Friday, June 24, 2016

more corporatist twaddle blithely not-seeing the Left Behind...,

newyorker |  If you are reading this post, the likelihood is that you, like me, are one of the winners. Highly educated, professional people tend to work in sectors of the economy that have benefitted from the changes in the international division of labor (e.g., finance, consulting, media, tech) or have been largely spared the rigors of global competition (e.g., law, medicine, academia). From a secure perch on the economic ladder, it is easy to celebrate the gains that technology and globalization have brought, such as a cornucopia of cheap goods in rich countries and rising prosperity in poor ones. It’s also tempting to dismiss the arguments of people who ignore the benefits of this process, or who can’t see that it is irreversible.

But, as Baker points out, “it is a bit hypocritical of those who have benefited” from this economic transformation to be “mocking the poor judgment of its victims”—especially now that the forces of global competition and technological progress are reaching into areas that were previously protected. In a world of self-driving cars and trucks, what is the future for truck drivers, cab and limo drivers, and delivery men? Not a very prosperous one, surely. And the creative destruction that the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter celebrated won’t stop there. With software that can transfer money at zero cost, medical robots that can carry out the most delicate of operations, and smart algorithms that can diagnose diseases or dispense legal advice, what is the future for bankers, surgeons, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals?

There is no straightforward answer to this question, just as there is no easy answer to the question of what can be done to help those who have already lost out. One option is to strengthen the social safety net and, perhaps, to move toward some sort of universal basic income, which would guarantee a minimum standard of living to everybody, regardless of employment prospects. The political enactment of such solutions, however, is contingent on the existence of social solidarity, which the very process of economic and technological change, by heightening inequalities and eroding communal institutions, undermines.