Automation and Well-Being: Bridging the Gap between Economics and Business Ethics

David A. Spencer (2022), Journal of Business Ethics

Some economists now predict that technology will eliminate many millions of jobs and lead to a future without work. Much debate focuses on the accuracy of such a prediction—whether, or at what rate, jobs will disappear. But there is a wider question raised by this prediction, namely the merits or otherwise of automating work. Beyond estimating future job losses via automation, there is the normative issue of whether the quality of life would be enhanced in a world where machines replace humans in work. Economics makes particular assumptions about the value of work and the nature of well-being that can address this normative issue. But a deeper enquiry into the scope for living well in a possible automated future requires us to think beyond the limits of standard economic theory and to engage in matters of relevance to business ethicists. This paper shows how automation raises crucial concerns about work—its meaning and contribution to well-being—and how the ability to envisage a better future of work depends on bridging the gap between economics and business ethics. Overall, the paper aims to further understanding of automation as a possible mechanism to raise well-being within work and beyond it.

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