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The Wealth of Humans: Work, Power, and Status in the Twenty-first Century Hardcover – September 20, 2016
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“Ryan Avent is a superb writer. I am confident that his book will be very successful.”―Thomas Piketty
“Ryan Avent is one of the sharpest and most intelligent writers around. Nobody is better placed to tell us how technology is shaping our economy and our lives.”―Tim Harford
“Many of the world's top economists read, engage with, and debate Ryan Avent on a regular basis, including on labor markets and technology.” ―Tyler Cowen
“An ambitious, insightful and provocative book...Avent ranges widely through the often insular silos of economics, blending microeconomics with macro, industrial organization with international trade, labor economics with financial, economic history with economic geography. In the best Economist tradition, this book is both accessible and sophisticated, one that raises all the right questions.”―Washington Post
About the Author
RYAN AVENT is an economics correspondent for the Economist. He's also the primary contributor to its Free Exchange blog and a contributor to The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The Atlantic, and The Guardian, among other publications. He is the author of a Kindle Single: The Gated City, which analyzes migration from American cities. Avent was previously an economic consultant and an industry analyst for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. He lives in London, England. The Wealth of Humans is his first book.
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As a labor and regional economist, I disagree with much of Avent's argument. I think Avent overstates how much increased inequality is due to inevitable forces of technological change, and understates how much is due to "institutional" or political changes, for example the decline in the power of unions. I also think he understates the potential adaptation of labor demand to available labor supply. If public policy decides that we want to significantly increase the quality of infrastructure, education, and health care, this can significantly augment labor demand, and alleviate the demand/supply imbalance. If such labor demand policies are combined with increasing job skills, and institutional changes to push up wages (e.g., unionization, higher minimum wages), then the problems described by Avent will be much alleviated.
However, despite my hesitations about Avent's analysis of the problem, and proposed solutions, I strongly recommend the book. Why? (1) He describes the scope of the labor market inequality problem in s a clear way, which alone is worth the price of the book. (2) His particular perspective represents one scenario for what could happen, which, although not inevitable in my view, is certainly a plausible future course. (3) I think his pessimism is frightening enough that it should encourage people to think boldly about possible alternatives. We need that spur to action.
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