But what can we do about the robots coming to take our jobs?

Tim Dunlop has worked himself up into a lather about the robots stealing all our jobs. That latest paper from Daron Acemoglu has got him seriously worked up. So worked up that he makes two mistakes.

The first is that we've been automating labour for 250 years now. We are not poorer today than we were then. It isn't therefore going to be true that automating labour will make us poorer.

Interestingly, we do in fact have fewer jobs these days - relative to population at least. Because 250 years ago except for that small landowning elite everyone worked or they starved. This is not true today. We have people who are retired, just as one example. And we do generally think that stay at home mums, retirees, students and so on are doing just fine without having a job. 

That is, we have indeed taken some of this extra wealth from automation in the form of fewer jobs. And we're happy to have done so too.

But then there's this mistake of what we should do about it all:

The report also challenges the neoliberal tenet that unregulated markets are a surefire way to full employment, and it can reasonably be taken to imply a large role for governments in managing the change that is coming. Additionally, it undermines the persistent claim that technology will create enough jobs in the future because this is what happened in the past.

The claim isn't that technology creates jobs at all. It's that technology frees up labour. Which then applies itself to sating some other human want or desire. It's not the technology creating jobs, it's those unmet human wants which do. And as long as we don't run out of them then there will be jobs - and if we do run out of unmet needs then that's not a problem.

Given which, we can only use the free market to work out which those new jobs are going to be. Government cannot plan when we don't know what new need could be met, nor how, nor what it would be valued at. Only market experimentation can possibly achieve that.

That is, even if the analysis is correct, this is evidence of the need for even freer markets.