who has been mostly out of work for a year.  I could EASILY live on 2/3 of my salary.  If I job shared with my friend and she earned 1/3 of my salary, she would be thrilled as it would be as much money as she has ever earned in her life.

I'm not a millionare and I make less than 100K a year



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