A former top federal economist warned in an opinion piece Wednesday government policies are often counterproductive to the jobs they’re meant to save.
Industries phase out employment opportunities naturally due to factors like robotics and automation. Lawmakers have proposed policies to preserve and improve jobs, but often, those ideas backfire. International Trade Commission Former Chief Economist Peter Morici said a better approach is to prepare people for the jobs not easily replaced.
“The robotics and artificial intelligence revolution is all around us,” Morici wrote in a piece for Fox News. “Tasks requiring complex manual dexterity have proven tougher to replace but automated checkouts are spreading, and robots are at the cusp of not just taking orders at McDonald’s but also grasping and handing you hamburgers, fries and soft drinks.”
Morici notes economic innovation has been a part of human development since man first discovered the wheel. Industries advance and find ways to complete tasks without humans. He said with the new wave of automation, policymakers should be weary of the unintended consequences of preserving easily automated jobs.
“The Obama administration promised thousands of new jobs from the 2012 Korean-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, but it boosted the trade deficit by $16 billion and unemployment by 130,000,” Morici continued. “The Affordable Care Act, mandatory overtime and higher minimum wages imposed by many states and cities raise the cost of employing Americans, compelling businesses to purchase labor saving devices more quickly or close.”
Democrats and unions have made raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour a popular political issue. The policy is designed to improve the working situation for low-wage employees, but it could increase the rate employers turn to automation. Morici said the solution is to completely readdress how we approach education, so people know more complex skills.
“Our high schools and colleges are better at preaching social justice than producing enough graduates who can do the complex cognitive work that machines still leave to human beings,” Morici explained. “Skilled technicians with a year or two training and graduate engineers and systems analysts remain too scarce.”
Other economists have also concluded automation is a natural course of action as the economy evolves. The White House Council of Economic Advisers said in a report Feb. 22 that technological innovations like automation are on the rise. The question is whether increases in the minimum wage and other policies will actually cause automation to occur at a faster rate.
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