There clearly are serious problems in the labor market that have suppressed job and wage growth for far too long; but these problems have their roots in intentional policy decisions regarding globalization, collective bargaining, labor standards, and unemployment levels, not technology.
Job displacements caused by trade with China in the 2000s were four times as large as their estimate of job loss due to robots.
Rather than debating possible problems that are more than a decade way, policymakers need to focus on addressing the decades-long crisis of wage stagnation by creating good jobs and supporting wage growth. And as it turns out, policies to expand good jobs and increase wages are the same measures needed to ensure that workers potentially displaced by automation have good jobs to transition to. For these workers, the education and training touted as solutions in the mainstream robot narrative will be inadequate, just as they were not adequate to help displaced manufacturing workers over the last few decades.
Maybe one day robots or some other technological advance really will become a primary threat to American living standards. Anything can happen. But scarce resources and attention today should be focused on the current threat to these living standards: policies that have shifted bargaining power from working Americans to capital owners and corporate managers. Alleviating the struggles of working Americans will thus require a redistribution of economic leverage and bargaining power. Making this happen will be a huge political project, and will require a clear focus.
Claims that the struggles of working Americans are instead the sad byproduct of bloodless trends in technology obscure this clear focus. The overwhelming evidence still strongly suggests that rapid technological advances are associated with better, not worse, economic outcomes for working Americans. To be clear, rapid technological advances alone are just a necessary, not a sufficient, condition to boost wages across the board. American workers also need policies that support their ability to claim an equitable share of productivity growth.
Adopting policies to lift labor standards, broaden collective bargaining, and maintain genuine full employment would help ensure that there are good-quality jobs available for workers displaced by technology. This, more than training and education, is what is needed to respond to any potential wave of automation. These policies would also confront the wage stagnation already upon us. These policies are identified in our Agenda to Raise America’s Pay (EPI 2016). If even a quarter of the attention paid to robots were instead shifted to these policy changes, we could have a much more fruitful debate about economic policy.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at The zombie robot argument lurches on: There is no evidence that automation leads to joblessness or inequality | Economic Policy Institute