Saturday, February 18, 2023

Should laborers own shares in the robots that replace them?

Nathan Gardels, When The Blue-Collar Backbone Meets Generative AI, Noēma, Feb. 17, 2023.

Opening paragraph:

U.S. President Joe Biden is doing the right thing in seeking to build back America’s manufacturing base through reshoring capacity in critical industries such as semiconductor fabrication while jumpstarting the transition to clean energy with massive investments in production and infrastructure.


Yet, bolstering household income through wages alone may not be sufficient to sustain the working middle as we move ever deeper into a high-tech economy that threatens jobs no less than globalization. And it will not in and of itself shrink the wealth inequality gap, which is accelerating as the rich are getting richer.

We need a new paradigm:

Policies that aim for greater equality through only increasing the labor share of income are stuck in paradigm inertia rooted in the zero-sum class struggles of a more labor-intensive industrial era, which no longer characterizes the tech-driven economy. The new paradigm for the rapidly approaching future would seek a greater labor share of wealth through an ownership stake that captures more of the value created by intelligent machines, which are diminishing the prospect of gainful employment. Both must work in tandem to raise wealth from the bottom up.

One way to head down this path, as hedge-fund manager Ray Dalio and left-leaning Nobel economist Joe Stiglitz proposed in Noema during the COVID crisis, would be to require companies that receive government subsidies and tax credits to assign a fair percentage of equity shares to a national savings plan, a kind of sovereign wealth fund with accounts owned individually by all citizens. They call this “universal basic capital.”

Concluding paragraph:

Labor should not just bargain for a greater share of income in enterprises where they will still be able to find jobs, but also own a share of the robots that will be generating the value they once did on the assembly lines of a smokestack economy.

1 comment:

  1. Shouldism
    Yes, they should, or something like that needs to happen. Shares seems a clunky mechanism, maybe OK as long as it is inalienable. Both the first round of shares of industry given widely to the Russian population in the 90s, and the homestead plots given to soldiers of the American Revolution were largely bought up by the wealthy.

    Probably, IMO, BUI is a better method of general entitlement, and has more momentum behind it than any other plausible solution, though that's not saying much, but it was endorsed by a one-time Democratic Presidential candidate who wasn't totally laughed off the stage (Yang) and I here it frequently in forums (fora?) I visit.