Many Americans Are Worried About Robots Taking Jobs. But Not Republicans.

 

An interesting Gallup poll looking at fears about technology and job loss:

More than half of Americans (58%) say technology poses a greater threat to jobs in the U.S. over the next decade, while 42% see immigration and offshoring as the greater threat. . . .

Republicans, who see immigration and offshoring as roughly an equal threat as technology, are the only subgroup of Americans not to see technology as a greater threat. For the most part, American workers’ fear of losing their jobs to new technology versus to immigrants varies little by subgroup. However, the key exception is Republican workers, who worry about the two threats to their own jobs roughly equally — 19% for new technology versus 17% for immigration. Among Democratic workers, nearly a quarter (23%) worry about losing their jobs to new technology compared with 9% who worry about the threat to their personal jobs posed by immigration. . . .

The risk posed by new technology to American jobs has been given little public attention by President Donald Trump’s administration.

And how will politicians respond if this really becomes a top tier issue? Hopefully in a more productive way than if the concerns were immigration or offshoring. In those cases, it is easy to imagine politicians pushing for immigration restrictions or, say, tax laws making it harder to move jobs overseas. Easy to imagine because that has happened and is happening.

But it seems less likely — though hardly impossible — that politicians will push for robot taxes or other anti-tech progress actions. (Just ask the folks at Uber or Airbnb.) In the case of technology, the focus is more likely to be on helping workers adjust, whether through education/training or by updating the safety net. And let’s not forget that tech creates jobs, too!

Published in Economics, Technology
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There are 9 comments.

  1. Member

    If it works politically we’ll see a new wave of luddite pressure. There doesn’t seem to be much resistance to protectionist arguments whether through subsidies, taxes or regulations. Such approaches obviously work for narrow interests and those are the ones on k street but cannot work to benefit everybody else. To win the battle and argument we must make adjustment, entrepreneurship, risk taking easier and finance more available and all of these require less government at all levels. That is the only approach that can work in the medium and long run.

    • #1
    • March 12, 2018 at 4:14 pm
    • Like
  2. Member

    “a tax code that subsidizes capital relative to labor”….really? How, specifically? If I hire 5 assembly workers, their salaries are and have been expensable immediately….whereas if I replace them with a robot, then the cost of that robot (prior to the Trump tax changes) would likely have been required to be depreciated over several years.

    So how does the tax code subsidize capital relative to labor?

    • #2
    • March 12, 2018 at 5:19 pm
    • 2 likes
  3. Member

    We need to start smashing up those looms and weaving machines. Trash the steam engines while we’re at it.

    • #3
    • March 12, 2018 at 7:59 pm
    • 1 like
  4. Member

    Republicans are not worried about robots taking jobs?

    Or many Americans are not worried about Republicans taking jobs?

    Or many Americans are not worried about robots taking Republicans?

    • #4
    • March 12, 2018 at 10:11 pm
    • 1 like
  5. Member

    David Foster (View Comment):
    “a tax code that subsidizes capital relative to labor”….really? How, specifically? If I hire 5 assembly workers, their salaries are and have been expensable immediately….whereas if I replace them with a robot, then the cost of that robot (prior to the Trump tax changes) would likely have been required to be depreciated over several years.

    So how does the tax code subsidize capital relative to labor?

    Labor is expensable immediately because the labor is expended immediately. You can’t use the labor you paid for yesterday, today. A robot is a capital item and has useable life much beyond it’s first year of purchase. That is why capital items are depreciated over several years. If capital items are expensable immediately that would be a huge subsidy to capital. The real way that the tax code subsidizes capital over labor is that capital gains are taxed at a lower rate relative to labor earnings.

    • #5
    • March 13, 2018 at 7:56 am
    • 1 like
  6. Coolidge

    Duane Oyen (View Comment):
    We need to start smashing up those looms and weaving machines. Trash the steam engines while we’re at it.

    Semiautomatic firearms are the current target of luddite ire.

    • #6
    • March 13, 2018 at 8:10 am
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  7. Member

    Z in MT (View Comment):
    A robot is a capital item and has useable life much beyond it’s first year of purchase. That is why capital items are depreciated over several years. If capital items are expensable immediately that would be a huge subsidy to capital. The real way that the tax code subsidizes capital over labor is that capital gains are taxed at a lower rate relative to labor earnings.

    Of course the life of a capital asset extends beyond the first year, and that’s why they are treated the way they are in accounting…but from a *cash flow* point of view, you are paying for it up front but not being able to deduct it from your taxes at that same point. (until the new tax package) So in effect, you are (were) paying current taxes on ‘profits’ (from a cash flow standpoint) that you have not yet made.

    Also, ‘you can’t use the labor you paid for yesterday, today.’ True if you are referring to direct manufacturing labor, but there are all kinds of labor expenses whose value extends over many years….for example, paying marketing people to run an ad campaign that will increase your brand recognition, paying financial analysts to develop a costing system that will help you in making pricing and product decisions, etc.

    • #7
    • March 13, 2018 at 8:14 am
    • 2 likes
  8. Member

    Duane Oyen (View Comment):
    We need to start smashing up those looms and weaving machines. Trash the steam engines while we’re at it.

    Exactly! Fear of technology has been going on for a long time. The first reaper took 12 men to operate, but replaced 50 men. They were often burned and vandalized for fear of people losing their jobs. Now we have machines that allow 1 man to harvest what would have required thousands of men using hand tools.

    Think about what our quality of life would be if we had decided technology was bad, and kept harvesting by hand. What do you think you could buy with the profits of your labor from harvesting a couple dozen bushels of corps a day?

    Historically, technology has improved life. One could argue that some technologies have not. I believe we would be better off without TVs (Might make a good Ricochet conversation some day). Still, overall there is not doubt technology has helped society much more than it has hurt it. There really isn’t any reason to think we are so advanced that this no longer applies.

    • #8
    • March 13, 2018 at 9:52 am
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  9. Contributor

    James Pethokoukis: However, the key exception is Republican workers, who worry about the two threats to their own jobs roughly equally — 19% for new technology versus 17% for immigration. Among Democratic workers, nearly a quarter (23%) worry about losing their jobs to new technology compared with 9% who worry about immigration.

    This does not match the provocative title. Clearly, Republicans do fear loss of jobs to robots — they are just equally worried about being undercut by cheap immigrant labor. This likely makes sense, as does the significant difference in Democrats concerns, when you start mapping demographics against party ID. Both groups likely rightly read the sources of pressure on their fields of employment. Hence the 2016 election results.

    the focus is more likely to be on helping workers adjust, whether through education/training or by updating the safety net.

    Ah yes, buy the losers off with permanent welfare recast as a universal minimum income. Then crank up the criminal law enforcement system to insulate the winners from the social disfunctions accompanying loss of dignity from meaningful work. See the response to opioid addiction as the latest campaign in the long War on Drugs.

    • #9
    • March 13, 2018 at 10:15 pm
    • Like