Back in 1996, economist Paul Krugman wrote an essay about the next 100 years of economic history, as if looking back from the year 2096. At the center of that essay was the notion that white-collar jobs would disappear, and a college education would become much less valuable. And is this already happening now?
Top image: PeteAmachree on Deviant Art.
Krugman's view of the future already seems outdated in some ways — like, he talks about people "selling CDs" of bootleg music. But some of his main ideas, like the difficulty of making a profit from intellectual property, and the notion that a lot of white-collar office jobs are being supplanted by technology or outsourcing, seem to have come true already.
Back in 1996, "Krugman 2096" wrote:
When something becomes abundant, it also becomes cheap. A world awash in information is one in which information has very little market value. In general, when the economy becomes extremely good at doing something, that activity becomes less, rather than more, important. Late-20th-century America was supremely efficient at growing food; that was why it had hardly any farmers. Late-21st-century America is supremely efficient at processing routine information; that is why traditional white-collar workers have virtually disappeared.
... Many of the jobs that once required a college degree have been eliminated. The others can be done by any intelligent person, whether or not she has studied world literature.
Now, on his blog, Krugman points to an essay by economics professor Nancy Folbre, who wanrs that:
With vast improvements in information technology, employers may now seek a small number of specialized, technically trained experts rather than a large number of versatile, diversified liberal arts graduates.... If the bears are right, we may be moving toward a stage of capitalism less dependent on a growing supply of home-grown human capital. In that case, many of those bullish on higher education investments in the United States could end up as red meat.
As a university education gets more expensive, and student loan debt becomes more onerous, the fact that college graduates are more likely to be unemployed in the past is really bad news. So is Krugman's view of 2096 already coming true, four score years early?