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Public Attitudes towards Technological Unemployment

Monday December 16, 2019, at 13:30
Room 24.021 (Ground floor). Mercè Rodoreda 24 building
Research seminar

Aina Gallego (IBEI)

José Fernández-Albertos (Centro Superior de Investigaciones Científicas)
Aina Gallego (Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internationals)
Alexander Kuo (University of Oxford)
Dulce Manzano (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)

This seminar analyzes if workers are concerned about the possibility that new digital technologies can displace them from their jobs and which policies they demand to address technological unemployment. Using novel survey data from Spain, we first find that most citizens believe that the impact of the introduction of technologies in the workplace is positive in general and for their own jobs. Preoccupation varies substantially with vulnerability, as workers at higher risk of technological unemployment are also more likely to view the impact of technology as negative. Turning to policy demands, in both correlational and experimental analyses we find no evidence that workers at risk of displacement are more likely to support compensation, yet they are more likely to demand “ex-ante” policies that prevent change and preserve jobs. When we experimentally vary if cases of unemployment are caused by technology or trade, we find no evidence that technological unemployment increases demand for a basic-income like scheme compared to trade. A final experiment suggests that economic shocks with clear outgroup beneficiaries cause more anger and lead to more demand for the government to step in and prevent the change. Overall, two factors seem to work against the politicization of technological unemployment as a relevant issue: most workers see technological change in the workplace as a benign or beneficial force, and automation does not produce clear outgroup beneficiaries to mobilize against. However, the few workers who are personally affected may react to threat not by demanding compensation but with demands to prevent technological change.