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Automation and the Future of Work in the Pandemic Economy
Silicon Valley titans, politicians, techno-futurists, and social critics have united in arguing that we are on the cusp of an era of rapid technological automation, heralding the end of work as we know it. The statistical evidence to back up this claim is sorely lacking. Instead of fast rising levels of labor productivity, corresponding to a rapid replacement of labor with machines, we are living through a period of persistent economic slowdown, with a low demand for labor being one of its consequences. This paper revisits and revises macro-historical and macro-sociological accounts of the long-term trajectory of capitalist economies from Marx, Schumpeter, Keynes, Bell and Baumol. It presents evidence that economic stagnation is structural rather than contingent, and malignant rather than benign, with major implications for policy proposals and political projects that depend on restarting the engine of economic growth for their success.
Aaron Benanav is a researcher at Humboldt University of Berlin. His first book, Automation and the Future of Work is forthcoming with Verso in November 2020.