Thursday, October 10, 2013

Average is Over: Morlocks and Eloi

From Michael Barone's review of Tyler Cowan's near-futurist Average is Over. Cowan is the author of the blog, Marginal Revolution.

The big winners in the economy he foresees will be those who can work with and harness machine intelligence and those who can manage and market such people.
Such "hyperproductive" people, about 15 percent of the population, will be wealthier than ever before. Also doing well will be those providing them personal services. [College professors and psychotherapists?]
For jobs lower down on the ladder, there will be a premium on conscientiousness. That's good for women and bad for men, who are more likely to do things their own way. [Meaning that men are more likely to have ADHD, alcoholism, and authority problems.]
Middle-level jobs, Cowen says, are on the way out. He argues that many of those laid off after the financial crisis were "zero marginal product" workers. They weren't producing anything of value and employers won't replace them.
Upward mobility will still be possible, he says, thanks to machine-aided education, which can spot talent in unlikely places. But I think he overestimates how likely that will be. [The SAT was created to spot talent in unlikely places, e.g. Nebraska farm kids.]
Assortative mating (people marrying similar people) and the considerable hereditability of intelligence means that many or most of those with the talents to get to the top will start out there. A fair society, ironically, may have less social mobility.

How will this society handle the pending fiscal shortfall? Cowen's prediction: by raising taxes a bit (but it's hard to get more out of rich, clever people), cutting Medicaid (the poor are a weak constituency) [I suppose that means Obamacare, too], maintaining aid to the elderly (a strong constituency) and squeezing employees (by imposing mandates on employers that will reduce cash income).
Those at the bottom will move to cheaper places like Texas. He recommends beans and tortillas as a delicious and nutritious diet (as in "An Economist Gets Lunch").
Much of this is already happening to some extent. Our most liberal areas (New York, the Bay Area) have the greatest income disparities. Drive down Middlefield Road in Silicon Valley and in one mile you go from $4 million walled mansions to what looks like rural Mexico.
Barone digresses a bit here, for no apparent purpose. He seems to agree with Cowan's predictions but wants to temper them with an insouciant "don't worry about the bottom 85% -- they might be desperately poor, but they'll be happy with their families and tortillas."
Brookings's William Galston, writing in the Wall Street Journal, feels "justified revulsion" at this. He accuses Cowen of "moral indifference." I would accuse him of focusing too narrowly on economics.
People get satisfaction out of more than just earning money. They get satisfaction out of what American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks calls earned success.
Earned success can come from high earnings or from simply doing a job well. It can come from raising children and meeting family obligations.
It can come from working with people in your community or your church, or with others with common interests. Even people of very limited abilities can earn success and live fulfilling lives.
Cowen predicts the masses won't revolt. They will have comfortable lives and good entertainment -- bread and circuses.
I suspect he's right.

Source: Real Clear Politics

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