People over robots: How policy distorts decisions around automation

Monday, June 12, 2023, 10:00 – 11:30 a.m. EDT

We live in a technological age full of machines promising to transform every aspect of our lives. As such, we often treat technological change as something to be adapted to—almost as a force of nature—and the pace of change seems irrepressible. However, while technology and automation have significantly improved our lives, what impact do these radical changes have on our societies and workers around the world? How much does the world miss out on the real economic and humanitarian gains that would come from allowing people to go and work where they are needed instead of trying to use technology to replace humans?

On Monday, June 12, the Global Economy and Development program at Brookings and Labor Mobility Partnerships (LaMP) will host Simon Johnson, an economist at MIT, to discuss his latest book “Power and Progress,” which argues that technology has, in most eras, been used by a class of elites to further enrich themselves and consolidate their power. He will be joined by Lant Pritchett, an expert on matters of labor mobility and development, who will highlight the key ideas from his latest piece “People Over Robots” published in Foreign Affairs magazine, claiming that automation is a choice people make—not an inevitability or a necessity—and one they make based on labor markets distorted by restrictive immigration policies.

The speakers will engage in a discussion moderated by Vox Co-Founder Matt Yglesias to discuss the idea that progress depends on the choices we make about technology, and how our policies influence these choices. The conversation will focus on the intersection of technology and labor mobility, and the unexplored potential that already exists among people around the world.

Online viewers can submit questions via email to or via Twitter @BrookingsGlobal using #PeopleOverRobots.

Register to watch online:

The Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036

Select event topics you're interested in  | View all Brookings Events