Comparative advantage in a post-AI world: art?

I’d like to start a discussion on the Noahpinion essay, Plentiful, high-paying jobs in the age of AI, that @cedric linked to in the newsletter.

I agree with that take; in fact, I wrote up my vision of a similar future in 2016 where I envisioned a post-AI world where most people spend their time creating art for each other (music, video, writing, dance, etc). This is another variation of what Noah describes as comparative advantage; each of us is the best at representing our own unique experience (as Oscar Wilde quipped, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”).

And I think Cedric (and Ben Thompson who reflected on his 11-year Stratechery anniversary in today’s post) are great examples of that - a single person can have a worldwide impact with their point of view. And as the productivity of AI spreads, people will be able to create more and more with less and less.

Maybe I’m too much of a pollyanna optimist, but I like to keep the positive possibility in mind, not just the doom and gloom scenarios. It’s easy to be pessimistic and point out what can go wrong; let’s think instead about what can go right, and steer in that direction.


I really struggle with the essay, I think because I’m not that familiar with the concept of comparative advantage. There’s a comment at the bottom of the piece where someone (presumably a layperson, and not an economist) argues with Noah, and then Noah has another go at explaining comparative advantage. :sweat_smile:

I WANT to believe it’s true. But at the same time it’s also hard for me to believe that there won’t be job losses from AI, assuming AI is all it’s cracked up to be.

And I love the idea of a post work world, where people get to express themselves. But a) John Maynard Keynes has that dream, and it … didn’t pan out, did it? Plus, b), we know that the road to get there is probably going to be very bumpy.

Anyway my current position is that whatever change will take some time — years — to show up. (Technological changes are fast but technological diffusions tend to be slow). So I’ll have a lot of time to revise and update my opinions.

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Oh, there will definitely be job losses and a rough transition. In my post, I noted that a bunch of things would have to change to enable that future in the US (universal healthcare, maybe even a basic income).

I see comparative advantage through the lens of opportunity cost. As an advisor once quipped, “are you doing $80/hr work when you could be doing $8,000/hr work?” If somebody else can do something for less than what Naval calls an aspirational hourly rate, then I should outsource it. It’s counterintuitive for me, because I have the belief that if I can do something, then I should do it. But since my time and energy are limited, that’s a foolish approach.

My other thesis about AI is that it currently brings up the floor more than it raises the ceiling. It allows everybody to get to above average quality, say 60th percentile. Which makes it even more important for me to identify my comparative advantage where I’m in the 90+ percentile range because that’s where I’ll be different and better than AI.


That’s a good one!


I love this frame. Speaking of which, I should probably write up a comment on your ‘capital is not a strategy’ thread — finally got around to reading everything in that article, and it was really good.


This exchange (and a couple others I had) prompted me to write up my thoughts more fully at Becoming artists in a post-AI world – Eric Nehrlich, Unrepentant Generalist if anybody is interested.