The Anti-Economist — From the January 2014 issue

The Digital Revolution That Wasn’t

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For as long as there have been machines, there have been worries about their power to destroy jobs. The Luddites — early-nineteenth-century artisans who bitterly resisted the new textile machinery that was making them obsolete — are only the most famous example of workers who fought the mechanization of labor. A similar fight has played out many times since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, over water mills and steam engines, electricity and the assembly line.

But no one today would wish away these technologies. That is because, over time, economies kept growing, jobs were created, wages rose, and prosperity was shared throughout the population. In the wake of the Industrial Revolution, human rights were increasingly — if never adequately — protected, democracy became more firmly rooted, and new inventions, from the automobile to the television, made daily life more pleasant for the vast majority of American workers. There is a simple economic explanation for why technologies that disrupt the labor force in one area tend eventually to benefit everyone: productivity. Increases in the amount of goods made or services delivered per hour of work generally lead to greater prosperity. Some jobs are eliminated, but more and better-paying jobs often replace them.

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