Since it is behind the paywall let me summarize: Krugman starts out with Bob Gordon's summary of the "industrial revolutions" of the last 300 years. In Gordon's (and Krugman's) view these were and are:
1 - (steam, railroads) from 1750 to 1830;
2 - (electricity, internal combustion engine, running water, indoor toilets, communications, entertainment, chemicals, petroleum) from 1870 to 1900; and
3 - (computers, the web, mobile phones) from 1960 to present.
Krugman then goes on to discuss his disagreement with Gordon that IR#3 - the digital revolution - has substantially run its course and will (or is already) yielding lesser and lesser economic gains. Krugman's primary issue with this is his conviction that the IT revolution has really not fulfilled its potential. He observes that
"...it turns out that there are other ways of producing very smart machines (and then details some of those ways) And this means that in a sense we are moving toward something like my intelligent-robots world; many, many tasks are becoming machine-friendly. This in turn means that Gordon is probably wrong about diminishing returns to technology."I do not pretend to be especially tech-savvy so I am not sure of the actual practicalities of this. But I will defer to Krugman on the issue and assume that there is, in fact, a continued economic benefit to come. BUT...then he comes to what I consider the crux of the biscuit:
"Ah, you ask, but what about the people? Very good question. Smart machines may make higher GDP possible, but also reduce the demand for people — including smart people. So we could be looking at a society that grows ever richer, but in which all the gains in wealth accrue to whoever owns the robots.
And then eventually Skynet decides to kill us all, but that’s another story."But I would go further than this.
General prosperity in such a society would actually depend on there being fewer people.
In such a society the remaining human work would fall on the top and bottom ends of the labor spectrum; the truly "creative" sorts of work - art, architecture, medicine, engineering - which require an inductive leap not programmable in a machine, and the physically-demanding-but-inductive sorts of work, like sorting trash from recyclables, performing bed-baths (and other medical dog-work), and waiting tables.
The latter sort would, as they always have been, be low-paid and low-esteemed. But that's the subject of another post.
But the point is that this world of Krugman's presumes that a huge volume of the work now done by humans - the "middle" sort, the kind requiring human muscles but not especially skilled human brains - will be done by machines.
But in that case...what the hell do you DO with those leftover humans, the ones too handless to be artists but too ambitious to be street-cleaners?
My point is and has been for some time that we in the First World are moving into an economy where we have too many people for too few jobs; that the sorts of massively labor-intensive industrial work of the 20th Century (riveting steamships, assembling buildings, constructing highways) have effectively vanished, replaced by the same work done largely by machinery.
But the human faculty for reproduction has not been similarly upgraded; we're still littering the Earth with our spawn. And, given that so many of said spawn will not or can not be trained to do those top-end creative jobs (high school graduation still lingers around the 70% range, tops, and college graduation is far lower), that many of these progeny look towards a fairly bleak employment future, even assuming that the most optimistic of Krugman's predictions comes true.
That, or exterminated by the machines.
Still, a rather dampening thought for a damp Boxing Day.