Adair Turner, a senior fellow at the Institute for New Economic Thinking in London, argues that the economy today resembles what would have happened if farmers had spent their extra income from the use of tractors and combines on domestic servants. Productivity in domestic work doesn’t grow quickly. As more and more workers were bumped out of agriculture into servitude, productivity growth across the economy would have stagnated.

    “Until a few years ago, I didn’t think this was a very complicated subject; The Luddites were wrong and the believers in technology and technological progress were right,” Lawrence Summers, a former Treasury secretary and presidential economic adviser, said in a lecture at the National Bureau of Economic Research five years ago. “I’m not so completely certain now.”


I feel a bit torn on the subject of automation. There seems to be a very long list of boring, dangerous and demanding tasks that I can see becominig automated in the coming decade or two. Matter of fact, I have been busy the last weeks with automating a bunch of repetitive webapp tasks that can be fully automated with a REST API. It'll almost save my company (so, me and the four colleagues now doing this work manually) months of dull manual work in the coming years and I'm all the happier for it, since we can then use our hours to do more interesting, value-adding work.

So I tend to extrapolate that experience to the bigger scale - automation will free us from the tasks we don't have to do so we have more room to tackle the bigger, more difficult issues. But I am also very aware of the problem that it's very often not the same person that gets to do the new, more interesting thing. My experience may be good for me, but the average automation case is that a dozen low-skilled workers are replaced by one higher-skilled worker, and that nobody gives a crap about those that are left behind. Retraining only gets you so far - who's gonna hire the 50-year old retrained-but-unexperienced worker over the cheaper younger person, for example?

I don't know if this already happened on your side of the Atlantic, but I see more and more fast food chains doing away with people behind the counter for orders, and having instead large touch-screen based ordering. Still don't know if I should cheer that on or not.

posted by kleinbl00: 195 days ago