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AuthorLarry Summers

Charles W. Eliot University Professor, Harvard University. Harvard University is a member of the Global University Leaders
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The term persistent jobless growth refers to the phenomenon in which economies exiting recessions demonstrate
economic growth while merely maintaining or, in some cases, decreasing their level of employment. The scale and
significance of this problem is evident in the high placing of this trend, an increase even over last years report, when
persistent structural employment was ranked as the third most concerning trend.
The transformations and job displacements associated with technological progress are happening faster, and may even be
more dramatic in their impact than anything weve experienced before, and the task of providing a meaningful, substantial
role for everyone is going to be hugely important. But I believe that this presents us with a huge opportunity to take
advantage of current low costs of borrowing and under-utilized labour resources, and embark on large-scale projects to
build and repair essential infrastructure in our developed and emerging economies.

There is a huge opportunity to use this period to remedy infrastructure deficiencies.

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The task of providing a meaningful, substantial role for everyone is going to be hugely important

If we look at the data on workers aged 25 to 54 the group we think of as a backbone of the workforce the percentage
of those who are not working has risen by a factor of more than three over the course of my lifetime, and that trend seems
inexorably upward. If current trends continue, it could well be that a generation from now a quarter of the middle-aged
demographic will be out of work at any given moment. Even China, which has enjoyed unprecedented growth in
competitiveness and exports, has seen manufacturing employment decline over the last 20 years, thanks to its rapid
industrialization and use technology and automation. This is a long-term trend and we are likely to observe these
phenomena across the world, even among emerging economies as they travel the well-trodden path of industrialization.
The robotics and 3D printing revolutions could accelerate this trend still further, as the comparatively low entry cost for
these disruptive technologies makes them widely accessible to everyone, including developing economies.

How great a problem does a lack of employment opportunities pose in your country?

Source: Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Project, 2014

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Schools, colleges and universities must place a premium on doing the tasks that machines cannot do
Automation is certainly the biggest single contributing factor. Technology can, of course, help with the creation of jobs
but I dont think there is anything automatic about the process. In United States history, the two Roosevelts and Wilson
recognised the challenges and brought about a transformation in the role of the federal government in addressing the
needs of average and less-than-average income workers. Influential factors ranged from the creation of the Tennessee
Valley Authority to the pervasiveness of electricity, from the building of interstate highway system to fibre optic networks.
They all contributed to making progress possible.
If we consider the totality of it, we are much better off thanks to technological progress. But if we do not act, we run the risk
of enjoying fewer improvements in the standard of living and more people will be left behind. There could be a greater
sense of loss of legitimacy and confidence in government, greater recourse by political leaders to nationalism and surlier
and angrier populations, who are more likely to turn on minorities within, and perceived enemies without. This is likely to
be one of the reasons we see many of these interconnected issues appearing in the remaining global trends.

What are the top solutions to persistent jobless growth?

Source: Survey on the Global Agenda 2014


I dont think any of us fully know what kind of policy our governments should be undertaking Im not sure that this era
has yet seen its Bismarck or its Gladstone, someone who will rise to this challenge and transform government policy to
meet the needs of this age. Among the key areas that will have to change is education, so that our schools, colleges and

universities place a premium on doing the tasks that machines cannot do: collaboration, creation and leading. And at the
same time, they must place less emphasis on the tasks that machines can do: the monitoring, calculation and execution.

Global unemployment trends and projections 2003-2018

Source: ILO, Trends Econometric Models, October 2013

The upside of this trend is that those losing jobs due to increased productivity will be freed up to do things in other sectors.
There is, for example, a huge opportunity here to use this period to remedy infrastructure deficiencies. On the one hand
we have decaying infrastructures across the West airports, rail systems, pipelines and systems of telecommunications.
And on the other hand, we have record low interest costs of borrowing, near record high levels of construction
unemployment and unused resources.
Ultimately Im an optimist, but Im a believer in optimism through raising the alarm. I dont take a position that is
automatically optimistic, because I believe history teaches us that complacency is a self-denying prophecy.

How do you expect the economic situation in your country to change over the next 12 months?

Source: Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Project, 2014