The Luddites were Right

The Luddites and its parallel for today is a world where technology such as artificial intelligence is displacing many people.


The Luddites were not opposed to the idea of using machines to make things more efficiently or be more productive. They just thought if you’re going to make more money because you’re more productive, you need to kick some of that money back down to the workers. The merchants were really not of that opinion.The Luddites tried to bargain with the factory owners [arguing for minimum prices, a textile tax to support workers pensions, or phased introduction of new machines], but that didn’t go over at all.


Technology is not just taking away jobs with your hands. It’s taking away jobs from your mind. And in the middle class only a minority — those highly skilled, creative and lucky — will have lucrative jobs, which will be wildly better paid than the rest. They can also, eventually, create new ones. “A lot of skilled artisans did lose their jobs,” experts say, but several decades later demand for labor rose as new job categories emerged, like office work. “Average wages have been increasing for the past 200 years,” they note. “The machines were creating wealth!”.The problem is that transition is rocky. In the short run, automation can destroy jobs more rapidly than it creates them atleast in the short term.
When the Luddites got to their wits end, they basically started going in and smashing and breaking machines, saying, this is all we got left. We’re going to destroy the means by which you produce this dislocation in our lives.

And perhaps one day, when Uber starts rolling out its robot fleet in earnest, angry out-of-work cabdrivers will go online—and try to jam up Uber’s services in the digital world.

But people don’t resist technologies simply because they are new. They resist those technologies that are embedded in business models that lead to loss of livelihoods, identity, meaning, or sense of purpose.

Technology and the embedded business models are more likely to be accepted if they promote shared benefits and economic inclusion. Politicians should be adopting policies that ease the transition—much as in the past, when public education and progressive taxation and antitrust law helped prevent the 1 percent from hogging all the profits.

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