In the last few blogs we’ve written about the changing job market and questioned whether some jobs will return. This time, we would like to take a look at a controversial part of changing jobs, Robots.
You have probably heard about how robots are threatening jobs. Whether it’s robots building cars, self-driving trucks, kiosks and machines replacing fast-food workers, or a variety of other job types, we hear that robots are going to cause mass unemployment.
The reality may be quite different, according to Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He believes the data about robots clearly show mass job displacements are not happening, and disappearing job opportunities are caused by other factors, not robots or automation.
Baker argues that job displacement from the use of robots would require the robots must be cheaper and easier to produce than costs involved with the workers they replace. That would require robots be cheap enough for us all to own one to do tasks around the home. That has certainly not happened, at least yet.
In the 1980’s I purchased a robot. As a techie, I was fascinated by the concept. It stood about 30 inches high and could be programed to do a few tasks, like travel a course, extend an arm, grab objects, and even serve food and drinks. I took it to elementary schools to demonstrate some basic robotic concepts and talk about the future of robots. Now, 30 years later, many home robots of today can do little more than it did.
Baker suggests the lack of robots for the home may imply robots are expensive to produce. This would result their use only in situations that justified the cost. He contends this would result in a large redistribution of wealth “from ordinary workers to the people who own robots, it is because of the patent and copyright monopolies associated with building robots.”
While it is certainly true a redistribution of money from workers to the wealthy has been taking place, it is not possible to link its cause to the increased use of robots. Baker suggests, “On more careful examination, the robot story ends up being just one more policy based explanation like trade, the weakening of labor unions, declining minimum wages, and contractionary macroeconomic policy.”
While robots and automated technology are becoming more commonplace, they have not causes mass job displacement at this point. It’s easy to point to robots since many fear the encroachment of technology into our lives. The bigger concern about job loss comes from the economic policies of the country which seem to promote a redistribution of wealth and the decline of the middle-class.