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Noah Smith

Andrew Yang’s Math on the Robot Takeover Doesn’t Check Out

The data don't support the argument that machines are displacing people.

Maths are hard.

Maths are hard.

Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images North America

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has brought a number of interesting ideas into the economic debate. Many of these are refreshing, such as his proposal for a universal basic income, his embrace of value-added taxes and his plan for technology company regulation. But on one major point Yang’s ideas are at odds with the available evidence: that automation hurts American workers.

Automation might make workers obsolete in the future. It certainly has displaced many of them since the start of the Industrial Revolution even as overall living standards continued to climb. But the notion that rapid automation is taking jobs in aggregate in the here and now just doesn’t fit the data.