Robots Once Seen as Job Killers Now Protect Workers From Covid

(Bloomberg) — For decades, the attitude of unions and their advocates to increased automation could be summed up in one word: no. They feared that every time a machine was slipped into the workflow, a laborer lost a job. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced a small but significant shift in that calculation. Because human contact spreads the disease, some machines are now viewed not exclusively as th

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“If you keep me six feet away from the other worker and you have a robot in between, it’s now safe,” said Richard Freeman, a professor of economics at Harvard University, who studies labor. “And the robot companies are selling that as a solution and the unions aren’t going to say, ‘No, you should have the workers standing next to each other so they get sick.’” The result is the spread of windshie

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The impact of technology on employment has been a topic of anxiety and study for generations with mixed results. Cars didn’t kill trains, television didn’t end radio. When banks installed ATMs, they hired more people, not fewer, because the variety of their services grew. But machines have eliminated many jobs, and the current wave will prove to be no exception, especially with public health a top

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Tax laws also favor automation. U.S. tax on capital — which includes robots and machinery — is about 5%, whereas the tax on labor is about 25%, according to a study from MIT economists. President-elect Joe Biden acknowledges the threat of job loss but hasn’t mentioned additional funding or changes to the tax code. He has said his administration will ensure that employers give all affected emplo

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