World Bank President Jim Kim warns that two-thirds of jobs in developing nations could be wiped out by automation, a situation that could boost conflict and refugee flows.
Kim spoke Thursday in Washington as economic and political leaders from around the world gathered for meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Kim says it is not clear how fast automation would cut jobs. He says the threat to employment opportunity comes as near-universal access to the internet means people in the poorest nations understand that others have much more comfortable lives. The result, Kim says, is soaring aspirations. Without economic growth and opportunity, those unmet aspirations could lead to frustration, unrest, or more refugees seeking jobs in other nations.
The World Bank president says the issue is urgent because the world already faces serious problems with conflict, climate shock, famine and the worst refugee crisis since World War II.
Kim says the solution is to mobilize trillions of dollars in private capital that currently is earning little or no interest.
He says World Bank experts are seeking ways to help commercial lenders make such investments in ways that are less risky and more commercially viable. According to Kim, this is the only way to move with enough force and speed to manage a problem of this size.
In the United States, worries about jobs being lost to computers and automation grow out of the millions of manufacturing jobs lost since 1999. While some politicians blame trade for these employment losses, many economists say most of those jobs vanished because of automation.
While manufacturing jobs proved vulnerable to automation, research shows different results in banking, where the addition of hundreds of thousands of Automated Teller Machines, or ATMs, was accompanied by a slight increase in jobs for humans. Workers who were displaced when robots took over repetitious, tedious work moved to jobs that were less predictable or that required human, emotional connections, such as sales.