Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

52 Years Ago

The economist Robert Solow has been arguing for more than half a century that technology will not spell the end of middle-class jobs.

  • October 21, 2014

Excerpted from “Problems That Don’t Worry Me,” by Robert M. Solow, in the July 1962 issue ofTechnology Review.

July 1962 issue of MIT Technology Review

I don’t mind worrying when I’ve got something real to worry about. But some problems that get talked about a lot don’t seem to me to be real problems. One of them may surprise you—it is the ‘problem’ of automation.

This story is part of our November/December 2014 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

I don’t doubt that there is such a thing as automation or that it’s intellectually exciting and economically important. But the argument is often made that automation represents a second industrial revolution, that it means a spectacular increase in productivity, and that it threatens catastrophic unemployment.

Suppose that the prophets of a second industrial revolution are right. Is there danger of mass technological unemployment? I don’t think so, though neither would I accept the Pollyanna position that all such transitions are accomplished smoothly and automatically. The real problems of rapid technological change … come mainly from the fact that when production processes change rapidly, certain specific kinds of labor may become obsolete. This means that groups of individuals who have built up a considerable investment in a particular kind of skill over a lifetime may find themselves taking a sudden capital loss on that skill. This is a very uncomfortable kind of loss to experience, and the human cost can be very great. I would favor society bearing some portion of this loss, either through substantial retraining programs, or perhaps through something analogous to a carry-back of loss offsets in the personal income tax. But these are problems of adjustment, not of catastrophe. They do not suggest that automation does or can mean the impossibility of everybody finding a job while at the same time everybody still hungers enough for goods to want to work for a living. That is simply a fallacy.

Cut off? Read unlimited articles today.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.