Monday, February 17, 2014

Guest: 'The Second Machine Age' is a clunker

By Wesley Roth

After reading "The New Digital Age" by by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen and Tyler Cowen's "Average is Over", I was eagerly looking forward to "The Second Machine Age" by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. The MIT technologists take the readers into a deep dive of how this "Second Machine Age" is changing the world around us and specifically how that is affecting and will affect the labor force.

Is growth over in the United States? "Not a chance" the authors say. "It's just being held back by our inability to process all the new ideas fast enough." The book focuses on how machines are making our lives easier but also disrupting our lives and the workforce. For example, in the positive, it takes the average American only eleven hours of labor per week to produce as much as he or she produced in forty hours in 1950! But "the machines" are already taking the place of certain assembly-line type jobs and will continue for the foreseeable future.

The chapters on "Bounty" and "The Spread" were the most interesting. Their policy recommendations at the end of the book align with the hopes and dreams of Silicon Valley and the Tech Sector. Their endorsement of a FDR-"basic income" for all Americans given to them by the government was disappointing to read, along with endorsing Pigovian taxes, which are a non-starter for me (along with taxing people by the mile when they drive!).

In the end, I enjoyed Cowen's book more (they borrow some of his key ideas) and Schmidt/Cohen's "The New Digital Age", which was a better, less data-driven read for the layperson.

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