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Columnist David Ignatius has a provocative piece in the Washington Post in which he writes about how, despite the fact that job insecurity - allegedly caused by trade deals and immigration - is the subject of much rhetoric during the current political season, the country may actually be having the wrong economic debate. What we should be talking about, he suggests, is the much bigger job losses that are likely to be driven by advancing technology."

"The deeper problem facing the United States is how to provide meaningful work and good wages for the tens of millions of truck drivers, accountants, factory workers and office clerks whose jobs will disappear in coming years because of robots, driverless vehicles and 'machine learning' systems," Ignatius writes, adding that "the 'automation bomb' could destroy 45 percent of the work activities currently performed in the United States, representing about $2 trillion in annual wages, according to a study last year by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. We’ve seen only the beginning of this change, they warned. Currently, only 5 percent of occupations can be entirely automated, but 60 percent of occupations could soon see machines doing 30 percent or more of the work."

This is, Ignatius argues, the subject that politicians - and, I would add, the general population - need to address in a nuanced, sophisticated and realistic fashion.

And I would recommend that you read his column here.
KC's View:
There are more than a few people out there - and some of them are MNB readers - who characterize advancing technology as inherently evil. To give you an example, I got the following email from a reader yesterday in response to a story about Amazon's strategic plans...

Take a step outside your Amazon love affair, re-read your piece and you will see the evil job killer Amazon is. And congratulations to Amazon; 100 Macy’s stores scheduled to close and the corresponding damage that will do to malls and employment left in the wake. Is Amazon solely to blame, of course not. Does Macy’s have to shoulder some of the blame for becoming less relevant? Of course. But failure to admit the obvious will only lead to more unemployment, greater need for federal assistance and a further widening of the salary gap between rich, poor and the middle class Amazon is helping to destroy.

I get why some people feel like this. Fear of the future is a powerful emotion, but the problem is that such fears can paralyze people who actually need to be figuring out how to be relevant in a changing world. (I'm not sure if everybody can do this individually, but we certainly need to have a national debate about the degree to which public policy can and should help.)

I'm pretty sure that the people who made buggy whips thought that the automobile also was evil, and that Henry Ford was the devil. The folks who made feather pens probably weren't real happy with Johann Gutenberg. But I'm also pretty sure that this is not the most enlightened and realistic way to view the march of progress.

Another MNB user, responding to the Amazon story, had a very different take...

As William Gibson said "The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed."

The thing is, we can't wait for the future to be distributed to us. We have to reach out and grab our piece of it ... but that requires reaching forward, not backward.