Citations Needed

Citations Needed is a podcast about the intersection of media, PR, and power, hosted by Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.

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Episode 92: The Responsibility-Erasing Catch-all of ‘Automation’


"As technology shifts more layoffs loom at tech companies," Reuters tells us. "PepsiCo is laying off corporate employees as the company commits to millions of dollars in severance pay, restructuring, and 'relentlessly automating'," notes Business Insider. "Apple’s dismissal of 200 self-driving car employees points to a shift in its AI strategy," CNBC declares. For decades, mass layoffs, factory closures, and industry shifts––from the auto industry to journalism to banking––have often been presented by American media, not as the moral choices of greedy CEOs private equity and hedge fund managers looking to extract wealth for them and their shareholders, but instead the unavoidable result of nebulous, ill-defined––but entirely inevitable–– “automation.” After all: C-level decision makers, billionaire media owners, hedge funds, and private equity firms had no choice. No one is to blame, it’s simply the way it is. The logical, albeit cruel, end result of specific policy choices, all decided by powerful moral agents over the past 30 years, is presented as a force of nature, something outside our control, unstoppable and immutable. On this episode, we examine how capital has, for centuries, blamed layoffs and cost cutting on inscrutable developments in technology and efficiency models out of their control, what this pat excuse hides, why it's sometimes true and sometimes not, and and why the media shouldn’t take claims of CEOs’ hands being forced by “market changes” at face value. We are joined by Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and writer and researcher Peter Frase.


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   1h7m