Some friends and I have been discussing, speculatively, what might happen in the future after technology/increased automation greatly reduces the need for human labor.

The Marxists / leftists among us think that there will be a coming class conflict as more and more of the productivity gains from automation are captured by an elite, and that there will be a widespread political push from the left for something approaching a basic income.

Other, less left-leaning folks among us worry that there will be a collapse in aggregate demand as the purchasing power of a sizable, jobless part of the labor market essentially exits the economy. How government might respond to that is unclear.

I have the equivalent of an undergrad degree in economics and figured that there had to be some good discussion out there.

Can anybody point me to any papers or extended discussions of this topic?


I think now everybody is only guessing what will happen, because we are talking about things in the far future (at least 10-15 years or more).
I think the same will happen as when other new technologies / machines came [at least in long term]: one part of the jobs will disappear for many humans, but new jobs will be created by the new technologies (for example there will be more programmers and less book-keepers, etc). I can suggest you two links arbitrary, but there are much more articles and researches...
Otherwise, I think, if the changes were too dramatic, politics would try to slow it down. Else there would be too many angry people. :-)

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    $\begingroup$ "at least 10-15 years" :) $\endgroup$ – Giskard Feb 10 '16 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ Yes. So dramatic changes, I think was asked, would come with Artificial Intelligence "labor force". But I think the breakthrough of it will come some years later, it is not ready now. $\endgroup$ – Colossus Feb 10 '16 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ I think 'post-scarcity', whatever the exact meaning is, is very unlikely in our lifetime. $\endgroup$ – Giskard Feb 10 '16 at 16:54
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    $\begingroup$ Be optimistic! If you are young enough and/or we define "scarcity" in the proper way then everything is possible! :-) $\endgroup$ – Colossus Feb 10 '16 at 17:53

A related question is in asking when (if ever) will we be post scarcity. The paper Are We Approaching an Economic Singularity? Information Technology and the Future of Economic Growth by William D. Nordhaus should be of use.


What are the prospects for long-run economic growth?, the present study looks at a more recently launched hypothesis, which I label Singularity. The idea here is that rapid growth in computation and artificial intelligence will cross some boundary or Singularity after which economic growth will accelerate sharply as an ever-accelerating pace of improvements cascade through the economy. The paper develops a growth model that features Singularity and presents several tests of whether we are rapidly approaching Singularity. The key question for Singularity is the substitutability between information and conventional inputs. The tests suggest that the Singularity is not near.

(emphasis mine)

Another possibility is to consider those sectors, like digital media, where we are already post-scarcity, in that marginal costs are zero or very near to it. I recommend Carl Shapiro and Hal Varian's Information Rules for an accessible and interesting discussion of the economic issues that arise in this setting.


Joel Mokyr has a nice essay on this, also contains lot's of interesting citations https://sites.northwestern.edu/jmokyr/files/2016/06/The-History-of-Techn-Anxiety-and-the-Future-of-Econ-Growth-Is-This-Time-Different-1rlbgzi.pdf

Some friends and I have been discussing, speculatively, what might happen in the future after technology/increased automation greatly reduces the need for human labor.

If this is your definition of "post-scarcity economics" then you need not look very far though. Over the last 150 years, technology has greatly reduced the need for human labor required for production of an 1850s consumption basket. Indeed people had that same debate in the 19th century (see Luddites), then again in the 1930s (see Keynes' famous essay on Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren) and again today. Of course stuff is still as scarce as ever, and society is qualitatively organized much as it was 100 years ago, except that of course everybody is much better off.


As colossus pointed out, technology advance is not associated with Unemployment. Malthus argued upon scarcity, but he has been proved wrong. As you hold an undergraduate economics degree, you might already know that economics "best friend" is history.

There's no reason to talk about a future technology boom, as we have already experienced it. There's not any similar technology boom in history from that of 20th-21th century. Not even close. Also, Marx has been proved wrong on this subject. Austrians have worked extensively against Marxist Theory (most notably F.A. Hayek and L. von Mises).

About the political tendencies and the left. After WW2, Greece and Korea suffered a civil war between communists and non-communists. Koreas' split is well known, but people do not know much about Greece. In Greece the communists lost, but the implications were tremendous. Left parties (socialists) abused communist ideals and they deindustrialised the economy. Also, they created class conflicts and massive statism was in favor. They created an economy full of rigidities and inefficiency. They gave tremendous power to unions and they abolished any concept entrepreneurship. Some Greek quick facts:

  • Greece extracts top quality olive oil, better than Italy (except Sicily) & Spain but it cannot export since there is no factory to put it in bottles.
  • The only industry that operates properly is commercial shipping (1st in the world), because it has nothing to do with Greece as the most shipping companies are off-shore.
  • 1/10 of population (NOT labor force) works in the state
  • Specialized young people work as delivery boys etc because there are no industries to give them work.
  • Unions have the right to blockade or use violence anytime they want
  • Greece's GDP before crisis was that high due to consumption (i.e. AE) and there was not any Investment.


Are the left parties the right way to go in first place? Democracy by its nature gives more power to lower classes than upper ones. What will happen if there is a party that is willing to redistribute blindly just to keep happy only the lower classes? We all know that upper classes have more political influence than lowers, but if a party achieves to keep happy the lower classes then they will vote them again and again. Therefore, here's a spiral where the government manipulates the masses to vote them, the investors will leave as they will not afford to lose money, and competitiveness will fall.


  1. F.A. Hayek, Road to Serfom: Hayek's Nobel awarded extensive work against interventionism and socialism.
  2. Mises, Ludwig Von. Economic Policy, Thoughts for Today and Tomorrow. South Bend, IN: Regnery/Gateway, 1979 (Socialism Chapter)
  3. Representation of Malthusian fallacy
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    $\begingroup$ There is not a single paper reference in this answer while the question is a reference request. It also seems more like a long rant about Greece than an answer. $\endgroup$ – Giskard Feb 7 '17 at 9:01
  • $\begingroup$ While I realize this second comment give ample opportunity to ignore the first one, I think it should be pointed out that there are some crucial parts missing about the Greek civil war. Like why after the defeat of the communists and the establishment of a military junta in Greece leftist parties rose to power. But this is not the place for that, History is. $\endgroup$ – Giskard Feb 7 '17 at 9:04
  • $\begingroup$ My references are listed: Malthus, Hayek and Mises. If he believes that technology progress will result unemployment, he is a Malthusian. The most papers use him as a first reference either if they are against or in favor. $\endgroup$ – Commissar Vasili Karlovic Feb 7 '17 at 9:07
  • $\begingroup$ @denesp I didn't want to do things more complicated. You're right on that tho. Junta hold primarily anti-communist ideals, but the communist party became legal by the conservative party right after Junta. Therefore, we cannot concluded in what extend junta turned people to left $\endgroup$ – Commissar Vasili Karlovic Feb 7 '17 at 9:14
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    $\begingroup$ A person's name or life's work is not a reference. An exact chapter of a book is a reference. Or today preferably a link to a scientific paper. $\endgroup$ – Giskard Feb 7 '17 at 9:39

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