Robotic Dystopia and Economic Growth

Youre fired!

This robot has an impressive resume.

Gregory Clark painted a dismal picture of the future in the Washington Post this weekend. In Clark’s future, the growth and spread of technological developments will push more and more unskilled laborers out of the workforce, necessitating higher taxes on those with marketable skills to pay for the basic living expenses of the unemployable masses.

Interesting. The thing I’d add though is that implied in the process of technology outmoding human labor is the assumption that technology performs the job more efficiently, which is to say, more cost-effectively. This means those who control the technology (or are under the illusion of controlling them — don’t rule out the AI uprising and subsequent enslavement of humanity) will be the recipients of larger and larger shares of profits, so the need for them to pay higher taxes wouldn’t exactly be some sort of gross imposition. Clark doesn’t seem to suggest that it is, mind you, but I’m just saying this vision doesn’t have to be quite as foreboding as it seems.

Also, I guess from the perspective of someone who is for the most part a committed utilitarian (and also at the risk of appearing a Luddite), it would be worth having a discussion about whether or not it’s really in society’s best interest to replace humans with machines that work more efficiently. It’s pretty clear that technological innovation starting in the industrial revolution has proven to be good for mankind, but if the goal is to produce a better society we really need to be weighing the tradeoffs to ensure magical innovations don’t just engender some sort of neo-feudalism. Or rather, at least ensure that any neo-feudalism therein engendered is Pareto improving.

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