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Report: Robots steadily erode wages

Guided robots in Yiwu, China. Photo: Zhang Cheng / Xinhua / Getty

Some of the more optimistic forecasts on robots forecast that it's not jobs that will vanish, but tasks. That is, about half of the things that make up current occupations are automatable, according to a recent report by McKinsey, however that just means the workers will retrain and transform those jobs into something else.

But, but, but: According to a new report by Barclays called Robots at the Gate, those little tweaks to jobs are precisely what makes automation so pernicious: Wages, says report author Ajay Rajadhyaksha, end up suppressed because automation happens in steps, steadily eroding the value of a job as it assumes control of the tasks required to do it.

The bottom line: This is the case for the best new technologies, sometimes continuing even decades after their release, said Rajadhyaksha, who heads Barclays' macro research team. "Technology frequently ends up lowering the skill-set needed to do a job," he writes, "in turn expanding the pool of potential workers, which then acts as a drag on wage growth."

  • When a new technology is released, Rajadhyaksha told me, small things that may not seem important end up being primary to their impact. As an example, he cites the introduction of rear cameras and power steering to semi-trucks. Since the trucks were now easier to navigate and required less strength to steer, driver wages fell. "You see this over and over," he said.
Erica Pandey 17 hours ago
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Bay Area lags on quake safety measures

An aerial view of downtown San Francisco. Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

The newfound wealth from San Francisco's tech boom isn't translating to more sophisticated earthquake safety measures, reports the LA Times.

Why it matters: Earthquakes pose the greatest natural threat to northern California's economy and infrastructure, but the Bay Area's cities — once national leaders in safety — are now falling behind their neighbors in southern California.

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No art museum, no Amazon HQ2

Kids at art museum
The Smithsonian American Art Museum has exhibits that help explain art to kids. Photo: Dayna Smith/for the Washington Post

As Amazon hones in on where they will build their second headquarters, the Washington Post is reporting that of the "238 cities and counties that applied for consideration, plenty have the population (over a million)... But if they don’t also have an exceptional art museum — and preferably more than one — those cities didn’t make the cut."

The details: Sebastian Smee of the Post points out that museums come into play in the decision considering that "[p]eople qualified to expect high salaries tend to have the leisure time and surplus cash to pursue cultural aspirations... That’s why, in the competition to secure the best and brightest, Amazon and other big companies care deeply about cultural offerings in the places they’re located." Washington, D.C. and Boston are likely to top Amazon's list.