My decision to undertake PhD studies is motivated by the desire to pursue my research interests on inequality and labour economics. In particular, I am very keen to investigate the impact upon labour markets and educational systems of the currently unfolding fourth industrial revolution. The cascade of technological innovations introduced since the beginning of the 21st century opens up many opportunities for improving society’s well-being in the future, yet it also brings in several challenges for policy-makers.
Ever since the first industrial revolution, technological changes have historically been associated with major increases in workers’ productivity–through a fruitful complementarity relationship between labor and capital–and a net positive balance between created and destroyed jobs, thus eventually benefiting society as a whole. This trend could continue with the current technological revolution, whereby the automation of tedious or risky tasks could potentially lead to a net increase in safer and more rewarding jobs, and even to a reduction of working times. However, due to its scale, scope, velocity, and complexity, the transformations brought about the fourth industrial revolution will arguably be unlike anything the human kind has ever experienced before. Most importantly, its ultimate distinctive feature lies in the degree of substitutability of human labour for machine labour that will characterise it–about which an established consensus has not yet been reached among academics. That implies that, in the most dismal of scenarios, it might be the case that the jobs displaced in the process of creative destruction may not necessarily be replaced by as many roles in new sectors.
While some accounts hold that only low-skill jobs featuring high routine task intensity are seriously likely to be jeopardised by automation (Autor and Dorn, 2013), other more pessimistic ones argue that automation could take over even high-skilled jobs. In this regard, Frey and Osborne (2013) estimate that as much as 47% of occupations are at risk of automation. Similarly, Susskind and Susskind (2015) argue that artificial intelligence and machine learning could wipe out the monopolies held by today’s professionals, thus dramatically changing the way practical expertise of specialists is made available to society. Accordingly, proponents of this latter, more fatalistic, view put much emphasis upon the importance of acquiring idiosyncratically human non-automatable skills such as those pertaining to creativity, communication, problem solving, and emotional intelligence and empathy, and advocate major restructuring in education systems functional to an overall upskilling of future workers. In this scenario, they argue, talent will be the fundamental human factor of production.
On top of that, regardless of the actual extent of labour displacement brought about by innovation, chances are that the technological revolution will exacerbate the polarisation of labour markets, leading to the hollowing out of “middle-skill/middle-pay” jobs, and to an increasing segregation into “low-skill/low-pay” and “high-skill/high-pay” segments (Autor and Dorn, 2013; Brynjolfsson and McAfee, 2016). Needless to say, all of this coupled with the already low levels of intra- and inter-generational mobility characterising many western countries is likely to result in even more inequality and, potentially, social unrest.
In addition, another issue worth mentioning is that of “premature deindustrialisation” in emerging countries, where the adoption of labor-saving technologies may considerably compress demand for low-skilled workers in the manufacturing sector, potentially resulting in higher unemployment, lower economic growth, and even democratic failure (Rodrik, 2016).
All of the issues expounded above raise serious concerns about the way policy-makers should approach the highly pervasive and disruptive changes brought about by the fourth industrial revolution. In particular, as part of my PhD research efforts, I shall endeavour to address the following questions: Which labour market regulations and welfare policies should be enacted to optimally deal with the changes brought about by technological innovation? How should educational systems adapt to preserve human labour’s comparative advantage over capital?
Hence, motivated by great interest and curiosity, my purpose will be that to delve deeper into this questions with the intention to produce some meaningful analysis capable of shedding some light on these topical issues.
I think that this is a really hot topic, and even if such changes may currently appear distant from us, their implications will soon impact our lives in a very significant manner. Of course committing to doctoral research takes a great amount of effort, both in terms of time (4/5 years) and money. As to this latter aspect, I am currently applying for a large number of scholarships, the seizing of which will be a necessary condition for me actually undertaking the PhD in the first place.
Therefore, what I am asking here is not the actual funding of my studies, that would be asking too much as it would involve ridiculously high figures. What I am asking instead is some help with the application fees. I believe that in order to give my research the quality and resonance it needs to be truly effective, I should attempt to enter a top school. That is no easy thing though! Therefore my strategy is to apply to 40+ such universities, so as to maximise my chances of getting in. That has costs which unfortunately I cannot bear. I am currently a research assistant and my salary barely allows me to pay my rent and make ends meet. Also my family is no longer in the position to help me with that. I have had outstanding results in my academic career, especially in my MSc Economics–whose dissertation research, by the way, was on intergenerational mobility, i.e. the degree to which parents influence their offspring socio-economic outcomes (very grim pictures for countries like the US, UK and Italy, alas!)–and therefore I feel I somehow deserve to try to pursue my dream of becoming an academic in the field of inequality. I want to give my contribution to making this world fairer and more efficient!
Getting in to a top school also requires taking the GRE test, which also has costs ($205)! Average application fees for each university are around $50 and sending GRE scores to each of them costs about $30. An estimate of the total amount to make 40 applications or so would thus be of $3,500. I know this is no small amount of money but the closer we can get to it, the higher the chances of fulfilling my dream. I hope you will help me with that, even a small contribution will make a great difference! Thank you all!