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The Machine That Ate Jobs

Insecurity about jobs is a defining characteristic of our age. Two worries arise most often: globalization, which makes jobs migrate to poorer regions, and computer technology, which can make them disappear altogether.

These worries plague people of all incomes, ages, and in all countries. As shown by Mexico's laments about job losses to China, people in emerging countries worry as much as those in advanced countries. In response, politicians propose various job retraining or education programs, but rarely confront the real long-term issues.

Worries about globalization and the computer revolution ultimately boil down to the same thing, because globalization is mostly a consequence of new information technology. Computers and the Internet made it possible to send information almost costlessly, and to do business across cultures and continents.

The worry is that information technology is now on the bend of a "hockey stick" curve, where it will suddenly take off at much greater speed than before. The resulting changes will not all be welcome in economic terms.