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Creative Destruction at Work

Despite the diffusion of big-data-driven technologies, research suggests that labor will continue to have a comparative advantage in social intelligence and creativity. Government development strategies should therefore focus on enhancing these skills, so that they complement, rather than compete with, computer technologies.

OXFORD – Throughout history, technological progress has created enormous wealth but also caused great disruption. The United States’ steel industry, for example, underwent a major transformation in the 1960s, when large, integrated steel mills were gradually put out of business by mini mills, destroying the existing economic base of cities like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Youngstown, Ohio. The mini mills, however, vastly increased productivity, and created new types of work elsewhere.

The story of US steel illustrates an important lesson about what the economist Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction”: Long-run economic growth involves more than just increasing output in existing factories; it is also implies structural changes in employment.

We can observe a similar phenomenon in the current information and communications technology (ICT) revolution, which has affected most areas of the modern workplace, even those not directly associated with computer programming or software engineering. Computer technologies have created prosperous new businesses (even business clusters) while making certain manufacturing workers redundant and sending older manufacturing cities into decline.

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