This week our reading of Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s The Second Machine Age advances to policy recommendations. (If you haven’t followed along, here are all of the posts)
Chapter 13: Policy Recommendations
Here the authors focus on the short term, and their primary piece of advice: “For now the best way to tackle our labor force challenges is to grow the economy.” (207) And they follow through on this score, outlining ways to improve the national (or global) economy: improve schools; boost entrepreneurship; make hiring and finding jobs more efficient; spend more on scientific research; repair infrastructure; try out new forms of taxation.
That’s a curious mix, blending party planks seen on both right and left. Free marketeers and neoliberals should applaud the call for opening up immigration, along with the implicit summons to weaken or end teacher tenure (212; unions are pretty much absent in SMA). Liberals can appreciate the calls for public works projects, along with a resistance to regressive taxation and recommendation of taxing the rich (227).
Chapter 14: Long-Term Recommendations
Now SMA looks up from the near horizon and thinks on a grander scale. But not before issuing important caveats. The authors don’t see a way of putting the automation genie back in some predigital bottle, nor are they interested in “efforts to come up with fundamental alternatives to capitalism” (231-2).
All right, so what is to be done? Brynjolfsson and McAfee offer some ideas, hedged and qualified:
- Try out the minimal national income and/or a negative income tax.
- Make sure people have jobs of some sort.
- Watch the peer or sharing economy, which might become big (“Participation in services like TaskRabbit and Airbnb gives people previously unavailable economic opportunities, and it also gives them something to do”, 245).
The chapter concludes on a raft of more daring thoughts (246-7), including
- Fund a Civilian Conservation Corps-style effort to pay people to “clean up the environment, build infrastructure, and address other public goods”
- Do the same, but via nonprofits (I’m honestly not sure how that works).
- Shape government policy “to direct technical change toward machines that augment human ability rather than substitute for it, toward new goods and services and away from labor savings.”
- “Start a ‘made by humans’ labeling movement”.
Taken together, let me ask two questions about this pair of recommendation chapters.
- Which courses of action seem most likely to have beneficial effects?
- What recommendations would you offer, that SMA misses?