Robbie's Got Your Job and Gone.

A recent economics paper looks at the effect of robots on employment and pay. The authors conclude that each robot decreases employment in the affected sectors by about 5 jobs. Thomas B. Edsall discusses this and other robotic effects in this NYT opinion piece, and concludes that these effects fall hardest on the people who voted most heavily for Trump - blue collar workers without college degrees. Some of this effect can be traced directly to the Trump tax cut, which which accelerates depreciation of money spent on robots.

As we know, though, there is no shortage of jobs in the US right now. However, there is a shortage of high value-added jobs. The kinds of factory jobs lost to robots were classic high value-added jobs, since the combination of man and machine could produce far more than a man unaided, and the machines without people to run them couldn't produce at all. The problem with robots is that they need far fewer people to run them and most of those people need skills not easily available to blue collar workers without advanced educations.

The robots do allow cheaper production of more goods and services, but the problem is that the benefits go to the owners of the robots.

The industrial revolution was in some ways analogous. It too delivered most of its benefits to an owner class and drastically increased inequality, but the need for human workers eventually benefitted them too. Horses, on the other hand, disappeared on a massive scale.

Harari notes that humans contribute economically in two ways, by doing physical and mental work. The horses pretty much contributed physical work, and machines replaced them almost totally. Robots, though, can do both physical and mental work, so what's left for H. sapiens when the "sapiens" part has been largely replaced?

Will our fate be that of the horse, with just a few of us left as entertainments for the wealthy?


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