Noah Smith on the Rise of the Machines

Here’s a worthwhile read from Noah Smith on the future of an economy where most work is done by robots.

I’ve actually thought about this for a long while.  How can a democracy survive if all the economic oomph lies in the very few owners of capital?  As much as he was (justifiably) derided, President George W. Bush did have a good turn of phrase: How do we ensure we are an “ownership society” and not an owned one?  How do we make sure that wealth doesn’t freeze out to those lucky enough to be born to parents lucky enough (or ruthless enough) to have amassed a disproportionate share of the resources?

Maybe long term, everyone else stops reproducing and dies out.  (But it’s hard to imagine that without draconian enforcement.)  Maybe everyone else gets fed up and smashes the system, or the people on top heartlessly crush them.  (That seems to be the common sci fi prediction.)  It’s hard to see how we get from where we are to something like Star Trek’s Federation, where everyone is meaningfully employed and wants for nothing.

I agree with Noah but more emphatically: This is a problem we need to solve, and fast. It’s a bit dismaying to see all the sturm-and-drang arguing over how the classical economy works, when it seems pretty clear the terms are all about to change abruptly and massively.  It’s yet another reason why I confidently predict this will be the Final Century of human history:  Either we figure it out and become something new, or we’ll destroy ourselves in the paroxysms of the doomed struggle to keep things the same.

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