False Alarmism: Technological Disruption and the U.S. Labor Market, 1850–2015

It has recently become an article of faith that workers in advanced industrial nations are experiencing almost unprecedented levels of labor-market disruption and insecurity. From taxi drivers being displaced by Uber, to lawyers losing their jobs to artificial intelligence-enabled legal-document review, to robotic automation putting blue-collar manufacturing workers on unemployment, popular opinion is that technology is driving a relentless pace of Schumpeterian “creative destruction,” and we are consequently witnessing an unprecedented level of labor market “churn.” One Silicon Valley gadfly now even predicts that technology will eliminate 80 to 90 percent of U.S. jobs in the next 10 to 15 years.l

The labor market is not experiencing unprecedented technological disruption. In fact, occupational churn in the United States is at a historic low. It is time stop worrying and start accelerating productivity with more technological innovation.

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