Automation has had significant consequences on the labor market in the US. For instance, Acemoglu and Restrepo (2021) estimate that automation accounts for 50 to 70% of the surge in wage inequality in the US over the last decades. Yet, robot displacement does not seem to trigger any robot backlash and generates limited demand for redistribution/government intervention to address its labor market implications (Jeffrey and Matakos, 2021; Zhang, 2019). When identified, adverse reactions result in rising anti-trade and anti-immigration sentiments (Anelli et al., 2021; Frey et al., 2018).
I test these findings in a survey experiment on a representative sample of the US population. In particular, I try to understand why there has not been more of a push for public policies that would directly address the labor market consequences of automation in the US. I investigate whether treating respondents with the story of an automation shock changes their support for a set of social, nationalistic, and regulatory policies. I then ask them who they think should be responsible for the displaced workers. I also focus on the mechanisms and explore whether the experience of economic hardship, trust in government, views on government efficiency, and views on fairness play a role in explaining reactions to displacement by automation.
Finally, I zoom in on the role played by government effectiveness. Previous literature highlights how low levels of trust in government partially explain muted support for redistribution in some contexts (Alesina et al., 2018; Kuziemko et al., 2015). I add a treatment arm that anchors views of government effectiveness at a high level, and I study whether it leads to a different reaction to automation.