Policy Implications of the Rise of Robots

After the forum that I posted about yesterday, there was a Q&A with Larry Summers. I asked him about the policy implications of living in a world of “Doers” and whether that should change how we think about pro-capital vs pro-labor subsidies in the future. His answer starts around 1:38 and includes a great Milton Friedman story.

Also, here is Noah Smith with an interesting post on this topic.

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About ozidar

Graduate student at UC Berkeley, studying public finance & labor economics. https://sites.google.com/site/omzidar/
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One Response to Policy Implications of the Rise of Robots

  1. Really says:

    I watched this starting at about 1:35. I found some of what Summers had to say wrongheaded.

    In particular, his defense of inequality by saying words to the effect of “if there were fifty Steve Jobses the world would be a better place but the Gini coefficient would be higher” strikes me as naive. (Yes, I know; Larry Summers naive?!) He seems to think that if there were such people (why does it always have to be Jobs? I don’t like Jobs.) they would come up with some miraculous innovations and improve the world. Leaving aside the question of who would buy these wonderful things if they existed, my reading of history says that there are only a limited number of technical niches for such commercial breakthroughs available at a given time.

    I base this on observations such as that all the people who cashed in big on the first wave of micro-computing, which culminated in Windows (and which Jobs blew totally) were born within a year or so of 1955. That was it until the Internet opened up new possibilities. Previous history provides other examples; the people like Carnegie who made immense fortunes in industrialization were all born in a quite limited period, although not as limited as the 1950s window.

    This leads me to the conclusion that the limit to the number of Jobses is on the demand side, not on the supply side. There are always smart people around. We tend to think of the ones who hit it big as very special, but they’re not in terms of intrinsic capabilities. They were the ones whose lottery numbers came up.

    Therefore, I’m far more in favor of promoting greater equality than Summers. And I strongly suspect that his view is colored by his own quite lucrative (by ordinary standards, that is) contacts with the financial elite.

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