Why would automation be different this time around? (2)

In the first part of this blog on the 14h of November, analyzing the historical track record of automation, and questioned why at different historical junctures people have always viewed automation negatively and thought the track record would not continue. Well, I think I might have an answer which validates the main reason I gave.

A few days after making that blog post, I was re-reading Henry Hazlitt’s timeless classic, Economics in One Lesson,  specifically, I was reading chapter 7 (“The Curse of Machinery”). Something caught my eyes which indicated that the answer I gave to this question in the previous post, though based on a hypothesis, has merit. In the section on historical objections to automation, Hazlitt cited The Curse of World Poverty (1970) by Nobel Prize-winning economist, Gunnar Myrdal, in which he objected to automation in underdeveloped nations. I possibly would have overlooked this if I never looked at the footnote and saw the name of Myrdal.

For those who don’t know about Myrdal, many argue that before John Maynard Keynes was talking about massive government intervention in the economy to smoothen out the business cycle, Myrdal was already on this topic. But the reason why we don’t attribute this to him is because his works were written in Swedish and thus did not have wide circulation in the English-speaking world. Myrdal  is also considered to be one of the architects of the Swedish welfare state. He also wrote ground-breaking work on American race relations in the book An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy which was cited in the famous Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954. The dominating lens which Myrdal used in his social science works to arrive at many of the conclusions was historicism!

As we now know, Myrdal has been proven wrong. The region which he was referring to in his book, South East Asia, from the mid-1970’s onwards, and even to a lesser extent from the late 1950’s to early 1960’s for some, moved towards economic freedom. Consequently, South East Asia has moved towards being a more modern region of the world with higher levels of capital usage and automation. Consequently, the rate of poverty in that region has sharply declined and some nations in that region are now either developed nations or on the verge of becoming developed.

We can see that I was onto something when I said that a lot of objections to automation have a smirk of historicism. Even though I have never read Myrdal’s book, I will make sure to read it in order to gain a deeper understanding of this issue. But as I said in my previous blog post, at another date, I will do an essay which thoroughly analyzes this link and analyzes historicism in technology predictions.