Technological Unemployment: A Self-Test

Normal people worry about technological unemployment.  Economists keep telling them to relax, but to little avail.  You can’t trust a coven of eggheads, can you?

Rather than rehash the textbook arguments, let me propose an easy way for the public to test its own understanding.

Step 1: Create a graph where the x-axis runs from 1948 to the present, and the y-axis shows the overall level of technology.

Step 2: Sketch whatever you personally believe about the evolution of the overall level of technology during this period.  Do NOT proceed to Step 3 until you have finished Step 2.

Step 3: Compare your graph to the actual history of U.S. unemployment from 1948-present.  I repeat: Do not peek until you’ve completed Step 2.

Step 4: If technology were an important cause of unemployment, the two graphs should look a lot alike: more tech, more unemployment.  (If you favor the more sophisticated theory that it’s tech growth, not tech level, that raises unemployment, eyeball that instead).

Step 5: So what do your own eyes tell you?

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Bryan Caplan

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Bryan Caplan is Professor of Economics at George Mason University and Senior Scholar at the Mercatus Center. He is the author of The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies, named “the best political book of the year” by the New York Times, and Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent Is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think. He has published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the American Economic Review, the Economic Journal, the Journal of Law and Economics, and Intelligence, and has appeared on 20/20, FoxNews, and C-SPAN. He is now working on a new book, The Case Against Education.

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