EF: Objecting to the effects of new technology on labor is sometimes casually linked with the Luddites. As you know, the Luddites were a group of 19th-century English textile workers who responded to automation by destroying textile machinery. Setting aside their methods, what were the Luddites right about and what were they wrong about?
Acemoglu: There's a debate about Luddites, and I think the public almost always sees one aspect of the Luddites — that of the rabble-rousers who went around creating trouble. There was that; it's not deniable. But Luddites were part of a broader nascent working-class movement that was trying to articulate ideas about worker rights, worker participation in decision-making, and how work could be organized in a way that was beneficial for workers. So the Luddites had some ugly parts and some forward-looking elements as well.
But specifically in the context of the weaving machines, which is what animated the Luddites, they were right that those weavers were the losers out of technological progress. Their high wages got destroyed. They were shifted into much worse working conditions for longer hours, for lower pay in factories, or lost their jobs.
What they did not do is that they did not articulate a coherent view about how we could harness and leverage technological change in a way that would be beneficial for workers as well. But that's probably asking too much from them.


産業革命の労働者への影響は結構悲惨だった、というのは例えば産業革命との比較は慰めにならない - himaginary’s diaryで紹介したコーエンが述べていることだが、アセモグルは近著*1でそれと対照的な成功例も挙げているという。

EF: In contrast, in your new book, you describe the adoption of electrical machines by factories in the late 19th century and early 20th century as highly beneficial economically to workers. Why did workers share in these gains?
Acemoglu: Why is it that electrical machinery was so beneficial and the textile machinery of the late 18th century wasn't? That brings me to the key concept of the framework that I developed in academic work with Pascual Restrepo: new tasks. If you want to think about workers benefiting, you have to think about what new tasks they can perform. And the key thing about electrical machinery — and the Ford factory in the early 20th century is a great exemplar of this — is that it generated a whole series of new tasks.
With the introduction of electrical machinery, production became more complex. So you needed workers to attend to the machinery and then you needed a lot of supporting occupations: maintenance, design, repair, and a whole slew of engineering tasks as well as many other white-collar occupations. So what really was beneficial both from the point of view of the workers and from the point of view of productivity wasn't the fact that those factories were substituting electrical power for some other kind of power. They were completely reorganizing work in a way that made it more complex and thus created more gainful activities for workers.
Not everything was rosy. It was hard work. Compared to today, workers were worn out. They found it very difficult to keep up with the pace. It was still much noisier than the kind of factories that we would see later.
And Henry Ford himself, especially later in his career, became zealous for anti-union activity. So it's not like saying Ford was a visionary in every dimension. But Ford exemplified a new type of industrialization, which created new tasks and thus opportunities for workers.

なせ電気機械はそれだけ利益をもたらしたのに、18世紀末の繊維機械はそうではなかったのか? それは、私がパスカル・レストレポとの共同研究*2で開発した新たな枠組みの主要な概念につながります。即ち、新たな業務です。労働者の利益について考えるならば、彼らが遂行できる新たな業務は何か、について考えねばなりません。そして電気機械の主な特徴は――20世紀初めのフォードの工場がその素晴らしい例なのですが――一連の新たな業務を生み出したことにあります。