James Bessen, 12 September 2019

Do industries shed or create jobs when they adopt new labour-saving technologies? This column shows that manufacturing employment grew along with productivity for a century or more, and only later decreased. It argues that the changing nature of demand was behind this pattern, which led to market saturation. This implies that the main impact of automation in the near future may be a major reallocation of jobs, not necessarily massive job losses.

David Kunst, 09 August 2019

Has technological progress in manufacturing been skill-biased or deskilling? This column argues that the conventional distinction between white-collar and production workers has concealed substantial deskilling among manufacturing production workers since the 1950s. Automation has reduced the demand for skilled craftsmen around the world, thereby reducing the number of jobs in which workers with little formal education could acquire significant marketable skills.

Alexandra de Pleijt, Alessandro Nuvolari, Jacob Weisdorf, 20 October 2018

While technological progress has typically been seen as increasing the demand for skilled workers since the beginning of the 20th century,  technological change has historically been associated with ‘de-skilling’. This column explores how the advent of the steam engine affected human capital formation in industrialising England. More steam engines per person are found to be associated with lower shares of unskilled workers. The results run contrary to the workshop-to-factory argument of skilled workers’ downward mobility, pointing instead to a farm work-to-factory transition. 

Anna Stansbury, Lawrence H. Summers, 20 February 2018

Since 1973, there has been divergence between labour productivity and the typical worker’s pay in the US as productivity has continued to grow strongly and growth in average compensation has slowed substantially. This column explores the causes and implications of this trend. Productivity growth appears to have continued to push workers’ wages up, with other factors to blame for the divergence. The evidence casts doubt on the idea that rapid technological progress is the primary driver here, suggesting rather that institutional and structural factors are to blame.

Daron Acemoğlu, Gino Gancia, Fabrizio Zilibotti, 30 September 2014

Offshoring of production can have a deep impact on the wages and welfare of workers with different abilities through its effect on technological progress. This column argues that, when labour is sufficiently cheap abroad, firms have incentives to offshore low-skill tasks and invest in skill-biased technologies at home. Over time, however, offshoring raises foreign wages. This increases demand for all firms and makes innovations complementing low-skill workers more profitable. As a result, offshoring can eventually lead to higher wages for everybody and less inequality.

Joel Mokyr, 08 September 2013

Has technological progress slowed down? Have we really picked all the low-hanging fruit? This column argues that technological progress is in fact not a thing of the past. Far from it. There are myriad reasons why the future should bring more technological progress than ever before – perhaps the most important being that technological innovation itself creates questions and problems that need to be fixed through further technological progress. If we rethink how innovation happens, we have every reason to suspect that we ain’t seen nothing yet.

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