Bernie Sanders wants AI to help American workers toil less

Entering the AI debate, liberal US senator Bernie Sanders said that the ongoing boom should produce more gains for laborers – not just extra cash for industry bigwigs.

The general hope is that AI will become a game changer that will end a long period of weak productivity in Western economies. Just like when tractors replaced farm hands, a single machine will be able to do what hundreds of workers do now.

The question then is, what happens to all the productivity gains? Will they be seized by tech leaders? What if AI, as its apostles promise, does create more jobs but they will be less well-paid than the old ones?

Sanders now told CNN’s State of the Union that workers should also see the benefits of the new technology, and the best way to reap them allegedly is shortening the workweek.

This is precisely what – a four-day workweek – the United Auto Workers, a union that went on strike last week against America’s three biggest carmakers, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler-parent company Stellantis, are seeking.

Citing the parenting, housing, healthcare and financial stresses confronting most Americans who, by the way, are experiencing a drop in life expectancy, Sanders said: “It seems to me that if new technology is going to make us a more productive society, the benefits should go to the workers.”

“I happen to believe that – as a nation – we should begin a serious discussion about substantially lowering the workweek,” Sanders said.

“It would be an extraordinary thing to see people have more time to be able to spend with their kids, with their families, to be able to do more cultural activities, get a better education. So the idea of making sure artificial intelligence robotics benefits us all – not just the people on top – is something, absolutely, we need to be discussing.”

According to Sanders who is the chair of the Senate’s health, education, labor, and pensions committee, the CEOs of the biggest carmakers have been pocketing hundreds of times more than their workers.

The Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, indeed said last week that profits at Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis skyrocketed 92% from 2013 to 2022 while CEO pay at the three companies has jumped by 40% during the same period.

However, across the US, auto manufacturing workers have seen their average real hourly earnings fall 19.3% since 2008.

The United Auto Workers is asking for a 46% pay hike, improved healthcare and retirement benefits, and a 32-hour week with 40 hours of pay. 75% of Americans support the 13,000-strong striking auto workers, a recent Gallup poll shows.