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BlackRock's Fink issues a warning about technology and jobs

Aaron Pressman
Daily Ticker

Larry Fink runs BlackRock (BLK), the world’s largest money manager, so when he shares the concerns he’s hearing from his customers, it’s worth paying attention.

Lately, he’s hearing worries about the impact of technology on job growth, especially in the developing world. From agriculture to manufacturing, industries are becoming increasingly productive by relying more heavily on machines and other technological innovations. And that in turn is displacing workers and holding down wages.

“In the United States, we've been living with technology transforming the workforce, and most of developed countries have been living with a transformational technology (of) the workforce for many years,” Fink said on Wednesday at the Deutsche Bank Global Financial Services conference. “But what is going on in the developing world that we don't spend enough time (focusing) on: technology's now gutting jobs just as fast in the developing world.”

Fink speaks with world leaders from China to Europe and across Asia and Africa and they are voicing fears that these changes, and the increasing economic inequity that results, could end violently.

“I don't think it's an accident that we're seeing more social unrest,” Fink said. “The threat of job creation is not just a European, U.S. phenomenon today. It is a phenomenon in every country and technology is changing us very rapidly. And so my black swan is we wake up one day with huge social unrest.”

There are no easy answers, however. Fink said the answer might be creating more service sector jobs as jobs in more traditional sectors of developing economies disappear. But hair dressers and baristas aren’t paid like skilled factory workers once were and have far fewer benefits and opportunities for career development.

Another possibility is improving education to give more people the appropriate skills for an increasingly technology-driven world.

Whatever the answer, expect more action in coming years. That Fink is hearing these fears from the world’s power brokers indicates the level of concern has reached the highest levels. Their actions may just determine whether Fink’s violent scenario comes to pass.