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Andrew Yang had his best policy moment of the Democratic debates last week when he said, “This country has been a magnet for human capital for generations. If we lose that, we lose something integral to our continued success.” Yang should talk more about immigration. And more about thorium-fueled nuclear reactors. Maybe also flesh out his VAT idea.
But Yang’s main idea, a universal basic income (UBI), is less appealing. It’s an elegant idea that would quickly look less so when filtered through the reality of government sausage-making and flawed human behavior. Then there’s Yang’s alarmist argument that we need UBI to meet the looming and “unprecedented crisis” of widespread technological unemployment. Yang: “In the next 12 years, 1 out of 3 American workers are at risk of losing their jobs to new technologies—and unlike with previous waves of automation, this time new jobs will not appear quickly enough in large enough numbers to make up for it.”
Maybe. But history would suggest probably not. Sure, you can find some pretty scary studies, but also reputable ones that are far rosier. In the paper “Automation and jobs: When technology boosts employment,” Boston University’s James Bessen writes that automation “often leads to growing employment in the affected industries,” and although “automation may eliminate jobs in some industries, it creates jobs in others.”
This is an elaboration of a comment I made in @indymb ‘s post “Is there any point in writing to a Congressperson?” and I’m indebted to him and @Misthiocracy (who has experience working for a Canadian Member of Parliament, I understand) for the details on how all this works. Briefly, we’ll look at a simple task done every day in the houses of government and at how we’d train a computer to do it better.
Briefly, as you may have expected, the letter to your Senator isn’t so much read as processed for the minimum amount of information and interaction required. I’ll quote the meat of his description of the process and then describe how I’d go about automating it. You’re encouraged to go back and read his post (and it should go without saying on Ricochet but the comments too).
(The current riots and car-burnings in Sweden reminded me of this post from 2013) The government of Sweden didn’t do a very good job of protecting its citizens and their property from the rampant rioting that took place in late May. Government agents did, however, fulfill their duty of issuing parking tickets…to burned-out cars. Preview […]
For this week’s Big Ideas with Ben Weingarten podcast, I had nationally syndicated radio host, columnist, author of numerous books, teacher, film producer and co-founder of PragerU, Dennis Prager, on the podcast to discuss among other things:
- How Dennis Prager ended up a conservative as an Ivy League-educated Jewish intellectual from Brooklyn, New York — contrary to so many of his peers
- How perceptions of human nature divide Left and Right
- Whether government has filled the void of religion for the increasingly secular and progressive American coasts
- How the good intentions that underlie Leftist policy prescriptions lead to horrendous outcomes — and emotion versus reason on the Left and Right
- The false morality underlying European immigration policy with respect to the Muslim world, and Prager’s criticism of Jewish support of mass immigration consisting disproportionately of Jew-haters
- The self-righteous suicidalism of the West
- The Leftist bias of social media platforms and PragerU’s legal battle with YouTube/Google
Back in 2014, I wrote a post that asked, “Why are minimum wage proponents dismissing automation risk?” I just wasn’t getting a sense from the “Fight for 15” crowd that it had thought much about the possibility that dramatically raising the minimum wage might worsen the competitive position of low-skill humans versus machines.
Or maybe it had, but the politics were so tantalizing that they took precedence over sound policy. My conclusion back then: “Pushing for an unprecedented boost in the minimum wage given both the weak economy and automation risk seems like foolhardy public policy.” That, especially given the low-risk alternative of raising and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Now comes the new NBER working paper, “People Versus Machines: The Impact of Minimum Wages on Automatable Jobs” by Grace Lordan and David Neumark (bold is mine):
In my new The Week column, I briefly examine whether my fellow American humans are experiencing a “technopanic” right now, and if Silicon Valley is making things worse. (Spoiler: yes and yes!) Indeed, one look at recent headlines about automation — and by “recent” I mean this week — is enough to at least slightly unnerve any worker who’s not a recreational therapist or emergency management director.
Reason writer Ronald Bailey outlines a strong case that fears about technological unemployment are overblown. For instance: He adds needed context to the recent finding by MIT economist Daron Acemoglu and Boston University economist Pascual Restrepo that each additional industrial robot in the United States results in 5.6 American workers losing their jobs.
But even taking the high-end estimate, job loss due to robots was has been just 670,000 since 1990 while “last year some 62.5 million Americans were hired in new jobs, while 60.1 million either quit or were laid off from old ones, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics.” I would add that total nonfarm employment over that span has increased by nearly 40 million.
And Bailey on the basic economics that shock stories often miss:
This Axios headline is problematic: “Summers: Automation is the middle class’ worst enemy.”
The accompanying piece doesn’t actually quote economist Larry Summers making that declaration. Rather it summarizes an interview in which Summers indeed points out the challenge automation poses for workers. He’s right. Of course that’s been the case for the past 200 years and will likely be the case for the next 200. But in exchange for a degree of instability and disruption, technological progress has dramatically raised living standards for workers.
Automation is kind of like alcohol, which, as Homer Simpson puts it, is “the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.” It’s the job of policymakers to make sure workers are ready to climb to the next foothold or ledge as the waters of automation continue to rise. It’s also their job to make sure policy is as supportive as possible of innovation. Indeed, we need more tech progress, not less. “The U.S. economy currently suffers not from too much automation, but rather from too little investment in the sort of technology that would raise the country’s lackluster productivity,” writes Derek Thompson in an excellent new piece at the Atlantic.
Techno-pessimists tend to be underwhelmed by recent innovations, like the smartphone, as well as most upcoming ones, like driverless cars. Especially driverless cars, it seems. In “The Rise and Fall of American Growth,” economist Robert Gordon is dismissive of the productivity impact of all sorts of emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence and robotics. And he puts driverless cars right smack at the bottom: “This category of future progress is demoted to last place because it offers benefits that are minor compared to the innovation of the car itself or the improvements in safety that have created a ten-fold improvement in fatalities per vehicle mile since 1950.”
I don’t know how autonomous vehicles will affect measured productivity data. But they are going to be a pretty big deal, nonetheless. And I doubt too many analysts have thought through potential consequences as thoroughly as Benedict Evans of venture firm Andreessen Horowitz. His recent blog post, “Cars and second order consequences” is a must read on the subject. The first order consequences of electric — and they will be electric — autonomous vehicles are obvious. Fewer highway fatalities and a big drop in demand for gasoline, currently half of global oil production.
But what about the next order consequences? For instance, gas stations go away, but over half of US tobacco sales happen at gas stations, and they’re often an impulse purchase. Evans: “Car crashes kill 35k people a year in the USA, but tobacco kills 500k.” I wonder what happens to healthcare costs?
Andy Kessler dislikes Bill Gates’s “robot tax” idea about as much as I do and explainS his reasons in the Wall Street Journal. Among them, Kessler doesn’t like how such ideas — particular Gates’s notion that we may want to slow progress so workers can better adjust — feeds into the “degrowth” movement. Yes, “degrowth” is kind of a thing. Kessler:
There is a murmuring movement out of Europe known as “degrowth.” If this sounds to you like a cabal of cave dwellers, you’re not that far off. Degrowth Week in Budapest last summer featured enchanting sessions like this one: “Popular competence building against the Technocracy.” Channeling Ludd, industrial insurgents and sustainability samurais want to keep things the way they are, like the eco-protesters at Standing Rock. The site degrowth.org is clear about the movement’s unproductive goals: Consume less and share more.
Well, advanced economies just ran a fascinating, real-world degrowth experiment. It was called the Global Financial Crisis. An economic shock followed a decade of sub-par economic growth. It wasn’t broadly popular. Really not all.
Well, I am sure we all knew this was coming, but the end of the fast food worker is nigh, sort of. There is now a burger flipping robot. Now, what I find is interesting is that not only is it automated, but it actually does a better job. With thermal imaging, the robot can […]
As part of an excellent presentation and recent podcast, analyst Frank Chen of VC firm Andreessen Horowitz takes a crack at answering the question above. First, this from an audio presentation with slide deck, “16 questions about self-driving cars”:
So when will this beautiful world happen? … NuTonomy says 2018 they’re live in Singapore, top ten cities by 2020. Delphi and Mobileye say they’ll have self-driving systems available to the car manufacturers by 2019. … 2020 GM says that’s when it will have its cars. Ford says 2021 they’ll have Level 5 cars available to fleet makers. BMW ships the iNEXT in 2021. Tesla who’s arguably out ahead of this right now says 2023. Uber says that its entire fleet will be autonomous by 2030. And IEEE says that by 2040, 40% of all care on the road are autonomous. So you see quite a range of predictions on when this glorious future happens, and then once it starts we don’t know what the demand curve will be…. But look, it’s going to happen in our lifetime, which is probably not something I would have predicted ten years ago.
A Daily Shot ( @fredcole ) entry (January 23) extolling the wonders of food-delivering robots (and a link in the same issue to a Ricochet post on automation on farms) restarted my recurring thoughts comparing my household life (and the modern American middle class life in general) with the most wealthy people of the 18th and […]
Yet another reason to marvel at the lack of attention to technological change during the election. Lots of talk about immigration, but overall a backward-looking debate. For instance: Bloomberg reports about the shortage of farm workers — “crop pickers” — as “immigration slows, deportations rise and the prospects of congressional reform look remote.”
Will the crops rot in the field? Will farmers do nothing in response? Turns out, not so much. Again, Bloomberg: “That’s forcing more growers to invest in machines that reduce human involvement in the production cycle.”
Yes, supply and demand still work! And right now that interplay is more and more beginning to favor machines or man in the field. More from Bloomberg reporters Alan Bjerga and Mario Parker:
Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a proposal to replace most or all existing wealth transfer (welfare) programs with a flat grant of cash per month. UBI has gained a following across the political spectrum. See, for instance, this Cato Institute discussion between libertarian policy wonk Charles Murray and retired union boss Andy Stern, where they […]
I spent over 40 years in the tech industry, 30 of those in Silicon Valley, and heard the artificial intelligence (AI) promoters and automation pessimists the whole time. If the phrases ‘symbolic reasoning’, ’expert systems’, ‘4th Generation’ or ’neural nets’ ring a bell, you’ve been along on the same ride. Each computer generation brought a […]
The video below shows an automatic flight control system saving the lives of an unconscious F-16 pilot and the instructor just seconds before they would have plummeted to the ground. Preview Open