Beyond the Technological Revolution


Author: Carlota Perez

Second Machine Age or Fifth Technological Revolution? (Part 9 – Final)
The socio-political shaping of a better future with an understanding of the nature of the new technologies

The posts in the last weeks have looked at the policy suggestions made by Brynjolfsson and McAfee in The Second Machine Age. As noted, even they see these as modest (p. 228). In fact, even implementing them all, the results would be meagre, in relation to the challenges the authors present. Indeed, if they were faithful to the subtitle of their book: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, they would indeed be much bolder...

Second Machine Age or Fifth Technological Revolution? (Part 8)
The limits of the Brynjolfsson and McAfee policy recipes: Proposals on fiscal stability and welfare

In the section on taxation, we see again that it is not that Brynjolfsson and McAfee do not have recommendations that are good, if very specific, for adjustments to the current system. They prescribe Pigovian taxes (taxing the ‘bads’) on pollution, congestion, and so on; a tax on land and higher income taxes for high earners (the ‘superstars’). All these suggestions are useful; the latter two have been in and out of favour as policy options since the first Industrial Revolution and are now...

Second Machine Age or Fifth Technological Revolution? (Part 7)
The limits of the Brynjolfsson and McAfee policy recipes: Proposals on science, technology and infrastructures

As is customary among orthodox economists, Brynjolfsson and McAfee claim that the role of government is to fund ‘basic’ research, i.e. the scientific foundation for technologies, and let the private sector do the rest. “It’s almost universally agreed among economists that the government should be involved in building and maintaining infrastructure— streets and highways, bridges, ports, dams, airports and air traffic control systems, and so on...

Second Machine Age or Fifth Technological Revolution? (Part 6)
The limits of the Brynjolfsson and McAfee policy recipes: Proposals on human capital

Most of The Second Machine Age is focused on describing current and future technical change, accompanied by warnings about its speed, depth and worrying social consequences. From the potential of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) to decimate jobs for humans to the multiple negative effects of increasing inequality, Brynjolfsson and McAfee share the concerns of all those who care about our socio-economic future, from those focused primarily on...

Latest BTTR Working Paper online now
BTTR WP2018-1: A Smart Green ‘European Way of Life’: the Path for Growth, Jobs and Wellbeing

Our latest working paper focuses on a key source of demand-pull that has led to Golden Ages in previous revolutions: a paradigmatic shift in society’s image and practice of the ‘good life’. These changes in lifestyle, underpinned by the new technologies...

Second Machine Age or Fifth Technological Revolution? (Part 5)
Does technology determine the future? Socio-political shaping as a recurring need within the unique space of the possible

In the 1950s and 60s it was widely believed that capitalism had found its true nature and that the world would gradually move towards the model developed in ‘the West’. Johnson’s ‘Great Society’ idealized what could still be achieved along that path. This was reinforced in the early 1990s by Fukuyama’s The End of History, which held that Liberal democracy had triumphed and that its critics, especially the Marxist ones, had been defeated by the facts. With the bloodless dissolution of the Soviet Empire, not only was the Cold War over, but also any attempt to question the superiority of capitalism...

Second Machine Age or Fifth Technological Revolution? (Part 4)
The historical patterns of bounty and spread

A central idea in The Second Machine Age is the definition of the consequences of the new technologies as a combination of ‘bounty’ and ‘spread’. With the concept of ‘bounty’, Brynjolfsson and McAfee refer to the wealth-creating capacity of information and communications technologies (ICT), particularly in terms of significantly increasing productivity. In discussing the ‘spread’ of this bounty, they refer to increasing inequality and to the ‘winner-takes-all’ polarisation of the wealth created. These are indeed two key characteristics of what has happened up to now in the ICT revolution ...

Second Machine Age or Fifth Technological Revolution? (Part 3)
The current moment: beginning of a new machine age and/or the turning point of the fifth great surge?

Having argued in the previous post in favour of an interpretation of technological revolutions that would count the current ICT transformation as the fifth surge since the first industrial revolution, I can nevertheless recognize that there are grounds for seeing it as the beginning of a ‘second machine age’. The essential break that Brynjolfsson and McAfee rightly register is that...

Second Machine Age or Fifth Technological Revolution? (Part 2)
The periodization of history into technological revolutions: why, what, how many and when?

History is an unwieldy mass of information that can be interpreted in multiple ways depending on the lenses used by the author. Whether focusing on political hegemony, art, or technology, the purpose of distinguishing epochs is to learn something from the past that can shed light not only on the present – but on paths into the future. This is commonly done with...

Second Machine Age or Fifth Technological Revolution? (Part 1)
Introduction: the pitfalls of historical periodization

Information technology has been such an obvious disrupter and game changer across our societies and economies that the past few years have seen a great revival of the notion of ‘technological revolutions’. Preparing for the next industrial revolution was the theme of the World Economic Forum at Davos in 2016; the European Union (EU) has strategies in place to cope with the changes that the current ‘revolution’ is bringing. Yet between these two institutions, as amongst academics, there is disagreement ...