Edward Luttwak published an essay in 1994, titled Why Facism is the Wave of the Future; he wrote in this essay:

Partly because with generational change even senior managers can now themselves work those machines if they want to, thereby allowing them to understand their uses, abuses and non-uses; partly because more junior managers are increasingly compelled to use those machines in place of clerical help and clerical companionship;


and partly because computer networks allow managers at the next level up literally to oversee, right on their own screens, the work that their underlings are doing or not doing, thereby giving it the same transparency as assembly-line work, with the same immediate visibility of inefficient procedures, inefficient habits and inefficient employees – for all these reasons the long-awaited, long-delayed increase in the efficiency of office-work has finally arrived, exposing hitherto more secure white-collar workers to the work-place dislocations, mass firings or at least diminishing employment prospects that have long been the lot of blue-collar industrial workers in mature economies.

I've heard the term 'precariat' banded about a bit in the UK for the past few years, which sort of tallies with this projection; but can firmer figures be put on this phenomenon?


1 Answer 1


the long-awaited, long-delayed increase in the efficiency of office-work has finally arrived

Actually, so far opposite has turn out to be true. The article was written in nineties, in time of boom of productivity. Contrary to expectations, technological advances did not bring higher efficiency of work. As a matter of fact, the productivity has stagnated, as shown in the data below (note that the chart presents all nonfarm labour, including services, office support, admin., etc.).

US non-farm labour productivity Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Nonfarm Labour Productivity, 1988-2018

Not only software did not boost the office productivity, it is also one of the major factors of the stagnation - after all there are more distractions than ever in today’s workplace (social media, online games, etc.).

It seems that software designed to monitor employee productivity is not widely used. There are lots of time management apps (like TimeDoctor or WorkIQ, to name the few), budgeting apps, workflow apps, but it cannot be said that they expose 'white-collar workers to the work-place dislocations, mass firings or at least diminishing employment prospects'.

With that being said, there are plenty of white-collar occupations that can be completely automated (for example bank tellers, bookkeepers, basically all the white collar jobs that include collecting and processing data), but that’s another issue. This is one of the main factors why employment in services in US, understood as % of total employment, never went back to the levels prior to the crisis of 2008.

Employment in services (% of total employment) in US Source: World Bank, Employment in services (% of total employment) in US, 1991-2017

Precariat is something different, but related to the loss of job and overall lack of security in life. It was highly used in public debate amids of the crisis in eurozone (you can read one viewpoint from Guy Standing, who popularized the term).

** As a side note, I used U.S. data, since USA is deemed to be pioneer in technological advances in services, but Japan would be another interesting example.

  • $\begingroup$ +1: Coincidentally I happen to know someone who worked with Guy Standing! $\endgroup$ Jun 28, 2018 at 23:48

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