Economics of the Digital Age
247 West 37th St, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10018
Major technological changes such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, big data, virtual reality and the Internet of things have the potential to transform the nature of work, the structure of the economy, and life as we know it. In particular, AI and automation are invading the territory of skilled and even highly skilled professions, while the platform—a digital infrastructure that enables users to connect and interact—has emerged as a new (and highly profitable) business model. Value is driven by the economics of networks and depends on the number of people already connected (the so-called network effect), leading to positive feedback mechanisms, winner-take-all dynamics, and dominance of the market by a single firm or technology. This natural tendency towards monopoly has led to the emergence of large behemoths—Google, Facebook, Amazon, Uber, Airbnb, etc.—that are uniquely positioned to record user activities and extract unprecedented volumes of data, while asserting governance and quasi-regulatory power over entire segments of the new digital economy. While euphemisms such as the “sharing,” “gig,” or “on-demand” economy imply that these firms are providing more freedom and flexibility around work, they may also reduce wages, entrench existing inequalities and biases, and exert closer monitoring over users and employee performance. What kind of social and political order does a digital economy entail?
This course will explore the nature and characteristics of the new digital economy. How is value created and distributed in “platform capitalism”? Will automation and artificial intelligence create mass unemployment and/or a major de-skilling of the workforce? Are emerging technologies inaugurating a new regime of capital accumulation, or is this the end of capitalism? Are we headed to a post-scarcity world of material abundance and the end of human labor? Students will consider these questions (and others) as we read selected extracts from economists, sociologists and futurists, including Nick Srnicek’s Platform Capitalism and Inventing the Future, Simon Head’s The New Ruthless Economy and Mindless, and Arun Sundararajan’s The Sharing Economy.
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm
October 18 — November 08, 2018