What if robots take our jobs?

Robots are becoming more sophisticated and common, and consequently they will inevitably displace a large number of workers (they have already done so). But historically, while technological progress generally resulted in painful transitory periods, in the long run it was always for the better. The question is whether this will remain the case.

Recently, even middle class jobs were replaced by machines because of the IT revolution. This might exacerbate inequality as the upper classes and those who can adapt to the new technologies will be able to reap the benefits of higher productivity (thanks to machines), but others will lose their jobs or will be forced to lower paying positions. Until now, for the most part new jobs have been created for the displaced workers in various industries. But what if this ceases to continue? What if labor gets replaced by robots and no new labor-intensive jobs arise?

Continue reading

Science, the religious right and inequality

Science, politics and religion have often been intertwined over the course of history. Think of the Muslim Golden Age and the subsequent lack of tolerance for science in the Muslim world, or the Roman Inquisition and its effects on people like Galilei. For a more recent example, one can look at the US where the religious right likes to stall advances in science (e.g. creationism, stem cell research, climate change denial).

Why is science sometimes the enemy of, other times tolerated by the church? Why do the US and European political landscapes differ so much, with the former much less enthusiastic about redistribution and much more willing to let religion influence politics? And how does income inequality affect the dynamics between science, religion and politics? Read on to find out.

Continue reading

Can inequality affect growth?

Both theoretical and empirical research have found conflicting evidence as to what the relationship between economic growth and inequality is. There is some evidence for monotonic, linear positive or negative relationships. And then there is the much more plausible-sounding nonlinear, hump-shaped relationship.

My understanding is that more recent (empirical) evidence supports the nonlinear view. But there are still open questions such as what kind of shape the relationship takes exactly, or where exactly the turning point is.

Continue reading

The emergence of agriculture

For most of history, humans have actually been hunter-gatherers. Specifically, if we assume that “modern” humans started with the cognitive revolution about 70,000 years ago, then we’ve roughly spent 85% of our time on Earth as foragers.

It is now a largely accepted fact among historians that hunter-gatherers actually had better, healthier diets, they worked less and their lives in general were much more enjoyable. At least when you compare them to early agriculturalists. Then what made us change our minds about hunting and gathering? And why did it not happen at the same time everywhere?

Continue reading