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The Impact of New Technologies on Jobs and the Economy

April 22nd, 2013

I’m just back from a fascinating gathering in New York City, organized by Cornell University’s Institute for Compensation Studies, to explore the impact of new technologies on job creation in the US economy, with the Great Recession barely in the past. (And the issues and challenges discussed are certainly pertinent for Canada, as well.)

You can read a short summary of the discussions HERE. A full transcript will be issued later.

The group included leading academic experts on employment and the US economy including Thom Kochan from MIT and David Dorn from Harvard, technology change and robotics experts such as Erik Brynjolfsson from MIT and Henrik Christensen from George Tech / Boeing, influential policy makers such as Jaison Abel from the New York Federal Reserve and Adriana Kugler (former chief labor economist of the US Dept of Labor), David Paratore (CEO of NanoSteel) and Sarah Wynn-Williams, a senior executive  from Facebook.

I co-facilitated the day-long event along with Linda Barrington, the Executive Director of the Institute (who had kindly invited me to join.) We discussed my work with no-layoff policies at several points, highlighting the resistance of the American economy to embrace managerial innovations that preserve innovation, yet also focus on preserving human capital.

In a  nutshell – if that’s possible:

There is continuing debate on the extent to which the hollowing out of middle class jobs during the Great Recession is due to the somewhat straightforward but very damaging effects of a collapse of the economy … and/or … is due to the effects  of powerful new technologies (which have been almost sneaking up into everyday life in recent years) which have the ability to automate (i.e. replace the workers)  an amazingly broad and increasingly wide  range of jobs.

But as several people pointed out, we need to avoid a surrender to the seeming inevitability of automation’s dramatic effects on jobs.

This has nothing to do with a “new Ludditism”, but does require an active broad-based coordination of policies to change education and skill training systems now to ensure that a wider number of people are not shut out of a recovering economy’s benefits.

This is what public institutions are for!

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