On Milanovic on robotics

Branko Milanovic has a blog post on robotics. He calls these three fallacies:
  • Labour displacement by robots – more short-term
  • Ability to predict our needs – they may expand making labour and robots co-exist
  • Limits to raw materials.
But, are they unreasonable, based on the trends in the last three decades?:
(1) Jobs may not be lost; what about jobs creation foregone? Wage growth? Is the trend of last thirty years not a warning of the consequences of capital displacing labour. If there is more of it, then is it wrong to fear consequences of robots on employment and/or wages?
Don’t these have social consequences as well?
(2) Is he confusing between needs and wants? Have our needs changed much? May be, our wants have? May be, marketing has created many wants which did not exist before and made us believe that they are needs. Has Milanovic read the ‘Joyless society’? The boredom of prosperity and affluence could become even more oppressive.
(3) Limits to raw materials – if we expand raw materials to include clean air, water, lakes and rivers, flora and fauna – our growth model has shown that it pushes against these limits sooner than we expect or reckon with. We are already feeling the impact. What if robotics pushes growth limits even further? What kind of growth would it create? Will we allow creative destruction to play a role? Or, will there be a greater demand for protecting those businesses displaced and threatened by the arrival of robotics? Then, what happens to productivity, economic growth and innovation in the overall economy?
(4) Lastly, will robotics help alleviate or complicate human psychological and behavioural limitations? Groupthink, herd mentality, elitism, cognitive dissonance have been amply on display in the response to the crisis of 2008 and in the US Presidential elections. Robotics or any technology can do nothing to help these. If anything, they can complicate them further.
(5) Humans do not understand risks that well. We neither anticipate them nor are we capable of assessing their magnitude and impact where we correctly anticipate them. Faced with unknowns, it is good to be on guard rather than be complacent. If the fears turn out to be misplaced, then adjusting to a positive surprise is a lot easier than the other way around.

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