The Coming Labor Shortage

September 23rd, 2009 by Miles Leave a reply »

While on vacation, I enjoyed reading The Next 100 Years by George Friedman.  (It’s a bit like a Guns, Germs, and Steel rolled forward 100 years.)  It is an attempt to predict the course of human history based on demographics, geography and fundamental strategic interests of nation states.

It was intriguing to read about his predicted conflict between Turkey and the U.S. during the 2050s while I was in Turkey.  It was like reading science fiction (which I enjoy) but it was more chilling as it was presented as a possible future.  Yet, that predicted World War 3 is not what I want to write about here.

I think the book was best-grounded in the comments on demographic trends for the next few decades.  While I’m no expert on this, I’ve heard and read a number of times that the developed world is and will continue to get older on average.  And some developed countries already have negative population growth because locals are not have enough children and there is low enough immigration. (I think Italy falls in this category.)

In the book, Friedman predicts that these projects will drive a labor shortage in the 2030s for Europe and the US in particular.  Since it is doubtful we can make grown humans overnight, he predicts the solution will be a 180 in immigration policy and politics.  Developed countries will pay immigrants to come in.  (Maybe some entrepreneurs have figured this out already with the recent call for a founder’s visa.)

Having read Moravec and Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, I was thinking that he didn’t write enough about robots.  Then he did mention them later as an important factor in the 2050s.

Being an entrepreneur and enjoying science fiction, I couldn’t help wonder if we couldn’t make the future come faster.   If we believe the demand for robots will only increase, can we make them better now?  Can we change the dynamics for the 2030s by working on it now?  That’s investing for a longer-term than many of the internet/software start-ups I work spend time with.

It makes me more interested in investing in start-ups in this area.  One company I have heard good hings about is Harvest Automation.  Have any good robot deals or know much about this area?