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St Catharine's Political Economy Seminar Series



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Date: Wednesday 7 March 2018
Time: 18:00 -19:30
Speaker:  Robert Skidelsky
Talk Title: ‘Technological Unemployment: Myth or Reality’
Location: Ramsden Room, St Catharine's College

The seminar series is supported by the Cambridge Journal of Economics and the Economics and Policy Group at the Cambridge Judge Business School.
An audio recording of the presentation can be heard here:

Robert Skidelsky is Emeritus Professor of Political Economy at Warwick University. His three-volume biography of John Maynard Keynes (1983,1992, 2000) won five prizes and his book on the financial crisis – Keynes: The Return of the Master – was published in September 2010. He was made a member of the House of Lords in 1991 (he sits on the cross-benches) and elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1994. How Much is Enough? The Love of Money and the Case for the Good Life, co-written with his son Edward, was published in July 2012. He is also the author of Britain in the 20th Century: A Success? (Vintage, 2014) and editor of The Essential Keynes (Penguin Classics, 2015). His most recent publications are as co-editor of Who Runs the Economy? (Palgrave, 2016) and Austerity Vs Stimulus Palgrave, 2017).

Talk Overview
This contribution's starting point is Keynes's little essay of 1930, Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren:'technological unemployment...means unemployment due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour'. Two questions arise: will the future be different from the past, when we were always able to absorb labour displaced by machines? There is no agreed view. There are many estimates of the jobs 'at risk' from automation by 2030, ranging from 30% to 50%. There is no agreement on whether, or how soon, the jobs displaced will be replaced, i.e. whether there will be a net job loss. The majority view is that there will be transitional job losses, but no permanent ones. Most of the discussion treats automation as not just desirable, but irreversible: part of the scientific momentum, which defines modern civilisation. This needs challenging, since it appears to leave the human future to machines. Second, it is generally agreed that, as in the past, automation will enable a reduction in hours worked. However, the argument that this will be consistent with maintaining or increasing median income needs to be challenged. Evidence is that median incomes have been stagnant and even falling, as most productivity gains go to the rich. Extra leisure will surely be unwanted if it means lower real incomes. The response to automation cannot be left to the market. It requires a social decision concerning the speed and type of automation, and a social response to the problems it creates.


Wednesday, 7 March, 2018 - 18:00 to 19:30