James Bessen

Learning by Doing

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“Bessen sets out to refute the arguments of . . . techno-pessimists, relying on economic analysis and on a fresh reading of history” (The Wall Street Journal).
Technology is constantly changing our world, leading to more efficient production. But where once technological advancements dramatically increased wages, the median wage has remained stagnant over the past three decades. Many of today’s machines have taken over the work of humans, destroying old jobs while increasing profits for business owners and raising the possibility of ever-widening economic inequality.
Here, economist and software company founder James Bessen discusses why these remarkable advances have, so far, benefited only a select few. He argues the need for unique policies to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to implement rapidly evolving technologies. Currently, this technical knowledge is mostly unstandardized and difficult to acquire, learned through job experience rather than in classrooms, but labor markets rarely provide strong incentives for learning on the job. Basing his analysis on intensive research into economic history as well as today’s labor markets, Bessen explores why the benefits of technology can take decades to emerge. Although the right policies can hasten the process, policy has moved in the wrong direction, protecting politically influential interests to the detriment of emerging technologies and broadly shared prosperity. This is a thoughtful look at what leaders need to do to ensure success not only for the next quarter, but for society in the long term.
“Everyone agrees that education is the key to wage growth. But what kind of education? . . . This enlightening and insightful book . . . shows that economic history can provide some useful and surprising answers.” —Hal Varian, chief economist at Google
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