Books in brief: The Wealth of Humans by Ryan Avent (Penguin, £25)
The world of work is changing but society and politics have yet to adapt. Rapid economic and technological change will drive political conflict in the coming generation. That’s the starting point of Ryan Avent’s The Wealth of Humans, which maps out the coming transformations and offers a guide to building more equitable social institutions.
Avent argues that the addition of a billion new workers to the global workforce in the coming decades at a time when digital technology is automating more jobs will cause something economists usually agree can’t happen: a labour glut. For the many the choice will be simple: work for less or don’t work at all. He compares the coming changes to the industrial revolution: a similar period of aggregate economic progress marked by intensive distributional conflict.
The result is a book that feels both optimistic in its belief that technology can cure many basic human wants and its vision of a more inclusive economic model, but at times is depressing in its view of the suffering and unemployment it will take to reach this state.
Where Avent is perhaps weakest is on the mechanics of political change. While he convincingly argues that the current status quo is unsustainable, such situations have a habit of lasting for a long time.
The typical mixture of both up to the minute reporting and smart analysis, familiar to anyone who reads Avent’s Free Exchange blog at the Economist, makes the book a pleasure to read. This is an important argument on a subject that will shape the coming decades.