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123 Int'l Lab. Rev. 127 (1984)
The Notion of Technological Unemployment

handle is hein.journals/intlr123 and id is 141 raw text is: International Labour Review, Vol. 123, No. 2, March-April 1984

The notion of technological unemployment
I. Introduction
Every depression produces its sages who point to technological change
as a fundamental cause of the malaise or as the means of escape. The present
depression is no exception.' The optimists see automation, information
technology and micro-chips as freeing us from the drudgery of work, creating
leisure, earlier retirement and a return to vernacular values. The
pessimists see new machines and organisations accelerating de-skilling,
reducing work creativity, creating mass unemployment and standardising
consumption.2 Even union leaders are claiming that never again can
industrialised countries achieve full employment.3
Technological unemployment is a widely used, if elusive, concept; it is
often coupled with other forms of unemployment no easier to define, notably
frictional, voluntary and structural.' Unravelling the links would help in
formulating macro-economic policy, but conceptual oversimplification has
contributed to the inability to integrate technological change into labour
market analyses.
Concern over technological unemployment is usually traced to the
Luddite riots of early nineteenth-century Britain. But Ludditism can be
interpreted in three ways. Usually, it is seen as a protest against the
destruction of jobs, against capital-labour substitution. A second interpreta-
tion is that it reflected the resistance of skilled workers to the substitution of
semi-skilled and unskilled machine operators. A third view sees technology
as a threat to the workers' way of living, changing the pattern of consumer
and producer demand so as to provoke a shift to less job-creating goods or
imports. All three views reveal genuine fears that are scarcely assuaged by
those who cite the necessity of technological progress for economic growth in
a competitive world or who glibly claim that such fears are based on the
lump of labour fallacy.
This article, after briefly defining technological change, examines forms
of technological unemployment found in economic literature, bearing in
mind that the term has often been subsumed under structural unemploy-
ment. It then reviews cyclical links and long-wave theories in which
* International Labour Office. The author wishes to thank Michael Hopkins and Rolph
Van Der Hoeven for their helpful comments.

Copyright © International Labour Organisation 1984

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