Obama thinks about the future

The New Yorker has a fascinating article about Obama dealing with the fact that Trump won. It’s eminently quotable, but I particularly liked his brief discussion on the futility of trying to “bring back” lost industry through protectionism:

The prescription that some offer, which is stop trade, reduce global integration, I don’t think is going to work,” he went on. “If that’s not going to work, then we’re going to have to redesign the social compact in some fairly fundamental ways over the next twenty years. And I know how to build a bridge to that new social compact. It begins with all the things we’ve talked about in the past—early-childhood education, continuous learning, job training, a basic social safety net, expanding the earned-income tax credit, investments in infrastructure—which, by definition, aren’t shipped overseas. All of those things accelerate growth, give you more of a runway. But at some point, when the problem is not just Uber but driverless Uber, when radiologists are losing their jobs to A.I., then we’re going to have to figure out how do we maintain a cohesive society and a cohesive democracy in which productivity and wealth generation are not automatically linked to how many hours you put in, where the links between production and distribution are broken, in some sense. Because I can sit in my office, do a bunch of stuff, send it out over the Internet, and suddenly I just made a couple of million bucks, and the person who’s looking after my kid while I’m doing that has no leverage to get paid more than ten bucks an hour.

I recently read The Wealth of Humans, in which Economist writer Ryan Avent presents an engaging argument about how things have and are likely to change with increasing automation. I think people are generally pretty quick to believe that robots will eventually replace everything but have nonetheless been far less inclined to think about what that will actually mean. For the economy, for humans, for society as a whole.

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