Mon Mar 7th, 2011 at 05:40:23 AM EST
With two recent diaries, Krugman confronts the fact that the patterns that seem correlated with past enrichment of society are breaking down:
Falling Demand for Brains? - NYTimes.com
As I recall, I was the only contributor who obeyed instructions; everyone else was too concerned about loss of dignity. Anyway, I decided to write the piece around a conceit: that information technology would end up reducing, not increasing, the demand for highly educated workers, because a lot of what highly educated workers do could actually be replaced by sophisticated information processing -- indeed, replaced more easily than a lot of manual labor. Here's the piece: I still think it's a fun read.
So here's the question: is it starting to happen?
Today's Times has an interesting and, if you think about it, fairly scary report about how software is replacing the teams of lawyers who used to do document research. And then there's Watson, of course, who -- which? -- can beat almost everyone except my Congressman at Jeopardy.
In my mind this raises several questions. One is whether emphasizing education -- even aside from the fact that the big rise in inequality has taken place among the highly educated -- is, in effect, fighting the last war. Another is how we have a decent society if and when even highly educated workers can't command a middle-class income.
front-paged by afew
Autor! Autor! - NYTimes.com
A further note on brains and jobs: the story I told in my whimsical magazine piece bears a clear family resemblance to the influential analysis of Autor, Levy, and Murnane a few years later, which argued that the crucial difference in terms of possible replacement of humans by machines was one of routine versus non-routine, rather than white-collar versus blue-collar, and that computerization was if anything likely to increase demand for some "low-skill" occupations and reduce demand for some traditionally well-paying white-collar jobs:
In the 80s, the higher the skill required for an occupation, the bigger the employment gains. In the 90s, there was "hollowing out", with the middle-skill occupations losing relative to both ends. And most recently, the hollowing seems to have spread further up the scale.
This is real, and it calls some of our favorite platitudes into question.
I've tried not to copy whole blog posts, so it may be clearer if you read the links.
The key concern is that the popular theories which link our economic system to widespread wealth (as opposed to a slide towards a feudal system) relie on an employment structure that rewards a middle class. Now even a relative mainstreamer like Krugman is noticing the breakdown...
The question: is technological change hollowing out the middle-class?
We know that much of the current impoverishment is based in politics... but are there reasons to believe that technology has skewed the system?