The Second Machine Age

I must thank Dr Sebastiaan Mastenbroek (AMC, Amsterdam) for giving me a copy of the Second Machine Age by Brynjolfsson and McAfee.[1] At first I thought it was just another of those books describing how computers were going to take over the world.[2] Indeed the first part of the book is repetitive and not particularly insightful when it comes to the marvels of modern computers – I recently debated this subject live with another auteur, Daniel Susskind, on BBC World Service. However, the economic consequences of the second machine age are much more adroitly handled. The authors make a case that the wide disparities in wealth that have arisen over the last few decades are not entirely a function of globalization. The coming of computers has also had a large effect by increasing demand for jobs with a high cognitive content while reducing demand at the other end of the intellectual scale. Fortunately the book does not fall into the Luddite error of trying to hold back the progress of technology. That would be like the ancient Ottoman Empire which tried to ban printing. No, progress must continue, but it must be managed. The authors consider a universal income, but argue that it is too early for this. I agree. They also argue for a negative income tax. Such a tax does not act as a disincentive to work and has a lot going for it. All in all, this is one of the more sure-footed accounts of the economic consequences of the second machine age.

— Richard Lilford, CLAHRC WM Director

Reference:

  1. Brynjolfsson E & McAfee A. The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company; 2014.
  2. Lilford RJ. A Book for a Change. NIHR CLAHRC West Midlands News Blog. 29 January 2016.
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