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267 of 302 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Now What?, October 26, 2011
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This review is from: Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy (Kindle Edition)
Is the book clear? Yes.
Is the book concise? Yes.
Is the book engaging? Yes.
Is the book onto something? Yes.
Is the book well researched? Yes.
Is the book worth reading? Absolutely!

Why on earth did I rate it three stars then? Stick with me here. Because the book tantalizes with its subtitle that accelerating change is "Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy" but just when the book gets going, Chapter Four falls flat and feels like an economic recipe for a by-gone era rather than a roadmap to the economy of "the digital frontier". As humanity moved from an agrarian society to the pre-industrial and then industrial era, modern economic models took hold that allowed diverse suppliers to rationalize their efforts in a common way and leverage that effort through a common currency. In short, barter gave way to the abstract concept of a general currency that could be exchanged for goods.

In that process, the machinery of "GDP" (consumption) and the corporation became all encompassing. With comparatively archaic tools (in comparison to the machines of 2011), human beings were the primary way of creating products for those same humans to then consume. As we began to enter the "information age" in the 80s, 90s and aughts, we created the early incarnations of "the digital frontier" in the model of the industrial era (i.e. we remade the factory). Two examples: Software titans copyrighted their work and big think tanks erected barriers to their information to maintain artificial scarcity that aids in keeping prices up and revenue flowing. This is regardless of the fact that information, once created, can be shared and distributed in an essentially frictionless way. Bits and bytes are not bound by the same physical rules as traditional raw material like wood or rare earth elements. As we decode the machinery of life (DNA, molecular bonds, nanotechnology, etc), the same will be true for physical things...we'll be able to simply reorder material into a form we want. Early generation 3D printers and tissue regeneration are examples of this trend. Yet we continue to bind these information-era processes to economic models of scarcity.

What we need, and what I was hoping this book would help describe, is a different economic model. An economic model in which the concept of abundance, rather than scarcity, is the central driving force. We have an abundance of people willing to work. We have an abundance of information. We have an abundance of things that need to be done. We have an abudance of ability to connect it all together. We have an increasingly abundant ability to create stuff for virtually free. We have 7 Billion people on the planet for whom our moral and social compact drive us to provide them with shelter, food, and health care yet we have an economic model that rewards hoarding and selfishness and creating products that produce huge profit margins when equally good, or better, and cheaper solutions exist. The successful economic model of "the digital frontier" will decouple supply and demand. Profit on the supply side will be driven by those who can create the most social value at the lowest cost (housing for free for example). "Pay" on the demand side will be driven by rewarding human beings to remain active, productive, engaged, and learning rather than trying to "race [the] machine". And, no, I don't mean Communism, I mean a capitalistic system with different measures and rewards.

There are numerous alternatives to a GDP-based economic model that have been put forth. Examples include "Gross national happiness", "Continuum Development Index", and the "Sharing economy" to name just three. Search for alternatives to GDP for others. Yet "Race Against the Machine" did not explore any of these as possible roadmaps to a world where humans' "requirement" to "work" becomes obsolete. With that said, the book serves as an excellent reference for why these trends are happening and why they are irreversible. Everyone should read this book and then help create an economy of abundance!
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Showing 1-10 of 13 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 27, 2011 1:04:56 AM PDT
R. Chapman says:
I feel you are expecting too much from the author and expecting more from the book than its premise entails. I do agree with your notion that historically technological revolutions are typically accompanied by changes in economic models.

Thanks to the advancements in physics, biology and computing in the 20th century I believe that many of the next societal-changing achievements lie ahead of us (eg another agricultural revolution [GMOs like it or not], sustainable energy, biotechnology and future genomics). Because of that I feel we are still maybe another generation or more away from figuring out exactly what the economic model that drives society in the future will entail. It took several generations after the disruptive [re] invention of the steam engine and many major boom and bust cycles before our modern economic theories in place today were invented. Those theories have done fair enough to maintain relative global stability for much of the past century [compared to the Dark Ages and other times in human history].

Despite whatever advancements in technology occur the cycle of boom and busts can only be mitigated so much. These cycles exist themselves in life and nature all around us. We are not at fortune to assume that our current age of abundance can not be erased by factors outside of humankind's control. Alas, this has been the falter of every economic theory thought of --- man underestimating the complexity of complex systems surrounding him.

I believe this book helps raise the awareness about the complexities of technology, innovation and production in accordance with our economic model. So, I thank you for your review it helped solidify my decision to read this book.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 27, 2011 9:13:43 PM PDT
DB says:
R. Chapman, I can see your point about potentially expecting too much. As I hope is clear, I think the book makes a very important contribution about technology, jobs and our economy. I do hope it is widely read it and then widely debated. Thank you for the reply.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 28, 2011 12:06:31 PM PDT
Have you read "The Lights in the Tunnel?" It does propose a new economic model...

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 6, 2011 7:54:52 AM PST
DB says:
Robert, No, but I will now. Thanks.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 9, 2011 11:27:17 AM PST
Silly name says:
For those who are interested in "The Lights in the Tunnel": it's available for free on the author's homepage:

Posted on Jan 6, 2012 12:16:21 AM PST
Zach Shoher says:
I don't think you've missed anything, and I hope you'll consider joining the Systems Thinking World group on Linked In. With $8K / person goods & services creation flow, we match current global PPP (~GDP), which translates to $160 / person / week. (Not suggesting driving political economic policy based on statistical distributions.) Adaptive market-communicative good-service exchanges, a la Quora / eBay / Angie's List. Beauty of 3D-Printing + Innovative Design is that it is human, subjective, flexes through the eye of the beholder. and therefore we don't develop concentrated "industrial centers" providing "all the designs that you'll ever want". Do we need something like Stallman's GPL, or Asimov's 3 Laws of Robotics, to restrain the beast from (easily) taking over the bored / board game? Still pondering that. Similar to Aikido: the intent is not to injure, defeat, or control, but to rebuff any intent of injury and then quietly move back to a place where you can sally out into the world, with your discriminative - in a good sense - trained senses, to design another day. Physical, mental, emotional, spiritual.

Posted on Feb 4, 2013 11:14:21 AM PST
Your comments about what's needed were refreshing and fundamentally what's needed if our future is to be meaningful and fulfilling.
HF Stapleton-Smith

Posted on Mar 20, 2013 5:23:15 AM PDT
Pete Ashly says:
Things in abundance are typically called "commodities" by a capitalist and are generally uninteresting because limited profit potential exists. Abundance in people can be a driver for low wages, income inequality and unemployment. Both people and companies seek to distinguish themselves with a defensible economic value add.

What you seem to be seeking is not a way to change capitalism, defined by profit seeking, but a psychological alternative which people can aspire to where profit maximization is not the primary goal. Without examination or good luck, people fall into profit seeking as the most obvious motivation. See Christensen "How will you measure your life?". Perhaps you want to have a look at people who are not profit maximizing like stay at home parents, ski bums, academic or religous people, etc. A movement to label and espouse a more purpose driven life might be what you're seeking.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 29, 2014 6:45:06 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 29, 2014 6:45:45 PM PST
Steven Mason says:
DB, have you read Lights in the Tunnel yet? I enjoyed reading your review and I'm sympathetic to your points. So if you've read that book I'd like to know if it actually offered that "new economic model" you are looking for. At this point I'm very interested in solutions.

Posted on Jul 28, 2014 8:10:46 PM PDT
I think your comments are right on. An economic model based on abundance and not scarcity. If you haven't already, you might consider Peter Drucker's "Post-Capitalist Society" which asked the same things...twenty years ago. Your comment on knowledge as an abundant resource that gains value as it spreads it right on. Good luck and keep us posted! I also wonder if Hazel Henderson's "Politics of the Solar Age" or "Paradigms in Progress" might be good place to look as well.
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