Discussion of HBO VICE Special Report: The Future of Work

Thursday, May 9, 2019
Tyrone Siu/Reuters
Nicole Isaac

Senior Director, North America Policy, LinkedIn

Michael Moynihan

Correspondent, VICE News Tonight, HBO


President, Council on Foreign Relations; @RichardHaass

The next Industrial Revolution is upon us and scientists, entrepreneurs, and policymakers are warning of an imminent paradigm shift in the future of work. Please join us for a screening of the HBO VICE Special Report: The Future of Work, a documentary made in partnership with the Council on Foreign Relations, that follows industry leaders and laborers to learn how radical developments in automation and artificial intelligence are set to change the world of work as we know it.

HAASS: Well, the good news is I’m not going to announce any layoffs at the Council tonight, so—(laughter)—

First of all, I want to thank Michael and his colleagues for producing I think a powerful and at times poignant documentary which will hopefully be widely viewed. For those of you who want to see it again tonight, you can go on HBO on Demand, I expect.

MOYNIHAN: Yes, it’s there.

HAASS: Michael, as you saw in the film, is a correspondent with VICE News Tonight. To his right is Nicole Isaac, who is the senior director—the senior person from North America for LinkedIn and LinkedIn’s policy issues with our government.

So let me ask both of you the same first question which is, what surprised you about this?

MOYNIHAN: It would surprise me about the portions I shot as, you know, having worked on—we worked on another film together—you shoot a lot more than you use. I mean, I was in Finland for the end of the UBI experiment in Finland, and the government—it was ending not because it was failing—I mean, they tested it and they didn’t get the results they wanted—but it was because the government was changing.

So I went there sort of optimistic. The interest thing about UBI, as mentioned in the voiceover in the film, is that it is—for very different reasons been this sort of bipartisan issue. You know, Milton Friedman obviously a very, very big fan of UBI, but that was to streamline transfer payments and welfare payments into one sort of lump sum, whereas on the other end, you know, a lot of social democratic politicians are big fans. By the way, the American—the first American research into this at a government level happened in the early 1970s under the Nixon administration and was headed up by Donald Rumsfeld actually, who ran a program to possibly put UBI in place in the U.S.

But I think what surprised me was how unimpressed I was, actually—(laughs)—with UBI, and seeing the problems—particularly in Stockton. Finland—there are not a lot of homeless people in Finland as you might imagine. Going to Stockton, and going under bridges, and seeing these massive homeless encampments, and talking to the mayor—who I think is a fantastic guy and has a very, very bright future ahead of him—the idea that a thousand dollars a month would have any substantial difference I was not entirely convinced by.

I like the idea to play around with certain things like this. I mean, things need to be done, particularly in Stockton, and it didn’t strike me that that was—I thought I was going to be more impressed by UBI than I was.

HAASS: Nicole?

ISAAC: I think a couple of things. One, not certain that there was too much in the film that surprised us from a LinkedIn perspective because we’ve been tracking workforce development challenges for the past decade, and we have visibility into workforce trends, and we’ve been actually watching what’s happening with employers and their demand for particular skillsets not necessarily matching the supply in a particular locality. And so when you think about the data on LinkedIn, it’s six hundred and fifty million profiles around the world, thirty million companies, ninety thousand institutions of higher education that you can essentially map for any given locality.

I think to Michael’s point on UBI, without getting into the merits of it, for us it’s a question of how are you legitimately positioning any individual in the workforce for that in-demand job, and what—the part that was surprising was the—I think the expectation that those in-demand jobs are all tech because what we are seeing is that those in-demand jobs are not all tech and, in fact, the shortage is coming from the lack of soft skills, the lack of communication skills, and just general management skills because I think we are over-indexing for tech-related skills in the past decade in particular, and therefore, over-indexing and over-investing in particular programs like Per Scholas, which is excellent, and you absolutely want to ensure that you are building up that workforce, but you have to have a balance.

HAASS: Thank you for the shout-out for the liberal arts education—(laughter)—and it’s value. That’s reassuring.

I should have said, by the way, welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. I have to use my presider notes here. I should know better.

I’m Richard Haass. I work here. (Laughter.) And this is an on-the-record discussion. Everything you say can and will be used against you.

What about the overall tone? Do you think this was—just like this is a big issue?


HAASS: So I guess one is did it scale the issue right do you think?

Second of all, is it too sanguine? Or just the opposite—is it too alarmist? What do you think—what’s the reaction when you look at it?

MOYNIHAN: Richard, you are asking me this question, and I look down in the front, and I see J.P. from HBO, and I don’t really want to criticize the film in front of him—(laughs). I can’t say—well, I will say this: it’s slightly—you know, Krishna and I are very good friends. He is one of the smartest guys I know in the office, a brilliant guy. He has done a lot of successful shows in the past.

We fight about this—and we fought about this during the production of it—because I am far less pessimistic than Krishna. I think there is a ton of pessimism that is a little too pessimistic for me in the film.

HAASS: Well, for what it’s worth, I think it’s too optimistic.


HAASS: Yeah.

MOYNIHAN: OK, so we disagree on this. (Laughter.) I think that it—

HAASS: But then I wrote a book with the word disarray in it—I don’t know.

MOYNIHAN: I know. We agreed on that. (Laughter.)

Yeah, I think that there is no—I think the one thing that I wished is that there is some accounting for previous examples of this in the past. I mean, you can go back to the 1500s and see Elizabeth I refuse a patent on a loom because it will put people out of work which I think actually happened.

You can go back to the bank teller, go back to the ATMs when they first started coming in—it’s going to destroy all these jobs—bank tellers—but remember, bank teller jobs went up in the short term—ultimately down 20 percent. The reason it went up is it freed up capital for banks to open up more banks and provide more jobs. So there is kind of an immediate look at this stuff, and you say, I see what’s going away, but you don’t necessarily see what’s happening by building jobs.

The interesting thing about going—I mean, I talked in the opening about the conspiracy theories that, because of the previous CFR film. Now this one I’m with Goldman Sachs—(laughs)—which is great. The Goldman Sachs people were interesting because they made a very convincing case—I double-checked this on my own—the number of jobs that have been created at Goldman Sachs with the advent of all of these kind of algorithms and the other thing—of the safety in the market. The market—they make a very good point that it’s actually safer than having a bunch of people trading this way, there’s all these, like, triggers within the algorithms in the system. So, I mean, there’s a lot of positive things about this.

I know Richard sees—you know, at the end when you are talking about millions of unemployed, it’s always the next time it’s going to be worse. I don’t know. We don’t know if that’s going to happen. I’m more optimistic that this won’t destroy the entire economy.

ISAAC: I actually thought it was neither optimistic nor pessimistic, bur relatively well-balanced. I mean, after watching this space for five-plus years and then also previously working in the government for ten years—so over a decade and a half of really being immersed in what are the ways in which we are legitimately providing opportunity for every individual of the global workforce—whether you are government, non-profit employer or educator—I love that it touched on many of the top issues, one being what’s the government’s responsibility in this space, and to what extent is the government culpable for ensuring that you are creating a baseline by which any individual should have that legitimate access when the employer isn’t stepping in.

Two, I love that it talked about the disparate impact for individuals of color, which I know the CFR report also touched on, which a number of non-profits have been highlighting because disproportionately you have individuals of color represented in particular occupations that will more likely be at risk for displacement.

And then, three, I also like the fact that it talked about the importance of—I think to Michael’s point—this reskilling, and whether it’s the ATM proliferation that created more banks. I think what it also allowed bankers and tellers to do was have advanced skillsets and to take on additional occupations in financial services.

And so I think—I actually preferred this. I thought it was very well balanced and a great articulation of many of the issues in this space.

HAASS: Like I said, I think it was perfectly balanced and—(laughter)—uh—

Actually, this was based on the task force report, The Work Ahead, that we sponsored, what, about a year, year and a half ago, and it really is a good piece of work. It’s online at if you want to look at it, which I really recommend.

Let’s talk about reskilling for a second because I thought one of the many powerful parts of the film was when one of the workers said, well, after you put in a full shift the idea that you are then going to drive over and get some training for your next job is just not realistic. You’re tired from working, you’ve got family, and so forth.

This idea of reskilling—because, yes, lots of jobs are going to be destroyed. Lots of jobs are going to be created. The problem is the jobs that are going to be created—all things being equal—are going to require a different set of skills and offer a more demanding set of skills. And UBI is not the answer to that because it doesn’t address the—it’s more of a Band-Aid, if you will, but it doesn’t—and so, in this—you know, we didn’t—it didn’t heavily get into the reskilling challenge. I’m just curious what your takeaway is on that—whether talking to these people, on and off the set—whether this is realistic, particularly for—it’s one thing if someone is twenty-five, but someone who is forty-five and he or she has been out of school for twenty-five years, the education they got in the first place may not have been fantastic—reskilling then suddenly takes—the reality of reskilling seems tough.

MOYNIHAN: It is, and I was—for a different piece that I was doing I was with the steel workers in Indiana, and there was a lot of reskilling going on there. But what really bothered me about that situation was all these people were really relying on Donald Trump to make good on his promises, and they truly believed it. I mean, this is around the Carrier factory, and I went there and a ball bearing factory that was close by. And Donald Trump tweeted about the very factory the next day and said, we’ll do something for you, and then nothing ever happened.

The number of people—and last week, by the way—and I have a piece on the show tonight—on HBO—about the Foxconn boondoggle in Wisconsin of all these people waiting. They’ve been eminent domaining houses, and they said, we’re going to have thirteen thousand jobs. Not a job has been created, 1 percent of the money spent has been spent by Foxconn. People are just waiting, and everyone I talked to there—they weren’t really focused on reskilling because they actually believe that Donald Trump is going to bring manufacturing back to America.

And, you know, the point always to remember is that American manufacturing is doing wonderful, doing better than it has almost ever been, but with fewer people, and that we do have a very, very big and active manufacturing sector. But the number of people who really believed that we are going to make more products in America—Donald Trump during the campaign—I can’t remember what the company was—he said, well, you know, they’re going to Monterey, Mexico; that won’t happen when I become president.

Under what law? You can’t tell companies that they—well, you know, I’ll tax all their goods when they come back. None of this—I mean, the trade war is a disaster, all this stuff—but people believe—all of these people believed that manufacturing was coming back and that they didn’t need reskilling.

Senator Donnelly who I was with talked about sort of federal dollars for reskilling. They were actually doing some interesting stuff. They were putting a lot of money into it.

But to your point, there wasn’t time. The time to do the stuff was—I mean, working very, very long shifts, and most of them were resigned to working at the local Amazon fulfillment center.

HAASS: Just statistically—and I’ll turn to Nicole in a second—twenty years ago, like after, say, China joined the WTO, there’s a lot of statistics suggesting that trade was a major driver of job loss in this country while more recent statistics showed that the overwhelming percentage of jobs that are disappearing are because of technology and productivity improvements.

MOYNIHAN: Yeah, that’s right.

ISAAC: I think that’s right.

I think reskilling is complicated for all the reasons that Michael referenced, but additionally because, again, it’s about who is responsible for the reskilling. Is it the employer who wants to ideally retain that employee over a given period of time and therefore you are more inclined to reskill, and upskill, and ensure that you are doing what is needed to incentivize them to stay in that space? Is it about the educator—and whether it’s traditional liberal arts education or online learning—which we’ve seen more and more online tools to really balance out that educational system and ensure that there is greater access for reskilling? And then I think there is also a state/federal dichotomy when you think about reskilling because the question is, is there sufficient dollars going into reskilling from the federal government, or is it the state’s responsibility?

And one example that is brought up constantly is the example of apprenticeships, and so I know that we’ve often compared the U.S. apprenticeship model—or the opportunity for us to expand apprenticeships to either Switzerland or Germany, which has had a very strong, strong level of engagement with apprenticeships and putting them on the path to long-term work.

I think for the past five years, we’ve seen an increase in apprenticeships, but not to the same degree that’s needed to really ensure that you are getting students and individuals who are out of the workforce into these jobs. And part of that challenge is the fact that they cannot find existing apprentice opportunities. There is a state-by-state difference, so if you are an apprentice in Ohio, can your respective skillsets translate to Indiana. And then finally it’s exacerbated by certifications. To the extent that I am an apprentice for a particular employer, can I then take those respective skills and go somewhere else? Why? Because we don’t have consistency across state lines for certifications. And so I think there is an opportunity here for the federal government to ensure that there is more consistency and that there is portability of these skillsets such that individuals can actually have access to occupations.

MOYNIHAN: One small point on that is that if you notice the—there’s a shot when you see these bright young people learning to code and you see the logo of Barclays—it’s funded by Barclays. And one thing to point out is the private sector—and this has been fairly impressive—one of the interviews we didn’t use was the guy from OpenAI, Sam Altman. I believe it was probably the most contentious interview I’ve done in the past six months. He was very upset when I kept on asking him who is going to pay for this UBI experiment.

But it’s funny because all these tech companies were throwing money in to fund a UBI experiment, and when you got through all this cloud of nonsense words, and you get down to it, they kind of felt guilty. And they were—the OpenAI was making these unbelievable products, and they were funding UBI experiments, and they would tell you—kind of sotto voce—well, it’s because we’re ruining everything, so we’re actually putting money into it, which I found kind of interesting—is that you are guilting these people into trying things out to mitigate the harm—if you think of it that way—that their technologies are going to present.

HAASS: Again, my enthusiasm for UBI is finite—(laughter)—in part because it doesn’t, among other things—besides the question of who pays for it, and you saw the price tag is large—what you really want to do for people who are—have either lost their jobs or are in danger of losing their jobs is prepare them for the next job because the average career now is going to have probably fifteen jobs. And you look at companies like AT&T are starting to do is they are telling workers, hey, your job is on danger, it’s on life support, or whatever; a year from now it’s probably not going to be there. So they are an example of a firm that will help train.

But otherwise we’re going to have to have big conversation—I think not so much about UBI, but about training accounts or reeducation accounts. Where is the transitional economic assistance going to come if someone need six months of full-time training? OK, then, so they’re going to have to leave their job or their job is no longer going to be there, they need to be tided over for those six months. Where is that money going to come from? And I think that’s the kind of conversation we are going to need.

Let me say one other thing, and then I want to open it up so you can ask questions of Nicole and Michael. The reason we did this at the Council—first the task force report and we participated with this—is I actually think this has real consequences for our national security; not just questions of resources and competitiveness, but if we don’t get this right, we’re not going to have the bandwidth to have a foreign policy conversation in this country. There is going to be such a sense that we’ve got to fix things here at home. But if we have populism on steroids—and this could make it happen if we don’t get it right—I actually think it will really work against the possibility of America playing a significant role in the world.

I think this is true of other countries as well. If France doesn’t deal with some of its challenges, and other countries, I think it’s really going to have an impact on their foreign policy. You just won’t have the attention span, the bandwidth, the resources.

So I actually think—we don’t—we think of this as an economic security issue, and obviously it is that, but I also think there’s elements of national security here, too.

We’ve got time for some questions, but I may not go this—let this go its full length unless there’s lots of questions because we started a bit late.

Robin, we’ll give you the first question.

OK, wait for the mic and obviously let us know who you are. Wait for a microphone.

Q: Robin Meredith, author of The Elephant and the Dragon.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about the impact of globalization on jobs, but I wanted to come back and ask Nicole for some data behind this because I found watching this incredibly depressing. But just to, like, rewind for all of us, we do have an economy where there are shortages of workers, the unemployment rate is at an historic low. There is a mismatch of skills, that’s true, but we also have the baby boomers retiring. So when we need to create new jobs we will need to create fewer of them to replace the generation that’s retiring. So not everything is bleak is my point.

If you had the best politicians in office you could think of, and you wanted an optimistic view of things, and you wanted to take the nation forward, what policies would you recommend that we as a nation take forward to solve this issue?

ISAAC: Yeah. Are we going to take all the questions and then answer or—

HAASS: No, we’ll just—

ISAAC: OK, sure.

HAASS: We’ll just—we’ll just chime in when we want. We’re going to be kind of loose here.

ISAAC: I think we can do a better job of tracking the extent to which access to online tools create greater access to job, right, so this is what we’ve seen at LinkedIn. We did a pilot in Utah a couple of years ago where we basically measured the extent to which, if individuals are receiving unemployment insurance, if granted access to LinkedIn Premium, to what extent would they exhaust those benefits at the full duration of their rate of access to those benefits. And we found a 14 percent differential between the test group and the focal group because we realized that those individuals who had access to LinkedIn and just other subscriptions—this is not a play for LinkedIn, guys, I promise; I’m not selling the platform—but we found that individuals who had access to online tools for job placement not only had access to those jobs fasters but were relying on their network and their local community. And what it also did was ensure that we could track the rate of exhaustion, right? And so when you think about the waste, fraud and abuse that’s in the unemployment system generally—I think it’s fifty million (dollars) a year that DOL will spend on this—just looking at the waste in UI tracking—I think if you can leverage online tools to basically create a better metric and understand how quickly individuals are getting back on to the rolls—or getting off the rolls and back into the job system, you are better positioned to invest where you need to invest as opposed to wasting dollars. I think if we have more programs like that—and it need not be us, you know, providing this type of assistance, but it really is about speaking to the value of public-private partnerships, the value of data to really inform the rates at which individuals can have greater and faster access to online tools and to those jobs.

I think the second piece would be just higher ed so, as you know, Congress is looking at the higher ed reauthorization bill. As the video talked about, there have been multiple instances where Congress has visited the workforce investment, the last being with WIOA. We’ve seen a number of instances where, even within those respective bills, there hasn’t been sufficient investment in apprenticeships or looking at certifications, right, and I think while they are looking at higher ed reauthorization, we have to examine the viability of online courses, non-traditional programs for really upskilling, and reskilling, and ensuring that all of those people that you are talking about can have legitimate access so they are not taking time out of their jobs.

HAASS: The only area I would slightly disagree with you is I don’t think higher ed may be the answer. I think community colleges and K through twelve, in many cases, will be even more important. I think community colleges become really interesting here—partnerships, you know, for a lot of these jobs, and people would plug into them and go back into the workforce. I think that is a real area of possibility, and so long as it is affordable and all that, one way or another I think that’s going to be critical.

MOYNIHAN: I would add one thing to this. I mean, this is for individuals—I agree. I would say, in a broader sense, stop lying about trade is actually a great thing because we are now at essentially full employment. I agree that there is some positive things—wage growth is obviously a problem, hauling up the middle class, et cetera, but I was with farmers who are losing their jobs because of phony ideas of a trade deficit—an unnecessary and unbelievable war—a trade war with China, and people believing these ideas that it’s a zero-sum game, and you’re losing and they are winning. And I have seen people and talked to people who are losing their livelihoods over populist nonsense that isn’t true. Not a single economist agrees with the administration on this, and the economists that are brought in—I’m using the word economist very loosely—are people who were free traders and are now lying and pretending they’re not—you know, the Larry—we saw Larry Kudlow in that. Larry Kudlow used to be, you know, writing free trade columns for the Wall Street Journal for 20 years, and now he’s a populist pretending that there is—it’s necessary to go to war with China over trade.

That could also—you know, these—especially farming jobs—I mean, they’ve automated, a lot of jobs have been lost over a long period of time, but why lose more? It seems unnecessary to me.

HAASS: Sure.

Q: Thank you. Scott Carlson from Tide Mill here in New York.

Michael, an observation; Nicole, a question.

Michael, it would have been interesting to hear more about the societal benefits, both in terms of, say, health care insurance, auto fatalities being reduced—so there is a benefit on the other side of this cost.

HAASS: Oh, you mean of autonomous vehicles.

Q: Correct, from autonomous vehicles.

MOYNIHAN: True. I agree, yeah.

Q: So there’s a benefit on the end from an individual standpoint. This is—it’s not a uniform issue. There’s a generational issue, there’s a geographic issue here, and where are the real pockets of weakness and strength.

And Nicole, the question for you is from a policy standpoint or political standpoint, who are the policy and the political leaders in Washington that get this?

ISAAC: So without calling out favorites, right, I think that the—(laughter)—people who—the people—because we are on the record—but again, the people who seem to get this, and I think traditionally have gotten this, when you look at, for instance, the Rework America Task Force, right, comprised of Zoe Baird from the Markle Foundation, Dennis McDonough and others, a group of governors, mayors, and other individuals across multiple sectors, industries, who are working to identify what are the best practices that can sufficiently reconcile some of these workforce challenges. I think that’s one space to look at.

I do think the president’s initiative on the American worker is an important initiative. I’d love to see more come out of it—it’s still early—and so when you look at the composition of that initiative, it has of course the secretary of labor, the head of the American Association of Community Colleges, Walter Bumphus. It has the secretary of commerce. It has several CEOs across multiple industries. I think the goal of that initiative is really designed to, again, identify what are the best practices that can come out from public and private partnerships that can ideally be scaled, and from there, hopefully we’ll have sufficient recommendations that I think the federal government can take action on.

But I also have not been holding my breath. I think a lot is happening at the state and local level. We’ve seen cities and states, especially after the last administration, make significant investments in this space. And to the point that I made earlier about not over-indexing for tech-related skills but having a balance across skills, I think if you look at the past administration in tech hire, the fact that President Obama invested and actually created these public-private partnerships across seventy-five cities around the country— seventy-five cities in five states—that’s one great example of some of the best practices I think that could be replicated.

MOYNIHAN: Can I make a quick follow-up point on that on safety, which is not a very sexy topic, but it’s one thing my daughter asked me the other day. We were talking, and she is eight years old, and she couldn’t get her head around the idea that one couldn’t make a phone call twenty-five years ago on the street while walking. (Laughter.) She was, like, I don’t understand this. And I’m watching the truck thing, and I’m imagining that her children will probably say, you used to let people drive those things—(laughter)—for twelve hours by themselves, sleepy, et cetera?

And you see this with automation in flying. I mean, flying is significantly safer because of automation. There was one famously bad Air France crash. There was an automation handoff that didn’t happen, and it was a disaster. But overall, these small things that people also don’t think about are things to think about, like safety. But it’s an interesting point—only so many minutes in (a dock ?) though. (Laughs.)

HAASS: Patricia?

Q: So I wanted to ask about—

HAASS: Have to introduce yourself.

Q: Patricia Rosenfield, currently of Rockefeller Archive Center

I wanted to ask about timing and being in sync with all the optimistic comments that we heard and then hearing about the—the part from the—I think it was the truck driver about the possibility of protests and riots. So I’m wondering, like Richard, about the national security and international security implications from getting the timing out of sync and whether the potential for a yellow vest movement—as technology moves too fast, the training is not enough, the money is not there—so what do you the two of you see from both the film and your analyses about the possibility of getting the timing out of sync and riots and protests taking place?

MOYNIHAN: I mean, if you had asked me that question three years ago, four years ago, or if I had heard the truck driver say that, I would say he’s totally mad, it’s just paranoia. But having also done a piece for the HBO weekly show this year on populism in Europe, and seeing what has happened in France, and seeing the kind of—I mean, it’s funny, we talk about the far right in Europe and the economic policies of all these people are indistinguishable from Bernie Sanders. I mean, they are sort of left-wing populist economics, and they are xenophobic at the same time.

But when I saw what was happening in France, immediately the question was, OK, who is doing this, and what are they doing. And then when you listen to these people it’s not entirely unlike what that guy was saying. And so, can it happen here, can it happen here, you know? But I don’t—I don’t know, but it is definitely more of a concern now—I think that’s a bit overheated, but it’s definitely more of a concern now than it ever would have been three or four years ago.

ISAAC: I completely agree. I mean, we saw it yesterday with Uber, right, around the country, and they are going public. But this was—this was—

MOYNIHAN: Tomorrow, right? (Laughs.)

ISAAC: Tomorrow. This was part of—part of this exact space that we have to contend with, that we have to address. I think, you know, when we started this years ago, we were one of the few companies saying, hey, guys, there’s like an imbalance, just look at this. I think, you know, President Obama was excellent in really being somewhat prescient and understanding the investments that needed to be made and the attention paid by cities and states into the respective tech opportunities while creating more of a balanced space. But it’s fascinating now just five years later everyone is talking about this because there is that fear and very strong recognition that we are in a time that is shifting as we speak, and we have to do as much as we can to ensure that the actions that we’re taking will sufficiently account for those who are being left behind. And that is going to require—that is going to require a lot of actors being a part of the process, so whether it’s the employer, the educator—to Richard’s point—you know, community colleges—why are we not giving enough credit to the certifications and credentials coming out of those institutions and having a more just balanced workforce. I think the time is now.

MOYNIHAN: I’d also say that thankfully the American labor market is very different than the French labor market. (Laughs.)


MOYNIHAN: Thankfully much more liberal and allows things like that to happen less frequently.

HAASS: Yeah, if I may just circle back to my twin brother in the documentary, when he talked about the importance of our work for identity, and I think that’s essential. Again, it’s one of the reasons I’m not that big on things—on open-ended support accounts. And I just think that’s very real.

And of course the—it’s not just riots in the streets. I think this will put tremendous stress on families. I think we’re seeing it also with opioid use. You know, the unemployment statistics don’t capture people who have stopped looking for jobs, so if you look at—labor participation rates are far more important, I think, as social indicators than unemployment rates. So I think there is some warning in this, and unless you’re—you know, you’re a country like Japan with the shrinking demography in which case this helps you get—in a funny sort of way this is the answer. Or you don’t—if you don’t allow immigration on a meaningful level and you have a shrinking demography, a lot of this could help you. But that’s not who we are.


HAASS: And so I actually think the—you know, potentially the social implications of this if we don’t get it right, and it’s hard to sometimes generate urgency for things that are happening gradually. I mean, if you doubt that, think about climate change. You know, the—if you doubt that, think about the debt. Long-term, slow-motion crises—which I actually think this is—are often very hard to galvanize a political response to until it’s much more immediate, and by definition then, you are—it’s too late. Your preventive choices have gone out the window.

OK, we’ve got—oh! Well, lots—I guess we are going to be out—OK, so we’ll extend the length of the meeting. I apologize; I was wrong. (Laughter.)

Yes, sir. Although I see—all the way in back.

Q: Hey, thanks, Richard. A couple of quick things.

HAASS: Introduce yourself.

Q: Oh, sorry. Steve Hellman, Mobility Impact Partners.

Two quick questions—

HAASS: Actually, let’s just do one. We’ve got a lot of—so many people. I apologize.

Q: Can I—can I then challenge the—kind of to some measure—the fundamental premise here. We all get that disruption, and dislocation, and the acceleration of it, and the changing jobs, and so forth, that’s very disruptive. We get all—I get that. But from a macro level, is there any data to support the contention that somehow jobs, on a macro level, are going to contract because of introduction of technology?

We would have had—Richard, if you—you might have presided over the same argument a hundred years ago when we were talking about the shift, you know, of farm labor and the loss of those jobs, but somehow our economy adapted to that. Is there data to support the fact that jobs are contracting?

HAASS: There’s not yet data in hand. I think first of all there’s a couple of differences with the historical analogy. I think the speed here is greater. It’s happening in a—compressed. I also think the nature of the technologies is different. AI, I believe, has applications in an across-the-board sense more than, let’s say, some of the agricultural technologies that were introduced that then led to increased urbanization.

But more important, the argument is not that there is going to necessarily be a net loss of jobs. The argument is that lots of jobs are going to disappear, other jobs are going to be created, and the skill requirements and educational requirements of the latter are going to be different and greater. And you’ll have a gap between the workforce that’s either coming on stream either because they’ve been displaced or they are coming of age, and the jobs that are there for them, given their own education or lack of it, and so forth. So that’s why reskilling, training, education and all that becomes essential, both at the entry point into the workforce and then potentially for 10 or 15 times.

There is no data on net on jobs, but I think there is very confident work about the nature of the jobs and the mismatch between jobs and skillsets.

MOYNIHAN: There is a bit. Two economists from MIT—I mean, David Autor is one who wrote sort of skeptically about globalization recently, slightly different on automation, and then another guy at MIT—can’t recall his name now, easy to find—who have tried to plot out the number of jobs over the next 15, 20 years that can be fully automated. And I think the high number was 38 percent or something around that. That’s the—possibly the most interesting one.

McKinsey has done two recently, too, which are—which are pretty good. And I would agree with you, they’re not—they’re not as sort of doom-laden as one would expect, yeah. And there’s a lot of different kind of views on this, but yes.

HAASS: Also, we simply don’t know some of the jobs that will be created, so again, I—it’s hard to net it out. Applications and all that are just impossible. But I think the skilling issue—that’s real. I think that is real.

Mr. Scott.

Q: Bob Scott of Delphi University.

HAASS: As well as you project, Bob, would you please use the microphone? (Laughter.)

Q: Bob Scott of Delphi University. Thank you.

And thanks very much. I think this is a very exciting topic.

I think of three things. One is our Constitution and a commitment to promote the general welfare, which is not necessarily guaranteed income, but the general welfare having to do with, in fact, pride of self and work.

I think of C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures and his anecdote about the disabled person—or differently abled person pumping gas. And I think about a nephew who has Down Syndrome and is now thirty-seven years old and has actually had a full-time job for some twenty years as a janitor in a school system on Long Island, a job that could easily be substituted by technology.

And so where in all this discussion is the attention to what Richard pointed to—the pride of work—and policy regarding the general welfare?

MOYNIHAN: I would say that on the pride of work, I mean, I was glad at the end of the film that Richard made that point. It’s a very hard thing to film, actually. It’s one of those things that’s very difficult to quantify in a documentary. And one of the things you could also—you know, it’s controversial point, but one that—it’s a controversial point we like to attack.

Mentioned very quickly by one of the characters in the burger-flipping thing, he says, you know, it’s not only the minimum wage, and he keeps going, and there was actually a conversation at one point about talking about minimum wage and, you know, the levels—the Fight for 15 and things like this, and the effect it has on low-skill labor, and somebody who might be doing, you know, a job like the person you are talking about doing it, you know, and those things being automated. And I think multiple people in this film and people I have talked to, it always comes up, and you don’t have to be some sort of thunderbolt-throwing, you know, Milton Friedman type to say let’s talk the minimum wage.

There is an interesting conversation because it came up in the last election cycle, but—so much to that Fight for 15 means something. I mean, I don’t have to explain to people what it is. And that is something that—you know, to make the film longer—would have been great to address. But we discussed it and it kind of snuck in at one point there.

HAASS: We’re going to take about two more questions, and then we’re going to—sure—then we’re going to let you go home and—

MOYNIHAN: Thank you.

HAASS: —watch HBO. (Laughter.)

Q: Niso Abuaf of Pace University.

My question revolves around a basic economic question and maybe suggests what your future sequel would be.

Economics is the science of scarcity. As I tell my students, life cannot exist without oxygen. The market price of oxygen is zero. So the question is, even if manna were to fall from heaven that would address all of our needs, there would still be scarcities in the world. By definition, our time on earth is scarce, energy is scarce, and so forth. So along those lines, if we look past the adjustment dynamics, what types of jobs will evolve that would address those scarcities?

MOYNIHAN: Oh, dear.

HAASS: Well, I’ll say two things. One is we don’t know just because we don’t know necessarily some of the new technologies that are going to come along. Twenty-five years ago we would have been hard pressed to predict some of the jobs that have become as common or as in demand as they are. That’s a cop-out, but I say that because I think the pace and nature of technological innovation is, in some cases, hard to predict.

The movie does get into certain tasks where human judgment and so forth—not everything is replicable, and so forth, so a lot of things that involve judgment, decision making, dealing with people, motivation, leadership—those are not going to be replaced—at least, speaking personally here, I hope not—any time—any time soon.

And obviously, as our population changes—I mean, just certain things about aging we can now predict that we’re going to—in the healthcare business and so forth, there’s going to be lots of jobs there, so we can figure some of that out already. But you’ve probably thought about it more on LinkedIn, so I’ll stop.

ISAAC: Yeah, I think one thing that we have seen, especially when you think about AI, and automation, and machine learning, it actually goes to the point that was raised by the last gentleman about your nephew on Long Island who has Down Syndrome and who is a janitor. With this increase in automation and technology, you are actually seeing tools that will help individuals who are mentally or physically disabled to enable them to actually have greater access to jobs that they may not have had. So that is one thing that—to the point that was raised—you know, that Richard said, we don’t know what jobs are going to be there, but we do know that it’s not going to be full-on displacement, and we know that there will be a supplement for individuals who may not have previously had the requisite skillset because it can be complemented by those respective machine-learning technologies.

MOYNIHAN: And I will say on the scarcity point, the hardest thing about making films like this—making films about economics—we did a film for HBO this year, a half-an-hour special on free trade, and we found that when we talked to people about what they are interested in these things is that the lure of protectionism is there because it’s a very simple thing to understand. To explain to somebody in a documentary why trade is beneficial in all the ways it is—when you talk to a worker and they say, well, if we just keep those Mexican products out and raise the price on them, and then they’ll buy ours. And it’s a very simple thing. People think this is how it works.

And so making a film like this, and making a film like the previous one we made is very, very difficult. We did one element in it when Donald Trump foolishly—like everything he says—gets up and says, we’re going to make the iPhone in the United States, there is no way that—I mean, the iPhone, if it was made in the United States I think the estimated cost by one economist was something like $5,000, $6,000. But you just can’t do it. So we buzzsawed an iPhone in half for the—for the scene, and we had a guy who is a tech expert take out with tweezers all of the pieces, and we sourced them on a map of where it came from just to explain to people how hard it is to make one single product. And it’s very, very hard to tell economic stories, and so when you said the thing about scarcity then, I’m like, yeah, it’s a difficult—(laughs)—it’s a difficult prospect to explain these things.

HAASS: Yes, ma’am. We’ll give you the last question.

Q: Hi. Chloe Demrovsky, president of DRI International.

Policy and regulation are a slow business and so largely a lot of these companies that are creating these technologies are being left to largely create their own policy and regulate themselves. I’ll give the example of Boeing, for example.

So how is that being factored in? Is it being factored in in terms of the tremendous responsibility they have with everything that they are breaking?

MOYNIHAN: Richard?

ISAAC: I love how you both turned to me first. (Laughs.)

MOYNIHAN: Turned to you, yeah. (Laughter.) The jobs person.

ISAAC: The jobs person.

Look, I think we’ve seen some really great examples of companies taking it upon themselves to retain their workforce, educate as many individuals as possible, and incentivize the worker to stay there long term. You have Starbucks, and the ASU example, or Walmart. Walmart has another system by which they are developing their retail worker into other positions internally that are more back-end office positions.

I think you have great examples of employers doing that. I absolutely agree it cannot just be on the employer, and ideally you would have the federal and state government finding the requisite investments needed to create a space by which individuals can have that access, right, whether it’s the life-long learning credits, whether its access to community college, whether—I mean, look at Tennessee and free community college.

I think there are great examples across the board. It’s just a question of figuring out what can be scaled in this time and space, especially given our limited—very limited resourcing. And I think the point that Michael has consistently raised, where there are inconsistencies in where the federal government may be on this given some of their policies generally.

MOYNIHAN: Yeah, I’ve noticed, by the way, and I’ll—Amazon comes up in every shoot that I did on this because there’s always a fulfillment center that they’re saying, you know, just go work there.

But the one thing that was fairly interesting was the power of public shaming on companies to raise wages, and this happened with Amazon where they—the guy mentions it here. It’s one of the first things they say—because there was kind of an online campaign, you’re treating these people horribly.

The worst part of that is, of course, running them out of town, which I am not a fan of, which New York is the victim of right now because of bad economic thinking but, you know, all these people that—the union guys were funny because there was a—down the street from the steel workers there is a(n) Amazon fulfillment center, and the jobs are, I think, ($)18 to $20 dollars an hour, but the union job was 25 (dollars an hour), plus they got time and half, and then double time on weekends, and gold-plated benefits and everything. So it wasn’t as good, and they were all mentioning that in every conversation we had. But it wasn’t bad, and it could be a hell of a lot worse, so—I mean, I—the slings and arrows at people like Amazon I just—I don’t—I don’t quite understand it.

HAASS: I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to one of your colleagues, to Josh Tyrangiel, who more than—as much as or more than anyone made this documentary possible. Again, this has been for us an important and I like to think successful collaboration.

MOYNIHAN: I think so—it’s the second one, yeah.

HAASS: Our second one, so we’re jazzed—we’re jazzed about it. This is—this is a big issue, and again, I’ll also say it’s an example of how what we used to think of the foreign policy agenda continues to evolve. It’s about a lot more than NATO, though we’ve once again made NATO part of the active foreign policy agenda in ways we didn’t imagine. But it’s—again, these issues are emerging, and we’ll do our best to cover them here.

So let me—I want to thank Nicole Isaac. (Applause.) I want to thank Michael Moynihan. (Applause.)

MOYNIHAN: Thank you.

HAASS: And tell your friends about the film, and thank you for staying late tonight. We appreciate it.

ISAAC: Thank you.


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