Jul 15, 2019

A dormant potential backlash over automation

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Domestically, automation is often viewed with trepidation for its potential to kill jobs and bring on social unrest. But when you are talking tech competition among nations, political leaders suddenly become nationalists. Right now, the latter is the commanding position.

What's going on: Trump has made a policy cornerstone out of his trade war with China, elevating the automation-breeds-competitiveness argument. Companies could be propelled toward faster automation and accelerate a coming topsy-turvy future of work.

Why it matters: This could set up Western countries for a massive popular backlash.

  • If huge numbers of jobs are lost in the coming decade or two, everybody could be caught by surprise, says Vivek Wadhwa, a Carnegie Mellon University professor.
  • "The backlash will be so great that political leaders will have to resort to populism; they will make every excuse in the book and blame whoever they can," Wadhwa tells Axios.

The other side: Pro-automation experts argue that domestic fears are holding the U.S. back from much-needed competitive moves.

  • They welcome the renewed focus on China.
  • "If we don't automate faster and better, we're going to lose global marketshare and competitiveness," says Robert Atkinson, founder of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a D.C. think tank.
  • "If we don't raise productivity up to 2.5 or 3% we're really going to be in a crisis," Atkinson tells Axios.

Go deeper: The future began four decades ago

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 5,453,784 — Total deaths: 345,886 — Total recoveries — 2,191,310Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 1,651,254 — Total deaths: 97,850 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,915Map.
  3. World: Top Boris Johnson aide defends himself after allegations he broke U.K. lockdown — WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns.
  4. 2020: Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina — Joe Biden makes first public appearance in two months.
  5. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  6. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Charities refocus their efforts to fill gaps left by government.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Joe Biden makes first public appearance in over two months

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Former Vice President Joe Biden made his first in-person appearance in over two months on Monday to honor Memorial Day by laying a wreath at a Delaware veterans park, AP reports.

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