Monday, February 20, 2017

Automate or die

My class freaked out when we got to discussing the economic geography of the future that will be highly automated.  Well, these are the latest class to get all worried; I have been doing it to students for a few years now.  Because, it has been an open secret that automation has been replacing humans at various jobs here in the US. However much trump wants to tell his people that China, Mexico, and India are to be blamed for their job losses, automation is the real story.

And that story has barely begun.  You ain't seen nothin' yet!

Imagine if trump and his people were to even glance at the headlines that USA Today recently had:
Bill Gates: If a robot takes a human job, it should be taxed
Read that again.  It is Bill Gates.  Yes, that Bill Gates.  He is making an argument that robots taking jobs from humans should be taxed.

Not a human in China, Mexico, or India, but a robot right here in America!

Ah, but all these are nothing but fake news anyway, right Mr. President?

There is a reason that Bill Gates wants to talk about taxing robots.  Robots are not the real problem.

Well, automation is for real, and the robots--physical and software agents--are an unstoppable force.  But, we humans are the ones designing and using the robots, right?  Who benefits from the use of automation?

Answering that question, which is what Gates does, means that trump and the Republicans have to seriously engage with a topic that they would rather not: Redistribution.  Or, if you prefer the milder phrase that I have been blogging about for years: The Social Contract.

The NY Times gets to that in its editorial:
While breakthroughs could come at any time, the problem with automation isn’t robots; it’s politicians, who have failed for decades to support policies that let workers share the wealth from technology-led growth.
You think that the fabled white working class will not support this, if the logic is explained to them?  They will immediately embrace it.  They will demand a new social contract.  But, of course that is exactly what trump and his party do not want to do.  After all, the white nationalist party hates the very idea that some brown-skins might also benefit from this redistribution!

The editorial gives a quick lesson in economic history, and then concludes with:
Economic history shows that automation not only substitutes for human labor, it complements it. The disappearance of some jobs and industries gives rise to others. Nontechnology industries, from restaurants to personal fitness, benefit from the consumer demand that results from rising incomes in a growing economy. But only robust public policy can ensure that the benefits of growth are broadly shared.
If reforms are not enacted — as is likely with President Trump and congressional Republicans in charge — Americans should blame policy makers, not robots.
My guess is that such reforms will not even be discussed.  And trump and the GOP will continue to blame China, Mexico, and India, and the white voters will continue to vote for the white supremacists who promise to beat up on the non-whites.


Ramesh said...

Yes, this blog has long featured this theme and a robust public debate is necessary. But you soon will have to stake your ground on a specific policy that you advocate. This is something you have long said is not your job, but you cannot be effective in highlighting this issue without atleast some solutions.

Public debate in the world is increasingly becoming impossible. Shrill extremist positions are a sign of our times rather than an informed nuanced debate. So I'm afraid it will be a long time before we seriously address this issue. Perhaps only after a disaster, which is what tends to focus the human mind.

Sriram Khé said...

I always have talked about solutions, my friend. Even in this, I have channeled Bill Gates talking about a robot tax. That, too, is in the policy mix. Universal Basic Income I have blogged about a lot. That too is in the policy mix.

"Perhaps only after a disaster" ... ahem, if there can be anything more disastrous than trump/pence/ryan/mcconnell, I then shudder at the kind of a disaster that you think should happen before we wake up!

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