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The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future Kindle Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Length: 262 pages Word Wise: Enabled

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Product Description

About the Author

MARTIN FORD is the founder of a Silicon Valley-based software firm. He has over twenty-five years experience in the fields of computer design and software development. He holds a computer engineering degree from the University of Michigan and a graduate business degree from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 699 KB
  • Print Length: 262 pages
  • Publisher: Acculant Publishing (5 Oct. 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002S0NITU
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #43,519 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an important and timely book. Its message has radical and urgent relevance to management of the current economic crisis engulfing the developed world. Martin Ford shows how automation inevitably decreases the wage content of ever increasing output, and hence reduces effective demand for that output. The result is debt or recession, unless innovative ways are found to fund consumer demand in a wage-less economy. His ultimate model of a zero wage 100% automated economy is futuristic, but his suggestion that there is an element of this mechanism already currently at work and responsible for the economic crisis is correct. It is the delinkage of productivity and real wages which is responsible for the credit boom, which then became predictably unsustainable and led to current austerity packages, ie managed recession. We have indeed already reached Ford's 4th phase of this process (p226) and therefore as he writes `we need to adopt new policies rapidly'.

Ford acknowledges that his analysis follows that of Keynes in his 1930 essay `Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren', and indeed accords with Marx' analytic of the way in which technology could threaten the stability of the capitalist model. Ford's thesis is thoroughly Keynesian, as Keynes in his 1936 General Theory first emphasised wages as effective demand, and not only as cost of production. Keynes' 1930 essay has recently been extensively reviewed in Pecchi and Piga `Revisiting Keynes' (MIT Press 2008). In my Amazon review of that book, [ASIN:0262515113 Revisiting Keynes]I mention the contribution by the distinguished Nobel Laureate economist Professor Robert Solow of MIT who writes that with burgeoning production from advanced technologies `the wage will absorb only a small fraction of all that output.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Before reading this book, I had never thought seriously about the effects of technological progress on our society. I've always subscribed to the conventional view that technology has freed us from drudgery and enriched our lives, and that continued advances are the key to increasing our overall quality of life.

This is the first book I've read that has really made me question these beliefs. Other reviewers have done a good job of explaining the book's structure, so I won't go into detail - but suffice to say that Martin Ford makes a strong case that we're approaching a point beyond which our current economic system simply won't be sustainable. And given the rate of recent progress, that point probably isn't more than a decade or two away.

I'm sure that the book's central theme will seem radical and unpalatable to many readers. But it's very hard to find fault with the author's logic - he argues each step carefully and the conclusions seem inescapable if you accept the basic premise that technology is going to continue its relentless onward march.

Overall, a terrific (if somewhat worrying) book, and one that deserves to be widely read.
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Format: Paperback
In this interesting book, Martin Ford looks at the qualitatively different nature of modern technological change. He takes the line that fast advances in processing power are allowing computers to encroach on "humans only" areas, firstly as expert assistants and subsequently as autonomous agents. In other words computers initially help the pilot fly the aircraft but eventually take over the controls themselves.

He particularly sees skilled work being automated to generate unemployment among professional groups like architects, accountants and lawyers and considers the economic cost of this demand (income) being removed from the economy.

The author sees advanced automation as something very new and highly recessionary and in the last two chapters casts around for ways to put the lost demand back into the economy. He doesn't seem very convinced with his own answers (which don't in fact seem very realistic) but he suggests a new government run welfare system taxing successful automated business and returning the automation surplus to the unemployed in return for attainments in education and protecting the environment (his green lights in the economic tunnel).

He doesn't consider the obvious idea of letting the owners of automated businesses keep their surplus but obliging them to spend it rather than taxing it away. The direct effect on demand would actually be enhanced as the government is removed from the equation but you could describe the recipients as purple lights as they may be supporting a new feudal system around the vast spending of a few technology "aristocrats" presumably building new Versailles'.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Ford's argument is hard to fault: Consumer demand is mainly supported by the wages of employees. In a highly automated future there will be too few paid workers remaining and demand will collapse. Even the looming threat of structural unemployment will be enough to depress spending and begin the downward spiral.
Marx saw this coming a century ago, but Marxism (public ownership of industry and a command economy) would be unacceptable to most people today.
Ford's solution is not to abolish the free market, but to tax the gross margins of industry and pay a free income to everybody. So the benefits of competition and further technological progress can be maintained.
One thing he mentions only briefly, but I think will become really important, is that presently nations compete to attract industry for two reasons: jobs and tax income. When industry supports few jobs, the state will still rely on industry as a source of tax revenue. But, freed from the skills market, industry will go wherever taxes are lowest. So nations will struggle to raise sufficient tax unless they cooperate on taxation. I live in the UK and am somewhat skeptical about the EU. But now I'm coming to see that some form of fiscal cooperation is going to be increasingly important. The alternative is protectionism and complex import tariffs, and I don't think we should go there. Counterintuitivly, perhaps union on taxes might allow greater national diversity in other spheres: with incomes taken care of, former workers will no longer be competing against each other and there may be less pressure for conformity in how we each live our lives. Just my thoughts there.
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