Thinking about the Future of Work in the Present

David Weil, 3.18.19

Many of us over the past few years have participated in panels, conferences, seminars, and seances regarding the “future of work.”  In one flavor of those convenings, the subtext is that AI, robotics, and other digital innovations that will lead to a workplace without workers. In another flavor, discussions focus on a future where everyone will be entrepreneurs, enabled by digital platforms, to innovate and build businesses giving them flexibility creative freedom.

Both flavors miss a more fundamental issue: rather than focusing on the “future of work” we should be thinking about how technologies and other organizational changes have transformed the “present of work.” Rather than robot overlords, we should be concerned with the private and public choices we have made that have led to a workplace of growing inequality and where workers bear more and more of the risks arising from employment.  

In the last month, I have had the opportunity to participate in two discussions that have provided a far more nuanced discussion of these issues. The first was at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics in February, chaired by David Eaves and with Jason Furman of HKS and Mary Gray of the Microsoft Institute.  The second was held at a conference that was part of the culmination of the “Going Digital” of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), held this March.  

Links to videos of both events can be found below. I hope you will find both conversations a different and useful way to think about the important issues surrounding work and technology in the present and the future.


“Robotland: The Future of Labor Policy and Work in an AI World,”  a conference held at the Institute of Politics, Harvard Kennedy School, February 28, 2019. View.

“Going Digital,” a conference held at the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, Paris, France, March 12, 2019.
David Weil is Dean and Professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School of Social Policy and Management. He served as US Wage and Hour Administrator at the Department of Labor during the last three years of the Obama administration. He is a leading international expert on workplace and labor market policy and was the Peter and Deborah Wexler Professor of Management at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business before coming to Brandeis. The materials on this site arise from analysis contained in The Fissured Workplace and a growing body of research regarding the fundamental restructuring of employment and its impacts on workers and businesses. It also discusses approaches to dealing with the fissured workplace developed during the Obama administration as well as new ideas and efforts being discussed and undertaken today. 


“The mystery of stagnating wages. David Weil elucidates.” David
Weil interviewed on a podcast issued by Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development. 4.19. Listen.  

“U.S. Moves to Limit Wage Claims Against Chains Like McDonald’s,”
by Noam Scheiber, The New York Times, 4.1.19. Read the article. 

“Trump’s Labor Department Does McDonald’s Another Solid,”
by Dave Jamieson, HuffPost, 4.1.19. Read the article. 

“Why are Australian workers getting the smallest pay rises since
WWII?,” by Stephen Long and Michael Janda, ABC  (Australian 
Broadcasting Commision), 
3.27.19. Read the article. 

The truth about Trump’s ‘economic miracle’,” by Margery Eagan,
The Boston Globe, 2.7.19. Read the article.

“Harvard Is Vaulting Workers Into the Middle Class With High Pay.
Can Anyone Else Follow Its Lead?,” by Eduardo Porter, New York
9.8.18. Read the article.

“Cities as ‘Laboratories of Democracy’ to Improve Labor Policies,” 
by Kwon Ki-bum,, 12.12.18. Read the article (in original 
Korean). Read the article (in English translation).


“Workers Shouldn’t Have to Sign Away Their Rights to Class Action
Lawsuits,” Harvard Business Review. 6.5.18. Read the article.

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