As a presidential candidate, one of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s most notable plans was a proposal for a “robot tax” and a federal agency designed to deal with automation and combat the loss of jobs it will trigger. The idea, which has been introduced in the past by Bill Gates, didn’t receive much traction beyond the Wired op-ed de Blasio wrote introducing it – especially in the shadow of Andrew Yang’s more famous $1,000/month plan to combat automation.
But now, months since he’s returned home from the campaign trail, de Blasio still has automation on his mind.
“We do not have a coherent national conversation going on about automation and about the impact technology is having on working people,” de Blasio said during a speech at a U.S. Conference of Mayors panel on Wednesday, advocating for a federal strategy to deal with technological change – including the loss of jobs due to automation. The speech followed up on a Medium post the mayor’s office released Wednesday morning calling for a new federal agency to help deal with worker displacement.
Advocates and experts agree, but argue that de Blasio could take action at the city level in lieu of federal action. “We’re glad to see this issue elevated by the mayor and others on a national stage,” said Eli Dvorkin, editorial and policy director at the Center for an Urban Future, a think tank that has studied the impacts of automation on New York City’s workforce. “But to really ‘get ahead of the game,’ as the mayor writes, New York City doesn’t need to wait for new federal regulation or changes in corporate tax policy. The city should launch its own Automation Preparation Plan to invest in upskilling infrastructure and greatly expand access to skills-building programs and affordable post-secondary credentials that are aligned with the ways that the city’s job market is changing.”
De Blasio received similar criticism in unveiling his presidential robot tax plan. Without getting into specifics, the mayor did, however, suggest on Wednesday that cities could act on their own when it comes to preparing for technological change broadly. “I think as mayors, we’ve learned many times over that when our national government doesn't lead and our state governments don’t lead, we have to lead, and if enough of us lead, it actually starts to create some national consensus,” he said.
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