I was pleased to see Alan S. Blinder's op-ed piece in today's Wall Street Journal. In the piece, Blinder makes the following observation:
It may seem strange to cast technology in the role of the villain, and in a larger sense it's not. Improving technology is the main source of higher living standards. So it is good, not bad, for a country to experience faster technological progress. But new technologies inevitably leave some people behind. ... The Internet revolution gave this process new momentum and a new twist. While e-commerce eliminated many "ordinary" jobs (think Amazon instead of bookstores, or online reservation systems instead of travel agents), it also enhanced the opportunities and rewards for some "extraordinary" jobs. Think of entertainers or inventors of successful apps, for example. The result has been that the rich got richer while the poor and middle class got relatively poorer.
Well said, Alan Blinder. Technology is great, but we're forgetting that technology should serve people — not vice versa. Instead of expanding wealth, the Internet is slowly destroying the business model of practically every middle class job, one by one. That's not the Internet's fault; it's simply how the technology and culture of the Internet developed.
This increasingly dire situation doesn't mean we should try to slow down technological progress; it means we should think about ways to help America through this difficult transition.
What's that, you say? Simply prepare people for a changing job landscape? Give them the skills to succeed in the new economy? If only it were that easy. Which "new economy" are we talking about? The technological landscape is reinventing itself every few months. There's no way to keep up. This is rapidly becoming everybody's problem.
If you feel secure right now, perhaps the Internet hasn't threatened your job yet.
A solution to the problem of uncontrolled middle-class-job destruction will require creativity, compromise, and cooperation. An example of this cooperative spirit: Some libertarians believe a basic guaranteed income would be cheaper and much less bureaucratic than our current welfare system. If, in the future, online learning destroys most teaching jobs, and driverless cars destroy most ground-transport jobs, and 3-d printers destroy most manufacturing jobs, we might need a guaranteed income for more than just the "poor."
That's just one idea. There are others. The point is: If the Internet, or free software, or robots, are going to take away jobs, without replacing them with other jobs, we need some solutions on hand. Let's make sure the robots work for us, not against us.