Goblaization caused massive dislocation around the world. And, as robots take over the workplace, that dislocation will continue. Larry Elliott writes:
In some ways, the debate that was taking place between the tech industry, politicians and academics in Davos last week was similar to that which surrounded globalisation in the early 1990s. Back then, it was accepted that free movement of goods, people and money around the world would create losers as well as winners, but provided the losers were adequately compensated – either through reskilling, better education, or a stronger social safety net – all would be well.
But the reskilling never happened. Governments did not increase their budgets for education, and in some cases cut them. Welfare safety nets were made less generous. Communities affected by deindustrialisation never really recovered. Writing in the recent McKinsey quarterly, W Brian Arthur put it this way: “Offshoring in the last few decades has eaten up physical jobs and whole industries, jobs that were not replaced. The current transfer of jobs from the physical to the virtual economy is a different sort of offshoring, not to a foreign country but to a virtual one. If we follow recent history we can’t assume these jobs will be replaced either.”
The Neo-Liberal Revolution insured that nothing would be done for those who lost their jobs. And, because the neo-liberal virus has not died, it looks like the Robotic Revolution will only make things worse for displaced workers. However, some of the wiser heads on the planet are suggesting remedies:
As the Institute for Public Policy Research has noted, new models of ownership are needed to ensure that the dividends of automation are broadly shared. One of its suggestions is a citizens’ wealth fund that would own a broad portfolio of assets on behalf of the public and would pay out a universal capital dividend. This could be financed either from the proceeds of asset sales or by companies paying corporation tax in the form of shares that would become more valuable due to the higher profits generated by automation.
Elliott warns that:
The dislocation will be considerable, and comes at a time when social fabrics are already frayed. To ensure that, as in the past, technological change leads to a net increase in jobs, the benefits will have to be spread around and the concept of what constitutes work rethought. That’s why one of the hardest working academics in Davos last week was Guy Standing of Soas University of London, who was on panel after panel making the case for a universal basic income, an idea that has its critics on both left and right, but whose time may well have come.
The time has come -- and the time is now.
Image: Antenen Research