A world without farmers

Over time developing and growing countries generally shift their skill set in an evolutionary manner. As I discussed in Outsourcing and the Economy, the cheaper cost of labor overseas generally creates a void in domestic markets where those workers must either learn a new skill or remain unemployed. People will usually opt to self-sustain and will learn a new skill to maintain a level of productiveness within society.

As more and more jobs move to foreign markets people will inevitably learn higher level skills as a result, thus progressing the entire economy. Assembly line workers in the states may learn to do data entry when their factory work is farmed out to China. The same employees may then learn software engineering when the data entry jobs are farmed out to India.

Alan Greenspan talks extensively about this concept in his book The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, calling the process “creative destruction”. He supports the eventual fall of blue and white collar work in developed nations saying, “Job security, historically a problem mainly of blue-collar workers, became an issue starting in the 1990s for more highly educated, alluent people.” He later explains the process more succinctly saying, “Production shifts, such as the transfer of some U.S. textiles and apparel manufacturing abroad, have freed resources to engage in the output of products and services world consumers value more highly. The net result has been increased real incomes”, alluding to the tight coupling between increased living standards and performing more valuable job functions as a nation.

If nations are constantly progressing it is feasible to imagine a world where there are no more farmers. This doesn’t necessarily negate having agricultural products, but just the fact that the labor portion of farming, factory work, and other things will have become largely obsolete. How would this world work with no farmers to reap and sow? Enter technology.

In our current society we are already making advances that will allow us to create more virulent fruits and vegetables and are even starting to discover how to grow meat in a lab. These innovations are just the tip of the iceburg and are a sneak preview of the things to come. Farms may be replaced by vertical silos with robotic “farmers” that reap and sow each harvest. We already have the technology to be able to provide artificial sunlight and hydration. This is just one scenario but the possibilities are truly endless.

Can the world eventually progress to a point where there are no farmers? Yes, but I don’t think it will happen, at least not on a global scale. Such a world would require that all the countries that are either unindustrialized or developing reach a point where they no longer provide a source for cheap labor. The basic concept behind this is that building the technology to replace the workers must be cheaper than the actual workers themselves. Until the world reaches a point where the available human labor is more scarce than technology, and thus more expensive, we will not see such a shift.

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Jason McDonald

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