Opinionomics | 24 April 2012

Must-read comment and analysis. Featuring Hollande and Holland.

1. A bigger IMF war chest (Economist | Free Exchange)

Ryan Avent writes on whether the IMF's $1trn firewall can help the Eurozone.

2. High Tax Rates Won't Slow Growth (Wall Street Journal)

Peter Diamond and Emmanuel Saez argue that tax rates of between 50 and 70 per cent (taking into account things like national insurance) don't harm growth at all.

3. President Hollande and the IMF (BBC News)

Stephanie Flanders writes that financiers aren't particularly concerned about an Hollande presidency.

4. European turmoil, American collateral (Guardian)

Robin Wells writes about the effect of the Eurozone crisis on the US.

5. What's driving inequality? (Salon)

James K. Galbraith assesses Timothy Noah's book The Great Divergence.

Dutch PM Mark Rutte arrives at the Royal palace to resign from government, sparking an election. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Getty
Show Hide image

Labour is getting very, very scared about robots

Forget Brexit, it's the march of the automatons you should be worried about. 

Labour is worried about getting exterminated - and not at the polls. One of the preoccupations of this year's party conference is robots, and the possibility that mechanical devices will soon be replacing Britain's workforce. And fast. 

Norman Pickavance, a Grant Thornton consultant who advised Ed Miliband on employment policy, warned that three different futures loomed, including a "world of extraction" where humans are commoditised, or a "world of robotics and anxiety" (his preferred world was the third, an "age of connections"). Speaking at a Fabian fringe event, he said: "On robotics, I think the changes are coming really quickly."

Yvette Cooper, a former Cabinet minister, concurred. She said: "None of us know quite how fast this could happen, but it could rip through certain areas or sectors."

Next it was the turn of Chuka Umunna, the former shadow business secretary. He may have made headlines at conference for his comments on integration, but it seems he wasn't just talking about the human kind. "There are communities which have a high concentration of a particular industry that we know automation and robots are going to fundmentally impact," he said during a Resolution Foundation event.

So is Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet going to shrug off Brexit and focus on robot wars? The Staggers asked Jon Trickett, shadow secretary of state for business, innovation and skills. And if anything, his view is even more apocalyptic. 

"It is part of the reason we can't go on in the same way," he said. "There are things that have happened to our country that make it difficult to sustain the status quo. Now we have got this innovation process which is about to accelerate. I think thousands of thousands of jobs are under threat.

"I think it's important we don't become Luddites, because this can emancipate people from the drudgery of labour, but at the same time it is important people are not left on the scrap heap."

As for why everyone's talking about it? According to Trickett, this is simply because "it is literally about to happen".

In the age of the robots, politicians must seize power in more ways than one. "Technology can either be our master or our servant," he told The Staggers. "I think we will have to make it our servant."