No. Robots Won't Leave Us Unemployed.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

I have noticed that Luddites and freeloaders have lately been teaming up to advocate a new form of government handout, usually called something like "Universal Basic Income." Their premise is that automation is "eating" low-level jobs, and that, soon, there will be nothing left for most people to do. Of course, they never explain why this would justify stealing money from "the rich," so it should also fail to surprise that their doomsday scenario is almost as well-considered:

Critics of automation are quick to cite a 2013 University of Oxford study which predicts that over the course of the next one to two decades, nearly fifty percent of jobs may be automated. Without context, those numbers certainly could trigger anxiety - and in fact they have. Thankfully, a new OECD-commissioned study has provided some much needed context. Its authors argue that the 2013 study may have overestimated the risk for automation of jobs as its underlying assumption was "that whole occupations rather than single job-tasks are automated by technology." Overall, when accounting for the "heterogeneity of workers' tasks within occupations," the new study finds that on average across the 21 OECD countries, only 9% of jobs are automatable. [links and emphasis in original]
Arden Manning of RealClear Markets goes on to note that the current hysteria about robots echoes that of the early days of the Industrial Revolution and of other major technological advances.
Initially rejecting what we do not know, and with that progress, may in fact constitute an inherent part of human nature.
It is a common phenomenon, although I find debatable the contention that it is part of human nature. What I do agree with wholeheartedly is Manning's observation that projections of huge numbers of unemployed people could use a dose of the context he provides.

The only thing more amazing to me than seeing history littered with so many examples of failed doomsday prophecies is this: How often we take seriously the advice of people who are terrified of the unknown, and yet justify their nostrums based on things they make up.

-- CAV


Steve D said...

‘No. Robots Won't Leave Us Unemployed.’

Actually the flip side is that they might create jobs; designing, building, repairing and programming them.

Gus Van Horn said...

Exactly, as with the other historical examples the author cites.