Migration vs Automation

A lot of the western public debate is currently revolving around forms of protection to shield our economies from emerging ones.

The shield can take the form of a trade war, of a brexit, or less metaphorically, that of a wall at the border.

While we fight with our fear of migrants however, we are neglecting the rise of a much stronger workforce that is bond to eventually end the concept of work as we know it: Robots.

The main rationale behind our fear of migrants is that injecting large numbers of workers from weaker economies will push down our salaries. In somewhat more technical words, while globalization and neoliberalism have reduced cross-border wealth inequality, they also increased inequality within members of our local community and are continuing to do os.

This seems justified while shortsightedly looking at a 5 years horizon or so, but it seems less compelling when extending that horizon to a decade or two.

In 2017 about one million people obtained lawful permanent resident status to the USA. In 2015 about one million asylum seekers arrived in Europe. These numbers are reflective of a long trend that is likely to grow in future, however they don’t seem likely to cause a wave of unemployment such as to hit 30% or more of the citizenship within a decade.
In fact, with US population at 300 million citizens, and EU being much larger still, the effect would likely be a tiny fraction of that even unrealistically assuming that the newcomers wouldn’t participate as consumers to our local economies.

Nonetheless, some of our most optimistic estimates suggest exactly that: unemployment rates at 30% by 2030.
What is taking our jobs is obviously not migration, it is automation. This is cheap labour that will certainly not participate as consumer to our economy, and no wall will keep it from rising.

Regulations can be proposed to slow down the rise of automation, such as increased taxation to make it less competitive to the human counterpart, or in a more extreme scenario outlawing it all together, however neither of these options can revert technological advancement to a pre-automation era, and they can only delay the inevitable moment when working will be optional for subsistence.

It is therefore not surprising that politics are focusing on a more immediate, comparatively minor and more easily addressable threat that we are facing, rather than trying to untangle the unprecedented mess that will likely change our society forever when machines will take the majority of our jobs.


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