The following is long, rambling, only tangentally related to the article, and I don't agree with all of it. But for whatever reason these are the words that my hands decided to type this morning/late evening in response to inspiration from this article. Some of you might find it interesting so I figure that I might as well share.
Each of these "long cycle upswings" involve increased automation and the average human getting pushed upwards into a job that involves more intellectual expertise. This is clearly what has happened in the past, in spite of the preventative measures placed on society by that time period's privileged class. However, as the author points out, this process appears to be stalling this time.
The author claims that this is because the current privileged class is too powerful, but I think that it's more likely that there is another force at work. I don't see the current elite being any more powerful than the robber barons of old. Bill Gates's wealth is small compared with John D Rockefeller (adjusted for inflation), and the people of today have more information and more of an ability to organize than ever.
Instead, I hypothesize that we may have reached the limit of intellectualization of the average human in our society. Not every human can survive this most recent wave of automation, because in order to do so, they must possess an intelligence and education that allows them to reach this next set of opportunities. I believe that as humanity in western societies stands today, either due to our nature or our culture (although my money is on culture), we are unable to take that next intellectual step and truly embrace this wave of automation.
You need not look past the average high school, or the average media served towards school children to see the anti-intellectualism that is rampant in our culture. Many of the protagonists in television today and in the past have held a contempt for math, science, and schooling. Many of the cultures in highschools across the nation shame the "nerds" in favor of those with outdated physical prowess. This has been true of our nation since the last long cycle upswing that the author discussed.
The author is also correct that there are barriers to entry in place, and until the general public has the time and resources to pursue this higher education instead of clamouring to fulfill the lower rungs on their hierarchy of needs, we will continue to stagnate. If we want to escape this current rut and truly join the future society that we are starting to see sparks of on the internet, and that this author wishes to be a reality, we must enact social policies that enable lower class individuals to seek higher education without the risk of crushing debt and without having to sacrifice feeding themselves or keeping themselves healthy. But that will only enable people to reach higher, it will not convince them to. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make them drink. Indeed, similar barriers of education and lack of free time existed for the previous upswings, but we were able to overcome them. Until we fix our society and culture's antiintellectual tendencies, these opportunities will not be seized and we will continue to stall.
The following quote from the passage supports my contention:
Faced with the possibility of creating gene-sequencing labs, they instead start coffee shops, nail bars and contract cleaning firms
Instead of pursuing an education while they are young, our privileged children (those that have free time) are instead pursuing gossip and fashion and other trivialities that thrive in the types of businesses that they eventually are employed by. And unfortunately, these human proclivities towards gossip are made easier to indulge in thanks to the very technology that we should be trying to master. We must be sure to master our technology, or else the few that have will make slaves of the rest.
This upswing is stalled by the powers that be, just like every upswing before it, however it is also being stalled by our culture, and human culture and behavior is a hard thing to change. But fortunately, it appears that this change is coming. We are beginning to see more and more the celebration of the nerd and the cool things that nerds can do with computers, technology, math, and science. This progress, however, is slow. If we are to continue advancing our society, we must embrace this trend on top of enacting the social programs that will allow us to act on it.