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Smoke and Mirrors: Automation, Globalization, and the Challenges Facing the American Labor Market

Jan 13 2017

When President Obama gave his farewell address to the nation at the beginning of this week, he took a moment to note the challenges facing the American worker, saying “the next wave of economic dislocations won’t come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete.” Though he did not explicitly say so, this was a repudiation of the policies proposed by the man set to replace him. Donald Trump campaigned heavily on the promise to bring back millions of manufacturing jobs lost over the previous two decades. The culprit, as defined by Trump, is globalization, primarily in the form of international trade agreements and immigration. These dueling viewpoints highlight the questions at the heart of the issue. What is more to blame for American job losses, particularly (but not exclusively) in the realm of manufacturing—automation or globalization? And perhaps even more importantly, what can be done about it?

 

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