The political consequences of technological change

Seminar organised by Thomas Kurer & Bruno Palier, March 23rd 2018
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Seminar "The political consequences of technological change"

[langue: anglais]

Friday, March 23rd 2018
LIEPP's seminar room
254 bvd Saint-Germain, 75 007 Paris


Organised by Thomas Kurer and Bruno Palier

The political economies of the developed world are today on the cusp of a profound transformation of labor markets. While an impressive range of publications in labor economics draws an increasingly clear picture of the economic implications of technological change, especially in terms of polarization of the labor market (Autor et al. 2003, Goos and Manning, 2009), the political consequences are not yet well understood and subject to ongoing investigation. Despite the fact that many observers have linked some of the more transformative recent developments in the political landscapes of advanced capitalist democracies to a changing employment structure, we still lack clear answers to the question of if and how technological change affects political behavior. 

In this special issue, we provide a coherent set of papers that offers a concise and thorough glimpse into the political consequences of technological change. We shed light on the most important aspects by studying recent changes in the occupational structure, issues of conceptualization and measurement, the shifting balance of power between workers and capital, individual-level political reactions and the moderation of those electoral reactions via compensatory policies on the macro-level. The common thrust of these contributions is that workplace automation has distinctively polarizing effects on labor markets, leaving in particular mid-skilled routine workers in both blue- and white-collar jobs worse off. Routine workers are a large and electorally relevant part of the population with all the necessary means to political participation. Increasingly bleak perspectives for this once crucial pillar of society are likely to create strong political repercussions, which have the potential to decisively shape the contours of democratic contestation in many post-industrial societies.

We approach the question at hand by the means of five distinct but highly complementary contributions. First of all, we provide a comparative up-to-date report on the shifting employment structure in Western Europe, which lends credence the conjecture that routine workers in the lower middle class belong to the main losers of technological change. It emphasizes that the jobs created on the low end of labor markets are not only low paid but also of low quality. A second contribution addresses the difficulty of empirically studying the specific impact of technological change because various structural economic forces, which are difficult to disentangle, simultaneously affect the employment structure. It discusses advantages and disadvantages of previously applied approaches and on this basis present a range of innovative indicators, which very specifically capture increasing computerization and automation at the workplace. The third and forth papers bring in political outcome variables: one contribution studies the impact of job polarization on unionization, how it affects workers organizational capacity, while another zooms in on the relationship between individual susceptibility to automation and vote choice. This analysis builds on the insight that the lower middle rather than the bottom of the occupational hierarchy is most exposed to technological innovation, a finding that ties in squarely with the characteristics of the Far-Right’s core electorate. The fifth article completes this Special Issue by examining the often-neglected impact of context conditions moderating the direct link between technological change and political reactions. Governing parties and policy makers have the means to implement compensatory policies and thereby at least partly cushion the adverse consequences of technological shocks. The main focus of this contribution is on the extent to which different forms of compensation have limited the ascent of populist parties.

The momentous impact of rapid technological innovation on the world of work does and increasingly will shape the employment structure and, thus, individual labor market opportunities in post-industrial democracies. Political science research has yet to fully grasp the exact way in which job automation, computerization and the rise of robots affects political outcomes. 


Occupational Change in Europe: Employment Structure and Job Quality
Camille Peugny (University of Paris 8)

The societal impact of technological change: Issues and Measurement 
Aina Gallego (Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals)
Thomas Kurer (University of Zurich)

Differing Dimensions of Decline: How Technological Change Affects Unions 
Brett Meyer (London School of Economics)

The losers of digitalization: A reservoir of votes for the Far-Right? 
Zhen Jie Im (University of Helsinki)
Nonna Mayer (Sciences Po)
Bruno Palier (Sciences Po)
Jan Rovny (Sciences Po)