Prof. Hrdy has an interesting new blog post to accompany her paper titled Technological Un/employment. Her work focuses on the intersection between jobs and intellectual property – looking both historically and toward the future of automation. “[T]he impact of technology on employment has historically been “skill-biased”—demand for high skills workers rises; demand for low skill workers falls.”
Although I disagree with some aspects of Prof. Hrdy’s work. I absolutely agree that the Strong IP => More Jobs statements have been largely propaganda. It may also be true that “inventions humans make today could end up meaning there are [very few] jobs left for their grandchildren.” The difficulty for automation is that – even in a world of plenty – that hyper-accumulation results in scarcity for the populace.
Hrdy proposes regulation to help avoid these outcomes. Her approach is actually not unique. As she explains:
The basic idea is to deprive the innovator of the benefit of an exclusive right. Believe it or not, Queen Elizabeth thought this was a good idea. She denied William Lee a patent on his spinning loom, which reduced the amount of human labor needed to spin cloth, because she feared the implications for employment of her subjects. In Queen Elizabeth’s time, no patent meant no permission. Today, the effect would be less dire – no patent just means no exclusivity; it doesn’t mean no permission to practice at all. Still, if we accept the Incentive Effect, this would still dampen incentives to automate.
Hrdy’s proposal here is not based upon an idea that efficiency is bad, but rather that it has potentially harmful distributive effects. My own take is that “jobs” in the form we see them today need not be a societal goal. I do have to admit though that I watched the new Mr. Rogers documentary last night at the True/False film festival where he explained that love should not be treated as a scarce resource.