Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Technology Revolution

Back around the end of the 17th century the world of economics began to change.  At first it was slow but then it really took off with the invention of the steam engine.  By the middle of the 18th century thinkers actually began to give it a name, capitalism, and historians have come to name that whole era as the "Industrial Revolution".

Like all revolutions it brought great change and great upheaval.  That upheaval really took off in 1848, when virtually the whole of continental Europe erupted in political revolution, which resulted in changes in how Europe's governments rules their citizens and introduced the world to what was considered a viable alternative to capitalism.  The revolution and the resulting upheaval continued for 70 years finally culminating in the creation of totalitarian governments in Spain, Italy, Germany and Russia.

Ironically it took a devestating world war to bring a period of relative normalcy to the world, sweeping out most of the totalitarian regimes with the big exception of the Soviet Union and its vassal states.

That normalcy lasted for about four decades until the first rumblings of the next revolution began.  We call those first rumblings "Globalization" and that revolution has continued and morphed into a "Technology Revolution".  

For now that Revolution has been largely positive.  Our access to devices and technology makes most of our lives easier.  However, the flip side of that Revolution is the impact it appears it will have on the very concept of employment.  I have read a fair amount about how technology will change the way we work and live and even the most conservative estimate of the impact of the Technology Revolution states that at least half of all of the current jobs on the planet will be lost to technology by 2050, and the greatest impacts will actually be felt in the industrial countries where technology can be put to the greatest use. So Canada and the other G20 countries can expect to see a disportionate number of jobs being replaced by technology, including recently industrialized countries like China, India and Brazil.  Less conservative estimates put the job losses at around two-thirds of the current jobs.

These same studies indicate that most of these jobs will not be replaced with as many new jobs as those lost and what jobs are created will not be of comparable incomes and benefits to the ones lost.

That is a recipe for potential disaster.  As jobs disappear and wages fall it is going to lead to a great deal of unrest amongst those who come out on the losing end of this trend.  That is going to result in change in how politics is done.  It still remains to be seen just how wide and deep that change will be but I think it is a certainty that we will see some profound changes in the politics of the rich nations of the world in the coming decades.  I am not just talking about changes in government.  The next few decades are going probably to test the resiliency of the Western democratic institutions like they have never been tested before.

After about 150 years the Industrial Revolution spawned the likes of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.  Along the way it created a whole new way of distributing wealth call capitalism and it created its alternative in communism.

Considering the speed in which our modern world progresses we probably will not have to wait that long for profound changes to occur during the Technology Revolution.  That revolution is only about 30 years old and it has already created Corporatism and its first "right wing" demogogues.  I suspect that the articulation of what will be considered a viable alternative to that economic system and the "left wing" demogogues who will rise up and attempt to use it to overthrow the current economic order are not that far into the future. 

All revolutions bring great change and the Technology Revolution will be no different.  Just like the economic and political world in 1950 was extremely different from the economic and political world of 1917 I imagine our world in 2050 will be completely different from the world of today.

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