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What If This Is The Future?

Excerpts from post by Jon Evans on Tech Crunch.

There is something odd going on. While millions of long-term unemployed fight desperately to tread water, technology’s handmaidens — software engineers — are minting money like bailed-out bankers.

The New York Times chimes in: “technology is quickly taking over service jobs, following the waves of automation of farm and factory work.”   At which those of us lucky enough to be software engineers burst into derisive laughter, of course. We’ve heard all this before, more than a decade ago, when ‘outsourcing to India’ rather than ‘automation’ was the threat that would destroy our jobs. Obviously this is more of the same kind of nonsense. Right?

…now that you mention it, there is something odd going on. America, Europe, and Japan all seem to be lurching from crisis to crisis without respite; most of the developed world is struggling with debilitating levels of unemployment; but at the same time, the tech world is booming like it’s 1999. Doesn’t that seem kind of weird?

Arnold Kling  writes  “The new jobs that emerge may not produce a middle class … gains in well-being that come from productivity improvements [may] accrue to an economic elite … we could be headed into an era of highly unequal economic classes. People at the bottom will have access to food, healthcare, and electronic entertainment, but the rich will live in an exclusive world of exotic homes and extravagant personal services.”Which sounds eerily like what we would get if we extrapolated from today, no? While millions of long-term unemployed fight desperately to tread water, technology’s handmaidens — software engineers — are minting money like bailed-out bankers. That Stanford survey mentioned above seems to undercut Peter Thiel’s take that “We’re in a bubble and it’s not the Internet. It’s higher education” — but guess again:

It’s beginning to look like we might have entered a two-track economy, in which a small minority reaps most of the benefits of technology that destroys more jobs than it creates. As my friend Simon Law says, “First we automated menial jobs, now we’re automating middle-class jobs. Unfortunately, we still demand that people have a job soon after becoming adults. This trend is going to be a big problem…

I’ve been around the block a few times, and take it from me, the world is full of nations with a tiny minority of the very rich, a slightly larger well-off elite, a small middle class, and a great majority who are various degrees of poor and struggling. Brazil, China, India and Russia, for instance, to name a famous foursome. There’s nothing unusual or inherently unstable about that kind of inequality. In fact, in most of the world, it’s the norm.

I’m beginning to wonder if that same technology will also ultimately make the rich world as fragmented and unequal as the poor, and turn the majority middle class into a thing of the past.


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