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Ep. 7 - Does Automation Kill Jobs?

To kickoff the New Year, Pan-Optic returns to the subject of automation. In today’s episode, Jason and Juan Pablo uncover dominant political discourses surrounding the fall of U.S. manufacturing labor. Why did 22% of American manufacturing plants shutdown between 2000 and 2014? What happened to the victims of mass job displacement? In the context of the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primaries, there are at least two relevant discourses: the fall of American manufacturing labor was caused by (1) the offshoring of production to countries with cheap labor or (2) the rise of advanced automations. How might potential voters assess these discourses? They may consider: difficulties associated with interpreting labor statistics; competing definitions of automation; the uses and applications of labor reducing technologies in the U.S. and throughout the world. In preparation for this episode, Jason and Juan Pablo read Automation and the Future of Work by Aaron Benavav, social sciences professor at the University of Chicago. Benavav offers an alternative critical perspective on the fall of U.S. manufacturing labor: what if neither offshoring nor automation is the cause of mass job displacement, but rather, both offshoring and automation are symptomatic of an increasingly stagnant, global economy that seeks indefinite growth? Are candidates like Elizabeth Warren (proponent of the offshoring discourse) and Andrew Yang (proponent of the automation discourse) somehow missing the point?


We invite Pan-Optic listeners to revisit Episode 3, which describes philosopher Bernard Stiegler’s dystopian vision of a future defined by hyper-dependency on artificial intelligence. The contents of this episode are perhaps also dystopian, but in a different way. Listen to Jason and Juan Pablo debate the economics of automation, which may or may not threaten to transform the nature of labor forever. Along the way, we promise to strengthen your political toolkit to make informed voting decisions and influence your less politically savvy peers at cocktail parties.

This episode is part one of a three-part series focusing on labor demand. The views expressed on this podcast are our own.