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克魯曼專欄:高學歷勞工的悲歌
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Degrees and Dollars

By PAUL KRUGMAN

It is a truth universally acknowledged that education is the key to economic success. Everyone knows that the jobs of the future will require ever higher levels of skill. That’s why, in an appearance Friday with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, President Obama declared that “If we want more good news on the jobs front then we’ve got to make more investments in education.”

But what everyone knows is wrong.

The day after the Obama-Bush event, The Times published an article about the growing use of software to perform legal research. Computers, it turns out, can quickly analyze millions of documents, cheaply performing a task that used to require armies of lawyers and paralegals. In this case, then, technological progress is actually reducing the demand for highly educated workers.

And legal research isn’t an isolated example. As the article points out, software has also been replacing engineers in such tasks as chip design. More broadly, the idea that modern technology eliminates only menial jobs, that well-educated workers are clear winners, may dominate popular discussion, but it’s actually decades out of date.

The fact is that since 1990 or so the U.S. job market has been characterized not by a general rise in the demand for skill, but by “hollowing out”: both high-wage and low-wage employment have grown rapidly, but medium-wage jobs — the kinds of jobs we count on to support a strong middle class — have lagged behind. And the hole in the middle has been getting wider: many of the high-wage occupations that grew rapidly in the 1990s have seen much slower growth recently, even as growth in low-wage employment has accelerated.

Why is this happening? The belief that education is becoming ever more important rests on the plausible-sounding notion that advances in technology increase job opportunities for those who work with information — loosely speaking, that computers help those who work with their minds, while hurting those who work with their hands.

Some years ago, however, the economists David Autor, Frank Levy and Richard Murnane argued that this was the wrong way to think about it. Computers, they pointed out, excel at routine tasks, “cognitive and manual tasks that can be accomplished by following explicit rules.” Therefore, any routine task — a category that includes many white-collar, nonmanual jobs — is in the firing line. Conversely, jobs that can’t be carried out by following explicit rules — a category that includes many kinds of manual labor, from truck drivers to janitors — will tend to grow even in the face of technological progress.

And here’s the thing: Most of the manual labor still being done in our economy seems to be of the kind that’s hard to automate. Notably, with production workers in manufacturing down to about 6 percent of U.S. employment, there aren’t many assembly-line jobs left to lose. Meanwhile, quite a lot of white-collar work currently carried out by well-educated, relatively well-paid workers may soon be computerized. Roombas are cute, but robot janitors are a long way off; computerized legal research and computer-aided medical diagnosis are already here.

And then there’s globalization. Once, only manufacturing workers needed to worry about competition from overseas, but the combination of computers and telecommunications has made it possible to provide many services at long range. And research by my Princeton colleagues Alan Blinder and Alan Krueger suggests that high-wage jobs performed by highly educated workers are, if anything, more “offshorable” than jobs done by low-paid, less-educated workers. If they’re right, growing international trade in services will further hollow out the U.S. job market.

So what does all this say about policy?

Yes, we need to fix American education. In particular, the inequalities Americans face at the starting line — bright children from poor families are less likely to finish college than much less able children of the affluent — aren’t just an outrage; they represent a huge waste of the nation’s human potential.

But there are things education can’t do. In particular, the notion that putting more kids through college can restore the middle-class society we used to have is wishful thinking. It’s no longer true that having a college degree guarantees that you’ll get a good job, and it’s becoming less true with each passing decade.

So if we want a society of broadly shared prosperity, education isn’t the answer — we’ll have to go about building that society directly. We need to restore the bargaining power that labor has lost over the last 30 years, so that ordinary workers as well as superstars have the power to bargain for good wages. We need to guarantee the essentials, above all health care, to every citizen.

What we can’t do is get where we need to go just by giving workers college degrees, which may be no more than tickets to jobs that don’t exist or don’t pay middle-class wages.

高學歷勞工的悲歌

眾所周知,教育是追求經濟成就的關鍵,未來的工作必須以更高層次的專業技能完成。這是為什麼佛羅里達州前州長傑布布希日前與歐巴馬總統共同出席一項公開場合時宣示:「假如我們想在就業方面有更多好消息,就必須加倍投資教育。」

然而人盡皆知的道理其實錯誤。

紐約時報曾經刊文解釋個人與企業借重軟體從事法律研究,已成為日益普遍的現象。

電腦可以迅速分析大量文件,並以低廉的成本執行以往必須動用大批律師及其助手的任務。科技的進步降低職場對受過良好教育勞工的需求。

值得注意的是法律研究並非特例。前述文章指出,軟體同時不斷取代晶片設計等領域的工程師功能。更廣泛的說,所謂現代科技只會消滅勞力工作,受過良好教育的勞工是明顯贏家的說法,可能主宰公眾討論,然而實際上,它早已不合時宜。

事實上,大約從1990年開始,美國就業市場的特色並不是對於專業技能需求的普遍提高,而是「掏空」:高薪與低薪就業均迅速增加,支撐強有力中產階級所不可 或缺的中間薪資就業則遠遠瞠乎其後。中間出現的空洞不斷擴大:1990年代,許多高薪職缺增加迅速,最近大幅減少,低薪就業則不斷增加。

何以致此?所謂教育越來越重要所根據的觀念是,科技進步足以增加資訊族群的就業機會。寬鬆而言就是,電腦對勞心族群有益,相對傷害勞力族群。

 而幾年前,經濟學家奧托(David Autor)、李維(Frank Levy)、穆納尼(Richard Murnane)指出,如此思考問題不對。他們說,電腦在例行工作方面勝人一籌,亦即「因為遵循明確守則而得以完成的認知及勞力工作」。在這個前提下,包 括許多白領及非勞力事務在內的例行工作岌岌可危。相反的,即使面對科技進步,無法因為遵循明確守則而完成的工作 包括多種勞力,例如卡車司機與大門警衛 還是會繼續增加。

這裡的關鍵是,現有經濟體系下仍未消失的勞力工作似乎難以自動化。製造業生產線工人降至美國全部就業6%的局面下,可繼續流失的生產線就業機會並不多。另一方面,許多由受過良好教育,享有相對優厚待遇勞工從事的白領工作可能很快就會電腦化。吸塵器機器人很可愛,機器人警衛則仍遙遙無期。電腦化法律研究與電腦輔助醫學診斷已經出現。

還有全球化的問題。以往,只有製造業勞工才會擔心來自國外的競爭,然而電腦與通信 結合使遠距離提供多種服務變得可能。我的普林斯頓大學同仁布蘭德與克魯格發表的研究報告指出,受過良好教育之高薪勞工從事的工作比教育程度比較不足、待遇較低勞工從事的工作「更容易外包」。如果兩人說法無誤,日益熱絡的國際服務貿易勢必進一步掏空美國的就業市場。

這一切對政策有何意義?

是,我們必須整頓美國的教育,尤其是,美國人在起跑點所面對的不平等不只令人憤慨:來自貧窮家庭的聰明小孩比出身富裕,但聰明程度比較不足的小孩更難以完成大學學業。它們代表美國人力資源的嚴重浪費。

教育也有無法勝任之處。特別是,所謂讓更多小孩接受大學教育,以恢復往日中產社會的看法其實是一廂其願。大學學歷已經不再是獲得好工作的保證,以後更是如此。

如果我們想創造一個繁榮廣泛共享的社會,教育並不是答案;我們必須直接著手打造這種社會,必須重振勞工過去30年來逐漸失去的集體談判權,以使一般勞工與超級明星得以享有爭取良好待遇的談判權力。我們必須保障全體公民的必要權利,尤其是享有醫療保健的權利。

我們不能為了追求目標而只是讓勞工接受大學教育,它已經不保證可以獲得那種可能消失或不提供中產階級薪水的工作。

原文參照:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/07/opinion/07krugman.html

2011-03-08/經濟日報/A8/國際視野 陳世欽譯


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