Automation is one of the big sleeper issues of the 2020 presidential campaign, Kaveh Waddell and Alison Snyder write as part of our "What Matters 2020" series.
- Most candidates aren't focusing on it by name, even though it profoundly shapes key themes in the race — the economy, jobs, and friction between haves and have-nots.
- And there's a lack of "original thinking" from the candidates, says MIT economist Daron Acemoglu.
Why it matters: "If we stay on the trajectory we're on currently, we're going to have greater income inequality, less social mobility, greater political unrest and greater income insecurity," said Elisabeth Reynolds, executive director of the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future.
The big picture: The effects of automation fit into a puzzle that includes trade policy. But while trade and China hog political attention, automation gets passed over, leaving a gaping hole in critical preparations for the future of work.
- Estimates of coming American job loss to automation range wildly, from 10% to 47%. But even the most conservative calculations threaten millions of workers.
- Technology could also create as many as 50 million new jobs by 2030.
Voters, too, may be underestimating the importance of automation. Instead, their views are largely a litmus test for their politics.
- When Gallup and Northeastern University asked Americans to rate the seriousness of various threats to jobs earlier this year, 56% of Republicans said immigration is a major threat, compared to just 5% of Democrats.
- 60% of Democrats said increased trade barriers are a major threat, versus 17% of Republicans.
- Artificial intelligence, which underlies automation, was less important for both parties: 35% of Democrats and 34% of Republicans said AI was a major threat.
Go deeper: Read previous stories in this series, "What Matters 2020."