Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Supply Creates Its Own Demon (SCIOD): The Serial!

Enough is enough!

Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew Mcafee wrote
This view – that automation and other forms of technological progress in aggregate create more jobs than they destroy – has come to dominate the discipline of economics. To believe otherwise is to succumb to the 'Luddite fallacy.' So in recent years, most of the people arguing that technology is a net job destroyer have not been mainstream economists.
To Brynjolfsson and McAfee's credit they point out that the theory and evidence for this argument are "less solid than they initially appear." What they don't point out -- and possibly don't realize -- is that the theory and evidence were discredited roughly 80 and 140 years ago.

"In economics," Paul Samuelson wrote and I quoted a short while ago, "it takes a theory to kill a theory..." But it doesn't have to be a better theory or a newer one. In fact, the surest way to kill a theory in economics is with a previously-deceased theory, as the same Samuelson demonstrated. (See another recent post.)

It turns out that bringing the dead back to life has been a recurrent theme among economists -- most literally in the case of Andrew Ure's experiments with Galvanism just a few months after publication of Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein (see episode 10).

As I've been trying to point out, the "will automation take our jobs?" motif is neither new nor interesting. Well... maybe it's interesting in a kind of morbid fascination way. But it's not interesting in the sense of "can we learn anything new from this?" The question has shuffled off this mortal coil. A more interesting question would be why does the anachronism persist?

I've got a 10,000-word draft, consisting of most of the projected twelve episodes of "Supply Creates Its Own Demon" (henceforth "SCIOD") in which I explore the extraordinary afterlife of a dead idea. I have scheduled two episodes a week, to be posted on Thursdays and Tuesdays at 5:00 p.m EDT. Links will become active as the scheduled episodes are posted. Here are the episodes titles:
  1. Pantins' Pantomime 
  2. Addendum
  3. The Automatic Left-handed Loom 
  4. Chariots of the Luddites 
  5. Addendum: Petty Foggery and Political Arithmetick
  6. Paradox Laws 
  7. Addendum: Liar's Paradox
  8. Supply Creates Its Own Demon 
  9. A Trick! of the Clumsiest Description! 
  10. The Frankenstein Factory 
  11. The Secret Basis of Glut 
  12. This Magazine of Untruth 
  13. The Fund-a-mental Thing's Supply As Time Goes "Bye!"
  14. Continuation of Brassey by Chapman August 28
  15. Euclidean Rhapsodies 
  16. Beggars, Cranks and Feather Beds 
Why do defunct ideas persist? Hypothesis: they fit into a multi-faceted repertoire of beliefs and behaviors in which they "make sense" because they legitimate and rationalize those beliefs and behaviors. It's no use refuting the wrong idea without directly confronting its repertory context.

Teasers:  Previously I have drawn on material from episodes 7, 8 and 12 for posts subtitled You Don't, Say!Marc Andreessen and "Textbook Luddism" and Say's Law sank without trace.

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