Martin Ford’s *The Rise of the Robots*

by on January 7, 2015 at 11:21 am in Economics, Web/Tech | Permalink

Of all the moderns who have written on automation and rising joblessness, Martin Ford is the original.  His Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future is due out this May, you can pre-order here.  Self-recommending.

Here is my earlier post Will you lose your job to a robot?

1 JWatts January 7, 2015 at 11:27 am


I never know what that is supposed to mean? If it was truly self-recommending, then Tyler’s post implicitly recommending it, is superfluous. But he keeps making such recommendations. Which implies that the “self-recommending” part is False.

These posts remind me of the logical quip:

The following statement is false. The preceding statement is false

2 Ross Parker January 7, 2015 at 11:37 am

I too used to wonder this. Perhaps Tyler is recommending it to himself?

3 prior_approval January 7, 2015 at 11:55 am

Well, commenter P in the previous thread seemed to suggest that ‘self-recommending’ means that Prof. Cowen directly benefits from it.

4 Ryan January 7, 2015 at 12:12 pm

Fellow MRers, I dug this up from the archives:

He writes,
“Self-recommending”: the very nature of the authors and project suggest it will be good or very good.

Tyler should supply a permanent link to this post like in other forums where you have a permanent link to the rules of the forum road.

5 JWatts January 7, 2015 at 12:27 pm

Nice link Ryan. And that does clarify what Tyler means by the comment.

6 Mark Thorson January 7, 2015 at 12:38 pm

I think there should be a clearer term for that. Something like “a priori recommended”. “Self-recommending” should be reserved for talking e-books that go around recommending themselves.

My Chapter 7 is particularly insightful.

7 JWatts January 7, 2015 at 12:29 pm

“Well, commenter P in the previous thread seemed to suggest that ‘self-recommending’ means that Prof. Cowen directly benefits from it.”

It seems unlikely that Tyler is directly benefitting from the sale of this book or most of the others he marks with the “self recommending” phrase. So, that comment in regards to this thread seems to be childishly cynical and wrong.

8 mulp January 7, 2015 at 12:34 pm

If you follow Tyler’s link and buy from Amazon, Tyler benefits.

9 JWatts January 7, 2015 at 12:37 pm

To clarify, by childishly cynical, I’m referring to that mode of sarcasm and cynicism that seems prevalent among precocious teenagers at a certain stage and often carries through to college. Usually at some point they out grow it and realize that the world is a complex place and most everything is a shade of gray. Hopefully they eventually realize that obsessive cynicism is just a form of self delusion.

10 JWatts January 7, 2015 at 12:46 pm

“If you follow Tyler’s link and buy from Amazon, Tyler benefits.”

That’s a good point. I was under the impression that the revenue from this kind of item is fairly trivial for blog of this nature and probably does no more than cover the costs associated with the blog itself. But that’s an impression and I could well be wrong.

11 Cahokia January 7, 2015 at 11:49 am

He’s just being pretentious. By affirming that so-and-so’s book is “self-recommending” he’s implying two things – the author is of such outstanding reputation that anything he writes is worth reading and that he is one of the few people in the know who are aware of this fact, with the further implication that he is personally acquainted with the writer.

12 Dave January 7, 2015 at 11:48 am

It seems worth noting that Martin Ford has made his earlier book “The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future” available as free in PDF form on his website.

13 mulp January 7, 2015 at 12:32 pm

Only in the realm of free lunch economics can a book that describes a jobless future be “self recommending”.

In the real world economics I grew up with in the 60s, the book is describing a future without consumers.

Unless the robots are paid wages and become the consumers.

But I grew up with clapping hands with the beat of the economy set from labor cost wages being equal to consumer spending which in turn paid the labor cost wages.

The hand waving of supply side economics with only the production hand waving frantically and the labor hand tied down or lopped off is a free lunch economic fantasy.

Unless the free lunch economists start advocating 100% taxes on profits to pay permanent unemployment benefits to buy all the stuff the robots produce.

14 ibaien January 7, 2015 at 1:55 pm

tyler had better watch out; once enough books become self-recommending he’ll be out of a job.

15 Nigel January 7, 2015 at 6:11 pm

Surely in this case it would be more apposite if the book were to be self writing ?

16 Nigel January 7, 2015 at 6:12 pm

my earlier post Will you lose your job to a robot?

Missed that one.
My answer – they’re welcome to it.

17 ChrisA January 8, 2015 at 1:50 am

There should be a distinction between your job and the income stream that comes with your job. I am sure no-one would mind if a robot did your work, while you got the income stream. The issue therefore is really about how will people get the money to live in a world where robots do all the work. I personally think this is a bit of a silly concern – we are considering a world where the costs of production of goods and services falls to a very low level. In that case it would be easy to provide welfare for people who don’t have productive skills anymore. We already do this for various segments of the population, so why not expand this if we can do so at low costs? Democracy would still work in this case and should be strongly favoring distribution of welfare benefits. But lets take the worst case that only 10% of the population own all the robots and don’t want to share or give any benefits to the remaining 90%. Are the remaining 90% any worse off than today? They don’t have anything to sell to the robot owners (that the robot owners can’t already get cheaper) so they can’t trade with them. But they can trade with each other. Presumably they would not lose access to the current technology, so with that, why can’t they at least have the same standard of living as us today? The idea that the robot owners would undercut any sale, just comes back to the question that the robot owners don’t need to trade and won’t provide welfare in this scenario (which I think unlikely). If they do undercut the sale, then by definition they are trading and so no issue.

18 John Mansfield January 8, 2015 at 8:41 am

If the robot owners have no need of anything the bulk of humanity can offer them, and can produce through their robots anything they or anyone else could want, then I would expect the robot owners to lock up all the world’s desirable non-human resources for themselves; mines and refineries, flocks and fields, parks and beaches. The 90% would have nothing to trade amongst themselves but their time and talents that the robot owners felt no desire to buy up.

19 ibaien January 8, 2015 at 9:40 am

wouldn’t the robot owners just tell their robots to kill the 90%?

20 ChrisA January 8, 2015 at 8:12 pm

@John Mansfield – you said “I would expect the robot owners to lock up all the world’s desirable non-human resources for themselves; mines and refineries, flocks and fields, parks and beaches.” – but what would they pay for these assets? I assume you mean by “lock up” they purchase the assets and not take them by force. Why would someone sell something, like a mine or a share in a mine, without sufficient compensation? And if someone is getting compensated, then they are trading. Its like the naive view that some people had in the 1980’s that thanks to their superior industry and balance of payments surplus the Japanese would end up buying up America and then there would be no place for the natives to live. Of course as the Japanese start to purchase land, the price of the remaining land goes up. And if they continued, somehow, to buy more and more land, the opportunity to tax that land grows as well. Afterall they can’t move the land to somewhere else. And then that tax can go to support the existing population. Similar to the robot owning class scenario, they certainly can buy assets, and I am not arguing that inequality would be worse, but in a democratic society there is no way for one section of the population to take over all the land without the consent of the majority.

But again, my view is that a society where free labor is available from robots is more likely to be a cornucopian one, where the wealth that comes from robotic labor is shared across the entire population. If you have robots that can make robots – there is no cost to anyone to share this technology. We would still have inequality as there are positional goods that cannot be shared, like a beach front house, but the cost of living would be very low or zero.

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