”There is no such thing as labor-saving technology.”

I was listening this morning to the new Orchestral Manoeuvers In the Dark album (which is quite good). On track #4, “Precision & Decay”, there is a sample from someone talking about the Ford Rouge plant. The sample contains the line “There is no such thing as labor-saving machinery”:

I have so far been unable to track down the source of the sample, but that particular line stuck with me.

It has gotten me thinking about the fact that machinery and technology were supposed to make our lives easier and provide more leisure time—think of all those “The world of tomorrow!” promotional films from the 1950s—but instead, we find ourselves working longer and harder, either out of necessity to make ends meet, or by our own sort-of choice because if we slow down and take a break, we would have to actually think about what we are doing with our lives.

From there I got to thinking about the Jevons Paradox, which holds that:

when technological progress increases the efficiency with which a resource is used (reducing the amount necessary for any one use)… the rate of consumption of that resource rises because of increasing demand.

If we think of human labor as the resource here, then Mr. Jevons would tell us that, rather than making our lives easier by allowing us to work less, technology increases the demand for human labor. In other words, it makes us work more, not less.

Until the robots take all the jobs, I suppose.

All that aside, you really should go listen to the new OMD album. It is excellent.

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