February 25, 2014

POOR LUDD IS DEAD:

Death to Machines? (Robert Skidelsky, 2/21/14, Project Syndicate)

[O]ver the last 30 years, the share of wages in national income has been falling, owing to what MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee call the "second machine age." Computerized technology has penetrated deeply into the service sector, taking over jobs for which the human factor and "cognitive functions" were hitherto deemed indispensable.

In retail, for example, Walmart and Amazon are prime examples of new technology driving down workers' wages. Because computer programs and humans are close substitutes for such jobs, and given the predictable improvement in computing power, there seems to be no technical obstacle to the redundancy of workers across much of the service economy.

Yes, there will still be activities that require human skills, and these skills can be improved. But it is broadly true that the more computers can do, the less humans need to do. The prospect of the "abridgment of labor" should fill us with hope rather than foreboding. 

We don't have a jobs crisis; we have an interesting question about how best to redistribute the wealth that our jobless economy is creating. 

Posted by at February 25, 2014 7:19 PM
  
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