Work in and beyond the Second Machine Age: the politics of production and digital technologies
Spencer, D. (2017). Work, Employment and Society 31 (1): 142-152
Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, in their widely read and politically impactful book The Second Machine Age, highlight the costs and benefits of digital technologies for the volume and quality of work and identify reforms designed to ensure that digital technologies deliver net advantages to workers and society more generally. This article offers a critique of their thesis. Specifically, it criticizes the authors for their neglect of the nexus between the politics of production and digital technologies. They fail, in short, to grasp the importance of power relations for the form, direction and outcomes of digital technologies. The article argues for an alternative view of the progress of digital technologies that is rooted in an understanding of the political economy of capitalism. In this respect, it draws on and applies ideas and concepts from Marxian political economy.