Economists: we aren’t prepared for the fallout from automation

Are we focusing too much on analyzing exactly how many jobs could be destroyed by the coming wave of automation, and not enough on how to actually fix the problem? That’s one conclusion in a new paper on the potential affects of robotics and AI on global labor markets from US think tank, the Center for Global Development (CGD).

The paper’s authors, Lukas Schlogl and Andy Sumner, say it’s impossible to know exactly how many jobs will be destroyed or disrupted by new technology. But, they add, it’s fairly certain there’s going to be significant effects – especially in developing economies, where the labor market is skewed towards work that require the sort of routine, manual labor that’s so susceptible to automation. Think unskilled jobs in factories or agriculture.

As earlier studies have also suggested, Schlogl and Sumner think the affects of automation on these and other nations is not likely to be mass unemployment, but the stagnation of wages and polarization of the labor market. In other words, there will still be work for most people, but it’ll be increasingly low-paid and unstable; without benefits such as paid vacation, health insurance, or pensions. On the other end of the employment spectrum, meanwhile, there will continue to be a small number of rich and super-rich individuals who reap the benefits of increased in productivity created by technology.

Whether masses of people become unemployable or are forced to accept increasingly crappier and lower-paying jobs, while a rich few get ever richer, the end result will be massive social upheaval. We’re already seeing the consequences of mass inequality in many countries in the world, and it isn’t pretty. Expect things to get worse.

Much worse.

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