How Technology Wrecks the Middle Class

On the other end are so-called manual tasks, which require situational adaptability, visual and language recognition, and in-person interaction. Preparing a meal, driving a truck through city traffic or cleaning a hotel room present mind-bogglingly complex challenges for computers. But they are straightforward for humans, requiring primarily innate abilities like dexterity, sightedness and language recognition, as well as modest training. These workers can’t be replaced by robots, but their skills are not scarce, so they usually make low wages.


Albert O. Hirschman: Book by Princeton’s Jeremy Adelman

Economics evolved during Hirschman’s lifetime into a discipline that’s all about optimization, preferably expressed in a mathematical model. His influence on his own field thus seems scant. And while he had lots of fans among historians, anthropologists, sociologists and political scientists, it’s hard to detect anything like a “Hirschman school” out there.

If only there were. Hirschman believed in the potential for societal improvement, steering a course between leftist visions of a perfect world and conservative concerns that reforms always backfire. An intellectual and political environment where that was the dominant attitude would definitely be an improvement.