Automation and the future of work: How rhetoric shapes the response to policy preferences

In recent years, material increase in inequality has not translated into growing support for redistributive policy. There is evidence that political rhetoric based on the misdirection of anger towards immigrants or welfare claimants helps shape opposition to such policies.

Karen Jeffrey’s paper is based on the results of an automation risk survey and an exercise where respondents were asked about their preferences for redistributive policies following exposure to rhetoric arguing that the rich benefit from automation at the expense of workers.

Jeffrey finds that support for redistributive policies remains constant or declines the greater the vulnerability to automation, but where augmented with political rhetoric blaming the rich, automation risk increases support for redistributive measures. This is because the rhetoric highlights the unfairness of automation’s effect on jobs.

The results show automation shocks impact preferences not solely because of material labour market outcomes but rather through a combination of vulnerability and ‘exposure to political rhetoric’. Above all, it shows that automation risk does not have an economically determined effect on voters, but rather its consequences are mediated by political rhetoric and policy offers.

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Chosen by

Harry Pitts


Politics and perceptions of automation risk

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