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We will need the arts at the heart of our policies if we are to be resilient to the next wave of aut

This article first appeared on RTÉ Brainstorm here

Donald Trump suggested to the people of America that there was a route back to the tomb-stoned ‘rusted out factories’ of America. Frey, Chen and Berger argued in a recent paper that it was people “vegetating in the backwaters of the stream of progress” that swung the 2016 U.S presidential election.

Technological displacements are driving the new world order and creating concern, fear and uncertainty for voters that dread being left behind. The first wave of automation hit manufacturing hard resulting in a shift away from routine-based middle skilled jobs (e.g. production clerks, plant and machine operators), towards low (e.g. shop and market sales workers) and high skilled (e.g. managers, professionals) service jobs. This has produced a greater polarisation in jobs and incomes, as technologies (robots and algorithms) have replaced middle skilled people based-routines. This job-type displacement led to a place-type displacement. Despite better technologies in transport and computers, people required more face to face interaction as a source of ideas and the knowledge needed for new technological developments became more complex. This search for more complicated knowledge intensified the need for firms and human capital to locate in close proximity to one-another in order to learn. This resulted in the rise of larger, more densely populated, high skilled cities across the globe, causing stark spatial opportunities and inequalities.

These patterns were not unique to the U.S. All OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries broadly experienced this change, albeit at various different disparities. According to the OECD, from 1995-2015, the average decline across OECD countries in traditional middle skilled jobs was 7.6 per cent. In turn, the increase in low skilled jobs was 2.3 per cent and 5.3 per cent in high skilled jobs. Between 1995 and 2015, Ireland has experienced one of the most substantial transitional change shifts of middle skilled jobs to higher skilled jobs, in the OECD. The decline in middle skilled jobs has been 15.1 per cent and the increase in high skilled jobs has been 14.4 per cent and only 0.7 per cent in low skilled jobs. Ireland has experienced over twice the rate of disparity to that observed in the U.S.