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Tech pundits take on the bugs in the market system

NewCo’s Shift Forum in San Francisco has become a place for policy and even political discussions that are outside the bounds of most tech conferences.

This year’s conference was no exception as speakers took on the prevailing notion that the replacement of workers with automation is an inevitable outcome of technological progress.

“The fundamental question is not jobs, but work,” said media entrepreneur Tim O’Reilly. “Is there work to be done that’s not getting done? The answer is yes.” He then asked, “When are we going to ask our financial system to fix itself?”

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Nick Hanauer, a Seattle venture capitalist who was an early investor in Amazon, argued that jobs at Starbucks and the rest of the service economy are not fundamentally different from manufacturing jobs that once supported middle-class wages. “The only difference is those folks had a union that negotiated a fair split of the profits,” he said. “The challenge facing our country is a power challenge, not an education challenge.”

Laura Tyson, a UC Berkeley professor and economic advisor in the Clinton administration, said workers need portable benefits that include skill-training, health care, child care and transition insurance “so if you are out of a job you have serious unemployment insurance to get training to get the next job.”

O’Reilly rejected one of Silicon Valley’s pet solutions: Universal basic income. “I think it’s a cop-out,” he said. “It would be a good idea if it weren’t a way to say, ‘There’s nothing we can do about this situation. There’s no better choices we can make. There’s no better way to put people to work.”

Listen to Tim O’Reilly discuss his view of the future in ImpactAlpha’s Returns on Investmentpodcast.

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