One of the great paradoxes of our time is that while there is much talk that robots will take our jobs, the reality is that people are taking robots’ jobs. Official figures show that the UK employment rate is at its highest since current data began in 1971, while next week’s numbers will show that business investment has flatlined since 2015. Unsurprisingly, therefore, productivity is still stagnating.
This is not just because Brexit is deterring companies from investing in new technology. For one thing, even before Brexit investment fell short of expectations: in 2014-15 it grew at only half the rate forecast by the the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). And for another, much the same is happening in other countries. In the US unemployment is at a 50-year low; capital spending has grown only modestly; and productivity is growing more slowly than its pre-crisis average. And in the eurozone the share of business investment in the gross domestic product (GDP) is still well below pre-crisis levels.
Why, then, is there such a gulf between talk and facts?