New Roosevelt Institute Report: Bad Policies, Not Automation, Threaten Future Worker Prosperity

Leading Economic Think Tank Explains How Mass Joblessness Is Not Imminent, Outlines Policies to Ensure Automation Benefits Workers

NEW YORK, NY – Amid mounting public anxiety about the specter of mass joblessness due to technological change, the Roosevelt Institute today released Don’t Fear the Robots: Why Automation Doesn’t Mean the End of Work. The report, released in partnership with Duke University’s Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity, argues that the current debate over economic dislocation caused by technology overlooks the most important point: Underlying structural problems with the rules of our economy are largely responsible for the potential negative consequences of technological changes, not the changes themselves.

While the report puts into context the threat posed by mass automation, it does not ignore the ways that changes in the economy are already diminishing the economic prospects of working people. In particular, it explores how the link between rising productivity and wage growth, which defined the U.S. economy for most of the 20th century, is now broken. To repair this rupture, the report outlines several policy solutions, including the federal government recommitting to the pursuit of full employment; revising intellectual property laws to make sure the economic benefits from innovation are more broadly shared; and increased funding to develop technologies that complement workers rather than replaces them.

“U.S. policymakers have a big choice to make,” said Mark Paul, a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and the report’s author. “Historically, automation has led to rising living standards and higher wages. However, our economy is not currently set up to make this happen—everyday workers are not seeing the benefits of technological change reflected in their paychecks or job security. While mass automation is not on the horizon, the slow process of technological change will inevitably create short-term disruptions in the economy, and policymakers should absolutely help the people who may lose their jobs. But in the long term, automation need not lead to the end of work or to lower and lower wages. Policymakers should make the structural changes required to harness the potential of future technological advances to bring about a more equitable economy that has good jobs with good wages.” This report, which has already been covered in The New York Times, builds on recent Roosevelt Institute research about worker power and the ways to foster more broadly shared economic prosperity. In March, the Institute released Powerless: How Lax Antitrust and Concentrated Market Power Rig the Economy Against American Workers, Consumers, and Communities. And Mark Paul’s groundbreaking research on a federal job guarantee, working alongside Roosevelt Senior Fellow Sandy Darity and Fellow Darrick Hamilton, has been covered at outlets including The Washington Post, NBC News, and The Atlantic.

About the Roosevelt Institute

Until the rules work for every American, they’re not working. The Roosevelt Institute asks: what does a better society look like? Armed with a bold vision for the future, we push the economic and social debate forward. We believe that those at the top hold too much power and wealth, and that our economy will be stronger when that changes. Ultimately, we want our work to move the country toward a new economic and political system: one built by many for the good of all.

It takes all of us to rewrite the rules. From emerging leaders to Nobel laureate economists, we’ve built a network of thousands. At Roosevelt, we make influencers more thoughtful and thinkers more influential. We also celebrate –and are inspired by– those whose work embodies the values of both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and carries their vision forward today.