If you don’t think the transformation we’re embarked upon is a profound one, consider this: Within two decades, half the jobs in this country may be performed by robots. What then of our unemployment rate and social safety net? Opinion is divided: Will the next technological wave further skew the wealth distribution toward the uber-rich, or will it ultimately create more entrepreneurial and job opportunities than it destroys?
There is an interesting historical precedent for our situation, an era during which the technological firmament shifted just as abruptly as it is here and now. In the United Kingdom in the year 1800, the textile industry dominated economic life, particularly in Northern England and Scotland. Cotton-spinners, weavers (mostly of stockings), and croppers (who trimmed large sheets of woven wool) worked from home, were well compensated, and enjoyed ample leisure time.
Ten years later, that had all changed. Clive Thompson, the author of today’s Outside the Box,tells us what happened: