Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"For the Last Time, Robots Do NOT Cause Unemployment"

Here's a pushback at RealClearMarkets against recent worries about technology and the job market.

Parts of the nation's commentariat have been seized, in recent months, with a nasty bout of technophobia. Technophobia is a psychological condition, but infectious. Hardly a week goes by without a new outbreak documented in another blog post or business column. To judge from the symptomatic hand-wringing the epidemic is spreading, we are on the verge of mass unemployment as work becomes increasingly automated.

As I've often said, it is clearly true that there has always been an increase in aggregate demand for labor in the past. But to argue that will continue indefinitely carries an assumption the nature of needs and wants is static. Economics is not that good at understanding changing needs and preferences. Instead, they are treated as exogenous. And that is a foolish assumption.

In fact, it's not at root an economic problem. It's an ethical and instiutuonal problem. There needs to be deeper change and adaptation in economic institutions. That more attention to issues of the "good life " given basic economic survival is no longer the prime problem facing humanity. The labor market achieved huge prominence in the industrial revolution period, dominating life in a way which would have been inscrutable to medieval peasants on the land, or aristocratic Romans. It may be less prominent in the future.

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