(p. A11) The issues at the heart of “Learning by Doing” come into sharp relief when James Bessen visits a retail distribution center near Boston that was featured on “60 Minutes” two years ago. The TV segment, titled “Are Robots Hurting Job Growth?,” combined gotcha reporting with vintage movie clips–scary-looking Hollywood robots–to tell a chilling tale of human displacement and runaway job loss.
Mr. Bessen isn’t buying it. Although robots at the distribution center have eliminated some jobs, he says, they have created others–for production workers, technicians and managers. The problem at automated workplaces isn’t the robots. It’s the lack of qualified workers. New jobs “require specialized skills,” Mr. Bessen writes, but workers with these skills “are in short supply.”
It is a deeply contrarian view. The conventional wisdom about robots and other new workplace technology is that they do more harm than good, destroying jobs and hollowing out the middle class. MIT economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee made the case in their best-selling 2014 book, “The Second Machine Age.” They describe a future in which software-driven machines will take over not just routine jobs–replacing clerks, cashiers and warehouse workers–but also tasks done by nurses, doctors, lawyers and stock traders. Mr. Bessen sets out to refute the arguments of such techno-pessimists, relying on economic analysis and on a fresh reading of history.
For the full review, see:
TAMAR JACOBY. “BOOKSHELF; Technology Isn’t a Job Killer; Many predicted ATMs would eliminate bank tellers, but the number of tellers in the U.S. has risen since the machines were introduced.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., May 21, 2015): A11.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 20, 2015.)
The book under review, is:
Bessen, James. Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.