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Trento Economics Festival

Trento, May 31st - June 3rd - "Technology and Jobs"

"Technology and Jobs". This is the theme around which economists, scientists and experts will discuss during the 13th edition of the Trento Festival of Economics, scheduled from 31 May to 3 June 2018.
After having dealt with the issue of access to health, in the 2017 edition, the Festival will try to investigate one of the most difficult issues of the current era, namely the relationship between employment and new technologies. It will do so through the consolidated format of conferences, meetings with the protagonists, debates and events of international scope.

Theme 2018

"Technology is synonymous with anxiety. Every time there is an acceleration in technological progress, there is a revival of theories according to which machines will replace man, leading to the end of human work. The end of work has been proclaimed hundreds of times, and yet economies all over the world continue to generate millions of jobs, and the employment rate(the percentage of persons of working age who are employed) increased everywhere during the 20th century. Although unemployment increases in periods of crisis and is too high today in some countries, including our own, there is no trace of a long-term increase in unemployment.

Technological pessimism dominates above all in times of crisis. It may be of two kinds: people fear that there will be too much innovation, leading to the destruction of jobs, or that there is too little innovation, with a low level of growth and a drop in productivity, as in the theories of secular stagnation that took off during the Great Recession.

Automation means the destruction of jobs, with machinery replacing the work carried out by man, but automation generally brings with it an increase in productivity and wages for jobs that machines are unable to replace. In its turn, this creation of value for certain jobs leads to the creation of jobs. Although the frontier of automation moves rapidly and artificial intelligencetechnology is developing quickly, we are still a long way from replacing human work with robotsfor tasks requiring flexibility and discretion, or which in more general terms do not lend themselves to codification.

Not only does technological progress have an effect on the labour market, the labour market itself influences technological trajectories. Technological development can be oriented in different directions, depending on the institutions of the labour market, demographics and the human capital of a country.

Technological progress is never uniform. It can take very different forms and change its trajectories over the course of time. Some technological innovations make machinery complementary to human work, while others tend to replace work with capital. Furthermore, the effects of technological progress can change over time, even within the same sector. While in the 19th century new technology made the work of many craftsmen obsolete, following the development of factories giving jobs to relatively unqualified people, at the beginning of the last century new technology in the manufacturing sector often complemented the development of qualified employment. More recently, in many countries we have seen a polarisation of employment, with the creation of jobs at the two extremes in terms of qualification: there has been an increase above all in relatively unqualified and highly qualified roles, whereas there has been a reduction in jobs requiring a medium level of skills

Technological progress brings with it new distribution problems that our social protection systems would not appear to able to manage. They were introduced with the scope of containing the costs of cyclical fluctuation, but today they would not seem to be capable of dealing with long-term structural problems, such as those linked to the future of those who have suddenly seen their human capital depreciate radically.

The impact of technological progress on the distribution of income will depend largely on how the ownership of new technology is distributed among the population. Robots can allow humans more leisure time and enrich those who have them, whereas they risk impoverishing those who can no longer find work because machinery has made their skills obsolete."

Tito Boeri
Scientific Director Trento Festival of Economics

 

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