Google CEO Larry Page was asked how society should deal with unemployment that may arise from technological advances.
His answer is surprisingly French. He says companies should consider hiring two part-time workers to do one full-time job. This way more people are employed, which is better for society.
We’re not sure this would really work out, but Page is a pretty smart guy who will be asked questions like this for a long time, so his answer is noteworthy.
Here, via Khosla Ventures, is the question and his answer:
Larry Page Ninety per cent of people used to be farmers. So it’s happened before. It’s not surprising.
Vinod Khosla The vast majority of employment shifted from farming to only needing about 2% of the U.S. workforce. That happened between 1900 and the year 2000. I see the beginnings of that happening again with the rapid acceleration the next 10, 15, 20 years.
LP I totally believe we should be living in a time of abundance, like Peter Diamandis’ book.
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. The amount of resources we need to do that, the amount of work that actually needs to go into that is pretty small. I’m guessing less than 1% at the moment.
So the idea that everyone needs to work frantically to meet people’s needs is just not true. I do think there’s a problem that we don’t recognise that. I think there’s also a social problem that a lot of people aren’t happy if they don’t have anything to do. So we need to give people things to do. We need to feel like you’re needed, wanted and have something productive to do. But I think the mix with that and the industries we actually need and so on are– there’s not a good correspondence. That’s why we’re busy destroying the environment and other things, maybe we don’t need to be doing.
So I’m pretty worried. Until we figure that out, we’re not going to have a good outcome.
One thing, I was talking to Richard Branson about this. They don’t have enough jobs in the U.K. 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. Everyone I’ve asked — I’ve asked a lot of people about this. Maybe not you guys. But most people, if I ask them, ‘Would you like an extra week of vacation?’ They raise their hands, 100% of the people. ‘Two weeks vacation, or a four-day work week?’ Everyone will raise their hand.
Most people like working, but they’d also like to have more time with their family or to pursue their own interests. So that would be one way to deal with the problem, is if you had a coordinated way to just reduce the workweek. And then, if you add slightly less employment, you can adjust and people will still have jobs.
Sergey Brin I will quibble a little bit. I don’t think that in the near term, the need for labour is going away. It gets shifted from one place to another, but people always want more stuff or more entertainment or more creativity or more something.
LP I think it’s an imperfect system, so there’s no reason that it really will correspond. There’s been some economics arguments that, that’s not as true now as it has been. But that could lead to other kinds of governance problems and so on. But nobody really knows the answer to that question.
Here’s the video of them talking about all of this. The employment stuff happens at 13:20: