The Great Jobs Robbery (take II)

Automation might appear to be a steady, long-term trend. It might seem at first sight that any rise in unemployment will make human labour relatively cheaper, thus slowing companies’ move to technology. Make no mistake. Mark Muro, Robert Maxim and Jacob Whiton at Brookings argue that this is not the case:

Robots’ infiltration of the workforce doesn’t occur at a steady, gradual pace. Instead, automation happens in bursts, concentrated especially in bad times such as in the wake of economic shocks, when humans become relatively more expensive as firms’ revenues rapidly decline. At these moments, employers shed less-skilled workers and replace them with technology and higher-skilled workers, which increases labor productivity as a recession tapers off.

The robots are ready as the COVID-19 recession spreads

Here are their estimations for current-tasks automation potential (published one year ago); very much in line with the famous study by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, published in 2013.


  1. It’s what I’ve said for years: they promised us that machines would make life better; but in reality it doesn’t. Just call me a luddite: I want to throw my sabots into the machinery!

    • Weeell, I wouldn’t be so pessimistic. The problem is not machines, the problem is our incapability to organize and govern ourselves in a rational and fair way..Maybe we still can learn… Call a naïve idealist !!

      • The real problem is the tendency of those who prioritise profit from machinery over the wellbeing of the general populace. Which, sadly, includes all those who employ….

  2. I am sure machines will not cause the problem you suggest. Certainly inequality will be increased in the short term, particularly in the West. It has already increased, but that inequality is very unstable and will correct itself.

    I am not sure how, but most likely new jobs and new taxes (direct or indirect) will be invented. If there is not a gradual solution there will be a more radical one. I hope we can avoid a radical change because it will be more traumatic.

    However I am optimistic (for the gradual approach)… just to give an example, just imagine the possibilities offered by software. Even if the production of Software is partially automatised, it tends to consume resources impressively (you know that!). Other solution is the public administration (the State) that will grow even more larger (gradually or no)

    Of course, it will require changes, essentially education, but this is a tendency we are observing from the start of the Industrial Revolution.

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