About a decade ago, in February 2020, I wrote the first installment of this column. Titled “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Technology,” I argued that society should ready itself for an inevitable replacement of work in its traditional sense with automation sometime in the indefinite future.
Once upon a time, company towns dotted the American landscape. From Pullman, Illinois (railroad cars) to Logan, West Virginia (coal mining), these towns proliferated in the latter part of the 19th century as a way to concentrate laborers and tie them to their place of work.
International Women’s Day, a holiday unrecognized by the American government, was in part inspired by a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Lower Manhattan which claimed the lives of 146 women. Because management had locked the doors of the sweatshop in order to crack down on unauthorized breaks, many workers jumped out of the high building to their deaths.
Our parents told us many clichéd things growing up. Many of these things—if you happen to be American—are intended to convince us that work, more than just being a necessary evil of existing society, is actually valuable and fulfilling.
In 1998, members of Congress from all political persuasions and sections of the country came together to protect one of America’s most endangered animals. Realizing that time was running out, Sonny Bono, Selena, George Gershwin and a host of other celebrities (or rather their estates) rallied around the cause.
In 1776, an auspicious year on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, Adam Smith published “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations,” a hefty treatise that outlined the basic principles of what we would now call “free trade” and “capitalism.” His articulation of why certain nations thrive while others falter in a globalized economy dealt a fatal blow to mercantilism, setting the stage for the proliferation of laissez-faire politics in the 19th century.