An important book

The focus of our work at Michigan Future is how to restore Michigan to high prosperity––a place with a  broad middle class––in an economy that is being transformed by globalization and technology. What has been clear to us since we started doing this work in the early nineties is that what made us prosperous in the past won’t in the future.

Its a lesson we are having a hard time learning. But unless we learn it, we are going to continue to be one of the poorest states in the country. We are in the mid thirties in per capita income. And are highly unlikely to change that ranking until and unless the state aligns with–rather than resists–new economic realities.

I just finished reading The Second Machine Age. It spells out as well as anything I have read what those new realities are. Co-authored by Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of the MIT Center for Digital Business, the book explores how increasingly smart machines are constantly and quickly changing the nature of work.

The book is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the economy they and their children are going to live in. As well as those involved in economy policy and programming. The book explains what machines are likely to be able to do ––cheaper and better–in the future that humans are now doing. Those jobs will disappear.  And what jobs now and in the foreseeable future humans can do that machines can’t. Some good paying, some not.

The book is anything but pollyannaish about these new realities. Describing both the benefits and costs of machines replacing human workers. It delves deeply into the effects of smarter and smarter machines on what the authors describe as bounty and spread. Bounty being the size of the economic pie. Which they see as expanding greatly. And spread being the distribution of the growth which they see as concentrating at the top, with lots of losers who’s standard of living is likely to decline.

The book includes recommendations for individuals to race with machines. The only route the authors see to  good paying careers. And policy recommendations for government that can increase the number of winners and support the losers.  Including enacting a basic income floor for all whether they work or not. (A topic we explored in a previous post.)

All in all a worthwhile read.

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