June 8, 2006

Jobs change

As I review this list of mid 19th century jobs in London, England I marvel at the effects of constant technological change on the nature of the workplace:

168,701 domestic servants.
29,780 dressmakers and milliners.
28,574 boot and shoemakers.
21,517 tailors and breechesmakers.
20,417 commercial clerks.
18,321 carpenters and joiners.
16,220 laundrykeepers, washers, and manglers.
13,103 private messengers and errand boys.
11,507 painters, plumbers, and glaziers.
9,110 bakers.
7,973 cabinetmakers and upholsterers.
7,151 silk manufacturers, (all branches).
7,002 seamen.
6,741 bricklayers.
6,716 blacksmiths.
6,618 printers.
6,450 butchers.
5,499 booksellers, bookbinders, and publishers.
4,980 grocers and teadealers.
4,861 tavernkeepers, publicans, and victuallers.
4,290 clock and watchmakers.

Jobs come and go. Entire industries come and go. And the sentiments and politics surrounding these rapid changes struggle to keep up. People try to fight the fact that demand for certain jobs disappear over time. Political parties, such as the NDP in Canada, struggle to remain relevant in an increasingly post-industrial world.

But is the quality of jobs improving? For the most part, yes, as jobs are less physically demanding and dangerous than they have been in the past. Where there might be a problem is in how desk jobs are mind-numbingingly repetitive and physically un-demanding. I don't think the human body fares very well in such sedentary conditions. No wonder coffee is so popular at the workplace; I for one am dependant on its stimulant properties.

With accelerating change in effect, it should be interesting to see the fleeting nature of certain jobs and industries in the coming decades.


Micah J. Glasser said...

I think about this a lot. Just imagine how many jobs and professions will have gone away in ten years. How can one plan for the future in such an environment?

Mark Plus said...

Farmers, miners and factory workers might have had relatively harsh lives because of their occupations, but at least at the end of the day (or season) they had something tangible to show for their efforts -- a crop, a trainload full of coal, a parking lot full of new cars, etc. In other words, they helped to produce something that directly relates to sustaining human life.

I don't have the sense that the largely unnecessary "service" jobs in modern economies generate that kind of satisfaction. I certainly don't feel like I've accomplished anything tangible at the end of the day from my job in the hospitality industry. Oh, I play a role in the distribution and consumption of utilities, food, cleaning supplies, linens etc., and I derive an income from doing so. But I haven't produced any of them, and my efforts don't have any affect on the supplies of physical life support. After all, if all the hotel desk clerks in the country did the John Galt thing tomorrow, we'd only hurt ourselves; the rest of society would find our absence inconvenient, but not catastrophic.