Maybe the Luddite Fallacy isn’t a fallacy any more

The Economist explores how automation and technology is replacing jobs. Unlike previous eras when such disruptions did indeed create many new jobs, this time the robots and bots may be self-perpetuating. And the jobs they are replacing are ones previously thought immune from such technological shifts.

First thing we do, we replace all the lawyers.

Lawyers are in a similar boat now that smart algorithms can search case law, evaluate the issues at hand and summarise the results. Machines have already shown they can perform legal discovery for a fraction of the cost of human professionals—and do so with far greater thoroughness than lawyers and paralegals usually manage.

The original Luddites just wanted a level playing field. Sound familiar?

But the Luddites themselves “were totally fine with machines,” says Kevin Binfield, editor of the 2004 collection Writings of the Luddites. They confined their attacks to manufacturers who used machines in what they called “a fraudulent and deceitful manner” to get around standard labor practices. “They just wanted machines that made high-quality goods,” says Binfield, “and they wanted these machines to be run by workers who had gone through an apprenticeship and got paid decent wages. Those were their only concerns.”

Luddites smashing machinery


  1. Couldn’t go through all the comments, but I’m depressed that no one I saw responded by citing Marshall Brain’s story “Manna”. Unfortunately, no one in power is willing to consider the Australian solution.

    However, all these “automate everything and eliminate the workers” solutions assume that the fossil fuel will stay plentiful and cheap to run these machines.

    I do remember the shock of reading Kirkpatrick Sales’ Rebels Against The Future and realizing that the history textbook I read in school had lied to me about the Luddites.

  2. And it’s Kirkpatrick Sale, not Sales. *sigh*

  3. Must be an old history text, as amongst the handful of texts I reviewed this past summer only one made mention, and then as a sidebar about their throwing wooden shoes into the machinery. These days’ very little history makes it into the “history” books.

  4. I have always maintained that if WE don’t record our history, it never happened. We then become a people without a history and without a culture. I have got together with a group of Glasgow activists and we are in the process of trying to collect and archive all the meterial we can lay our hands on regarding working class struggle. We are of course at the minute confine ourselves to Glasgow and Clydeside area but my dream is that other groups will do likewise in each of our villages, towns and cities. We have given the collection the name “Spirit of Revolt” this is making a connection with one of Glasgows best know anarchist, Guy Aldred, he produced a paper called, The Spirit of Revolt. For those who might be interested, I have written up a little piece on Guy Aldred

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