SOCIAL INNOVATION | RESEARCH TO POLICY

A sampler of MIT research on work and economic equity
 


Research to Policy

Basic research in the humanities, arts, and social science fields is the engine for the School's capacity to effect positive change around the globe. The research of MIT's social scientists informs policymaking in many areas, including healthcare, poverty alleviation, the environmnent and climate, education, energy, food and water, elections, security, and economic well-being and equity.

 




LOOKING AHEAD
What everyone needs to know about the economy in 2017 | David Autor
Ford Professor of Economics David Autor answered questions about economic issues in a Quora forum online, providing expert insight into some of 2017’s most pressing issues.
Discussion on Forbes / Quora Forum | David Autor's website


ON THE WEALTH OF NATIONS
All the difference in the world | Daron Acemoglu
In a recent book, economists Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson assert that above all else, political institutions — not culture or natural resources — determine the wealth of nations.
Story by Peter Dizikes at MIT News


SOLVING ECONOMIC INEQUITIES
Escaping Poverty Requires 20 Years Plus | Peter Temin
In his new book The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, economist Peter Temin shows how the United States has split along economic lines into a two groups with vastly differing realities.
Story at the Atlantic | Story at Forbes | Story at The New York Times
 

SOLVING ECONOMIC INEQUITIES
America's two track economy | Peter Temin
Peter Temin, an economics professor at MIT, tackles the causes of poverty in the United States. In The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy. Temin examines racism and substandard education, as well as the lack of a proactive infrastructure program. And he proposes solutions: expanding access to public education, investing in infrastructure, and forcefully confronting institutional mechanisms that perpetuate racial inequality.
Story at MIT News by Peter Dizikes | Story at The AtlanticStory at Salon | Commentary at Times Higher Education 
 

"The link between the two parts of the modern dual economy is education, which provides a possible path that children of low-wage workers can take to move into the FTE (finance, technology, electronics) sector."

— Peter Temin, Elisha Gray II Professor Emeritus of Economics, author of The Vanishing Middle Class, Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy



MANUFACTURING, JOBS, AND CHINA
Protectionism | David Autor 
"In 1970, more than a quarter of U.S. employees worked in manufacturing. By 2010, only one in 10 did. The growth in imports from China had a role in that decline — contributing, perhaps to as much as one-quarter of the employment drop-off from 1991 to 2007, according to an analysis by David Autor and his colleagues at MIT. But the U.S. jobs slide began well before China's rise as a manufacturing power. The phenomenon is driven by technology.”
Story at the Huffington Post
 

ECONOMICS AND MARRIAGE
When factory jobs vanish, men become less marriageable | David Autor
Economics Professor David Autor and a team of co-authors from other universities recently found that as men's economic prospects declined, there were fewer marriages in their communities due to the fact that “manufacturing jobs are a fulcrum on which traditional work and family arrangements rest.”
Story at The Atlantic | Related stories at Bloomberg and The Washington Post





INFRASTRUCTURE THAT ENABLES RISK-TAKING
How to succeed in the innovation era | Daron Acemoglu
In an article in The New York Times, MIT economist Daron Acemoglu says that to succeed in the innovation era we need to build institutions that help us stay flexible in the midst of turbulent lives, including a stronger safety net that enables us to take entrepreneurial, educational, and career risks; because a society that encourages risk will intrinsically be wealthier over all.
Article in the New York Times


HEALTH AND INCOME INEQUALITY
Income inequality is costing the U.S. on social issues | Heidi Williams
This New York Times article on the possible public health ramifications of rising inequality cites research by MIT economist Heidi Williams that finds a connection between infant mortality and “excess inequality.”
Article at The New York Times
 

ECONOMICS AND TRADE
Trade deficit is a poor measuring stick for the economy 
The Washington Post quotes MIT economist David Autor in its analysis of Trump’s trade philosophy. As Autor explains, “You have to understand the fundamental reason for trade is not because you win by exporting and lose by importing — it’s that there are things that other countries make that you want to buy, and things you make that they want to buy.”
Story at the Washington Post | Related Story at the WaPo
 



MAKING FAIR CONTRACTS
MIT economist Bengt Holmström receives Nobel Prize in Stockholm
Story + Videos from the Lecture and Ceremony

Video of the Nobel Prize Lectures in Economics
MIT Economist Bengt Holmström on his Nobel Prize-winning ideas for making fair and wise human agreements | Thursday, 8 December 2016. Professor Holmström's lecture starts at 29:40.
 


Bengt Holmström, Paul A. Samuelson Professor of Economics, upon receiving the Nobel Prize, December 10, 2016, in Stockholm; Photo © Nobel Media AB 2016/Pi Frisk


 

LABOR'S INFLUENCE
One reason workers are struggling even when companies are doing well | David Autor 
A new study co-authored by MIT economist David Autor studied 700 industries from 1982–2012 and found that “the more concentrated an industry had become, the larger the decline in labor’s share.”
Story at The Atlantic | Related stories at Bloomberg News and The New York Times
 

WORK AND SOCIAL INSURANCE
Caught in the social safety net | Andrea Campbell
Campbell gives a firsthand perspective on the effects of means-tested social insurance programs. “Work has a high cost, because as you start earning income, you lose eligibility for programs,” Campbell says, noting that for everyone without a remarkable long-term care insurance policy, long-term services and support are “extraordinarily expensive, beyond [their] means.” To change that dynamic, Campbell thinks we should either raise the asset threshold or drop means-testing.
Story at MIT News | Commentary in The New York Times


AMERICAN MANUFACTURING
Understanding the growing inequality in the U.S. | Christine Walley
"If you want to understand the expanding class inequality in the United States, one of the places you have to look is the long-term impact of deindustrialization. We have to think historically about how we got into this position and how we can come out of it.” 

In 1980, Christine Walley’s world was turned upside down when the steel mill in Southeast Chicago where her father worked closed abruptly. In the ensuing years, thousands of other area residents would also lose their jobs in the mills—one example of the vast deindustrialization occurring across the U.S. The disruption propelled Walley into a career as a cultural anthropologist. In her book, Exit Zero, MIT anthropologist Christine Walley brings her anthropological perspective home, examining the human cost of deindustrialization in the American heartland.

Story + Video  |  About the Exit Zero Project  | Trailer for Exit Zero video
 

What is the impact of deindustrialization in the U.S. — on American lives, families, and communities?  



ROBOTS AND JOBS


ROBOTICS AND JOB CREATION
The robot debate is over: the jobs aren't coming back | David Autor
The Guardian explores the impact of automation on U.S. employment, citing MIT economist David Autor as “the most influential proponent” of the argument that new technology ultimately creates as many jobs as it destroys.
Story at The Guardian


ROBOTICS AND JOBS
Are we prepared for the robot apocalypse? | Daron Acemoglu
The Washington Post reports on new research co-authored by MIT economist Daron Acemoglu, which finds that industrial robots eliminated up to 670 thousand American jobs between 1990 and 2007.
Story at The Washington Post
 

ROBOTICS AND JOBS
How many robots does it take to replace a human job? | Daron Acemoglu
The Atlantic reports on a new study co-authored by Daron Acemoglu, Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics at MIT, which finds that each new robot replaces three human workers.
Story at The Atlantic


Robotic systems work on a car, Jaguar Land Rover factory, Solihull, England. Photo: Leon Neal, Washington Post



ROBOTICS AND THE FUTURE OF JOBS
How the rise of the robots will affect the future of jobs | David Autor
It’s a good time to have specialized skills and a tough time to have “ordinary “skills, says MIT economist David Autor. According to Autor, “Computers robots, and other digital technologies are acquiring [traditional workers’] skills and abilities at an extraordinary rate.”
Story at CNBC | Story at CBS News
 

ROBITICS AND JOBS
Most workers have held off the machines | David Autor and Brendan Price
Jobs with very routine tasks have declined in the U.S., according to a paper by economists David Autor and Brendan Price, entitled “The Changing Task Composition of the U.S. Labor Market.”
Story at Bloomberg


IMPACT OF ROBOTICS ON AMERICAN JOBS
Evidence that robots are winning the race for American jobs | Daron Acemoglu
Journalist Claire Cain Miller calls a new publication co-authored by MIT economist Daron Acemoglu “the first study to quantify large, direct, negative effects of robots.”
Story at The New York Times


HUMANS / ROBOT COLLAOBRATIONS ARE CRUCIAL
David Mindell on the human dimensions of technological innovation
“The new success of robots will depend on how well they situate into human environments; as in chess, the strongest players are often the combinations of human and machine. I increasingly see that the three critical elements are people, robots, and infrastructure — all interdependent."
Interview by SHASS Communications
 

“The new frontier is learning how to design the relationships between people, robots, and infrastructure. We need new sensors, new software, new ways of architecting systems.”

— David Mindell, Dibner Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing, and Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics




INFRASTRUCTURE AND THE ECONOMY
Nobel laureate: Long path to economic renewal, but energy innovation could help
Robert Solow, Professor of Economics emeritus says investments in energy and infrastructure could help revive the economy.
Story by Peter Dizikes at MIT News


GLOBALIZATION
When (and where) work disappears
Study: Overseas manufacturing competition hits U.S. regions hard, leaving workers unemployed for years and local economies struggling. 
Story
 

INCOME INEQUALITY
Inequality offensive
At MIT forum, economists evaluate the consequences of increasing inequality in America, and suggest solutions.
Story by Peter Dizikes at MIT News


EQUALITY AND EDUCATION
Education really does reduce inequality | David Autor
This article cites MIT economist David Autor, whose research indicates that an increase in wages for the top 1% between 1980 and 2005, if divided among the bottom 99%, would provide each household about $7,000 in additional income.
Article at the Wall Street Journal


LABOR MARKET
Incremental reforms could make capitalism a more equitable system | Kathleen Thelen
In Varieties of Liberalization and the New Politics of Social Solidarity, MIT political scientist Kathleen Thelen examines contemporary changes in labor market institutions in the United States, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands, focusing on developments in three arenas: industrial relations, vocational education and training, and labor market policy. Thelen finds that there are distinct varieties of liberalization associated with very different distributive outcomes.
About the book | Interview with Thelen
 



PRODUCTION IN THE INNOVATION ECONOMY
MIT PIE Report released | Making in America by Suzanne Berger





America is the world leader in innovation, but many of the innovative ideas that are hatched in American start-ups, labs, and companies end up going abroad to reach commercial scale. When innovation does not find the capital, skills, and expertise it needs to come to market in the United States, what does it mean for economic growth and job creation? Inspired by the MIT Made in America project of the 1980s, Making in America brings experts from across MIT to focus on a critical problem for the country.  

The PIE commission found that potentially valuable innovations occur throughout the advanced manufacturing sector—from academic labs to shop floors—and in companies of all sizes, from multinational conglomerates to specialized “Main Street” firms. However, there are holes in the “ecosystem” of advanced manufacturing in the United States—gaps that particularly inhibit innovative smaller firms. The report suggests that new policies, partnerships and programs can help create innovation-based growth and jobs. Many of the results are detailed in Making in America (MIT Press, 2013), written by Suzanne Berger, with the PIE Task Force. Berger is the Raphael Dorman-Helen Starbuck Professor of Political Science, and a co-chair of the MIT PIE Commission.  

Story at MIT News  |  Making in America (MIT Press, 2013) |  3Q with Suzanne Berger |  Slice of MIT




ECONOMICS AND THE AMERICAN MIDDLE CLASS
On the state of the American dream | Solow
This U.S. News article on inequality and middle-class stagnation quotes MIT economist Robert Solow, who says, “evidence of the importance of the digital revolution is everywhere except in the productivity numbers.”
Story at US News


AMERICAN JOBS
The American worker | David Autor
In 1979, middle-skill jobs accounted for 57 percent of the jobs in the U.S. economy, according to calculations by David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. By 2009, the share was down to 46 percent.
Story at the Washington Post | Autor webpage
 

LABOR MARKET AND DEVELOPMENT
Economy in Society: Essays in Honor of Michael J. Piore | MIT Press, 2012
In Economy in Society, five prominent social scientists honor Michael J. Piore, MIT Professor of Political Science, in original essays that explore key topics in Piore’s work and make significant independent contributions in their own right. Piore is distinctive for his original research that explores the interaction of social, political, and economic considerations in the labor market and in the economic development of nations and regions. The essays in this volume reflect this rigorous interdisciplinary approach to important social and economic questions.
About
 

LABOR MARKET
Working in America | Michael Piore

The American labor market faces many deep-rooted problems, including persistence of a large low-wage sector, worsening inequality in earnings, employees' lack of voice in the workplace, and the need of employers to maximize flexibility. This book traces today's labor-market policy and laws back to the New Deal and to a second wave of social regulation that began in the 1960s.
About


WAGES
Big Mac test shows job market is not distributing wealth
If the job market — that most critical institution of capitalist societies, the principal vehicle to distribute the nation’s wealth among its people — cannot keep hardworking people out of poverty and spread prosperity more broadly, how will it be done? Article quotes MIT economist David Autor.
Story at the New York Times
 



CRAFTWORK AND ARTISANAL PRODUCTION
The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America | Heather Paxson
An anthropological study of American artisanal cheese and the people who make it. Cheese is alive, and alive with meaning. This study tells the story of how craftwork has become a new source of cultural and economic value for producers as well as consumers. By exploring the life of cheese, Paxson helps rethink the politics of food, land, and labor today.

Life of Cheese websiteUniversity of California Press  |  Video: Paxson on artisan cheese
 


 




PREPARING FOR CHANGE
Why do people earn what they earn? | David Autor
"As MIT economist David Autor notes in a new paper, leaders in the late 1800s and early 1900s, particularly in the farm states, anticipated the coming tectonic shift in the economy and worked to prepare the population for it."
Story at The Boston Globe


WOMEN AND ENGINEERING
Why do women leave engineering?
Study: Group dynamics of teamwork and internships deter many women in the profession.
Story at MIT News


INCOME INEQUALITY
What can be done about income inequality? | Robert Solow
Redistributing income with taxes and transfers is largely failing to close the income gap. Perhaps it’s time to try a corporate approach.
Story at the New York Times


DIVERSITY IS EFFICIENT
Workplace diversity can help the bottom line | Sara Ellison
MIT economist scrutinizes firm data suggesting diverse offices function more effectively.
Story by Peter Dizkies at MIT News


ENVISIONING THE FUTURE
What’s the future of wealth — and inequality? | Thomas Piketty
At MIT, Eeconomist Thomas Piketty presents and defends work on inequality. Piketty was an assistant professor at the Institute from 1993 to 1995, and returned as a visiting professor in the 2000-2001 academic year. He has also co-authored articles with multiple MIT scholars.
Story at MIT NewsRelated from The Guardian: Why is Piketty's book a bestseller?


INVESTING IN CITIZENS IS THE BEST POLICY
Q&A | U.S. inequality issues among the “99 percent”
In an article in Science, MIT economist David Autor moves the U.S. inequality discussion beyond the 1% vs. 99% comparison. In the long run, he says, "the best policies we have to combat inequality involve investing in our citizenry. Higher education, and public education, is America’s best idea. Those investments also include preschool, good primary and secondary schools, and adequate nutrition and health care."
Story by Peter Dizikes at MIT News

 

Labor Day parade, New York City 1909; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division




GLOBALIZATION
Is the American middle class losing out to China and India?
Entering the fray, three economists — David Autor of MIT, David Dorn of the Center for Monetary and Financial Studies in Spain, and Gordon Hanson of the University of California, San Diego — have analyzed the employment consequences of globalized trade and technological advance.
Story at The New York Times


RECESSION AND TWO AMERICAS
A tangled fate of prosperity and struggle | Daron Acemoglu
For MIT Economist Acemoglu, the co-author of Why Nations Fail, the split personality of these years of crisis and recovery is “no puzzle.” “The United States is still the most innovative country in the world,” he said. The problem, he says, is that the innovations produced by the thriving set don’t necessarily translate into jobs for struggling people.
Story at The New York Times


SOLVING INEQUALITY 
Ten Ways to Get Serious About Rising Inequality | Peter Diamond, Emmanual Saez
From point 4 of 10: "In a 2011 paper that sparked an interesting debate, Peter Diamond, Professor of Economics emeritus, and Emmanuel Saez of Berkeley [MIT PhD in Economics '99] argued that, based on the costs and benefits to society as a whole, [the top tax rate] should be set at seventy-three per cent—a bit below the level in the nineteen-fifties, but well above today's rate."
Article in The New Yorker
 



ECONOMICS AND CLIMATE CHANGE
3 Questions | Benjamin Olken on the economic impact of climate change
How is climate change going to affect our economic activity in the future? MIT economist Ben Olken has co-authored a new survey on the burgeoning research about the effects of the changing climate. 
Story
 


"There has been a lot of emphasis on studying the effects of climate change on agriculture. But if it’s affecting other aspects of the economy — like industrial output, investment, and innovation — the long-run impact could be much bigger."

Ben Olken, MIT Professor of Economics



U.S. JOB MARKET 
Polarized labor market shifting more American employees to low skill, low growth jobs
New study by MIT economist David Autor, and economist David Dorn, reveals the U.S. job market is shifting more workers into positions with limited upside, leverage, and rewards. 
Story


GROWTH WITH EQUALITY
A new path for growth | Ben Ross Schneider
In Hierarchical Capitalism in Latin America, MIT political scientist Ben Ross Schneider sets out an agenda for growth with greater equality in Latin America. Schneider is Ford International Professor of Political Science and director of the MIT-Brazil program. 
Story
 

3 Questions: David Autor on global trade and political polarization
Study finds relationship between U.S. job losses due to trade, and political polarization in Congress.
Story at MIT News


THE IMPORT OF IMPORTS
When giants slow down | Acemoglu, Autor, Price 
The most dramatic, and disruptive, period of emerging-market growth the world has ever seen is coming to its close. MIT's Daron Acemoglu, David Autor, Brendan Price, and others argue that the sag in employment growth in America in the 2000s is traceable in large part to the country's unreciprocated taste for Chinese imports.
Story
 

TRADE
Venerable Theory of Comparative Advantage put to new uses | Arnaud Costinot
With the growth of China and Latin American economies, among others—many dissimilar countries, with wildly varying institutions, are trading with each other. “The comeback of Ricardian theory today is, in part, as a response to those trends,” Costinot says. Trade between developed and less-developed economies “is on the rise and it seems to be quite different. We may need new theories, or old theories and their extensions may be better suited to it.”
Story


GRAPPLING WITH TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE
Technology, Jobs, and the Middle Class  | David Autor and David Dorn 
"Computerization is not reducing the quantity of jobs, but rather degrading the quality of jobs for a significant subset of workers....This bifurcation of job opportunities has contributed to the historic rise in income inequality. The good news is that middle-wage jobs are not slated to disappear completely.... How can we help workers ride the wave of technological change rather than be swamped by it?" 
Commentary in the New York Times

 

ROLE OF GOVERNMENT
To end slump, United States must spend
In MIT remarks, former Treasury secretary Larry Summer calls for the ‘common sense’ cure of more government spending to spur growth. “No thoughtful person can look at the U.S. economy today and believe that the principal constraint on expansion of output and employment is anything other than the lack of demand experienced by firms,” Summers said. That is, not enough consumers in the country have sufficient spending power; government programs employing more people would change that, he asserted. “If the private sector is either unable or unwilling to borrow and spend on a sufficient scale, then there is a substantial role for government in doing that.” 
Story


SOCIAL SECURITY
Saving Social Security | Peter Diamond
The MIT Professor emeritus of Economics and recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize in economics answers the big question of how to fix social security. "Diamond is an expert on public finance, especially Social Security, and has consulted for various government agencies on the program throughout the years. With Peter Orszag, he coauthored Saving Social Security: A Balanced Approach, which proposed shoring up the program through gradual, progressive benefit cuts and increases in the payroll tax rate." (Washington Post)
Paper at Brookings | Article at New Republic | Interview at the Washington Post

 

Reality check in the factory
MIT professor’s new book shows how labor laws actually get enforced, globally.
Story