Before the election I read a short article a slight offhand piece which just didn't seem right. It was a link from twitter where despite my great effort to only follow the sensible, a riot of opinion reigns. When the election was over I re-read the piece: King Ludd is Still Dead - Kenneth Rogoff - Project Syndicate:. It still rankled like a mild affront.
The economist Kenneth Rogoff had become aware that the working class views automation of labor with degrees of anxiety and consternation. Even a fear of technological change. They, he is concerned, believe it will spawn mass unemployment and societal unrest.
Rogoff dismisses this as simple Luddism. Just so many excitable peasants with pitchforks and burning brands chasing a rattling Jacquard-card Frankenstein from our midst. Neoclassical economics, he states reassuringly, predicts this will not happen. People will eventually find jobs; albeit after a long painful period of adjustment. Further, history show us rising living standards and no trend of rising unemployment. This must be true I reflect. Neither Charles III or the Kaiser had an iPad or a galaxy iii whereas today some commoners have two. Unemployment generally when well behaved keeps itself within a standard deviation of the seven or eight percent point that keeps the rest of the workforce in line.
The current days are a period of accelerated technological change, Rogoff admits. Robots (automation) replacing labor. Not just manual labor mind you but the labors of the mind. Chess playing soft machines, he points out, have established themselves as masters of chess efficiency able to play more games faster than ordinary workers. Yet, more people are making a living playing chess than ever before. This is Rogoff's primary and puzzling pivot of the article. To throw this chess metaphor in and hang his hat on it. Even after Deep Blue proved machines (A/I) could play chess better than people, people still play. So clearly the robots haven't ruined chess. Ergo there is no pace of technological change humans can't adjust to.
So King Ludd is dead. Long live King Globalism. Born of the perfect storm of rapid technological change, the relentless search for low wage populations, and the financial sectors il-tamed capture of the world economy. In this world the individual worker is not player as much as piece. Mere rank and file, not even passed pawns with some road clear to a promotion ahead, but hemmed in by circumstance, totally pwned. For the worker modern capitalism is a system of low end adjustments carried on their collective backs. Queens Rooks and Bishops rush by on their dramatic runs. The equestrian class leap over their heads like so many prize show horses.
Rogoff's major take on this adjustment gap is a macro look at it. It is at end a minor problem, and a self sorting one at that -- the adjustment is always made. It is not a threat to theory and thats what counts. Somewhere a gear tugs free of the friction and viscosity of lives. The lines of a graph groan and heave themselves into position. A new equilibrium is reached. All is order and calm.
Technological change may be inevitable, but it is not the workingmans friend. At the micro level of the economy a certain dislocation has occurred. More than that a Tempo lost. The rich grow richer and more distant from laboring servicing America. In any culture at any point in mankind's history it is not some incoherent notion of absolute wealth read obscurely as well-being, but relative wealth and the power this disparity gives the few over the lives of the many.
With just two or three years lost wages from a minor period of structural unemployment in a typical family, a generation's goals are defined down. College plans, property renovations abandoned. For those trying to move out of poverty and into the middle class, it is a life-time postponement of the American Dream.
As a postscript of sorts to this, I offer another link. An article that appeared in the Washington Post after I wrote this Ray Kurzweil on the future workforce : Washington Post. Particularly I note Kurzweil's comments on the ability of dispossessed workers to retrain and adapt directly relating the resources the powerful allow them:
The robber barons of yesteryear hogged the resources and prosperity for themselves. Today, investment banks, special interest groups, and governments divert key resources. I don't see human nature evolving as rapidly as technology will.
10:34:48 PM ;;