Bots and Tots

Google Chief Economist Hal Varian just told us at a Council on Foreign Relations meeting that the U.S. is about to experience its lowest labor-market growth rate ever. As boomers retire and relatively fewer women enter the workforce, the U.S. “will have fewer workers to support more people.” This “tighter labor market” is bleaker in Japan, Spain, Italy and other OECD nations, Varian added. It seems that the U.S. labor market is in relatively better shape due to immigration, delayed retirements and higher birthrates.

“Automation is coming along just in time,” Dr. Varian said in light of these demographic contractions - not surprisingly. He drew his remarks from a core speech he delivers on "Automation and Procreation" or what he cleverly calls "Bots and Tots." He suggested the tight U.S. labor conditions will continue into the 2060s, urging that appropriately applied automation will be essential to fill this gap across many employment sectors. He added the assurance that, “It won’t be as disruptive as you read in the newspaper headlines.” We'll see.

Dr. Varian is undoubtedly correct in macroeconomic terms. That said, the real test for national leadership – when we clear through the current, mind-numbing mess – will be to manage these issues in both strategic and human terms. Automation is inevitable; it is not to be recklessly feared. It represents lucrative new markets as well as large sources of investment and employment. Still, people will lose jobs and job opportunities as the U.S. employment market continues to morph, whether from displacement, misaligned skills and education or opioid addiction. It is possible nonetheless to accept the considerable benefits of automation while simultaneously countering its downside. Besides, we have no choice anyway.  

Varian image courtesy of Alchetron.