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Robots Are Nothing New

Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:

Robert Samuelson observes that “[w]e imagine hordes of robots destroying jobs, leaving millions of middle-class families without work and income.”  He then advises: “Relax.  Unless we adopt self-destructive policies, this is one doomsday we’ll avoid” (“Our robot panic is overblown,” August 17).

He’s correct.  Robots not only do not threaten to increase long-term unemployment, they make our lives easier and more prosperous – and they’ve done so for eons.  Witness the wheel, the lever, the bucket, the shovel, the cart, the harness, the plough, the rope, the spear, the knife, the pulley, the pipe, the pump, the oar, the sail, the printing press – and, of course, the steam engine, the locomotive, the bulldozer, the bus, the jet engine, the kitchen blender, the washing machine, the light switch, the flush toilet, the microprocessor.  As Deirdre McCloskey writes in her new volume, Bourgeois Equality, “[t]he repeated alarms against robots are silly, since robots are merely mechanical slaves for our benefit.”*

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* Deirdre N. McCloskey, Bourgeois Equality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016), page 497.


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