Techdirt Reading List: Learning By Doing
from the don't-fear-innovation dept
If you pay attention, there's been a lot of talk lately about the pace of innovation today, the incentives for innovation and (perhaps most importantly), who benefits from innovation today (and correspondingly, who loses out). Some of this is driven by fear and worry -- concerns about the impact of innovation not being nearly as strong as people expected, or that innovation will reduce jobs, or maybe just benefit the ultra-rich. It's reasonable to be concerned about this, because, if true, that would be a real problem. James Bessen's most recent book, Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth, is an important entrant into that debate, presenting a ton of useful evidence and history to think about.
We've mentioned Bessen many times in the past here on Techdirt, as he's been one of the leading economists studying patents, innovation and the impact of patent trolls. This book just touches on patent stuff, and, rather, focuses on the nature of innovation, how people learn to adapt and properly use new technologies over time, so that the benefit to them often lags their initial introduction, and that leads people to overreact about the supposed "negative" impacts of technology. For years I used to talk about how in the late 90s people always whined that even though corporate America had finally embraced putting computers on everyone's desks, there was no clear productivity growth associated with it. A similar thing was seen in education. In both cases, however, the problem was that people didn't really know how to use those tools properly -- and it took a "generation" to figure it out. These days, it would be crazy to suggest that computers in the workplace haven't resulted in greater productivity.
Bessen's book is a great read and it takes this idea further -- suggesting that we shouldn't be so worried about new technologies destroying jobs, but rather how it's creating a skills gap that needs to be dealt with, so that more people can make better use of the technology that we have and the technology that is on the way. Check it out.