The Second Machine

Recommended reading on the economy and education

For those of you looking for something to read, other than about the coronavirus, here is a list of books about the economy and education that have been the most helpful in our understanding of the realities of how people earn a living today and likely tomorrow; what skills are most important to doing well in the labor market of today and tomorrow; and the kind of lifelong education that is most likely to build those skills.

Taken together these books paint a picture much different than conventional wisdom today about both the economy and education. They take on the notion that good-paying jobs and careers are concentrated in STEM fields and the skilled trades. And they take on the notion that the skills that matter most are those on standardized tests and job-specific, first-job skills.

By and large, these books, are not about policy. What approach we should take to having an economy that both grows and benefits all and what approach we should take to prepare all for good-paying forty-year careers. Rather they have helped us understand the realities of a how people earn a living and the skills we all need to do well in that labor market.

On the economy

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, 2014

Recommended both for its description of how work that humans do is likely to change and for introducing the concept of the Great Decoupling. Where as the economy grows it leaves more and more households behind.

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Robert D. Putnam, 2015

Recommended for it description of the impact on families and children of a two-generation decline of middle class jobs for those without a four-year degree

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, Daniel H. Pink, 2005

Recommended for it description of future work. A real antidote to the conventional wisdom about the concentration of good-paying jobs in STEM and the skilled trades.

Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Greener, Healthier, and Happier, Edward Glaeser, 2011

Recommended for its description of why economic growth––particularly high-wage work––is increasingly concentrating in big metros anchored by vibrant central cities.

On education, broadly defined

Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Children, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, 2016

Recommended for its description of the most essential foundation skills for good-paying careers: collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creativity and confidence

Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why, Paul Tough, 2016

Recommended for its exploration of what works from birth through high school to enable non-affluent children to have the same opportunities as affluent children.

In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School, Jal Mehta and Sarah Fine, 2019

Recommended for its exploration of the kind of high schools that build forty-year career ready skills in all students.

The New Education: How to revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux, Cathy N. Davidson, 2017

Recommended for its exploration of the kind of higher education that build forty-year career ready skills in all students.

If you only have time to read one book, on the economy I would read The Second Machine Age. On education I would read Becoming Brilliant. For us, they provide the best big picture overview.

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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.

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