I feel like I’m caught in a whirlpool of “ Amusing Ourselves to Death ,” as author Neil Postman predicted 30 years ago . In the book, Postman contrasts two dystopian visions of the future. George Orwell’s 1984, where power is expressed directly through Big Brother, oppressively restricting people’s freedoms. And Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, where power is expressed indirectly , by saturating people with so many delightful distractions that they can’t see their oppression. Where people “come to adore the technologies that would undo their capacities to think.”
A major theme of The End of Work is that productivity would lead to the destruction of jobs; however, the book appeared when productivity growth had been in a slowdown since the early 1970s. Because the widespread use of computers in the 1980s and early 1990s did not live up to the high expectations for productivity growth, this was called the productivity paradox . Strong productivity growth finally appeared in the late 1990s and lasted a few years, then slowed down again. The productivity slowdown is still being debated.  Strong growth but without absorbing large numbers of unemployed people is called a jobless recovery . Historically, innovation that obsoletes existing jobs and technologies has not created permanent unemployment, but has instead opened jobs in new industries and moved jobs from agriculture to industry and the service sector. This process is known as creative destruction .
It is not just that seeking to placate the public at home with braggadocio overseas will make it harder still for China to garner allies and respect. There is a deeper problem. Many countries around the world admire, and would like to emulate, the undemocratic but effective way that China has managed its decades of growth. If China’s domestic politics look less stable, some of that admiration will wane. And even if things can be held together, for the time being, admiration for China does not translate into affection for it, or into a sense of common cause. Economically and militarily, China has come a long way towards regaining the centrality in Asia it enjoyed through much of history. Intellectually and morally, it has not. In the old days it held a “soft power” so strong, according to William Kirby of Harvard University, that “neighbours converted themselves” to it. Now, Mr Xi may know how to assert himself and how to be feared, at home and abroad. But without the ability to exert a greater power of attraction, too, such strength will always tend to destabilise.