What’s In The Future?


This question provides a snappy title to an article that can provide no real answers. In my lifetime we have gone from vast unemployment in a depression to great economic development and concomitant employment following a massive war in which great damage was inflicted on the rest of the developed world. Manufacturing and its associated employment grew in this country radically until we began to realize that improvements in how things were made required fewer workers at the same time we could make more than we could sell. Then began the move of manufacturing overseas for cheaper labor. More things, cheaper prices, fewer workers. This is a familiar story.

Beginning in the 90s, authors began to take notice of what this change was doing to our economy and society and where these changes, broken down, might lead us. A number of scholars got the recession right, if not its timing. Since the recession, the reading market has been flooded with books and articles on the whys and wherefores of this reaction to economic changes.

The best book I have read, I am by no means familiar with all, is The Lights In The Tunnel (2009) by Martin Ford. After five years, his assessment seems to me to be still on track. He describes the problems pretty much as others have done. It is when he moves to the part about what will happen (and can happen) next that he deviates from others I have read.

After working his way through two chapters on working our way through human labor to increasing use of machines, he moves to a long explanation of using computers in production, consolidation of economic activity and increasing activity to find more ways to reduce costs and increase profits. While this is not new, the information is well organized and well written. I had a pretty good understanding of the complex interaction of factors. He then moves on to transition in which more machines and less (to none) human labor will be needed in most of the economic process. Finally, he comes to what will happen to work for people around the world. His ideas are innovative and thought provoking. Time will tell about how much of his thinking will/can work out, but where Congress is in the mix the answers probably won’t be what he had in mind

  1. #1 by Marvin on August 25, 2014 - 3:47 pm

    Dr. Boswell please read a book that has some good news. We are at the beach and the news is terrible . It would be appealing to become a hermit here.

    • #2 by John Boswell on August 25, 2014 - 7:54 pm

      Marvin, give me a suggestion. I am as depressed by what I read as you are. Anyway, you should be sunning and playing in the water AND watching the Washington Nationals baseball team. Now, there is good news!
      JGB

  2. #3 by Terry Jackson on August 25, 2014 - 11:04 pm

    I had to laugh at both of these comments. I am in that phase of feeling like the more I know the more I don’t know!! Football season is coming – that is good news, right?!

    • #4 by John Boswell on August 26, 2014 - 2:02 pm

      Actually, I have mostly given up on football and gone to baseball (Washington Nationals) and pro basketball-which I thought I could never stand. Football has become so violent-particularly the pro version-that I have mostly given up on it. (The performance of the Redskins after Joe Gibbs helped me along to the exit.) One of the things my wife commented on the other evening was the difference in the makeup of crowds. At Nationals games there are lots of families with small to medium size children. Redskins fans seem increasingly made up of bottle waving, loud mouth drunks.
      JGB

  3. #5 by Terry Jackson on August 26, 2014 - 3:47 pm

    A self-indulgent and tangential comment – we have formed our comp groups since we have oral/written in January. I am in a great group with Jenn Wong, Fred Jefferson and Al Rosende. Such remarkable people, friends and colleagues – I am fortunate!

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