Should ‘Social Entrepreneurship’ Mean ‘Creating Jobs for Average Workers’?

At the annual Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford conference, the crowd agreed with the motion under debate that “the average worker is being left behind by advances in technology.”

We need more jobs for average workers, argue Brynjolfsson and McAfee.

Screenshot from Apple's "1984" commercial.

An annual event called “Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford,” which took place earlier this month, featured a debate at the Oxford Union on this motion:

“This house believes that the average worker is being left behind by advances in technology.”

The concept of “Silicon Valley community” is a geographically loose one, because helping make the argument were MIT Sloan’s Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the MIT Center for Digital Business, and Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the center.

It was logical that the two were invited: their new book, Race Against the Machine (Digital Frontier Press, 2011), is on exactly that theme. (Here’s our blog post about the book.)

McAfee’s opening statement, which he posted at his blog, includes this challenge for how we might rethink the meaning of “corporate responsibility”:

It’s also time to change our minds and broaden our definition of ‘social entrepreneurship.’ When we hear that term at present, we think of sustainability, or clean or green tech, or improving the lots and lives of people in the developing world. All of these are worthwhile and wonderful things to do. Here’s another one: create jobs for average workers. Because there aren’t enough of them right now. The greatest scarcity in our economies now is a scarcity not of resources or even of good new ideas, but of opportunity — of chances to let people realize the American Dream, and the English Dream, the Indian and Chinese and Mexican dream.

McAfee went on to mention the new book The Coming Jobs War (Gallup Press, 2011), by Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup. McAfee flagged this passage by Clifton: “The primary will of the world is no longer about peace or freedom or even democracy; it is not about having a family, and it is neither about God nor about owning a home or land. The will of the world is first and foremost to have a good job. Everything else comes after that.”

The motion, which McAfee termed “pretty anti-tech” presented to “an overwhelmingly pro-technology crowd,” passed with 62% of the vote, 173-105.

The annual Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford gathering is hosted by the University of Oxford’s Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Saïd Business School.

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