The fear that a coming wave of automation tied to robots and AI will put zillions of people out of work is a staple of the commentariat and, sadly, considerable sectors of the left. This is absolutely the wrong way to look at the issue and flies in the face of abundant historical and economic evidence. The case for looking at the rise of the robots, not as an impending cataclysm, but as a potential path to higher living standards and a better society is laid out neatly in a new paper from the Roosevelt Institute's Mark Paul. If you read just one report about the robots/mass unemployment issue, I urge you to read this one. It is clear, based solidly in the available literature and provides good recommendations for moving forward.
From the executive summary:
"The narrative that large-scale automation will imminently lead to mass unemployment and economic insecurity has become prevalent in the media. As the story goes, we are on the cusp of a major technological change that will drastically alter the nature of work, leave masses unemployed, and exacerbate already high levels of economic inequality.
In this paper, we argue that this narrative detracts from the bigger underlying problems with the rules of our economy and the distributional consequences of increased automation under current institutional arrangements.
First, we ﬁnd that there is little evidence to suggest that the U.S. economy is approaching massive technological change: productivity levels are remarkably low and capital investment is signiﬁcantly slower than would be expected under impending technological upheaval. Second, historical evidence suggests that even if we were on the verge of rapid technological change, mass unemployment would not be inevitable. In the past, the long-term eﬀects of technological advancement on employment have been positive. Technology has allowed workers to do their jobs better and faster, which in turn, increased output and raised living standards.
As with any major structural shift in the economy, technological change has the potential to create job loss in the short term but does not necessarily lead to net job destruction in the long term. The amount of work available is not a ﬁxed quantity, and technology can complement labor, instead of substitute for it, making workers more productive rather than simply replacing them. The job gains from technology often outpace the job losses over time and allow workers to focus on better, high-productivity jobs.
However, we should not trivialize the costs of this kind of economic transition for workers in the short term, nor can we ignore the structural disadvantages in today’s economy that deﬁne economic outcomes. Workers are right to be concerned about the negative eﬀects of technological change because the historical link between labor productivity and wages, which grew side-by-side for most of the 20th century, is broken. In the past, productivity growth from technological innovation led to shared prosperity for workers, including higher wages and better living standards. When that link broke, it changed how the economic pie was divided.
In order to ﬁx this broken link, we propose...policy changes [like full employment] that would ensure that economic growth from technological change beneﬁts everyone."
Exactly. That is the problem, not a highly improbable rise of mass unemployment. The rise of the robots should mean higher productivity which, in turn, should mean better lives for all of us IF we can restore the broken link the report alludes to.