One of my most anticipated books of the year has arrived: The Wealth of Humans, by Ryan Avent. Avent is a writer and editor at The Economist, and author of The Gated City, a Kindle Single from a few years back that is absolutely worth reading. The stated mission of The Wealth of Humans is “to examine the challenge of ordering our lives and our labour in a world of technological abundance”.
Besides being a nod to Adam Smith’s foundational work, The Wealth of Nations, The Wealth of Humans has a double meaning. In one sense, it is about the wealth humans possess in the form of social capital, which is a key concept in the book. In another sense, it refers to the overabundance of human labor in a world of increasing automation.
From the outset, I like Avent’s approach. While I’ve read a fair amount on the future of work, Avent is the first to challenge me to think about work as a fundamentally social enterprise (rather than as an economic given), and the challenges of reorganizing society in the face of the (potential) end of work. In his words, “the promise of the digital revolution is an end to work…Creating mass digital prosperity is not about building institutions which ensure all workers benefit from economic growth; it is about building institutions which provide for people who do not work because their work is not necessary to generate economic growth” (pp.23-24).
At the moment I’m about halfway through the book, and will go into further detail once I’m finished. In the meantime, here is a lecture Avent recently gave at the London School of Economics, which is a nice quick summary of the ideas in the book (though I still highly recommend reading it!):