Do tools become popular because they enable labor arbitrage? Maybe. But I don’t think it’s so simple. All tools are meant to lead to some kind of efficiency– they help us do more and do more complex things than before. If they didn’t it wouldn’t be much of a tool.

In all cases, improved efficiency and efficacy like this can be turned into some form of lowering labor costs.

Of course, Baldur isn’t saying “things that make work easier” are what cause labor arbitrage. Instead, it’s tools that enabled reduced specialization that seem to grow, in his view, problematically. But this just feels like moving the goal posts on an age old argument about “higher level languages”.

Are abstractions good? Often. Is reducing the amount of code and deep understanding you need to solve a problem a good things? Often. I’m so glad we don’t have to solve every problem associated with authorization from scratch and have much more safe defaults these days. I’m also glad we can write for the web without maintaining our own TCP/IP stacks or server (software).

I think it’s hard to point where the line is between “abstraction” and “labor arbitrage”. I’m not surprised at the sort of bimodal distribution on tooling – some aggressively unconcerned, and some aggressively concerned– because (at least in the modern Anglosphere), nuance seems dead. But I think that everyone seems to define the line between what is a useful higher order abstraction and what is labor arbitrage based on what was a “tool” during their formative time in tech and what came afterwards.

It’s Douglas Adams all over again:

I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”