Think tank calls for government support of self-service tech

| by Christopher Hall
Think tank calls for government support of self-service tech

A nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., is calling on government policymakers to support self-service technologies.

In a report issued last month, "Embracing the Self-Service Economy," the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation said the importance of self-service "has grown as advances in information technology (IT) have created many opportunities to leverage self-service technology for large gains in efficiency and convenience."

Over at least the next decade, self-service technology has the potential to be a major force for growth in productivity and improvements in quality of life. We estimate that if self-service technology were more widely deployed, the U.S. economy would be approximately $130 billion larger annually, the equivalent of an additional $1,100 in annual income for every household.

The report acknowledges that an increasingly self-service-oriented economy would likely be disruptive to some and couldlead to job losses in the short term. However, the report also argues that marketplace dynamics mean that short-term dislocations are more than made up for though increased productivity and benefits to consumers – read: lower prices - over the medium and long term.

In addition to suggesting that the government raise the minimum wage to encourage more businesses to transition to self-service technologies versus paid employees, the report calls for a stronger safety net for those losing their jobs to self-service tech in the short term and for policies that help workers train for new and better-paying higher-skill jobs.

The foundation report also says that the government itself should adopt self-service technology solutions tomore efficiently, more conveniently and more transparently deliver services to citizens either online or through self-service kiosks.

And that potential $130 billion shot in the arm for the U.S. economy could be more important than just increasing the country's GDP, the foundation says:

These savings could not be coming at a more crucial time. Most national economies will need the power of self-service technologies if they are to avoid serious economic problems stemming from significant growth in the number of retirees, a situation that will be particularly acute in Europe, Japan and the United States. In the United States, for example, the number of retirees for every 1,000 working age adults is projected to grow from 213 today to 346 by 2030. For Social Security recipients in 2030 to not see a decline in their inflation-adjusted payments without workers seeing a decline in their after-tax incomes, economic productivity will have to increase by 62 percent.

While the influx of self-service technologies could help provide a significant part of that needed boost to economic productivity, though, it won't happen unless the government is careful to adopt tech-friendly policies, the report argues. That means not passing technology-restrictive legislation under pressure from special interest groups that will likely lobby for such laws "to protect their economic or social interests at the expense of the average citizen."

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