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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Right on target and needing urgent attention by policymakers
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...
Published on 15 Dec. 2011 by Geoff Crocker

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Automation and unemployment
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...
Published on 5 Oct. 2011 by Baraniecki Mark Stuart


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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Right on target and needing urgent attention by policymakers, 15 Dec. 2011
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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. The rest will be imputed to capital...the extreme case of this is the common scare about universal robots : labour is no longer needed at all. How will we then live? ....The ownership of capital will have to be democratised...(needing) some form of universal dividend...Not much thought has been given to this problem' (p92).

I and others like economist Thomas Palley have sought to point this out to colleague economists and policymakers, but currently there is little appetite to think radically. Hopefully Ford's book will help nudge us along to fully and properly consider the role of technology in delinking productivity and real wages and creating an unsustainable credit boom. I found Ford's thought experiment of lights in a tunnel a little confusing, and at times the text felt unnecessarily long and occasionally repetitive, but the fundamental message is right on target. His analysis lacks a theory of money, so that his tax proposals need more complete development. My conviction is that a citizen's income is the only workable solution. I entirely agree with Ford when he writes `there is simply no real alternative except for government to provide some type of income mechanism for consumers..this will have to be accepted as a basic function of government' (p160). US, UK, Eurozone, IMF leaders please take note - it is the only way out of the crisis.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most thought-provoking books I've ever read, 18 Dec. 2011
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chris (london, UK) - See all my reviews
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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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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Automation and unemployment, 5 Oct. 2011
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'.

In the appendix he looks at the hard AI result that is bound to arrive at some point and says, "These visions include things such as truly intelligent machines and advanced nanotechnology that would allow us to transform matter..." when he could of course have said, "...allow them to transform matter...". They are intelligent after all, and a purely human centric view would be inadequate.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling argument and acceptable solution, 27 Oct. 2013
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This review is from: The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future (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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The economic impact of robotics and AI, 19 Nov. 2013
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This review is from: The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future (Kindle Edition)
The Lights in the Tunnel is a unique book that rationally considers the question of human utility in the age of automation, robotics and artificial intelligence. This thoughtful book steers well away from unhelpful sci-fi imagery, and concentrates on the very real economic consequences of a world where the vast majority of human labour is simply no longer required.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking view of the future, 16 Aug. 2011
This review is from: The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future (Kindle Edition)
A what-if scenario on the prospect of uber-high unemployment in the long-term due to the progression of automation from the factory into the office, and the effect on the viability of the mass-market as legions of people become unemployed.

I particularly liked his perspective of looking at the mass-market as a shared resource which needs to be looked after - like water etc. Although I'm not sure I agree the future will unfold quite this way, he definitely provides food for thought and he has some interesting remedies.
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2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very disappointing, 4 Mar. 2011
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This review is from: The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future (Kindle Edition)
Oh dear. A technologist ventures into economics, thinking an extended analogy is an argument. But of course it isn't: rather it becomes merely a framework on which to hang the author's presuppositions. I honestly don't think he recognizes this.
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