Jeff Sachs: Here are the fiscal policies we need to implement so robots don’t take our jobs

Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University and author of “Building the New American Economy”, discusses the robot revolution and what America should do in response.

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The automation of robots and artificial intelligence is actually pretty well advanced in certain industries. If you — if you’ve had a chance to go to an auto plant. If there’s one nearby, go take a tour. Shake hands with the robots. You’ll see an assembly line that’s already robotics. The income now is shifting more and more to capital and away from workers. And that’s part of this general widening of inequality in the United States, and there’s more of that to come.

So, are robots a bad thing? No. Because robots enable us to be more productive, have a larger economy, and, if we use it right, to have more leisure time, to be able to do more good things, to have a safer, cleaner environment, say, with self-driving vehicles. But, we better share the benefits so they don’t all end up in the hands of a few very, very rich capital owners. That’s the basic point. Is yes, expand the productivity of the economy, use the technologies, but make sure that the income distribution doesn’t go wild.

One very, increasingly common idea, for example, is make sure that every young person is given certain amount of basically financial assets or capital. It’s like saying everyone can own at least one robot, so that as the robots get better and better in the future everyone’s sharing in the benefits of an expanding economy.

So I’m not afraid of the technology, per se, in fact, I love it. I think it’s absolutely amazing that we can have artificial intelligence systems, and smart robots, and voice recognition, and machine learning for translation, and so many other fantastic breakthroughs. But the market economy will not distribute the results of that fairly. And a lot of people will get hurt unless we say, “We’re all in this together. Let’s all share the benefits” through our fiscal systems and through being smart and decent in how we approach the robotics revolution.