Don’t Fear the Robots: Why Automation Doesn’t Mean the End of Work

drone flying in the air

The “robot revolution,” the rise in automation that will purportedly lead to mass displacement of workers, has workers and policymakers alike on edge.

However, what is ignored in this pearl-clutching is that automation has, overall, created many more jobs than it has destroyed.

Nevertheless, there must exist concerted efforts to ensure that these changes improve living standards and job quality for many, not just the few. Automation will create winners and losers, and certain policies, as detailed in this paper, can help create many more of the former than the latter.

Key Findings

  • There is little evidence to suggest that the U.S. economy is approaching massive technological change: Productivity levels are remarkably low, on the scale of 1.2 percent per year on average from 2005-2017. Moreover, capital investment has also slowed in the 2007-2016 period as compared to recent history.
  • Second, historical evidence suggests that even if we were on the verge of rapid technological change, mass unemployment would not be inevitable. In the past, the long-term effects of technological advancement on employment have been positive: From 1939 to 2017, the economy managed a net increase of approximately 119 million jobs.
  • A number of policy changes should be pursued to ensure that economic growth from technological change benefits everyone: These proposals include full employment, revised intellectual property law, public guidance in technology development, work sharing, and free higher education and vocational training.
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