He does a very constrained, theoretical analysis. There are people doing far more contextual analysis, but let me take it to a historical context.
In the Roman age (and to some extend in the middle ages) we had a pyramid of feudal power with either a Lord, a Monarch or an Emperor at the top. This system was based on a simple division of labour – a martial supremacist (which might be a sadistic psychopathic extortionist if you got unlucky) worked in a network of power webs between feudal lords of similar lineage, religious or racial context and such. These Pyramids of power occasionally tiered between Barons, Dukes, Princes, Kings and Emperors, and they allowed ‘some’ diversified services, i.e. mercantile guilds and moneylenders. The Feudal systems collapsed in bouts of overextending, often military overextending. Aztecs and Mayans (not sure) collapsed over and over because of really bad choices in water/land managament and resulting famine, though cyclical weather patterns may have left any meso-american civilizations especially vulnerable.
Romans collapsed largely because of rapidly shifting weather patterns, resulting famine, plague and widespread systemic errors in Roman society. Rome was overextended like you wouldn’t believe and when in the last centuries grain crops kept failing over and over Rome collapsed rather suddenly. In just a few years Rome’s population decreased from over a million to under ten thousand. You would not have wanted to live there; it would be equivalent to the US collapsing from the current 300+ million to an amount scarcely over its current prison population, in a decade. You don’t need roving zombie hordes as a metaphor to realize that collapse is really awful.
We transitioned to something beyond a Feudal age because of revolution; not revolution of poor people initially, just war. The age of enlightenment, even printing press, gunpowder global age of exploration spurred on science and revolution, religious war and dissent. People disagreed with a system centuries (arguably millenia) old. Land ownership wasn’t sacred, and in essence power shifted from entitled military overlords to city-state administrative power. This placed emphasis on production of utilities from the governance of singular autocrats more to bureaucrats, which wasn’t always an improvement. Fortunately the widespread climate disagreement of disagreement (and war) of the 1700s also allowed a scientific revolution, and that in turn carried the seeds of a solution to many systemic problems.
All throughout people have been liberated, primarily from having to. Those that still have to don’t like this one bit. In the late 19th century and 20th century agricultural workers went unemployed and desperate – in the US in the late 1800s this transition was in essence tens of millions of unspeakably desperate black skin pigmented former slaves of an African racial origin, later in in the 1930s millions of dustblowl okies were symptomatic of the same symptom – a society didn’t need surplus labour “of a certain category” any more. The system (rich people by and large) were in a position to ruthlessly ‘shed’ the excesses, those shedded are invariably blamed as troublemakers and scum, and society goes in transitional convulsions.
Worldwide the transitions from industrial to service can be much market at the end of the 1970s, early 1980s. Between the 1950s and 1970s there was an unbridled age of what is essentially infrastructure implementation (and the formation of a bubble) and by 1980 we have that bubble burst when there is an effective over-capacity. The problem in the current system is that those who have the power shed over-capacity largely by not having any responsibility and putting labour in the street. Again this is a convulsive and painful process. Look back at the big revolutions, and ask yourself what kind of paradigms shifted, who benefited out of bounds at whose expense, and you see the same pattern over and over: there is a systematic paradigm shift, someone wins a struggle of capital (and that is what is flawed about capital-ism my dear Ivy) and they use their relative power to ‘desource’ those who lose.
We have a catastrophe now; If there is an alternative to a service or a financial economy, I for sure don’t see it. We now have billions of people that still have a job, and those people ‘can’t possibly imagine losing that job’ but for anyone with even a shred of technical savvy the writing is on the wall. Even in the most optimistic scenario, automation, VR, AR, telepresence, robotization are advancing so rapidly that in just a few years (and not decades) you’ll see unemployment unreversibly rize by about 1% per year or more. I say – in the most optimistic scenario. I personally believe this will eat itself all the way to the top of people who call “owning a lot of money work” (i.e. those who have power and will not want to relinquish this power) and that by 2050 there will not be anything we’d call “work” right now.
The optimistic version is I’d say this might consolidate at a 30-40% unemployment rate; meaning by 2025 all cab drivers, truckers, fast food workers, magazine workers, logistics staffs, bank tellers, administrative workers, secretaries, helpdesk workers, construction workers, accountants (etc.) will be laid off. That IS the current service economy, and most of the industry workers. Those left will be a small fraction repairing very standardized factory made ‘black box’ components, or operating automated machines.
This is an extremely dangerous transition, since there is no alternative. There is in this stage no imperative with those who currently own the money (and have the power) to trasnlate this entitlement and ownership into consideration for anyone but their own kind. Never in history did those who have the power have this consideration. Stiglitz doesn’t dare say the unthinkable, and he squirms around twisting his tongue. You can see it happen in the question section – there aren’t any jobs and there won’t be. Those that have won’t share and will put up a fight, unless we go there and force them.
But this happened before in history. Maybe this time we can do it without getting anyone killed.