In this TED talk, MIT professor Andrew McAfee posits that modern society is at the start of a new machine age which will change many aspects of the economy and our way of life, demanding a drastic transformation of the public services offered to the American people.
While McAfee sees many benefits to the technological takeover – basically, that humans are having to spend less and less time doing tedious things – he cautions that the challenges that will present themselves as machines continue to take more and more of our jobs will reach a critical mass.
McAfee highlights the increasing divide between those who have college degrees and those who don’t. The jobs that are disappearing and aren’t coming back are more physically-labor intensive positions, held by people without college degrees.
Educating more and more people to do the jobs of the future is part of the solution to this problem, but McAfee argues that over the long-term we must implement more radical policies like a guaranteed minimum income.
“That’s probably making some folk in this room uncomfortable because that idea is associated with the extreme left-wing and fairly radical schemes for redistributing wealth…I did a little bit of research on this notion and it might calm some folk down to know that a net guaranteed minimum income has been championed by those frothing-at-the-mouth socialists Friedrich Hayek, Richard Nixon and Milton Friedman. And if you find yourself worried that something like a guaranteed income is going to stifle our drive to succeed and make us kind of complacent, you might be interested to know that social mobility – one of the things we really pride ourselves on in the United States – is now lower than it is the Northern European countries that have these very generous social safety nets. So the economic playbook is actually pretty straightforward.”
While it clearly makes economic sense, it is a daunting political and social task. Still, McAfee is determined that we can do it, “I don’t believe for a second that we have forgotten how to solve tough challenges, or that we have become too apathetic or hard-hearted to even try.”
The talk achieves the holy-trifecta that every TED presenter shoots for: it’s fascinating, it’s important and, even though it’s nearly fifteen minutes long, it feels like five.