Robots And Manufacturing Employment

I meant to post this some time ago and as usual time ran away from me. So, a bit late and dated here is a report from the Financial Times on the future of manufacturing employment worldwide.

Foxconn, the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer by revenue, plans to have as many robots as workers in its China factories within three years, according to Terry Gou, chairman and chief executive.

Foxconn, China’s biggest employer, produce Apple’s iPad and other electronic gadgets. The group currently employs 1m workers but has just 10,000 robots on its production lines.

Mr Gou outlined the company’s ambitious automation plans at a Foxconn gathering late last week in Shenzhen, a coastal manufacturing centre in southern China. According to people who attended the function, the chief executive said the group would have up to 300,000 robots next year and 1m by 2013, highlighting the drastic changes China-based manufacturers are making as competition for labour increases.

“This is part of a broad automation push among China-based manufacturers,” said Alvin Kwock, head of hardware technology research at JPMorgan. “It signals that the cost of labour is no longer lower than the cost of capital.”

If you think that a resurgence in manufacturing is just what the doctor ordered for the US economy, think again. The typical factory floor worker is going the way of the dodo. If you missed the Jeopardy segments with Watson, then take a look at the future. And if you happen to be a Chinese politician worried about how you are going to raise hundreds of millions of your citizens out of poverty and thus perpetuate your sinecure, you should probably be focusing on moving your wealth somewhere safe, out of the country in other words.

The rise of the machines is going to make the owners of capital fabulously rich. It is also going to provoke furious fights over redistribution of their profits. Marx might well have the last laugh on this one.

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