The economist Tyler Cowen analyses labour as existing in six dimensions:
- backs - human mechanical strength lifting, pushing, pulling
- Fingers - intricate mechanical tasks requiring dexterity printing, weaving, knitting, butchery,
- Humans controlling machines doing routine tasks drilling, driving
- Smiles - humans giving other humans pleasure service sector jobs
- Creative ideas - writing, art, entertainment
The first dimension of labour reduced in importance due to the domestication of the horse and cow and the first industrial revolution
Reduced the requirement of human labour for the second. Historically Prof Cowen says the fourth, fifth and sixth increased in value as capital was deployed to accomplish the first, second and third dimensions of labour.
The development of robots and artificial intelligence means that the third and fourth dimensions of labour are more effectively performed by machines leaving humans only with the fifth and sixth dimensions of labour where humans hold a distinct advantage.
Most people earn a living by selling their labour in one of the six dimensions Prof Cowen identifies. What happens when a lot of labour is competing for only a few jobs, the price of labour falls and he early signs of this can be witnessed by the stagnant wages across much of the world.
What does this mean for Zambia? Most of Zambia's foreign exchange earnings are derived from mining. The mining sector is also a significant revenue raising sector for government in the form of royalties and the Pay As You Earn paid by mine employees. The mining industry is also defined by low-margins, increasing mechanisation and is in one of the low points of the industry's periodic cycles. On a global scale I don't see another period of explosive growth such as the one seen between 2000-2008 driven by China. The Chinese economy is entering a middle-age of steady but unremarkable growth. The other large global population and economic centres are unlikely to deliver the growth seen in China at the beginning of the century. Which all makes for a grim outlook for Zambia unless we make more use of the best of our best national resource. Zambia is blessed with a young and energetic population with a median age of 17.2. The national priority should be setting up our young people with an opportunity to make full use of their talents.