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What If Technology Does Destroy Jobs?

By Shlomo Maital


Larry Summers

   Larry Summers was Treasury Secretary under President Bill Clinton, President of Harvard, and is one of the world’s top macroeconomists. In a recent New York Times article on how technology is disrupting the world, the author recalls how Summers spoke in November at a conference, about his undergraduate days at MIT in the 1970s. Nobel Laureate Robert Solow made the case then that new technology boosts productivity and overall creates jobs, employment and wealth. Sociologists at the time responded that new technology often destroys jobs and wealth.

   “It sort of occurred to me,” Summers recalled, “suppose the ‘stupid’ people (sociologists) were right, and the ‘smart’ people (economists) were wrong. What would it look like?   Well – pretty much how the world looks today.

     Uber is eliminating taxi-driver jobs. Internet news is destroying print journalism jobs. Digital education will soon eliminate my job (as professor).   Long ago, software made the entire mid-level managers’ jobs (focused on processing and interpreting data) redundant. Add to that globalization and world trade, which led America to outsource its manufacturing to Asia.  

       What if technology really does eliminate jobs? What if, like Finland and Switzerland, we will need to consider providing a basic minimum living wage for everyone, when unemployment becomes widespread? (The referendum in Switzerland on this idea was soundly defeated…but nonetheless, the mere fact it happened is important).   What if in future, work itself will be a huge privilege and a luxury, granted only to a very few highly skilled, highly productive people who somehow are not made redundant by very smart machines?  

       The late MIT Dean and Professor Lester Thurow, who passed away recently, liked to say that sociology trumps economics. If sociology is about how people live and work together, and economics is about how money and capital procreate and proliferate,   then surely he was right. Perhaps it is time that economic policy should be shaped by the sociologists.

Is there a Limit to Impatience?

By Shlomo  Maital  


  Ah, the younger generation.  The kids.  We older people all know,  the kids want it NOW!  They are impatient and they have very short attention spans.  The MTV generation loves super-fast images, that for us seniors are blurry and annoying.

 But hey!  This time they have gone too far.  It’s time to draw a line in the sand.

  Today’s New York Times (March 3) reports that John McEnroe and Patrick Rafter, tennis greats of the past, played an exhibition match in Australia.  Rafter won.  4-3, 4-1. 

   Wait. Run that by me again?  4-3, 4-1?   Don’t tennis matches go to six sets?  Always have, for over a century?  And at Wimbledon, they can go to 17 sets, or more? 

    Well, no.  “It’s whatever the crowd wants, what TV wants,” Rafter said.  “If this is what the fans want, this is what we should be playing.”

    Four-set matches mean a match can be finished in an hour and 45 minutes, ideal for TV. And of course, TV dominates sport, because TV brings the money.

   Actually, it’s a great idea. Let’s shorten everything.  Let’s shorten prison sentences by half.  Let’s cut the 12-month year to 10 months (at the same pay).   Uh, let’s shorten life by a decade or so, those last 10 years are a bummer anyway, and the working youth (if there are any) can’t afford to support all those old guys. 

   The “me” generation is actually the “now” generation.  Watch the Australian Fast4 format spread like wildfire to all aspects of life.  With the future looking so bleak for so many, why not just live for the moment?  

    We seniors have an answer.  Cultivate patience.   Give value to the future because, somehow, the future does arrive, and when it does, it helps if we can work now to make it better, more desirable.  “I want it now” is a losing formula.  “I want  a better future” is a whole lot more appealing.  We should try it some day. 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital