A few years ago I participated in an MIT roundtable that explored where future jobs will likely come from, given our increasingly powerful, inexpensive and smart technologies. Despite the presence of top thinkers on the subject, the answer, in short, is that we truly don’t know. We are transitioning to a digital economy whose vast implications are not well understood. Perhaps, as has been the case in the past, we lack the imagination to properly perceive the future, and once more our technologies will give rise to new industries and jobs that we can barely anticipate today. On the other hand, there may truly not be enough good jobs to go around, a situation with serious economic and societal implications.
Along with its many benefits, the digital revolution is already leading to serious economic disruptions. As the July issue of Foreign Affairs reminds us with five articles on the subject, advances in AI and robotics “are causing us to take yet another world-historical leap into the unknown.” And this unknown era of ever more powerful and capable automation could work out quite differently.
Can we just rely on the invisible hand of the market to redeploy the work force to new industries and jobs? Or, do we also need social policies to promote job creation and assist workers who’ve lost their jobs? One of the Foreign Affairs articles, - The Next Safety Net: Social Policy for a Digital Age by Nicolas Colin and Bruno Palier, - offers some answers to these questions.
“As advanced economies become more automated and digitized, almost all workers will be affected, but some more than others.” notes the article in its opening paragraph. Many workers will face “low pay, short contracts, precarious employment, and outright job loss. Economic inequality across society as a whole is likely to grow, along with demands for increased state expenditures on social services of various kinds - just as the resources to cover such expenditures are dropping because of lower tax contributions from a smaller work force… These trends will create a crisis for modern welfare states, the finances of which will increasingly become unsustainable.”