This Is a Great Time to Hike the Estate Tax, Because America’s Billionaires Are Getting Really, Really Old

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

This Is a Great Time to Hike the Estate Tax, Because America’s Billionaires Are Getting Really, Really Old
By JORDAN WEISSMANN
Feb 1 2019
https://slate.com/business/2019/02/bernie-sanders-estate-tax-hikes-old-billionaires.html

You know what Sen. Bernie Sanders would love to do? Soak the rich. And what have Democrats been doing lately? Antagonizing Howard Schultz by talking about how to soak the rich. So this week, the senator from Vermont joined the festivities by rolling out his plan to confiscate the wealth of America’s millionaires and billionaires when they die through a massive expansion of the estate tax.

As part of the 2017 tax cut, Republicans doubled the amount of money Americans could leave behind to their heirs before the estate tax would start to bite. Today, the levy only applies to fortunes worth at least $11.8 million, with a top rate of 40 percent. Sanders would lower the minimum back to down to $3.5 million while imposing progressively higher rates that top out a 77 percent for billionaires. (Sanders notes this was the maximum rate from 1941 to 1976). The proposal would impact the wealthiest 0.2 percent of U.S. households, which is why he has called it the “For the 99.8 Percent Act.”

Sanders is not the only Democrat to suggest blowing out the estate tax. Cory Booker proposed bringing back its 2009 parameters to fund his baby bonds proposal, for instance. More generally, Democrats have become newly interested in finding ways to tax the accumulated wealth of the ultra-rich, rather than merely skimming a bit of their income each year. Elizabeth Warren has proposed a tax on households with more than $50 million to their name that would take 2 to 3 percent of their net-worth each year. But in all likelihood, any concerted effort to go after wealth would require multiple taxes in order to close off avoidance opportunities.

Restoring the estate tax seems like an especially timely way to do it. How come? At the risk of being a bit crude, America’s billionaires are getting old. Very old. Forbes’ list of the 400 richest Americans includes, by my count, 128 individuals individuals over the age of 75. Most of these people are probably not going to live much more than a decade—according to research from the Equality of Opportunity Project, America’s one-percenters can expect to keep on keepin’ on roughly until their mid-to-late 80s (technically, that stat applies to individuals at age 40, but you get the idea). We only have a limited amount of time to take a reasonable cut of their money hoard before it gets passed on to their heirs. That, or we’re about to witness at a tidal wave of intergenerational wealth transfer that could leave us with a whole Forbes list worth of Wyatt Kochs. Is that what we want America? Even if you don’t mind the occasional gauche Hawaiian shirt, or the idea of parents handing gigantic brokerage accounts to their kids, or care whether people with vast financial resources at their disposal earned them, research has suggested that inequality driven specifically by inherited wealth may be a drag on the economic growth. (The reasons why aren’t entirely clear, and the researchers arrive at their conclusions through a series of cross-country regressions, which aren’t exactly the world’s greatest research method. But academic inquiry on this subject is surprisingly scarce and we’ve got to take what we’ve got). Pumping up estate taxes soon might not just be necessary for the sake of good taste, basic egalitarian instinct, or our bubbling class resentments. It may be necessary for the good our whole economy.

[snip]

Kamala Harris is wrong about science fiction

[Note:  This item comes from friend Robert Berger.  DLH]

Kamala Harris is wrong about science fiction
By Charlie Jane Anders
Jan 30 2019
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/kamala-harris-is-wrong-we-need-both-science-facts–and-science-fiction/2019/01/30/5440db74-2498-11e9-81fd-b7b05d5bed90_story.html

Sen. Kamala D. Harris was half right in her speech launching her 2020 presidential campaign when she said we need to address climate change based on “science fact, not science fiction.” The truth is, we need both. Science fiction has an important role to play in rescuing the future from the huge challenges we’re facing — and the responses to Harris’s statement illustrate this perfectly.

When the California Democrat’s statement about climate change went out on social media, a number of people pointed out the truth: Science fiction has been helping us to prepare for a world of potentially disastrous climate upheaval for years. But an equal number of loud voices took issue with Harris’s warnings about climate change, because in our post-truth era, the scientific consensus about what humans are doing to our planet is still somehow a matter of opinion.

And that’s why science fiction is more important than Harris gives it credit for. No amount of scientific evidence will convince deniers — or the vast number of people who merely live in a state of denial. We live in an era in which facts and fiction are blurring into an indistinguishable mess and power belongs to whoever can tell the best story, true or not. No one can even tell what’s real anymore, and what matters is just how something makes us feel — which is why we need better stories, that, in the words of author Neil Gaiman, “lie in order to tell the truth.”

Of course, Harris was engaging in a long tradition of politicians and pundits using “science fiction” as shorthand for “implausible or unreal stories of things that could never actually happen.” And it’s true that movies and TV have a, shall we say, mixed track record when it comes to climate issues. (See: “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Geostorm” and “Waterworld.”) But authors such as Kim Stanley Robinson, Sam J. Miller, Tobias Buckell and Margaret Atwood have been writing powerful works that depict the effects of climate change and how we might mitigate it.

Stories about climate change might be fiction, but they can help to sway people’s hearts and minds in a different way than a recitation of the undeniable facts. And this goes beyond climate change: Many other challenges we’re facing right now involve matters of belief, as much as logistics. Take, for example, the global crisis of democracy, in which the free press and voting rights are under threat. Or the new wave of attacks on LGBTQ people’s right to exist.

In response to these nightmares, and others, science fiction creators have been doing some soul-searching that includes looking for ways we can do more to restore people’s faith in the future. Authors such as Alexandra Rowland have started a conversation about creating a new type of stories called “Hopepunk ” that show people reasons to believe we really can do the hard work of fixing our problems. Neal Stephenson and others helped to launch Project Hieroglyph, publishing optimistic, science-based stories in which scientific ingenuity (and lots of sweat) help us to think big to grapple with climate change and other issues.

And then there’s another neologism ending in “-punk”: Some authors are creating a new genre called “Solarpunk” that aims to tell optimistic stories, specifically about using technological and scientific innovation to help the environment.

When the truth becomes near-impossible to distinguish through the fog of disinformation and “alternative facts,” people tend to feel powerless to change the world. Veteran activist L.A. Kauffman (author of “How to Read a Protest”) says people need to be reminded that they “have more collective power than they realize,” instead of getting distracted by arguing over the meaning of the latest viral video. Adds Kauffman, “There are truths we can get to through the imagination that are hard to get to through purely factual accounts.”

With Onnesha Roychoudhuri, Kauffman co-created the fake edition of The Washington Post, dated May 1, 2019, which reported President Trump’s resignation; she sees the fake Post as a piece of activist science fiction. Hence its center spread that urged people to “Remember the Future.”

[snip]

European colonization of Americas helped cause climate change

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

European colonization of Americas helped cause climate change
Research finds killing of native people indirectly contributed to a colder period by causing deaths of around 56 million by 1600
By Oliver Milman 
Jan 31 2019
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/31/european-colonization-of-americas-helped-cause-climate-change

European colonization of the Americas resulted in the killing of so many native people that it transformed the environment and caused the Earth’s climate to cool down, new research has found.

Settlers killed off huge numbers of people in conflicts and also by spreading disease, which reduced the indigenous population by 90% in the century following Christopher Columbus’s initial journey to the Americas and Caribbean in 1492.

This “large-scale depopulation” resulted in vast tracts of agricultural land being left untended, researchers say, allowing the land to become overgrown with trees and other new vegetation.

The regrowth soaked up enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to actually cool the planet, with the average temperature dropping by 0.15C in the late 1500s and early 1600s, the study by scientists at University College London found.

“The great dying of the indigenous peoples of the Americas resulted in a human-driven global impact on the Earth system in the two centuries prior to the Industrial Revolution,” wrote the UCL team of Alexander Koch, Chris Brierley, Mark Maslin and Simon Lewis.

The drop in temperature during this period is known as the “Little Ice Age”, a time when the River Thames in London would regularly freeze over, snowstorms were common in Portugal and disrupted agriculture caused famines in several European countries.

The UCL researchers found that the European colonization of the Americas indirectly contributed to this colder period by causing the deaths of about 56 million people by 1600. The study attributes the deaths to factors including introduced disease, such as smallpox and measles, as well as warfare and societal collapse.

Researchers then calculated how much land indigenous people required and then subsequently fell into disuse, finding that around 55m hectares, an area roughly equivalent to France, became vacant and was reclaimed by carbon dioxide-absorbing vegetation.

The study sketches out a past where humans were influencing the climate long before the industrial revolution, where the use of fossil fuels for the manufacturing of goods, generation of electricity and transportation has allowed tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere.

Widespread deforestation for agriculture and urban development has also spurred the release of greenhouse gases, causing the planet to warm by around 1C over the past century. Scientists have warned that the world has little over a decade to drastically reduce emissions or face increasingly severe storms, drought, heatwaves, coastal flooding and food insecurity.

The revegetation of the Americas after European arrival aided declines of global carbon content in the air, dropping by around seven to 10 parts of carbon dioxide for every million molecules of air in the atmosphere. This compares to the 3ppm of carbon dioxide that humanity is currently adding to the atmosphere every year through the burning of fossil fuels.

“There is a lot of talk around ‘negative emissions’ approaching and using tree-planting to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to mitigate climate change,” study co-author Chris Brierley told the BBC.

[snip]

Genes linked to antibiotic-resistant superbugs found in Arctic

Genes linked to antibiotic-resistant superbugs found in Arctic
Discovery of genes, possibly carried by birds or humans, shows rapid spread of crisis
By Fiona Harvey
Jan 28 2019
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jan/28/genes-linked-to-antibiotic-resistant-superbugs-found-in-arctic

Genes associated with antibiotic-resistant superbugs have been discovered in the high Arctic, one of the most remote places on earth, showing the rapid spread and global nature of the resistance problem.

The genes were first identified in a hospital patient in India in 2007-8, then in surface waters in Delhi in 2010, probably carried there by sewage, and are now confirmed in soil samples from Svalbard in the Arctic circle, in a paper in the journal Environment International. They may have been carried by migrating birds or human visitors, but human impact on the area is minimal.

While the genes, called blaNDM-1, have been identified in soil on the Norwegian archipelago, the presence of superbugs has not. The genes can confer on bacteria resistance to carbapenems, which are antibiotics of last resort for the treatment of human diseases.

Antibiotic resistance threatens a global “apocalypse”, England’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, has warned, and last week the health secretary, Matt Hancock, called it a bigger threat than climate change or warfare. Common operations could become life-threatening and rapidly spreading and evolving diseases could overcome our last medical defences, reversing nearly a century of remarkable progress in human health.

For the study, DNA was extracted from 40 samples of soil at eight locations in Svalbard, and among these a total of 131 antibiotic resistant genes were found. The blaNDM-1 gene was found in more than 60% of the soil cores studied.

This discovery in such a remote region demonstrates the role that poor sanitation can play in generating antibiotic resistance, according to David Graham, a professor of ecosystems engineering at Newcastle University, who led the research team. While efforts to curb the growth of resistance have concentrated on overuse of antibiotics, this research shows there are other pathways by which resistance can be spread, he said.

“What humans have done through excess use of antibiotics is accelerate the rate of evolution, creating resistant strains that never existed before,” he said. Crucially, poor sanitation provides a breeding ground for resistant bacteria that can then spread rapidly.

The research showed the need for a worldwide response to the resistance crisis, said Graham, in place of the piecemeal efforts in some regions to curb overuse of the drugs in human health. “Local strategies can only do so much – we must think more globally,” he said. “The problem will be political.”

Wealthy countries and wealthy people in developing countries who feel insulated from the filthy conditions of the world’s poor may find themselves falling victim to the same superbugs as resistant bacteria evolve rapidly in poor sanitation and can spread far afield. Helen Hamilton, a senior policy analyst at WaterAid, said: “We cannot tackle the rise of antimicrobial resistance without focusing on water, sanitation, hygiene and infection prevention control. In today’s globalised world, a drug-resistant infection in one part of the world will not be constrained by national borders.”

She said the key was to bring better sanitation to developing countries, particularly for medical facilities, of which four in 10 in the developing world lack clean water on-site. This contributes directly to the growth of resistant infections. “We must tackle this silent crisis and make sure every health care facility has clean, safe water, decent toilets and soap and water for handwashing,” she said. “Prevention is the first step to slowing antimicrobial resistance and improving global health security.”

Superbugs kill about 2,000 people in the UK each year, and a further 53,000 people are seriously affected. Last week, the government announced new measures to cut the use of antibiotics by 15% in the next five years, through education, preventive measures, more testing, and changing prescribing practices.

[snip]

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Crusher of Sacred Cows

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Crusher of Sacred Cows
With its silly swipes at AOC, the American political establishment is once again revealing its blindness to its own unpopularity
By Matt Taibbi
Jan 21 2019
https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-media-781571/

One of the first things you learn covering American politicians is that they’re not terribly bright.

The notion that Hill denizens are brilliant 4-D chess players is pure myth, the product of too many press hagiographies of the Game Change variety and too many Hollywood fantasies like House of Cards and West Wing.

The average American politician would lose at checkers to a zoo gorilla. They’re usually in office for one reason: someone with money sent them there, often to vote yes on a key appropriation bill or two. On the other 364 days of the year, their job is to shut their yaps and approximate gravitas anytime they’re in range of C-SPAN cameras.

Too many hacks float to the capital on beds of national committee money and other donor largesse, but then — once they get behind that desk and sit between those big flags — start thinking they’re actually beloved tribunes of the people, whose opinions on all things are eagerly desired.

So they talk. What do they talk about? To the consternation of donors, all kinds of stuff. Remember Ted Stevens explaining that the Internet “is not a big truck”? How about Hank Johnson worrying that Guam would become so overpopulated it would “tip over and capsize”? How about Oklahoma Republican Jim Bridenstine noting that just because the Supreme Court rules on something, that “doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s constitutional”?

There’s a reason aides try to keep their bosses away from microphones, particularly when there’s a potential for a question of SAT-or-higher level difficulty in the interview. But the subject elected officials have the most trouble staying away from is each other.

We’ve seen this a lot in recent weeks with the ongoing freakout over newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Lest anyone think any of the above applies to “AOC,” who’s also had a lot to say since arriving in Washington, remember: she won in spiteof the party and big donors, not because of them.

That doesn’t make anything she says inherently more or less correct. But it changes the dynamic a bit. All of AOC’s supporters sent her to Washington precisely to make noise. There isn’t a cabal of key donors standing behind her, cringing every time she talks about the Pentagon budget. She is there to be a pain in the ass, and it’s working. Virtually the entire spectrum of Washington officialdom has responded to her with horror and anguish.

The mortification on the Republican side has come more from media figures than actual elected officials. Still, there are plenty of people like Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) doing things like denouncing “this girl, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whatever she is” for preaching “socialism wrapped in ignorance.” A group of GOP House members booed her on the floor, to which she replied, “Don’t hate me cause you ain’t me, fellas.”

The Beltway press mostly can’t stand her. A common theme is that, as a self-proclaimed socialist, she should be roaming the halls of Rayburn and Cannon in rags or a barrel. Washington Examiner reporter Eddie Scarry tweeted a photo of her in a suit, saying she didn’t look like “a girl who struggles.”

High priest of conventional wisdom Chris Cillizza, with breathtaking predictability, penned a column comparing her to Donald Trump. He noted the social media profiles of both allow them to “end-run the so-called ‘media filter’ and deliver their preferred message… directly to supporters.”

The latter issue, of course, is the real problem most of Washington has with “AOC”: her self-generated popularity and large social media presence mean she doesn’t need to ask anyone’s permission to say anything.

She doesn’t have to run things by donors and she doesn’t need the assent of thinkfluencers like Cillizza or Max Boot (who similarly compared her to both Trump and Sarah Palin), because she almost certainly gains popularity every time one of those nitwits takes a swipe at her.

Which brings us to elected Democrats, who if anything have been most demonstrative in their AOC freakout. We had Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) saying, “We don’t need your sniping in our Democratic caucus.” Recently ousted Sen. Claire McCaskill expressed alarm that she’s “the thing” and a “bright shiny new object.”

This is in addition to the litany of anonymous complaints from fellow caucus members, some of whom felt she jumped the line in an attempt to get a Ways and Means committee assignment. There were whispers she did this through some online-pressure sorcery she alone could avail herself of thanks to her massive Twitter following (nearly every news story about Ocasio-Cortez mentions her 2.47 million Twitter followers).

“It totally pissed off everyone,” one senior House Democrat said about the Ways and Means campaign. “You don’t get picked for committees by who your grass-roots [supporters] are.”

[snip]

It’s Now Clear None of the Supposed Benefits of Killing Net Neutrality Are Real

It’s Now Clear None of the Supposed Benefits of Killing Net Neutrality Are Real
Network investment is down, layoffs abound, and networks are falling apart. This isn’t the glorious future Ajit Pai promised.
By Karl Bode
Jan 24 2019
https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/gyab5m/its-now-clear-none-of-the-supposed-benefits-of-killing-net-neutrality-are-real

In the months leading up to the FCC assault on net neutrality, big telecom and FCC boss Ajit Pai told anybody who’d listen that killing net neutrality would boost broadband industry investment, spark job creation, and drive broadband into underserved areas at an unprecedented rate.

As it turns out, none of those promises were actually true.

Despite the FCC voting to kill the popular consumer protections late last year, Comcast’s latest earnings report indicates that the cable giant’s capital expenditures (CAPEX) for 2018 actually decreased 3 percent. The revelation comes on the heels by similar statements by Verizon and Charter Spectrum that they’d also be seeing lower network investment numbers in 2018. 

It’s not expected to get any better in 2019.

According to analysis this week by Wall Street research firm MoffettNathanson, capital spending among the nation’s four biggest cable providers (Altice, Comcast, Charter Spectrum, CableONE) is expected to decline upwards of 5.8 percent this year. 

Phone companies (AT&T, Verizon) are similarly expected to see their wireline capex fall from $20.3 billion in 2018 to $19.6 billion this year, notes the firm. And while investment in wireless is expected to jump slightly thanks to fifth generation (5G) investment, there too analysts have noted that overall investment is notably more sluggish than many had predicted.

The FCC did not respond to a request for comment on why its predictions have been so decidedly inaccurate. 

Meanwhile, none of this comes as much of a surprise to those well versed in the net neutrality fight. 

While the FCC and telecom sector repeatedly tried to claim that net neutrality rules stifled network investment, SEC filings, earnings reports, and even dozens of public statements made by countless CEOs easily disproved those claims. That didn’t stop either Pai or the telecom sector from repeating the claims countless times over a two-year span.

Gigi Sohn, a former FCC lawyer who helped craft the agency’s net neutrality rules, told Motherboard that the repeal of net neutrality (and the Title II classification of ISPs that legally underpinned the protections) was based on little more than fluff and nonsense. 

“The cornerstone of Ajit Pai’s net neutrality repeal order has quickly crumbled,” Sohn told me in an email.

“The broadband industry’s reduction in investment and CAPEX in the wake of Ajit Pai’s repeal of the net neutrality rules proves what advocates for Internet openness have known all along—neither the rules nor Title II authority had any effect on broadband investment.”

Sohn told me telecom investment decisions are based on a wide variety of factors including technological advancement, the economy, and the level of competition an ISP sees in its market. Given huge swaths of America only have the choice of one ISP to choose from, there’s little pressuring them to put soaring profits back into the network or customer service.

And that’s the problem. Net neutrality violations and other bad behaviors by big telecom are just a symptom of a lack of vibrant competition. But the Pai FCC has routinely worked to downplay this problem, even to the point of trying to weaken the very definition of the word “competition” to the exclusive benefit of entrenched ISPs. 

Instead, the focus for the Trump administration has been to dole out billions in tax cuts, subsidies, and regulatory favors to giant telecom operators, who in turn routinely promise job growth, network investment, and better service that never actually materializes.

Motherboard has exclusively reported how AT&T is prepping another major round of layoffs despite netting nearly $20 billion from the Trump tax cuts. And Verizon this week said it would be cutting 7 Percent of its media staff—on the heels of a 10,000 employee “voluntary” severance package—despite its own mammoth windfall of government favors. 

Other ISPs, like Frontier Communications, have been literally letting their networks fall apart in many states, despite millions in taxpayer subsidies and repeated allegations of fraud. These are problems that were never going to be solved by killing popular consumer protections. 

While this kind of pay to play dysfunction is widespread in telecom, the assault on net neutrality was among the most obvious examples of government kowtowing to natural monopolies, say consumer groups.

[snip]

The Hidden Automation Agenda of the Davos Elite

The Hidden Automation Agenda of the Davos Elite
By Kevin Roose
Jan 25 2019
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/25/technology/automation-davos-world-economic-forum.html

DAVOS, Switzerland — They’ll never admit it in public, but many of your bosses want machines to replace you as soon as possible.

I know this because, for the past week, I’ve been mingling with corporate executives at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos. And I’ve noticed that their answers to questions about automation depend very much on who is listening.

In public, many executives wring their hands over the negative consequences that artificial intelligence and automation could have for workers. They take part in panel discussions about building “human-centered A.I.” for the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” — Davos-speak for the corporate adoption of machine learning and other advanced technology — and talk about the need to provide a safety net for people who lose their jobs as a result of automation.

But in private settings, including meetings with the leaders of the many consulting and technology firms whose pop-up storefronts line the Davos Promenade, these executives tell a different story: They are racing to automate their own work forces to stay ahead of the competition, with little regard for the impact on workers.

All over the world, executives are spending billions of dollars to transform their businesses into lean, digitized, highly automated operations. They crave the fat profit margins automation can deliver, and they see A.I. as a golden ticket to savings, perhaps by letting them whittle departments with thousands of workers down to just a few dozen.

“People are looking to achieve very big numbers,” said Mohit Joshi, the president of Infosys, a technology and consulting firm that helps other businesses automate their operations. “Earlier they had incremental, 5 to 10 percent goals in reducing their work force. Now they’re saying, ‘Why can’t we do it with 1 percent of the people we have?’”

Few American executives will admit wanting to get rid of human workers, a taboo in today’s age of inequality. So they’ve come up with a long list of buzzwords and euphemisms to disguise their intent. Workers aren’t being replaced by machines, they’re being “released” from onerous, repetitive tasks. Companies aren’t laying off workers, they’re “undergoing digital transformation.”

A 2017 survey by Deloitte found that 53 percent of companies had already started to use machines to perform tasks previously done by humans. The figure is expected to climb to 72 percent by next year.

The corporate elite’s A.I. obsession has been lucrative for firms that specialize in “robotic process automation,” or R.P.A. Infosys, which is based in India, reported a 33 percent increase in year-over-year revenue in its digital division. IBM’s “cognitive solutions” unit, which uses A.I. to help businesses increase efficiency, has become the company’s second-largest division, posting $5.5 billion in revenue last quarter. The investment bank UBS projects that the artificial intelligence industry could be worth as much as $180 billion by next year.

Kai-Fu Lee, the author of “AI Superpowers” and a longtime technology executive, predicts that artificial intelligence will eliminate 40 percent of the world’s jobs within 15 years. In an interview, he said that chief executives were under enormous pressure from shareholders and boards to maximize short-term profits, and that the rapid shift toward automation was the inevitable result.

The Milwaukee offices of the Taiwanese electronics maker Foxconn, whose chairman has said he plans to replace 80 percent of the company’s workers with robots in five to 10 years.Lauren Justice for The New York Times

“They always say it’s more than the stock price,” he said. “But in the end, if you screw up, you get fired.”

Other experts have predicted that A.I. will create more new jobs than it destroys, and that job losses caused by automation will probably not be catastrophic. They point out that some automation helps workers by improving productivity and freeing them to focus on creative tasks over routine ones.

But at a time of political unrest and anti-elite movements on the progressive left and the nationalist right, it’s probably not surprising that all of this automation is happening quietly, out of public view. In Davos this week, several executives declined to say how much money they had saved by automating jobs previously done by humans. And none were willing to say publicly that replacing human workers is their ultimate goal.

“That’s the great dichotomy,” said Ben Pring, the director of the Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant, a technology services firm. “On one hand,” he said, profit-minded executives “absolutely want to automate as much as they can.”

“On the other hand,” he added, “they’re facing a backlash in civic society.”

For an unvarnished view of how some American leaders talk about automation in private, you have to listen to their counterparts in Asia, who often make no attempt to hide their aims. Terry Gou, the chairman of the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn, has said the company plans to replace 80 percent of its workers with robots in the next five to 10 years. Richard Liu, the founder of the Chinese e-commerce company JD.com, said at a business conference last year that “I hope my company would be 100 percent automation someday.”

One common argument made by executives is that workers whose jobs are eliminated by automation can be “reskilled” to perform other jobs in an organization. They offer examples like Accenture, which claimed in 2017 to have replaced 17,000 back-office processing jobs without layoffs, by training employees to work elsewhere in the company. In a letter to shareholders last year, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, said that more than 16,000 Amazon warehouse workers had received training in high-demand fields like nursing and aircraft mechanics, with the company covering 95 percent of their expenses.

[snip]