Timothy DeStefano, Jonathan Timmis, 30 October 2021

Robots are rapidly becoming a key part of manufacturing in developed and developing economies.  This column examines a new channel for how automation can affect manufacturing exports – quality upgrading. The findings show that robot diffusion increases the quality of exports.  Global quality improvements are predominantly driven by the upgrading of developing country exports, while quality improvements within both developed and developing countries are driven by the catch-up of (initially) lower-quality exports. The authors also find that sophisticated or more basic robot applications are associated with quality gains in developed and developing economies, respectively.

Seth G. Benzell, Victor Yifan Ye, 12 October 2021

Despite clear economic benefits of new digital technologies, slow median wage growth has led many to worry that these new technologies are failing to deliver for the average worker. This column develops a new model of global automation and technological change to study the long-term consequences of these trends. It finds that automation can boost output and growth, but these benefits are not equally distributed across or within regions. Nevertheless, in developed countries smart fiscal policy, such as universal basic income, can make new technologies a win-win for all age and skill groups. 

Alessandra Bonfiglioli, 08 October 2021

Robots and offshoring are blamed for destroying manufacturing jobs in advanced economies. But could automation also be a way to make domestic manufacturing more competitive? If so, those outsourced jobs may return. Alessandra Bonfiglioli tells Tim Phillips why there may be reasons to welcome our new robot overlords.

Read more about the research discussed and download the free discussion paper:
Bonfiglioli, A, Crinò, R, Gancia, G and Papadakis, I. 2021. 'Robots, Offshoring and Welfare'. CEPR

Naomitsu Yashiro, Tomi Kyyrä, Hyunjeong Hwang, Juha Tuomala, 12 March 2021

Across OECD countries, promoting longer working lives is an important policy objective for mitigating fiscal pressures from population ageing. This column uses data from Finland to examine how technological change and access to early retirement pathways reinforce each other in pushing older workers out of employment. It finds that the probability of leaving employment is higher for individuals in occupations with higher automation risks and increases faster for individuals closer to the eligible age for early retirement pathways.Reforms that tighten access to such pathways substantially extend the working lives of older workers exposed to high automation risks, but have little effect on old workers exposed to low automation risks.

Daron Acemoğlu, David Autor, Jonathon Hazell, Pascual Restrepo, 03 March 2021

As artificial intelligence technologies improve rapidly, there is increasing interest in the effects on workers. This column uses data on skill requirements in US vacancies posted since 2010 to examine the impact of artificial intelligence on the US labour market. While the estimates suggest that AI has started to replace workers in certain tasks, it does not yet seem to be having effects on the aggregate labour market.

Daisuke Adachi, Daiji Kawaguchi, Yukiko Saito, 09 February 2021

Previous studies have reported that the adoption of robotic technologies in industry reduces both employment and wages. This column examines the experience of Japan, which is unique due to early industry penetration and the fact that almost all the robots were domestically produced. Applying a different method from those in previous studies, it shows that the penetration of industrial robots has positive impacts on both employment and wages. This implies the potential for harmonisation of human work with future labour-replacement technology, such as artificial intelligence.

Alex Chernoff, Casey Warman, 02 February 2021

COVID-19 may accelerate the automation of jobs, as employers invest in technology to safeguard against pandemics. This column uses survey data from the US to show that women with medium to low levels of wages and education are at the highest risk of COVID-induced automation.

Liuchun Deng, Verena Plümpe, Jens Stegmaier, 16 January 2021

Robots will shape the future of labour. This column uses a large-scale, plant-level survey to provide the first microscopic portrait of robotisation in Germany, the country with the highest robot density in Europe. The findings reveal substantial within-industry heterogeneity – robot use remains relatively rare and its distribution highly skewed. Factors that influence a plant’s decision to adopt robots include size, skill composition, labour costs, and exporter status. New adopters have contributed substantially to the recent growth in Germany’s robotisation.

Katherine Stapleton, Michael Webb, 12 December 2020

There has been much speculation that automation in high-income countries will lead to reshoring of production from lower-income countries or further reduce offshoring. Using rich data on Spanish manufacturing firms between 1990 and 2016, this column studies how automation in Spanish firms affected imports and multinational activity involving lower-income countries. It shows that, contrary to the typical assumption, the deployment of robots in Spanish manufacturing firms actually caused them to increase offshoring to lower-income countries. This effect was mainly caused by firms starting to newly offshore as a consequence of automation.

João Guerreiro, Sérgio Rebelo, Pedro Teles, 20 August 2020

How should public policy respond to the impact of automation on the demand for labour? This column uses a theoretical model of automation to study whether it is optimal to tax robots. It finds that it is optimal to tax robots in the short run but not in the long run in order to protect current routine workers who cannot acquire non-routine skills, while incentivising those in the future to acquire non-routine skills. 

Jens Südekum, Joel Stiebale, Nicole Woessner, 30 July 2020

The claim in a 2016 report from The Economist that a small group of ‘superstar firms’ were “once again dominating the global economy'' referred mostly to American internet giants, but recent research suggests that previous decades were more broadly characterised by a reallocation of market shares towards highly productive and profitable firms, with notable implications for competition, market power, and the income distribution. This column argues that a superstar firm pattern is also present in European manufacturing, and that it is considerably stronger in manufacturing branches in which industrial robots have been on the rise. Technological change seems to be a key driver for the emergence of superstar firms.

Cevat Giray Aksoy, Berkay Ozcan, Julia Philipp, 16 July 2020

At a moment when policymakers are putting increased efforts into tackling gender gaps in the labour market, it is worth asking whether robotization could worsen pay disparities between men and women. Using new evidence from 20 European countries, this column finds that men at medium- and high-skill occupations disproportionately benefit from robotisation, especially in countries where gender inequality was already severe. The authors recommend that governments pay attention to automation’s distributional issues, and increase their efforts to equip women and men equally with the skills most relevant for future employability. 

David Bloom, Klaus Prettner, 25 June 2020

Over the last decade there has been a tremendous progress in automation. Many tasks previously seen as un-automatable can now be performed without human labour, and the number of industrial robots in use has increased sharply. This column describes the recent trends in automation and argues that its principal effects are to increase output per capita at the expense of rising inequality. Advancing technologies have mainly replaced the routine tasks of low-skilled workers, while the incomes robots generate flow to wealthier capital owners. The current COVID-19 pandemic is likely to reinforce these trends, raising the need for a policy response.

Ester Faia, Sébastien Laffitte, Maximilian Mayer, Gianmarco Ottaviano, 17 June 2020

Understanding the effects of automation and offshoring on labour markets and growth has been a significant topic of interest. This column argues that automation and offshoring fundamentally affect the matching between firms and workers and do so in contrasting ways. It predicts that automation will increase firms’ and workers’ job selectivity and decrease employment, while offshoring will have the opposite effect. Empirical evidence as well as a quantitative model support this hypothesis and provide a mechanism of technological change typically missed in standard neoclassical reasoning.

Richard Baldwin, 29 May 2020

Has Covid accelerated the future of work? This column argues that Covid has changed the future of work via four shocks: massive job losses, massive digital transformations, massive debt burdens, and massive costs of socially distanced office space. These matter in two ways. First, due to sunk cost hysteresis, re-hiring workers is very different than retaining workers. Second, the digital transformations, office-space costs, and debt burdens will push firms to replace domestic workers with ‘telemigrants’ or ‘white-collar robots’. The jobs that return will be those that require face-to-face interactions and involve tasks that AI cannot handle. 

Adnan Seric, Deborah Winkler, 28 April 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of global value chains. In response to supply chain risks, global lead firms have relied on Industry 4.0 technologies as well as reshoring parts of production. This column explores the potential impacts of these developments on the breadth and depth of global value chains. Automation and reshoring allow for more flexible adjustment to changing demand and the mitigation of supply-side risks. Ultimately, the implications of automation on development will depend on both the types of foreign inputs sourced as well as the relationship between robots and labour.

Hal Varian, 30 March 2020

Several recent studies have considered the impact of automation on labour demand in the coming decades. But demand is only one side of the labour market – the supply of labour will also change dramatically in the next 50 years due to demographic effects. This column discusses how the net outcome for wages and employment will depend on the relative magnitude of these shifts in demand and supply. The supply-side effects due to demographic forces appear likely to be somewhat greater than the demand-side changes due to automation for at least the next decade, and possibly longer.

David Klenert, Enrique Fernández-Macías, José-Ignacio Antón, 24 February 2020

Opinion polls reveal that Europeans are greatly concerned about the economic consequences of advanced technologies, but our understanding of this relationship is still incomplete. This column assesses the impact of one such technology – industrial robots – on employment in Europe over the last two decades. Combining industry-level data on employment with data on robot adoption, it finds that robot use is linked to a small but significant increase in employment. Contrary to some previous studies, it does not find evidence of robots reducing the share of low-skill workers across Europe.

Henrique Basso, Juan F Jimeno, 29 November 2019

Advanced economies will face large demographic and radical technological change in the next decades. This column shows how demographics and endogenous technological changes, which encompass both innovation and automation, can interact to limit the future prospects for growth and alter the factor income distribution. Due to a trade-off between innovation and automation, lower fertility and population ageing are likely to generate more automation, but also lead to a reduction in GDP per capita growth and the labour income share.

Carl Benedikt Frey, Ebrahim Rahbari, 04 November 2019

Mechanisation during the Industrial Revolution accelerated economic growth and prosperity in the long term, but it was fiercely opposed by workers who did not share in its short-term gains. This column argues that similar forces are at play today. A new revolution in automation is eliciting resistance since it threatens to render jobs redundant. The column proposes policy interventions to raise productivity and prosperity in the short term, to reap the benefits of the new technologies in the long term.

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