Writing in The Atlantic, Don Peck described chronic unemployment as “a pestilence that slowly eats away at people, families, and, if it spreads widely enough, the fabric of society. Indeed, history suggests that it is perhaps society’s most noxious ill. … This era of high joblessness … is likely to warp our politics, our culture, and the character of our society for many years.”
Why has the scourge of unemployment been so persistent? Analysts offer three alternative explanations: cyclicality, stagnation, and the “end of work.”
We’ll call this the “end of work” argument, after Jeremy Rifkin’s 1995 book of the same title. In it, Rifkin laid out a bold and disturbing hypothesis: that “we are entering a new phase in world history—one in which fewer and fewer workers will be needed to produce the goods and services for the global population.”
Nobel Prize winner Wassily Leontief, who stated in 1983 that “the role of humans as the most important factor of production is bound to diminish in the same way that the role of horses in agricultural production was first diminished and then eliminated by the introduction of tractors.”