Vrees voor technologische verandering nog immer ongegrond

CAMBRIDGE – Al sinds het begin van het industriële tijdperk zien we steeds maar weer de vrees opduiken dat technologische verandering tot massawerkloosheid gaat leiden. De neoklassieke economen voorspelden echter dat dat niet het geval zou zijn: mensen zouden andere banen vinden, zij het mogelijk pas na een lange periode van pijnlijke aanpassingen. Die voorspelling is over het algemeen ook uitgekomen.

Wat heeft tweehonderd jaar van adembenemende innovaties sinds het begin van het industriële tijdperk namelijk opgeleverd? In een groot deel van de wereld is de levensstandaard voor gewone mensen gestegen, terwijl de werkloosheid niet sterk is opgelopen. Zeker, dat is allemaal niet zonder slag of stoot gegaan: er waren ook periodes met onthutsende ongelijkheid en steeds weerzinwekkender oorlogen. Voor het grootste deel van de wereld geldt echter al met al dat de mensen langer en over het algemeen gezonder leven, terwijl zij korter werken.

Er kan echter niet ontkend worden dat technologische verandering vandaag de dag versneld plaatsvindt, wat tot diepere en ernstigere ontwrichtingen kan leiden. De grote econoom Wassily Leontief maakte in 1983 in een veel geciteerd artikel al zijn zorgen kenbaar: de moderne technologische verandering zou in zo’n snel tempo verlopen dat veel werknemers zich niet kunnen aanpassen en eenvoudigweg overbodig worden, net als het paarden verging na de opkomst van de auto. Worden miljoenen werknemers afgedankt, zoals paarden vroeger naar de lijmfabriek gestuurd werden?

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