Employees less upset at being replaced by robots than by other people

Generally speaking, most people find the idea of workers being replaced by robots or software worse than if the jobs are taken over by other workers. But when their own jobs are at stake, people would rather prefer to be replaced by robots than by another employee, according to a new study.

Here is the link, via the excellent Kevin Lewis, who will not soon be replaced by a robot.


Our current nationalism populism in a nutshell. Newly minted coastal billionaires automate a large fraction of the economy and the laid-off blame immigrants and offshoring.

In a nutshell, our current nationalist populism is looking to soak the rich, even though, as TC has pointed out, such measures only raise trivial amounts of income. You do realize (nearly) each and every Democratic Party candidate has a 'soak the trust baby' tax? Outrageous if you ask me. Consider:

Biden- eliminate the step-up basis for inherited cap gains; increase cap gains taxes for those making over $1M.
Sanders- establish estate tax rates of 50% for estates valued at over $10M (45% for you lesser mortals reading this inheriting between $3.5M-$10M).
Warren - tax at 2% all *worldwide* net worth over $50M (she now wants my overseas assets?! She'll never find them but I digress)
Buttigieg - impose a 'wealth tax' on rich Americans.
Harris - unspecified (like the opportunist she is, waiting)
O'Rourke - increase capital gains tax (I can live with that since he's not attacking my inheritance; I actually like this guy but seems he's out of the race).
Booker - return the estate tax to 2009 levels of a mere $3.5M (which is about 4 houses in any decent coastal city, hardly anything to brag about. Get to 100 paid-off houses and now you've got bragging rights IMO)

As you can see, it's tough being a rich trust fund baby in 21st century America. I wish the USA was a bit more like Brazil, where the poor know to keep their place. One person, one vote? Pffft. Founding Fathers were right about the dangers of that; bring back a non-elected Senate say I!

Ray, You claim that the tax increases are trivial.

You conveniently didn't mention how much Warren's two percent proposal would raise. Same with O'Rourke and Booker


@Bill - Warrents 2% solution would raise, according to academics Saez and Zucman, as TC has cited, at most 1% of US GDP, which is $200B. Given the deficits alone are over $1000B, that's not that much money, and at the cost of alienating people like me, who just might renounce their US citizenship and leave the USA (I'm a dual national). You wouldn't want me to pick up my ball and leave would you?

As you can see, it's tough being a rich trust fund baby in 21st century America.

Well, there's a simple solution to that. They should give away 99.9% (or 99.99%) of their money. Problem solved!

Not all jobs are the same. I think no construction worker misses the time when digging a trench was done with a shovel instead of a backhoe. If the backhoe is automated, backhoe drivers may feel at loss because we humans with feelings develop a bond with machines.

Machines liberated us from gruelling jobs and we developed a sense of pride in knowing how to control them. Some machines require knowledge learnt by apprenticeship. One day, technology is further developed and our knowledge of machines becomes useless. There's sense of loss on this process.

Now, an anecdote. The local newspaper in my hometown was printed in a Linotype. Today, the local news are mostly read in a blog/mobile app while a few paper prints are still done in a modern electronic printer. The father of a school buddy was the Linotype expert. He was among the men of highest status in town 30 years ago. There were half a dozen doctors, several engineers but only one knew how to use the newspaper machine. One day, the knowledge that nurtured his sense of self-worth, was not needed anymore.

In the end, I think the perception of robot/machine taking your job depends on the kind of job. Robots are welcome for back-breaking jobs, robots are despised by practioners of a trade that are proud of their knowledge.

This isn't surprising and the two positions aren't contradictory.

Indeed. When replaced by another person, there the one replaced may reasonably infer that she is less valuable than the replacement because of some personal defect. When replaced by a robot, the one replaced may reasonably infer that no human could be as valuable in the job as the robot.

It's somewhat analogous to discovering you didn't get a job you interviewed for not because someone else did, but because NO ONE did. You all sucked and they decided to shelve the whole thing for a while. That feels somewhat better.

Down here in the South folks blame unions for our troubles, even though we don't have unions and most folks don't know anybody who is a member of a union. Why? I suspect it's for the same reason that folks would rather be replaced by a robot: rather a robot than someone undeserving, such as a woman or black or brown person. Down here the folks are taught that unions don't help folks like them, unions help those other, undeserving people, getting them jobs and increasing their pay while folks like them pay the price. You see, unions are part of that giant conspiracy against folks like them. If it takes a robot to derail the conspiracy, so be it. One might call the preference for robots UAnon (the U for unions).

The union part about the south is true. But there are PLENTY of other regulations like licensing that aid doctors, lawyers, plumbers, electricians, pretty much every construction trade, hair dressers etc.

As for restaurants not employing union labor? I wouldn’t want to eat at an establishment that can’t fire the cooks....sorry.

Also establishing German levels of unionization will just make nominal prices rise.

At the end of the day, $18 an hour Walmart employees have to be paid for by someone.

'Also establishing German levels of unionization will just make nominal prices rise. '

Since you are such a fan of comparisons between Germany and the U.S., it is interesting to note that Walmart could not compete with the German retail sector. And though a couple of years old, and anecdotal, here is at least an interesting perspective - 'Our grocery bill.
Average monthly cost in the US: $591
Average monthly cost in Germany: $538' https://www.mymeenalife.com/cost-of-living-germany/ Even more interesting to note is this - 'Also, $50-60 of the total monthly cost in Germany ($538) is spent on bottled water, which we never purchased in the USA, so that brings the overall food price even lower.' Don't worry, they have plenty of complaints about Germany and shopping - just not price.

Even more interesting, they also detail this information too - 'Eating out.
These numbers include everything from our nice sit-down dinners to our snacks when we’re traveling.

Average monthly cost in the US: $210
Average monthly cost in Germany: $175'

Sounds like a socialist nightmare in unionized Germany, doesn't it? Almost as if your beloved income comparison misses how much of that income is required to be spent on food and eating out, and not just how many more hours Americans work.

"such as a woman or black or brown person"

That's the story that you tell yourself, but the reasons that unions were distrusted in the south, in no particular order:

1. Unions had the stink of communism.
2. Unions were associated with Yankees.
3. Unions actively lobbied politicians to prevent companies from bringing jobs to southern states.
4. Despite being as dumb about economics as any other American, southerners in need of work intuitively knew that their cheaper labor was their comparative advantage. Unionization would not help bring jobs down south.

Now, you may retreat back to your bubble.

What the folks in the South could have been told about unions is that they were discriminatory, long holdouts against integration and gender equality. But they weren't. Why not? Because then those fine folks would have voted in favor of a union. There are the East Coast Straussians and the West Cost Straussians, and then there are the Southern Straussians.

I guess that is the reason why every state in the Confederacy but Virginia still has well below average real per capita income.

Remember the south use to have cheap labor taking jobs in shoes and textiles. But now those jobs are going overseas and the northern states have moved on to higher more productive jobs that pay much higher wages. As I tell my cousins back in Tennessee that every time they vote republican they are voting to stay barefoot and pregnant.

Here is the data on real per capita income by state.


'even though we don't have unions and most folks don't know anybody who is a member of a union. Why?'

Well, the why is easy enough - thanks to the tireless efforts of such people as Prof. Cowen, his various associates, and those that support such efforts.

Killer point once again! I mean the US is the worst-median income of 65k a year with a heterogenous population of 325 million people.....stupid US trailing Switzerland, Norway and Luxembourg-do better!

Much better to be union heavy Germany or France where one can enjoy 70 percent of median US income levels.....

I’m just saying.....

It's actually 84% of the U.S. level for Germany where they work 25% fewer hours than Americans and 73% of the U.S. level for France where they work 15% fewer hours than Americans.

It was a long time ago, in the 90s, but we were building out new space and had to wait 6 extra weeks for lightbulbs because Germany was on summer vacation.

The company moved anyway. It was a little dark in places for awhile. A lot of us rolled our eyes, “It’s Germany, Jake.”

At the individual medium income level Germany is at 75 percent of US levels

Germany 34,297
US 45,284


So that’s better than 70 percent but not much of an improvement.

Also even if you brought German workers to American levels of hours worked there incomes wouldn’t change that much on the margin.

The average tax rate for middle class Germans hovers around 50 percent once you factor in all manners of taxation....

"At the individual medium income level Germany is at 75 percent of US levels
Germany 34,297
US 45,284"

This doesn't adjust for different price levels, which you need to do.

You can check nationmaster yourself, the price level and purchasing power differences between the two countries are negligible.

Also the US middle class on top of being much wealthier than their German counterparts before taxes are even wealthier after taxes. The average tax bill for the median German income earner hovers right around 50 percent. That is the kind of taxes that only the top US income earners in California or New York would face.

But I guess the German people get to work less so they’ve got that going for themselves....

You know, it is always fun to compare various countries. So, this struck my eye just this morning - 'And people don't know that when you go to a hospital, usually there is a financial assistance policy that actually will give the cost of that care for free if you make less than two times the poverty level, which actually is about 33% of this whole population.' https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2019/08/12/charity-forgives-medical-debt That's right, there are philanthropists in America doing this - 'Sites like GoFundMe have given new promise to people dealing with medical debt. Medical expenses make up a third of the financial aid crowdsourced by the site, according to a recent New Yorker article.

But crowdsourcing can be hit or miss. Two former collection industry executives think they have an alternative solution to help people carrying medical debt.

Craig Antico and Jerry Ashton, founders of RIP Medical Debt, decided to use their expertise to forgive medical debt instead of collecting it. So far, their company has abolished hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. They want to reach a billion by 2020.'

Who knows, maybe Germany and France will be able to follow that shining American example, because as it is right now, basically everybody in both countries has medical care regardless of income level, and no need of someone to buy medical debt in order to cancel it.

And really, maybe at some point you will figure out what Todd K consistently posts concerning your inadequately informed point. Though that may be less likely than the French or Germans deciding to adopt an American style health care system - which is at least potentially free for the third of Americans that make considerably less than the American median income.

I’m confused as to what Medicaid, Medicare and CHIP are for.

And what each individual state does.

So, should we tax robots low enough so that they do all work for us, or high enough so that we humans remain competitive with them for some jobs?

A robot and another person should be the same. Both are examples of increases in productivity. A major source of productivity increases is a better division of labor. Even in the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith attributed productivity primarily to specialization and division of labor.

Adam Smith was not correct on this! But then a man who died in 1790 could hardly foresee the then-nascent Industrial Revolution, so we can't be too hard on the old fellow.

Schumpeterian Growth > Smithian Growth for absolute sources of growth over the last two centuries.

And Smithian Growth, for every bit of growth, comes with higher complexity of labour supply, and higher complexity and more dependencies with fewer redundancies generally means less robust and more fragile. (Take China or the Roman Empire: Huge market with huge division of labour par excellence, both notorious for not being robust to downturns).

When the average worker respects Schumpterian Growth more than Smithian Growth, he's making the smart choice (whatever your stance on the fragile downsides of more complex Smithian division of labour).

it's the thought that if a human replaces another human, the one being replaced thinks "i could do what they do", but when a robot replaces a human, the human knows they can't do what the robot does. this psychology is the difference

In the context of offshoring vs automation, the automation option is superior, given the close knit system of manufacturers that emerges that is supperior in its ability to innovate and adapt to market and technological requiremnts.

It's win-win! I am sure robots are not at all upset at being replaced by people. And we don't even pay them the minimum wage.

I'm using my 3d printer this morning. I have to admit I don't use it too much anymore. It is impressive (to me) that I can just fire it up and print, no adjustments, after a year. I'm making adapters from shop-vac to dust-port on various tools.

So .. manufacturing robot in the house!

Humans care about social rank and status which is inherently relative to the standing of other people.

It is quite rational and human to care about being replaced by humans differently than being replaced by non-human automation.

Machines liberated us from gruelling jobs and we developed a sense of pride in knowing how to control them. Some machines require knowledge learnt by apprenticeship. One day, technology is further developed and our knowledge of machines becomes useless. There's sense of loss on this process of iCloud.com

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