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The Rise of the Machines: Automation, Horizontal Innovation and Income Inequality

Author

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  • Morten Olsen

    (IESE)

  • David Hemous

    (INSEAD)

Abstract

We construct an endogenous growth model of directed technical change with automation (the introduction of machines which replace low-skill labor and complement high-skill labor) and horizontal innovation (the introduction of new products, which increases demand for both types of labor). For general processes of technical change, we demonstrate that although low-skill wages can drop during periods of increasing automation intensity, the asymptotic growth rate is weakly positive --- though lower than that of the economy. We then endogenize the evolution of technology and show that the transitional path follows three distinct phases. First, wages are low, such that few machines are used and low-skill wages keep pace with the growth rate of the economy. Then, as wages grow, the share of automated products increases and the economy substitutes towards the use of machines -- depressing the growth rate of low-skill wages (potentially to negative). Finally, as the economy reaches steady state, the share of automated products is constant and the relative growth rate of low-skill wages recovers somewhat, yet remains lower than that of the economy overall. Allowing workers to endogenously transition from low-skill to high-skill alleviates the growth in income inequality, but does not alter the structure of the model. We extend the model to include middle-skill workers and demonstrate that the model endogenously captures the defining characteristics of the U.S. income distribution over the past 50 years: initially a monotone dispersion of the income distribution, and thereafter a wage growth polarization in which middle-skill workers experience the lowest wage growth. Finally, in an extension we allow machines to be produced with a different technology than the consumption good. This allows for faster productivity growth for machines potentially leading to permanently negative growth of low-skill wages.

Suggested Citation

  • Morten Olsen & David Hemous, 2014. "The Rise of the Machines: Automation, Horizontal Innovation and Income Inequality," 2014 Meeting Papers 162, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  • Handle: RePEc:red:sed014:162
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    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • E25 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Aggregate Factor Income Distribution
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes
    • O41 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - One, Two, and Multisector Growth Models

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