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The Rise of the Robots

LONDON – What impact will automation – the so-called “rise of the robots” – have on wages and employment over the coming decades? Nowadays, this question crops up whenever unemployment rises.

In the early nineteenth century, David Ricardo considered the possibility that machines would replace labor; Karl Marx followed him. Around the same time, the Luddites smashed the textile machinery that they saw as taking their jobs.

Then the fear of machines died away. New jobs – at higher wages, in easier conditions, and for more people – were soon created and readily found. But that does not mean that the initial fear was wrong. On the contrary, it must be right in the very long run: sooner or later, we will run out of jobs.

For some countries, this long-run prospect might be uncomfortably close. So, what are people to do if machines can do all (or most of) their work?