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Dr Robert Atkinson
President, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
Dr Robert Atkinson

Technology does not eliminate jobs, it creates them

Posted By Robert Atkinson, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation

09 September 2013

Will the UK economy ever start creating jobs? Given that the number of unemployed UK workers is higher than in 2009, many are debating why, and with the proliferation of new innovations and technical improvements, numerous pundits and scholars are putting the blame squarely on technology. These experts argue companies are able to do more with less and no longer need as many workers.

Wrong. If technology were to blame, then UK productivity (e.g., output for hour of work) should be increasing at faster rates. In fact, UK output per worker is actually below 2008 levels. Hardly evidence of the machines taking over.

On the one hand it does seem logical to blame technology. After all, automation allows companies to produce more with less work. But higher productivity also makes products or services cheaper and consumers then are able to use those savings to buy other goods and services, helping create jobs there. This is why tens of millions of farmers are not unemployed after tractors and fertilizers dramatically boosted farm productivity. Food got cheap and people used the savings to buy cars and go on nicer holidays.

In fact, virtually all the scholarly economic research on the question of jobs and productivity finds that higher productivity does not lead to fewer jobs. As the OECD stated, “…technological progress has been accompanied not only by higher output and productivity, but also by higher overall employment.”

The reality is that the UK economy suffers from too little, not too much, technology and automation, which has made UK industry less competitive in global markets, leading to job loss, less spending and investment, and a vicious cycle of stagnation. So, bring on the robots!

Robert Atkinson is President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and the author of Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Innovation Advantage.

Comments in Chronological Order (Total 1 Comments)

Peter Sturdy

31 Oct 2013 1:41PM

As a journalistic piece your article tries to reduce the idea to "technology good for employment rather than technology bad for employment". I don't entirely disagree - the agricultural revolution and early industrial revolutions are great arguments for growth spurred by technology. The problem with some modern technology is that by automating a skilled (intellectual) process, technology can de-skill employment in the mid-range jobs leading to a polarisation of employment around low value added processing jobs and high value added specialst jobs. That rings true to me. There could also be an upskill effect where technology applied to customer service jobs may enhance productivity in terms of UK's traditional poor client service experience. Interesting...

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