Monday, 27 November 2017

Why We Are Still Convinced Robots Will Take Our Jobs Despite the Evidence
by Jeff Borland, University of Melbourne, The Conversation:

The tale of new technologies causing the death of work is the prophecy that keeps on giving. Despite evidence to the contrary, we still view technological change today as being more rapid and dramatic in its consequences than ever before.

The mistaken view that robots will take our jobs may come from a human bias to believe that “we live in special times”. An absence of knowledge of history, the greater intensity of feeling about events which we experience first-hand, and perhaps a desire to attribute significance to the times in which we live, all contribute to this bias.

History repeating

In the 1930s, John Maynard Keynes envisaged that innovations such as electricity would produce a world where people spent most of their time on leisure activities. In the United States in the 1960s, Lyndon Johnson established a Presidential Commission to investigate fears that automation was permanently reducing the amount of work available.

Australia has not escaped the prophecy, with similar concerns about the future of work expressed in the 1970s.

In their history of Monash University, Graeme Davison and Kate Murphy report that:
In 1978, the historian Ian Turner, organised a symposium on the implications of the new technologies. The world, he predicted, was about to enter a period as significant as the Neolithic or Industrial revolutions. By 1988, at least a quarter of the Australian workforce would be made redundant by technological change …
Some years later, Barry Jones continued the gloomy forecasts in his best-seller Sleepers Wake!:
In the 1980s, new technologies can decimate the labour force in the goods producing sectors of the economy …
Of course, none of this came to pass in Australia; just as work did not disappear in the 1930s in the United Kingdom, or the 1960s in the United States. Yet today, we are seeing the resurrection of the prophecy. Commentary on the Australian labour market abounds with claims that the world of work is undergoing radical and unprecedented change.

The increased application of computer-based technologies in the workplace is suggested to be causing a reduction in the total amount of work available; or to be bringing a more rapid pace of substitution of machines for humans than has been seen previously.

No evidence for the death of work

In recent research with Michael Coelli, we argue that the prophecy is no more likely to be realised in the 2010s in Australia than in the 1970s.

Certainly, there is no evidence that the death of work is at present underway. Since the mid-1960s the aggregate hours worked by the Australian population (on a per capita basis) has remained stable.

In particular, there has been no long-run decline in the aggregate amount of work that matches the timing of the progressive introduction of computers to the workplace since the early 1980s.

Source: Borland, J. and M. Coelli (2017), ‘Are robots taking our jobs?’, Australian Economic Review, forthcoming, Figure 3

Moreover, the pace at which workers are churning between jobs in the Australian labour market is not getting quicker. Not only is there no evidence that more workers are being forced to work in short duration jobs, but what is apparent is that the opposite has happened. The proportion of workers in very long duration jobs has increased over the past three decades.

Source: Borland, J. and M. Coelli (2017), ‘Are robots taking our jobs?’, Australian Economic Review, forthcoming, Figure 9

Why work is not disappearing

There are good reasons why we should not expect new technologies to cause the death of work. New technologies always cause job losses, but that is only part of the story. What also needs to be understood is how they increase the amount of work available.

One way this happens is through the increases in incomes that accompany the application of new technologies. With the introduction of these technologies, it may take less labour time to produce what used to be consumed, but higher real incomes, together with an apparently unlimited human desire to spend, bring extra demand (for existing products as well as for new types of goods and services), and hence for workers to provide those extra goods and services.

As well, new technologies are likely to substitute for some types of workers, but to be complementary to, and hence increase demand for, other types of workers. Computer-based technologies appear to be complementary to workers who perform non-routine cognitive jobs.

In a report on the digitally enabled workforce, Stefan Hajkowicz and co-authors suggest a range of examples for Australia – such as an increase in demand for photographers at the same time as demand for photographic developers and printers has decreased; an increase in demand for graphic designers versus a decrease in demand for printers and graphic press workers; and a decrease in demand for bank tellers simultaneously with an increase in demand for finance professionals.

The ConversationThe end of work is no closer in Australia today than at any time in the past. So, perhaps there is a need to keep disproving the prophecy, to change our mindset.

Jeff Borland, Professor of Economics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

We Must End Global Oligarchy

by Bernie SandersCommon Dreams: 

One of the major, untold stories of our time is the rapid movement toward global oligarchy, in which just a handful of billionaires now own and control a significant part of the world economy.

Here in the United States, the top one-tenth of 1% owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%. Incredibly, according to a recent report from the Institute for Policy Studies, three of the richest people in America—Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett—now own more wealth than bottom 160 million people in our country.

But this is clearly not just an American issue. It is a global issue. While millions of people throughout the world live in dire poverty, without clean drinking water, adequate health care, decent housing, or education for their kids, the six wealthiest people in the world as ranked by Forbes Magazine own more wealth, according to Oxfam, than the bottom half of the world's population, 3.6 billion people.

This massive level of wealth and income inequality, and the political power associated with that wealth, is an issue that cannot continue be ignored. We must fight back.
Thanks to the so-called Paradise Papers, a trove of millions of documents analyzed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and its collaborating news outlets, we now have a better understanding of how the largest corporations and wealthiest people in the world avoid paying their taxes and hide ownership of assets. Needless to say, these billionaires are all strong supporters of our military, our veterans, our infrastructure, our schools and other government services. They would just prefer that you pay for those activities, not them.
According to the ICIJ's investigative reporting, the Americans listed as having offshore accounts in the Paradise Papers, (which have not been independently reviewed by CNN), are a who's who of billionaires, some of whom are the very same officials who have led the effort to promote the Republican tax plan, which would provide even more tax-avoiding opportunities to the very rich.
Even before these revelations, we knew that tax dodging by the wealthy and large corporations, not just in the US but globally, was taking place on a massive scale. In 2012, the Tax Justice Network, a British advocacy group, estimated that at least $21 trillion was stashed in offshore tax havens around the world. In other words, while governments enact austerity budgets, which lower the standard of living of working people, the super-rich avoid their taxes.
According to Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman, individuals in the US are avoiding $36 billion through offshore tax schemes and US corporations are avoiding more than $130 billion through these schemes. The situation has become so absurd that one five-story office building in the Caymans is now the "home" of nearly 20,000 corporations—and that is just one of many tax havens operating across the globe.
The essence of oligarchy is that the billionaire class is never satisfied with what they have. They want more, more and more—no matter what impact their efforts have on working people, the elderly, children, the sick and the poor. Greed is their religion. While the oligarchs are avoiding their taxes, Trump and his Republican colleagues, ostensibly in order to save federal dollars, have been trying to throw tens of millions of Americans off of their health insurance, and make massive cuts in education, nutrition assistance and affordable housing.
As a candidate for president, Trump promised that he would stand up for the working class of this country. Needless to say, that was a lie. Almost half of the benefits in the Trump/Republican tax plan would go to the top 1%, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Additionally, they want to lower the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%, even though in 2012 one out of every five large, profitable corporations in the US paid no federal income taxes at all and between 2008 and 2015, 18 corporations had a tax rate lower than 0%.
Republicans also want to make it easier for companies to shelter their profits overseas and pay zero taxes. The "territorial tax system" they are proposing, which means companies would be taxed only on income earned within our country's borders, would exempt the offshore profits of American corporations from US taxes and allow for a one-time 12% tax on their offshore cash profits when brought back into the United States.
Meanwhile, while the wealthy and large corporations are receiving huge tax breaks, nearly half of middle-class families would actually see their taxes go up by the end of the decade by eliminating deductions for medical expenses, student loan interest rates, state and local income and sales taxes, and the cost of health insurance for the self-employed.
The Paradise Papers make it clearer than ever that we need, in the United States and throughout the world, a tax system which is fair, progressive and transparent.
Now is the time, in the United States and internationally, for people to come together to take on the greed of the oligarchs. We can and must create a global economy that works for all, not just a handful of billionaires.