Monday, November 14, 2011

Is Too Much Regulation or Too Much Innovation Responsible for Killing Jobs?

Earlier this year, Tyler Cowen suggested that the Great Stagnation in productivity and incomes observed recently in the West primarily in the United States has been occurring since the 1970s and is a result of it having exhausted the "low-hanging fruit" of innovation.

An opposite case can also be made that too much innovation has led to this slowdown. The Economist through its science and technology blogger comments on the practical advances occurring in the field of Artificial Intelligence or AI:
Today, automation is having an impact not just on routine work, but on cognitive and even creative tasks as well. A tipping point seems to have been reached, at which AI-based automation threatens to supplant the brain-power of large swathes of middle-income employees.
The pace of technological progress rather than having slowed down, appears to be speeding up. So much so that as "capital becomes labor" in many industries, leading to cheaper goods and better products, income growth for workers has stagnated while corporate profits have soared.

Advanced manufacturing, financial engineering, creative industries and even mining no longer require as much labor as their first wave cousins might have. Yet to attract such industries, governments have had to cut taxes, lower regulatory hurdles and so forth. This in turn has led to more constrained fiscal spending on their side.

The one area in which more regulation has led to greater innovation is that of climate change and environmental policy. The White House under the Democrats has elected to shelve its proposed cap-and-trade scheme in favor of greater powers for its Environmental Protection Authority to promote greater air quality for the health of its citizens.

The increased restrictions on the carbon emissions of power generators is causing a shift away from carbon intensive coal fire plants in favor of gas fired stations. The adjustment into a low carbon economy is creating just about as many jobs as it destroys according to economists.

Whether or not regulation encourages or discourages jobs however is beside the point, as one Stanford policy expert was quoted by the Washington Post as saying. The adoption of regulation should be based on whether it benefits society, he says. I couldn't agree more.

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