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Essays in the political economy of automation: power, politics, institutions and labour-saving technological change in Europe

Van Overbeke, Toon (2022) Essays in the political economy of automation: power, politics, institutions and labour-saving technological change in Europe. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004449


Automation, or technology that substitutes labour in production, is central to most advanced capitalist democracies. As an important factor of productivity growth, it benefits most in society over the long-term by helping to taper over existing inequalities all the while making strenuous, tedious and low value added jobs redundant. However, in the short-term automation often proves injurious to individuals or even groups of workers who see their skills devalued or their jobs destroyed. This combination of economic potential and sociopolitical peril has sparked much research on the topic over the last decades. As a result, social scientists have offered a range of different theories to understand the development of this process. These existing accounts predict labourreplacing technological change should thrive in liberal economies, where there exist few barriers managerial power and labour is relatively unorganised. In this dissertation I shed light on these claims by analysing the relation between institutions, politics and automation in advanced capitalist democracies. Over the course of three papers, I use of a range of different methods, from comparative case studies to multivariate statistical analysis to untangle this relation. I show that automation is not simply a market-driven process, filtering routine tasks out of the economy, but is deeply rooted within institutionally defined models of growth and redistribution. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I find that systems where capital has to share its political power with labour often automate more not less. What is more, my findings show that when automation is an institutionally negotiated process its short-term adjustment costs are distributed more fairly, leading to lower levels of anti-incumbent voting. As such, this thesis contributes to debates in comparative political economy by demonstrating the embeddedness of automation within capitalist growth models and by highlighting how this type of technological change cuts across the perennial tensions between capitalism and democracy.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2022 Toon Van Overbeke
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory
J Political Science > JC Political theory
J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe)
Sets: Departments > European Institute
Supervisor: Hancké, Bob and Estrin, Saul

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