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200 years ago, a group of textile workers in Nottingham, Lancashire and Yorkshire set about destroying machines introduced by a new class of manufacturers at the vanguard of the Industrial Revolution. According to these workers (the so-called Luddites), this new technology was driving down wages and would eventually impoverish a substantial proportion of the working class. The British government introduced the Frame Breaking Act in 1812, which made machine breaking punishable by death. Lord Bryon, the famous poet, spoke against this Act in the House of Lords. A short history of the Luddites is available here

In this article, Robert Skidelsky revisits the Luddite movement in the light of changes in Western society. First, there have been depressed wages for many workers in Western economies for several decades. Second, the IT revolution is slowly making many cognitive tasks obsolete. Do we need labour anymore? Do we need neo-Luddites? Or is there nothing to worry about? 


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