Eoin Treacy's view -
We expect the magnitude of workforce change in the 2020s to match that of the automation of agriculture from 1900 to 1940. However, the transition of farm workers into the industrial sector was spread out over four decades. In the case of the automation of manufacturing, the impact was over a shorter time period (roughly 20 years), but the share of labor force in manufacturing jobs was relatively small in the US. Investment in automation is likely to proceed moderately faster than agricultural automation or manufacturing automation unless other forces act to impede its progress, and it will affect a larger percentage of the total workforce.
The tension between the push to offset slowing labor force growth with automation and the pull to slow automation's rollout to prevent massive disruption will play out over the next 10 to 20 years. But once the first companies begin deploying new forms of automation, others are likely to follow suit rapidly to stay competitive.
The base-case scenario
Based on the magnitude and speed of change, our base-case scenario could result in about 2.5 million jobs per year lost or not created because of automation. Previous transformations provide an interesting comparison. The automation of agriculture transformed national economies and disrupted labor markets, culminating in the Great Depression. But if that event occurred today, scaled to the current population and labor force, it would displace 1.2 million workers per year. The rate of reabsorption from the automation of agriculture was about 700,000 workers a year.
Technology is disruptive and inherently deflationary. The rise of the robot represents a significant secular theme and for the millions of workers who are going to be affected their only resource is likely to be at the ballot box.
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