But the reality is becoming more and more self-evident, largely because technology itself favors transparency. And the impending reaction should give tech leaders pause. JL
Claire Miller reports in the New York Times:
“How to make the forces of technology and globalization work for people and not against them is the biggest public policy challenge. The rise of populism, both on the left and the right, is because middle-income voters feel that their elected leaders don’t have the answer to this question.”
Maybe the automation of jobs will eventually create new, better jobs. Maybe it will put us all out of work. But as we argue about this, work is changing.Today’s jobs — white collar, blue collar or no collar — require more education and interpersonal skills than those in the past. And many of the people whose jobs have already been automated can’t find new ones. Technology leads to economic growth, but the benefits aren’t being parceled out equally. Policy makers have the challenge of helping workers share the gains.That will take at least some government effort, just as it did when the United States moved from an agricultural economy to an industrial one, with policies like high school for all or workers’ rights.Whether there’s political will for big changes remains to be seen, but here are some policies that economists and policy experts think could help now.
More Education, and Different KindsA broad area of agreement: People need to learn new skills to work in the new economy. “The best response is to increase the skills of the labor force,” said Gregory Mankiw, an economist at Harvard.The most valuable thing could be to increase college enrollment and graduation rates. A growing number of jobs require a degree; the unemployment rate among people 25 to 34 with college degrees is just 2 percent, versus 8 percent for those who stopped their education after high school.
But that goal seems far-fetched at a time when only about one-third of Americans have bachelor’s degrees. For many more who lack the time, money or drive, what’s already happening is more vocational training, at community colleges or through apprenticeships. This provides a way for people to learn on the job, but the problem is that many of those jobs are probably next in line to be automated.People who lose their job midcareer don’t necessarily have the skills to do another one. But government retraining programs are confusing and often ineffective, and many companies aren’t willing to invest in training workers only to have them poached by a rival. “It’s bipartisan judgment that it doesn’t work,” said Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason University. “People are not that malleable.”More successful, he said, is training that workers seek themselves. One idea from Third Way, a policy think tank, is free online prep courses for people who have been out of school too long to remember high school basics. Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, founders of M.I.T.’s Initiative on the Digital Economy, suggest federally guaranteed student loans for nontraditional programs like online certificates or coding boot camps.
Perhaps most effective is reaching students as early as elementary school. Educators should focus on teaching technical skills, like coding and statistics, and skills that still give humans an edge over machines, like creativity and collaboration, experts say. And since no one knows which jobs will be automated later, it may be most important to learn flexibility and how to learn new things.
Create New and Better JobsThe problem, at least for now, is not that there isn’t enough work — there is, but it is very different from the kind of work technology is displacing. Manufacturing and warehousing jobs are shrinking, while jobs that provide services (health care, child care, elder care, education, food) are growing. “We are far from the end of work, but face a big challenge redeploying people toward addressing our society’s very real needs,” Mr. Brynjolfsson said.One idea is for the government to subsidize private employment or even volunteer jobs. “If the private market isn’t creating the jobs people need, then the public sector should engage in direct job creation,” said Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who was chief economist for Vice President Joe Biden. He said the technique “has a better track record than people think.” A recent study by the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality examined 40 programs over 40 years, and found they were successful at things like improving workers’ skills and reducing their dependence on public benefits.President Trump and many others have proposed putting people to work building and repairing bridges, roads and other infrastructure. He has said he wants to do it in part by offering tax credits to private companies.Construction jobs are being automated, though, and not everyone has the skills to do advanced building. A less discussed option is make-work, like government-funded jobs gardening in parks or reading to older people.More people would do caregiving jobs if they paid better, said Lawrence Katz, a Harvard labor economist: “Nothing says home health aide has to be a minimum wage job.” That seems unlikely anytime soon, especially without strengthening labor unions.
Economists largely agree that manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back, but the United States could slow the losses by attracting more advanced manufacturing, especially in green energy, Mr. Bernstein said. “Some smart country is going to dominate the market for battery storage, for example,” he said. “That should be us.”