Societal Impacts of Automation

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This topic contains 4 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  Creigh Gordon 6 months, 2 weeks ago.

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  • #1961


    On March 31, 2017, Horsey published a blog in the LA Times regarding the Impacts of Automation on Society in General. I have converted the blog into a PDF and posted it to MyDropbox (linked above). I did that since some of you have trouble with the Ads on the LA Times website. This topic has been discussed before under Universal Basic Income and in the General Blog, but an Off Topic Thread has not been created in so far as I can determine.

    Horsey asks the following questions in the blog:

    “To make a world with a limited need for human workers function successfully, we will have to find the answers to some big questions:

    • How can humans feel useful in lives that are not centered around work?

    • Are there rewarding tasks to be done by the underemployed whose value is not measured by money?

    • Can we find it in ourselves to respect people who do those tasks or will we dismiss them as freeloaders? (Being more liberal-minded ought to be easier since a majority of us may lack traditional employment.)

    • In a country built on self-reliance, the Protestant work ethic and meritocracy, can we adjust to a very different idea about how we spend our lives?

    • Can the anti-government philosophy that infuses and informs much of American politics ever accept the redistributive mechanisms that would be necessary to provide a minimum income to all?

    We need to start thinking about these and other thorny questions now, because a great dislocation is not far away.”

    To my mind the issue of automation was a significant factor in the 2016 election in the displacement of many blue-collar jobs. It has also had a major impact in most industries. It has been a factor in the displacement of many mills and factories that were located in rural areas to urban areas and the subsequent displacement of young people to the urban areas. This has led to the major growth of those urban areas closely connected to globalization. The impacts go on and on.

    I’d like to hear your thoughts on the questions Horsey posed above. Also links to various columns and articles as well as references to various studies and books that discuss these issues could be posted here. Several months ago there was an excellent article in The Atlantic Magazine regarding these issues. This “Off Topic” thread could serve as a summary of these topics, without being buried in the general discussion.

    I will post my thoughts on some of these questions, as I have time to write a cohesive and significant response.

  • #1962


    This sounds very interesting. I don’t know that I can contribute to a discussion, since I’m not an economist and since my field isn’t immediately in danger of being automated, but I’d love to hear what people have to say.

  • #1963

    Chris Ladd

    This is kind of a pet subject of mine, since I see it as one of the three or four most critical challenges for public policy in my generation. Lots to say, but I’ll start with a couple of book recommendations.

    Probably the authoritative book on the subject is The Second Machine Age

    The guy who is doing some of the best public activism around automation issues is Martin Ford.

    And…you know, there’s this obscure book, The Politics of Crazy

    On the related subject of a basic income, Scott Santens has become a central hub for data and activism. He blogs here:

    • #1968

      Creigh Gordon

      From Second-Machine-Age-Prosperity-Technology blurb: “Drawing on years of research and up-to-the-minute trends, Brynjolfsson and McAfee identify the best strategies for survival and offer a new path to prosperity. These include revamping education so that it prepares people for the next economy instead of the last one.”

      My question is, where is the next economy going to come from, and who is going to build it. These things don’t build themselves, no matter what the free-market people think.

    • #1969

      Creigh Gordon

      Let me expand on that. There is no end to useful things that people can do for each other and for the planet. The problem is that our current economic system doesn’t reward or even acknowledge those things. Meanwhile, many of the things it does acknowledge are disappearing. Capitalism is destroying itself in front of our eyes. That’s a big problem, and one that has to change, meaning our economic system has to be re-engineered. It seems likely to me that this will involve a big expansion of the public sector, at least temporarily.

      • This reply was modified 6 months, 2 weeks ago by  Creigh Gordon.

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