As 'Content Creator' Becomes a Job, John Cowperthwaite Smiles
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At some point Michael Bloomberg was unemployed. He first lost a job in finance, then he became "unemployed" again even though he was working. How? Upon losing his job, Bloomberg essentially created an all-new industry defined by endless information that could be had via eponymous terminals. Out of this the name Bloomberg became a verb.

John Cowperthwaite, Hong Kong’s legendary financial secretary, would have understood Bloomberg’s prosperous evolution from unemployed to, well, unemployed. Cowperthwaite disdained economic statistics for the once “barren rock” that was Hong Kong simply because statisticians could in no way capture the dynamism taking place on the rock. Similarly they couldn’t have captured the multi-billion dollar information business that Bloomberg was creating from the ashes of a layoff.

Bloomberg and Cowperthwaite came to mind while reading a recent Washington Post story by Drew Harwell and Taylor Lorenz. Harwell and Lorenz report that the U.S. Census Bureau “tallies for the federal government an extensive list of 22,607 industries,” including “pickled onion manufacturing, adult bookstores, and canoe repair.” Yet they add that at least as of now, there’s no mention of “social media.” Well, of course. Somewhere Cowperthwaite is nodding.

Much as “chef” as recently as the 1980s wasn’t even a professional designation, neither is “content creator” in social media an industry now. Yet “content creator” is a large, and growing industry of the $250 billion variety. Harwell and Lorenz cite a YouTube estimate that “roughly 390,000 full-time jobs last year were supported by” the work of creators for the content hub. They also quote a TikTok “influencer” who reports that a successful video created for the wildly popular site can pay a month’s rent. What a world we live in! Think about it.

More and more creative people get to earn real livings being creative. Such is the genius of job-destroying technology. Technology by its very name replaces human effort. But as opposed to putting us out of work, technology rapidly expands the range of ways we can work precisely because it erases past forms of toil.

The above truth can be found in the 22,607 industries that the Census Bureau lists. Stop and imagine how extensive that list was in 1923, and assuming a list existed, what it was in 1823. The not-so-insightful truth is that in 1923 the tally of industries was a tiny a fraction of what exists today. As for 1823, it’s no reach to say that there was no reason to maintain any kind of occupation list: in a world bereft of fuel and the machines that wouldn’t exist without fuel, there was an all-hands-on-deck aspect to the farm. If you were alive you generally worked on a farm, and you generally worked on a farm because without fuel and the machines fuel gives life to, the vast majority of human action is rooted in doing a poor job of creating enough food to eat.

Fast forward to the present, and as Harwell and Lorenz allude, government statisticians can’t keep up with the economic transformation taking place. As technology proliferates, so does the replacement of humans proliferate. But as opposed to evicting humanity from the workplace, our mechanized replacements act as extra hands that allow us humans to specialize in ways we never imagined.

The division of labor is the greatest economic story that mankind has ever written, only for machines to turn this division into something otherworldly. When necessities and luxuries (think the smartphones that line the pockets of individuals around the world) become commonplace, more and more of us are released from work that is necessary in favor of work that is necessary for our own happiness.

All of which speaks loudly to why people around the world should clamor for artificial intelligence (AI ) advances without “guardrails” imagined by the Biden administration, or any administration for that matter. We’ve already seen what job-destroying machines have meant for prosperity, so imagine the staggering advance of humanity when machines can think for us and with us in addition to doing for us.

While it would be impossible to draw an exact or even vague picture of what’s ahead, readers can rest assured that a tomorrow defined by thinking machines will make the present look primitive by comparison. Out of this thinking revolution will emerge countless new industries and forms of work that will only be able to reveal themselves insofar as the present is erased a lot or a little.  

Can government track this? No chance, and that’s not an ideological statement. All we know is that what replaces work invariably leaves much better behind. Harwell and Lorenz are witnessing this truth, and Cowperthwaite knew it.

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, President of the Parkview Institute, a senior fellow at the Market Institute, and a senior economic adviser to Applied Finance Advisors ( His latest book is The Money Confusion: How Illiteracy About Currencies and Inflation Sets the Stage For the Crypto Revolution.

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