FIRST DRAFT: Review for "Nature" of "A Culture of Growth", by Joel Mokyr
Notes: What Does President Donald Trump Mean for the US Economy?

Sequel of the Return of Rise of the Robots Again

Preview of Sequel of the Return of Rise of the Robots Again

Our age--meaning 2000-2020, and longer, but how far into the further future I do not know--is not an age of the Rise of the Robots.

It does not, primarily, see the replacement of human workers by information technology on a large scale, and the consequent generation of technological unemployment.

What it does see, primarily, are two different ongoing processes:

  1. The extraordinary build-out of our global mobile communications infrastructure, the shift of people's leisure and work time toward making use of that infrastructure, and consequent large potential gains in human utility largely unconnected with increases in measured GDP or measured productivity.

  2. A now fourteen years-long and continuing era of near-deflation and slack aggregate demand producing first a small and now a large chronic shortage of jobs.

But, as the very sharp Larry Mishel keeps pointing out with increasing frustration, ours is not the age of the Rise of the Robots.

A generation from hence that may, and I think probably will, be the story.

But not this year.

Not this decade:

Lawrence Mishel: The Missing Footprint of the Robots: "Robots are everywhere in the news but they do not seem to leave a footprint in the data...

...The focus on robots eroding jobs and creating a jobless and unequal future is a story about capital replacing human labor... [a] process has been ongoing for many decades.... Perhaps surprisingly to some, the data on investments and productivity cast doubt on any accelerated robot activity: the growth of labor productivity, capital investment and, particularly, investment in information equipment and software has strongly decelerated in the 2000s.... Information equipment investment grew at a 1.2 percent annual rate over 2002–2007, roughly half the 2.5 percent rate of the 1995–2002 period, and grew even more slowly (0.7 percent) after 2007. If technology were rapidly transforming our workplaces we would expect to see exactly the opposite--a surge in the use of information equipment and software in the production of goods and services. That is what occurred in the late 1990s and it is not happening now. Perhaps we should give the robot scare a rest...

Also very much worth reading:

  1. We have an interesting piece from the very sharp Paul Krugman, meditating on the failure of the latest round of the Internet revolution to show itself in the productivity statistics:

  2. We have a another related piece by Larry Mishel, pointing out a decline in the relative pace of investment in information technology machinery, equipment, and software:

  3. Backing them up, we have Matthew Yglesias pointing out that most of what people were saying was structural over the past six years has in fact been cyclical--as is, in fact, usually the case with such claims of massive and rapid structural transformation:

  4. We have promising young whippernapper Evan Soltas pointing out that the shift in five short years in how Americans spend their time away from broadcast media (TV, radio) and non-eletronic text to the net is truly remarkable:

  5. And we have our techno-utopians saying that the singularity is nigh.

But how does all this fit with what we think we see in the lived experience as the coming of the smart phone, tablet, and laptop-enabled world?

How are we to cut through this the spaghetti knot of arguments and issues?

Start with the key question: "Conan! What is best in life?"

  • On the first level, what is best in life is three things: enough food that we are not hungry, enough clothing that we are not cold, and enough shelter that we are not wet. Deprive us of any of those three, and our minds turn to satisfy those needs with an awesome intensity.

  • On the second level, what is best in life is one thing: the survival and health of our children and of the others near and dear to us--and we will in fact deprive us of some degree of our first order goes to achieve that.

  • And on the third level? Once our children and the others dear to us are safe, and once we are not driven by hunger and thirst, cold, and other forms of physical discomfort, what is best in life? Here are our needs and goals spread out: we seek economy, we seek delightful experience, we think the freedom to set our goals for arranging the world and for accomplishing them, we seek successes, we seek achievement in status games. We use our time to acquire the tools and knowledge to become who we want to be in a world as close to the world we want to see as we can.