Hrdy: A Response to ‘Innovation Kills Jobs’

Last week I posted a discussion of Prof. Hrdy’s intriguing new article on Technological Un/employment.  Prof. Hrdy has now provided a short response that basically explains how I took a portion of her article (automation killing jobs) while ignoring other aspects of the 79-page article (e.g., many positive benefits of innovation, including job creation).  – DC

by Prof. Camilla Hrdy

I am so honored that you found my article worth a post on Patently-O.  In the nature of academic discussion and in good fun, I would like to briefly respond. (And please do feel free to post this).

First, I really appreciate the provocative title, “Prof. Hrdy: When Inventions Kill Jobs“, but want to add a bit more color. My thesis, as reflected by the title of my paper, Technological Un/employment, is that innovation, and thus intellectual property, both create and eliminate jobs. Historically, we have had more of the former than the latter.

Second, I think some readers may have come away with the idea that I am a bit of a Luddite, when I am the opposite. Innovation is good. No: innovation is great! It is the secret to economic prosperity and where the good jobs will come from in the future. I also believe IP is, on aggregate, good for innovation. As you astutely noted, my belief in the need for some form of regulation is motivated, at present, largely by distributional concerns, not by a fear of innovation itself. Even if technology won’t be doing all work by the year 2048, the number of humans needed to build, maintain, and operate that technology is dwindling, and access to jobs is increasingly restricted to highly educated people with unique opportunities — which most people do not enjoy. (Please see Part II of the Article). Those opportunities are also unequally distributed geographically, an issue I have raised in much of my work, particularly in my papers Cluster Competition and Patent Nationally, Innovate Locally. If current trends continue, the job market will more and more resemble a pyramid consisting of a select few at the top with high quality jobs —  and a lot of IP —  and the rest of humanity unemployed or consigned to “gap filling” for the machines. I also think that when inventions make others’ skills completely obsolete, this resembles a negative externality not unlike pollution. (Please see Part IV). There is at least a case to be made that those who profit should have to internalize some of the harms their inventions impose on others.

Third, while I do support some form of regulation to help avoid these outcomes, I do not support denying patents on labor displacing inventions. While it (might have) made sense in Queen Elizabeth’s time, I reject a “labor displacing patent bar” in favor of more effective tools. Likewise, I oppose fully banning labor displacing inventions like self-driving cars. Instead, I suggest a small —  key word small —  tax on profits from certain innovations that are found, upon adoption, to displace a significant number of workers.

This “labor displacing IP tax” would have a two-fold effect. First, it would permit giving back to workers at least some of what they lose, either in the form of skills training or — hopefully we won’t come to this — a universal basic income in the scenario where skills training doesn’t help because machines are capable of performing most tasks in the economy. Second, a small tax on underlying IP would at most marginally slow down the pace at which companies take advantage of improvements in machine learning and develop ever-more sophisticated forms of automation. The leading alternative proposal is a “robot tax” levied on businesses that adopt labor displacing inventions. To me, it makes far less sense to tax the mom-and-pop restaurant that adopts software to keep costs low than it does to tax whichever mega company owns the intellectual property covering the software.

The reason I turn to regulation is not to halt innovation. It is so that we can innovate with abandon. Also, I have a video to respond to your creative use of the Mr. Rogers’ segment, courtesy of Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Bloodhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5d9BrLN5K4  

In any event, thanks again for your thoughtful post. It is great to have this opportunity to engage in discussion on Patently-O.

= = = =

Prof Hrdy: When Inventions Kill Jobs

 

57 thoughts on “Hrdy: A Response to ‘Innovation Kills Jobs’

  1. 10

    Was out the other day but glad to see her come on and set the record a bit straight. It is def correct that D’s article was misleading as I’d noted in the other article’s thread.

    That said, I’m not sure I can believe her when she says: “Even if technology won’t be doing all work by the year 2048, the number of humans needed to build, maintain, and operate that technology is dwindling, and access to jobs is increasingly restricted to highly educated people with unique opportunities — which most people do not enjoy”

    link to money.cnn.com

    I just don’t know. Got record jobs postings, Monster seems to have quite a few spread out. Though she is right about the geography being a problem.

    “There is at least a case to be made that those who profit should have to internalize some of the harms their inventions impose on others.”

    I’m not sure that is possible in this capitalist patriarchy.

    “The reason I turn to regulation is not to halt innovation. It is so that we can innovate with abandon. ”

    A very capitalist patriarchal goal. But I’m not sure that there are significant enough ways for the plebs (those hurt by these innovations being adopted) to stand in the way of that innovating with abandon. It’s a power equation, and currently the one side has most of it.

    Still, would let her take me to dinner to discuss these findings.

    1. 10.1

      I tend to think that the 15 minutes for Prof. Hrdy have been expended, 6.

  2. 9

    Innovation is the enemy of existing inefficiencies. Every new tool that saved a person any measure of effort (magnitude and/or time) eliminated the equivalent waste that previously was being expended.

    Elimination of the inefficiency frees up a person to produce more value with the remainder. Alternatively it frees up a person to engage in leisure or entertainment.

    The extra person-hours freed up are either spent producing more value, or represent an opportunity to demand more of the leisure and entertainment market, in reality the saved inefficiencies make possible new opportunities both for production and consumption.

    Principled, intelligent, self-responsible people, pursue the most valuable use of their time, and when the inefficiencies of their previous activities are rectified, that person moves on to do more efficient work of higher value in the market.

    Innovation and improvement are natural processes of life and the choices of free people to live and pursue their values. Life is not static but an ongoing process of adaptation and adjustment. Such a realm has no room for a person who would rather be a tree or a rock.

    It merely requires a choice of industriousness over sloth, self-responsibility over apathy, self-investment over self-destruction. We cannot force a person to love life, to choose self-improvement over cigarettes, exercise and productiveness over mindlessness, basic food and grooming over alcohol, or even so obvious and basic a decision as living within one’s means and thinking long range, but we CAN provide a just society, that is a society that which encourages and allows innovation which makes all the opportunities possible.

    1. 9.1

      Let’s say your entire career (20+ years or pick some other long time) has been in the coal or steel industry (or pick another dying industry), and you lose your job. What do you do? Is there anyone to retrain you? If you could be retrained, what would be retrained to do?

      Maybe you’re a truck driver, and they replace your job and all your friend’s jobs with trucks that drive themselves. What do you do? What “retraining” will help?

      You’re a patent attorney who at one time was an engineer. You get replaced by a AI program that does your job better then you did. What do you do? Would you go back to engineering, when you’ve been out 20+ years? You’re up against younger people with newer knowledge. (Or maybe most of those jobs have been replaced, too.)

      Your post seems to presuppose that people who lose jobs to technology can’t get new jobs because they’re lazy. While there may be some people like that, I think the situation is more complex than your post supposes.

      1. 9.1.1

        At the same time it is more complex, it is also simpler.

        If one applies a “Five-Whys” approach and attempts to get to a root problem (to do something other than a band-aid approach), one gets to the point of realization that it is the size of human population itself that is a primary cause of trouble.

        Most natural ecosystems include self-correcting mechanisms.

        Humans have devastated the natural order with our level of population, to which any “response” will itself create problems in the wrinkles.

        In other words, unless people volunteer to “step off” or limit their offsrping (which may be a much too slow response), we will necessarily have sub-optimal results.

        I would err on NOT teaching/training/enforcing people to shy away from innovation.

        That path leads to nowhere.

        If you read more carefully into Anon2’s post, you will NOT see the “people are lazy” view that you seem to want to read with first glance. Yes, he does show some disgust with such lazy people. But he does not view all dislocated people as belonging to that class of people.

        Your post does raise an important point: dislocation will incur real costs to people who may be unable to compensate, and even more drastic – may have nothing available to compensate towards.

        This more than anything else reflects the root cause of “too many people.”

        We just might have to aim our innovation energies at providing a meaningful path for the dislocated (with a spectrum of options).

        But this does NOT mean that we attempt to dissuade innovation (and that includes the not-so-subtle dissuade through “small” tax approach.

        1. 9.1.1.1

          Anon said: “We just might have to aim our innovation energies at providing a meaningful path for the dislocated (with a spectrum of options).”

          Are you implying this problem which real people may have from time to time, re. displacement, training, adaptation, and re-employment, is real and people would deem services or tools addressed to helping them deal with this problem valuable, and hence there is a market opportunity here?

          “We” and “aiming” of “energies” might be construed as implying government action can or should be taken…

          1. 9.1.1.1.1

            Oh, not just government action – rest assured Anon2!

            I have a feeling that we are very much in sync on this issue.

        2. 9.1.1.2

          Yes, he does show some disgust with such lazy people.

          Because nothing says “hard work” like scrivening some “do it on a computer” cr @p, getting it rubber stamped by the PTO, and using the cr @p patent to extort banks and hospitals while you screech away on patent blogs about Kenyan communists coming to take all your property away.

          LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

          Please keep the laughs coming, guys. Best. Friday. Ever.

          1. 9.1.1.2.1

            Your one-bucketing is showing again.

      2. 9.1.2

        PatentBob: “Your post seems to presuppose that people who lose jobs to technology can’t get new jobs because they’re lazy. ”

        I nowhere state or imply that people “can’t get new jobs”, in fact I indicate the exact opposite. Only you are actually implying they “can’t get new jobs”.

        As for “laziness”, you are the one characterizing it as a kind of intrinsic trait which they are helpless be overcome, whereas I clearly indicate that laziness is a choice. Your insult to those afflicted with the vice far outpaces my mere identification that it is a person choice for which they are responsible. Your insulting post presupposes adults are enfeebled, childlike, and unprincipled, which ironically goes over the head of any such person, and serves only to insult only rational and principled adults… and yes your post is insulting. Insulting to humanity because it assumes the worst.

        Your questions are valid questions for the persons of whom you ask them who might find themselves in such situations. The answers you might receive from those persons, however, will depend on a great many things including the kinds of choices they have made and continually make (which I have mentioned previously) which at once both constitute and result from the essential content of their character.

        Speaking of which, when you ask YOURSELF these same questions, reflect upon the personal answers you would give. Do they indicate a character of industriousness, self-responsibility, self-investment, productiveness, long range planning and mindfulness essentially a spirit of freedom, opportunity, and independence (once? still? the hallmark of Americans)? Or are your answers indicative of the content of a different type of character, which due to the litany of vices associated therewith, I will dispense from the grim spectacle of listing off again.

        Americans CAN BE, and in many instances, ARE better, YES, literally BETTER than what you underestimate them to be. As for those who are as hapless as you assume, to the extent any person is self-destructive, lazy, apathetic, irresponsible, other virtuous people, who share none of their vices are not responsible to remedy their misdeeds and failings.

        To hold that somehow one man’s vices and his failures stand as a valid demand for payment by his actual betters in character and action, because he has made the errors and they have not, because he has those failings and they do not, is the very definition of the absurd, the unjust, and the immoral.

        1. 9.1.2.1

        2. 9.1.2.2

          a different type of character, which due to the litany of vices associated therewith, I will dispense from the grim spectacle of listing off again

          Beyond parody.

          Glibertarians never cease to amuse. So serious!

          LOLOLOLOL

          1. 9.1.2.2.1

            What you find amusing is most inane, Malcolm.

            1. 9.1.2.2.1.1

              What I find amusing is glibertarian imbeciles waving around the verbal equivalent of a dessicated 18th century peepee bone and believing that you look cool.

              Quite, in fact. <—LOL

              1. 9.1.2.2.1.1.1

                Whatever point that you think that you are making…

                You are not.

        3. 9.1.2.3

          Who is John Galt?

          Lulz.

    2. 9.2

      Principled, intelligent, self-responsible people, pursue the most valuable use of their time

      The idealism is strong in this one.

      1. 9.2.1

        I would prefer his brand of idealism to whatever “brand” you would call your own belief system, Malcolm.

      2. 9.2.2

        Or he’s guzzled the Ayn Rand kool aid in mass quantities.

        1. 9.2.2.1

          What do you have against Ayn Rand?

          At least Ayn’s writings have not instilled the massive casualties of say one Marx.

          1. 9.2.2.1.1

            What do you have against Ayn Rand?

            ROTFLMAO

            You gotta love the complete lack of awareness of the outside world among the glibertarians. Any Rand is a very serious person person, after all. Everybody knows this…. derp derp.

          2. 9.2.2.1.2

            At least Ayn’s writings have not instilled the massive casualties of say one Marx.

            DERP DERP TAKE THAT LIBT@RDS DERP DERP

            What’s hilarious is that this is pretty much all that “anon” and “Anon2” have ever brought to the table. Very serious people!

            Makes me long for the days when “every patent creates a job” was the at the top of their script.

            1. 9.2.2.1.2.1

              Again, what point is it that you think that you are making?

      3. 9.2.3

        Quite the contrary, observe:

        “Every American respects and upholds individual rights”
        WOULD be an example of “idealism”.

        However, my statement “Principled, intelligent, self-responsible people, pursue the most valuable use of their time”

        is hardly more than self-evidently definitional (albeit not quite a tautology), and hence could be rightly criticized for being empty of substance or blatantly obvious, sort of like:

        “Every principled, intelligent, self-responsible American respects and upholds individual rights” is not “idealistic”, but IS blatantly obvious.

        1. 9.2.3.1

          Clearly, the view does not fit Malcolm’s script.

  3. 8

    Kurt Vonnegut published Player Piano in 1952.

    I remember the following dialog.

    “All right,” he said at last, “I think maybe we’re all right now. Let’s try to make it to the police station. We can get protection there until this thing plays itself out.”

    The [limo] driver leaned on the steering wheel and stretched insolently. “You think you’ve been watching a football game or something? You think maybe everything’s going to be just the way it was before?”

    “I don’t know what’s going on, and neither do you. Now, drive to the police station, do you understand?” said Halyard.

    “You think you can order me around, just because you’ve got a Ph.D. and I’ve got nothing but a B.S.?”

    “Do as he says,” hissed Khashdrahr, placing the point of his knife in the back of the driver’s neck again.

    The limousine moved down the littered, now-deserted streets toward the headquarters of Ilium’s keepers of the peace.

    1. 8.1

      Great comment.

      1. 8.1.1

        I have digressed and should probably elaborate.

        To bring the point back to the current discussion, we need some awareness that current artificial intelligence is hyped just as Vonnegut hyped the automation crisis and just as Malthus hyped the population crisis. I call artificial intelligence Poorly Simulated Intelligence (PSI for pseudes, i.e., phony). Current artificial intelligence simply isn’t going to cause massive unemployment even if the some small number of types of jobs go extinct like buggy-whip making.

        [There are, in fact, probably some buggy-whip makers in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.]

        I explained the relevance of my comment above elsewhere.

  4. 7

    We should put a small tax on all new vaccines and distribute the proceeds to doctors trained in treating infectious diseases since they will have less work to do. Maybe they can use the money to be retrained to work in other professions.

  5. 6

    This is what happens when you gut the social safety net and education for 30 years.
    Everyone has to fend for themselves and innovation becomes something to worry about.

    If we had more education and social welfare programs, more people would have the skills needed to compete and those who couldn’t wouldn’t need to worry about starving to death.

    But these solutions may require (gasp!) higher taxes and more government involvement in economics (other than the corporate welfare nobody seems to wholeheartedly oppose)

    1. 6.1

      Higher taxes and more government involvement – what could go wrong with that?

      1. 6.1.1

        Yeah, I’d imagine you’re with me that I would GLADLY pay more taxes, if I knew they weren’t going to be immediately squandered on some pet project/pork/waste.

        I’ve actually been impressed with the city I just moved to – I watched a road-building company get fired for doing a terrible job. Not that it fixed the road they were working on, but they lost the contract halfway through, and the rest of the project was done much better for the same overall cost. If only the federal government could figure out how to be responsive to its constituents (you know, the people that give the government its very existence).

        1. 6.1.1.1

          The Federal government is very responsive to its “constituents.” Meaning corporations and lobbyists.

          The problem is not government, it is corruption. Why is it so hard to wake up to the fact that, no government is not inherently corrupt, it is just that WE have a corrupt government.

          1. 6.1.1.1.1

            Q, I fundamentally agree. Government is necessary to protect rights; but once we have government, those in power can use that power to feather their own nests by favoring the interests of the few, and the powerful, over the interests of the public.

            Our founding fathers understood this well and tried to disperse power, and to balance it.

            Which is why Oil States is so necessary to patent law. Removing the courts from patent validity concentrates too much power in the PTO. Even it that institution were not corrupt at the beginning, having so much power inevitably will lead to corruption.

  6. 5

    If innovation killed jobs would it be such a bad thing?

    Work honestly sucks for most people and many of them wouldn’t do it if they didn’t require it to you know…not starve to death.

    The problem is our myopic view that the innovators are entitled to benefit disproportionately from their innovations, and that society at large has no inherent entitlement to the fruits. This hurts the innovators themselves the most ironically because if we just gave money to the poor there would be demand for their products.

    Now we just have companies fighting over a shrinking pie of investment capital and soon we will likely have another tech bubble.

    It’s about time that we learn…

    1. 5.1

      our myopic view that the innovators are entitled to benefit disproportionately from their innovations,

      LOL – tell me more about your anti-patent feelings.

      Disproportionately, you say? By whose measure? Yours? You will pardon me for placings your feelings into its appropriate (and proportionate) litter container.

      1. 5.1.1

        Those are not anti-patent views.

        The idea that the promotion of the useful arts should serve the general welfare and not line the pockets of corporations is not anti patent. It is from the constitution.

        The revisionist view that corporations need an incentive to innovate and therefore deserve to extort profits from broad IP was never mainstream until 30 years ago before the neoliberals came a long and said that corporations wouldn’t do anything without the incentive to maximize profit.

        Where I work, in the real world, as a patent attorney, clients innovate because that is what people do—innovate. All that the “incentives” have done is clog up the market and make it difficult for strong patents to be enforced and more expensive and time consuming to obtain

        1. 5.1.1.1

          By attempting to impugn a specific owner of the property that is a patent you ARE being anti-patent.

          1. 5.1.1.1.1

            How is being against the way corporations manipulate the system anti patent? I don’t get your argument at all

            1. 5.1.1.1.1.1

              You attack the property through the ad hominem style of who owns the property.

              1. 5.1.1.1.1.1.1

                But who owns property matters.

                Especially when the property is obtained through unequal bargaining power between employers and inventors.

                And also when corporations recieve benefits from the state that individuals are not entitled to.

                Try again

                1. And also when corporations recieve benefits from the state that individuals are not entitled to.

                  I have been an outspoken opponent of the outsized influence/power of the juristic person of the corporation. Do you have a particular aspect of patent law that you see that backs up your position here? (We may have an area of agreement).

              2. 5.1.1.1.1.1.2

                But who owns property matters.

                Only if you are being anti-patent.

                One of the KEY aspects of how our sovereign approached patenting (for the common man) was the approach of the property being fully alienable – that is DOES NOT MATTER who the owner is.

                Thus, your path is anti-patent.

                (Your “unequal bargaining power” is a fallacy. If indeed you have coercion in an employment agreement, such would be void under other laws)

  7. 4

    “I suggest a small — key word small — tax on profits from certain innovations…” No, the key word is tax. Tax as in additional, unpredictable, ultimately unlimited compulsory seizure of someone’s hard-earned property. And what is taxed is discouraged: innovation in this case.

    Every tax gets its nose in the door with the assurance that it will be small. Income tax was sold to America with the promise that it would be minuscule, barely noticeable. Ditto for property taxes. What is small to a bureaucrat looking for power and money may be the difference between profitability and bankruptcy for an innovator. Right now governments can tax almost everything. I suggest we draw the line at “almost everything” and not add entirely new categories for taking away the fruits of an innovator’s labor, creativity, and investment.

  8. 3

    “Distributional concerns”

    “Distribute” from those according to capability

    “Distribute” to those according to need

    “Sure” you believe in innovation – as long as you can bend it to your philosophy.

    1. 3.1

      Anon

      No need to bend anything to philosophy. Many do and have believed “innovation” can be made to serve the “will of the people”… literally. All you need are enough guns.

      The solution was found some 30-40 years ago. Point some guns at those who would dare innovate without concern for “distribution”, quite simply an edict banning all non-state endorsed innovation would suffice. Point a few other guns at a few SOBs (who might rather be doctors, artists, or gardeners or mechanics for that matter) who are unfortunate enough to be so brilliant that the value of the “innovation resources” they represent to the State raises to a level that “requires” the use of their brains for the “public good”, and tell her:

      “Innovate for the public… and by the way we’ve already taken care of all the distributional concerns… in spades”

    2. 3.2

      It all sounds so wonderful, until you realize who is implementing the system. Hint, it’s not you.

      1. 3.2.1

        So your alternative is….

        What exactly?

  9. 2

    The internet generally is collapsing printed news, hard-good stores, libraries, search firms that used to do manual searches, etc., etc., etc. But the benefits it brings are obvious to us all.

    The very idea that government would get in the way of progress in some fashion is appalling.

  10. 1

    “To me, it makes far less sense to tax the mom-and-pop restaurant that adopts software to keep costs low than it does to tax whichever mega company owns the intellectual property covering the software.”

    The problem is the mega company will just pass the cost of the taxes off to the mom-and-pop restaurant (which will then pass them off to the end consumer). If we’re going to propose more regulation and taxation, we should at least own up to their costs and acknowledge the end consumer is the only one who ends up paying these costs. So we need regulations to protect displaced workers, who by definition are also end consumers, who will be paying the costs of these regulations.

    1. 1.1

      Companies don’t pay taxes.

      They collect them from their customers.

      1. 1.1.1

        Keep spreading the word. Way too many people don’t seem to understand this. No company is going to sit there and sell/produce for a loss. At least not for long.

      2. 1.1.2

        Companies don’t pay taxes. They collect them from their customers.

        People don’t pay taxes. They collect them from their employers.

        There, fixed it for you. Wait what? It’s still nonsense? Oh.

        1. 1.1.2.1

          ?

          What point are you trying to make?

          1. 1.1.2.1.1

            The point is that taxes are generally borne by the entire economy while specifically borne in individualized circumstances. Business taxes sometimes are, and sometimes are not, directly passed to consumers in the form of higher prices.

            1. 1.1.2.1.1.1

              Your comment rings odd (as usual).

              No one is saying that there is not a “generally borne,” and there is no such thing as “entire economy” specifically bearing anything.

              You want to add a lack of tax understanding to your willingness to speak about things that you don’t understand?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 Notify me of followup comments via e-mail.

You can click here to Subscribe without commenting

Add a picture