Will inventors, entrepreneurs and plain-Jane shopowners manage to out-match the job-gobbling power of robots and keep creating jobs, as they have in all past disruptive eras? Or are the sweep and speed of automation so potent that much of society will end up on the dole, on drugs, divorced and aimless?
That question — Is this time different? — is the sinew of this newsletter.
- It's been dubbed the Robot Apocalypse. Among those feeling the anxiety is the SHIFT Commission, a collaboration of Bloomberg and the New America Foundation, which reported in May (page 11) that 58% of its membership said this time is different.
- Venture capitalist Mark Andreessen blasts back: "The jobs crisis we have in the U.S. is that we don't have enough workers."
Don't forget a blunt fact from the Industrial Age — a six-decade lag between the Luddites in the 1820s and the stabilization of working-class incomes later in the 19th century.
- So even if this time isn't different, we could be on the front end of a whale of suffering.
Why it matters, from Andrew McAfee, co-author of "The Second Machine Age," speaking in his office at MIT: "A lot of people are making a living in ways that they couldn't before. But this large, stable, prosperous American middle class ... [is] getting hollowed out, and there are some real threats there."