July 03, 2015
Remember the robots that are going to take all our jobs leaving us unemployed? Apparently they don’t have robots in Europe. That’s the story readers would get from a mostly useful set of charts in the Washington Post comparing Greece and Germany.
Underneath the chart comparing the populations of the two countries the article tells readers:
“Despite the difference, both countries share a troubling trend: a shrinking population. Europe is experiencing a demographic time bomb as the continent ages and birth rates fall, leading to questions about whether there will be enough workers to power a dynamic economy in the decades to come.”
This is of course 180 degrees at odds with the robots making us all unemployed story. That is a story of too many workers. The Post is telling us here a story of too few workers. It is possible for one or the other to be true, but not both. Only a D.C. policy wonk could possibly take both problems seriously.
As a practical matter, we are likely to see productivity growth in the future comparable to what we have seen in the past. At the low end, it would be around 1.5 percent a year. At the high end we could envision getting back to the Golden Age (1947–73) rates of growth of 3.0 percent. The low end would still leave us easily able to care for our aging population and enjoy rising standard of livings. (Guess what, we have always had an aging population.) The high end should allow for more rapid improvements in living standards but there is no more reason to think that it would lead to mass unemployment than did the Golden Age productivity growth.