Weekend Roundup: 5 Million Jobs Lost to Robots and Inequality Too Vast to Last

01/22/2016 09:47 pm ET | Updated Jan 22, 2016
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As global elites gathered in Davos this week, the World Economic Forum released a daunting survey that estimates that 5 million jobs will be lost across the world in coming years to robotic automation. Oxfam also reported this week that 62 ultra-rich individuals held as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion people on the planet -- inequality too vast to last.

While globalization and rapid technological advance empower some with unprecedented possibilities, they dispossess others, causing growing gaps in power and wealth that lead in turn to fear, resentment and violence. In this one world a race is on between the two consequences of change. As Jo Confino writes from Davos, "rapid advances in technology are pulling the world in opposite directions."

The fearful and fearsome reaction against growing inequality, social dislocation and loss of identity in the midst of vast wealth creation, unprecedented mobility and ubiquitous connectivity is a mutiny, really, against globalization. It could spell the demise of the worldwide march in one direction we've seen in recent decades. Indian novelist Rana Dasgupta links economic exclusion to the resurgence of radicalism: "Many people across the world are falling out of our global economic system, which does not need them. The spread of radical ideologies ... is also about this simple fact."

Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of the cloud computing company, Salesforce, makes the case for businesses to engage as platforms for positive change. He cites WEF's Klaus Schwab: "Unless public- and private-sector leaders assure citizens that they are executing credible strategies to improve people's' lives, social unrest, mass migration, and violent extremism could intensify, thus creating risks for countries at all stages of development." Artificial intelligence researcher Dileep George embraces the future wholeheartedly: "Technology has the power to transform society. The most significant human innovations have rewritten our capacity to help and heal ... Superintelligent AGI [artificial general intelligence] has the capacity to solve many of the most significant problems facing humanity today, like addressing climate change or curing diseases ... more than any other invention that has come before it, AI has the capacity to help humanity thrive." Futurist Vivek Wadhwa lists the six technologies that will define 2016, including the Internet of Things. Steven Hill takes on the notion of the sharing "Uber economy" as a hope for the future. Instead, he argues, it is a race to the bottom where workers are exploited without benefits or protection while the networking companies profit.

Writing from Singapore, Parag Khanna sees some hope in the resilience of the emerging economies in a world of "many wheels, different speeds." "From China to Singapore to Dubai," he argues, "it is clear that upgrading infrastructure and improving capacity -- supply leading demand -- is a crucial strategy in rapidly urbanizing societies. If everyone plays their cards right, we can finally achieve the synchronized global growth hoped for since the financial crisis."

Jobs, wealth and inequality have become a central issue in American politics as well as in global debate. Former U.S. labor secretary Robert Reich scores his Democratic Party colleagues for "abandoning" the white working class. "Democrats have occupied the White House for 16 of the last 24 years," he writes, "and in that time scored some important victories for working families. ... But they've done nothing to change the vicious cycle of wealth and power that has rigged the economy for the benefit of those at the top." U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has a different take, praising President Obama for leading the nation to recovery after the financial crash, creating 14 million jobs and providing "affordable health care within reach for everyone." According to a new survey reported by HuffPost pollster Ariel Edwards-Levy, Republicans and Democrats are so divided it seems they have been living in different countries for the last eight years. The hyper-polarization of Venezuela ought to be a warning to the U.S., says Rafael Osío Cabrices, of letting divisive politics get out of hand. Nicolas Berggruen writes that jobs of the future must be the next president's top priority. To cope with the disruption and inequality created by new technologies, he writes, "the new president will have to consider how a 21st century safety net and trampoline of opportunity meets this challenge." He also argues it would be an "historic blunder" to make China an enemy and end up in a new Cold War with Russia. "The worst geopolitical development would be for the world to break up once again into rigid bloc systems fortified by a new nuclear arms race," he counsels.

Yet, as former U.S. defense secretary William J. Perry sees it, that is exactly what is happening. "I believe we are now on the verge of a new nuclear arms race, and we are drifting back to a Cold War mentality ... the risk of nuclear catastrophe today is greater than during the Cold War," he darkly warns. Historian Lawrence Wittner says the U.S. must share the blame for this situation. "A fight now underway over newly-designed U.S. nuclear weapons" he writes, " highlights how far the Obama administration has strayed from its commitment to build a nuclear-free world."

The one bright spot on the horizon is the recently concluded deal with Iran to shut down the majority of its nuclear weaponization program in exchange for the removal of sanctions, which were lifted this week by both the U.S. and the United Nations. In an exclusive article, Reza Marashi writes about the release of his friend, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, from an Iranian jail. "This exchange," says Marashi, "is a direct result of the nuclear deal. ... It simply could not have happened without dialogue between the U.S. and Iran." Trita Parsi writes that the challenge now is to ensure that the channels of communication between the U.S. and Iran are not limited to the personal rapport that has developed but will survive into succeeding administrations. Former Iranian National Security Council member Seyed Hossein Mousavian cautions against naïve hopes of a general improvement in U.S.-Iran relations. "The wall of mistrust between Washington and Tehran remains thick," he writes. Iranian journalist Negar Mortazavi notes that the lifting of sanctions on Iran has given President Rouhani a big boost to pursue the rest of his reformist agenda. Inside Iran, the views on this advancement are mixed. WorldPost Managing Editor Farah Mohamed follows up with Iranians The WorldPost surveyed in August to see how -- and if -- recent developments have changed their minds now that the deal is a reality.

Writing from Jerusalem, historian Stefan Ihrig posits that the renewed violence in the Turkish southeast against the Kurds owes a lot to "an undigested history of violence against all sorts of ethnic and otherwise defined enemies of the Turkish state," including Armenians. It is incumbent upon those historical victims, he writes, not to abandon the Kurds today. Willa Frej reports from Dunkirk on the "horrific squalor" of a refugee camp near the banks of the English Channel. William Lacy Swing of the International Organization for Migration and Demetrios Papademetriou argue that the fears over rising crime and instability that accompany the refugee influx are legitimate and must be overcome sooner rather than later if Europe is going to resolve the present crisis. In an interview from Davos, Fareed Zakaria says, "I worry that the European experiment will not survive if every country privileges national identity over European identity."

World Reporter Nick Robins-Early reports on a bold new graphic novel about hope amid ISIS terror in Iraq. World Reporter Charlotte Alfred and World Social Media Editor Rowaida Abdelaziz examine the cruel toll of Yemen's war. Danae Leivada reports on Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' round of meetings in Davos with the likes of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble and IMF chief Christine Largarde in the ongoing effort to restructure Greek debt. In a conversation with Arianna Huffington, Tsipras said: "Everything points to Greece being able to bounce back. As long as the mistakes of the past are not repeated."

WorldPost China Correspondent Matt Sheehan reports from Beijing that a new round of sensational televised "confessions" -- made outside of China's own legal processes and often believed to be coerced -- are seen by human rights activists as a way to intimidate those viewed as troublemakers and part of a wide-ranging crackdown on civil society under Chinese President Xi Jinping. In China-Africa relations, Eric Olander and Cobus van Staden look at how the recent violence in the African continent is testing China's own foreign policy. This week's Forgotten Fact also takes us to Africa, to Ethiopia, which is experiencing a brutal crackdown on protests.

Dawn Field hails U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's call for a "cancer moonshot" aimed at eliminating "the Emperor of all Maladies" through new innovations in big data and gene editing. Astronomer Seth Shostak muses that the discovery of Planet 9 suggests that if our solar system is like all others, there may also be alternative life forms out there. Our Singularity series this week looks at how emotional intelligence is the key to smarter gadgets. Finally, Fusion reports that the use of coal as a key fuel has stalled due to the slowdown of the Chinese economy, as well as regulatory advances to curb climate change.

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