Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"The Future of Work" has a Chequered Past

The Hamilton Project had an event to discuss the Future of Work in the Age of the Machine. Lawrence Summers was there, along with Robert Rubin, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, Laura D. Tyson and David Autor. Round up the usual suspects. They didn't invite the Sandwichman. No one ever invites the Sandwichman to these events.

The Hamilton Project's "framing paper" on the future of work takes its historical bearings from a fable about events that happened two centuries ago. Wouldn't it make sense to rely instead on documents from within our own lifetime? How credible are predictions about the future based on fictions about the past?

Writing in Fortune magazine 61 years ago, Daniel Seligman predicted achievement of the four-day week by 1980. He based that prediction on projection of historical trends. It didn't happen. Apparently a lump of labor got in the way -- the same fixed amount of fiction that the Hamilton Project framing paper frames the Luddites of 200 years ago with.

"Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future." Attribution is even harder. Niels Bohr? Yogi Berra?

At least Larry Summers got it right.

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