The Wealth of Humans. Work and Its Absence in the Twenty-first Century

Author: Avent, Ryan

Publication Date:

March 2017



Original language and publisher



The Wealth of Humans. Work and Its Absence in the Twenty-first Century

Author: Avent, Ryan

  • 2 Seas Represents: German, Italian, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Icelandic rights.
  • Rights sold: UK (Allen Lane/Penguin), USA (St. Martin’s Press), China (Huazhang), Taiwan (Business Weekly), the Netherlands (Nieuw Amsterdam)
    Japan (Toyo Keizai), Korea (Minumsa), Spain (Ariel/Planeta), Sweden (Volante), Portugal (Bizâncio)


“Ryan Avent is a superb writer. He is able to grasp key economic intuitions and convey them to the general public in a highly readable and lively manner. I am confident that his book will be very successful.” — Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century

“An ambitious, insightful and provocative book…Avent ranges widely through the often insular silos of economics, blending microeconomics with macro, industrial organization with international trade, labor economics with financial, economic history with economic geography. In the best Economist tradition, this book is both accessible and sophisticated, one that raises all the right questions.”— Steven Pearlstein, Washington Post

“Compelling and troubling […] In popular commentary on the future, there is an unhelpful view that one day each of us will turn up at work and find a robot sitting in our chairs. Avent’s alternative account, of a slow but persistent decline in the importance of work and a fractious search for a new political settlement, is immeasurably more plausible.” — Daniel Susskind, The Sunday Times

“An important argument on a subject that will shape the coming decades.” — Duncan Weldon, Prospect Magazine

“Intelligent, honest and clear.” — Christopher Caldwell, Literary Review

‘This book is timely…the author is a confident guide. He writes clearly, analysing complex issues for a new reader [and] he is deft at exploring the economic, political and social changes triggered by technological progress and the abundance of cheap labour.” — Emma Jacobs, Financial Times

“Midway through Ryan Avent’s The Wealth of Humans, I found myself marking “H” in the margin, to stand for heresy, so thick and fast do the counterintuitive insights arrive… My favourite: a sensible route to a secure living in the future is to aim not for high productivity, but for some extravagantly unproductive niche such as making artisanal cheese, where low productivity is a selling point. These heresies have a point beyond provocation… The argument requires a work as ambitious as implied in the Smithian echoes of the title Mr Avent has given his book.” — Giles Wilkes, The Economist

“Full of vivid ideas. Avent is a fluent writer who takes complex ideas and works them, like Plasticine, into vivid models. The Wealth of Humans stands favourable comparison with Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty.” Martin Vander Weyer, The Daily Telegraph

“Ryan Avent’s The Wealth of Humans manages to be both optimistic about innovation and gloomy about its consequences. This wide-ranging and highly readable book echoes famous tracts by tackling the biggest challenges facing the human race. The title is a nod to Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations – one of the founding texts of classical economics. But it also hints at a darker future: a world with an abundance of workers who do not have enough to do.” — Peter Thal Larsen, Reuters BreakingViews

“Economist senior editor Ryan Avent argues in his compelling new book, The Wealth of Humans, that as computers more seamlessly integrate into everything, mass employee displacement is both inevitable and imminent.” — Anne VanderMey, Fortune Magazine

“In the world of economics, Ryan Avent is simply one of the sharpest and most intelligent writers around. Nobody is better placed to tell us how technology is shaping our economy and our lives” — Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist

“Many of the world’s top economists read, engage with, and debate Ryan Avent on a regular basis, including on labor markets and technology.” — Tyler Cowen, author and Professor of Economics, George Mason University

“Long after the current politically-charged debates about globalization and technology have been forgotten, the forces that Ryan Avent analyzes will shape the world we live in. The Wealth of Humans offers a great starting point for understanding how those forces will affect work and in turn the way humans organize their lives.” — Larry Summers – Charles W. Eliot University Professor and President Emeritus, Harvard University

“The digital revolution, like the industrial revolution, creates enormous wealth but also wrenching economic change. Many workers now find their labor has become superfluous. Ryan Avent writes with insight, expertise and verve, making The Wealth of Humans an indispensible guide for any serious thinker seeking to understand this new landscape.” — Erik Brynjolfsson – Director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy and co-author of The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Machines.

None of us has ever lived through a genuine industrial revolution. Until now.

Digital technology is transforming every corner of the economy, fundamentally altering the way things are done, who does them, and what they earn for their efforts. In The Wealth of HumansEconomist editor Ryan Avent brings up-to-the-minute research and reporting to bear on the major economic question of our time: can the modern world manage technological changes every bit as disruptive as those that shook the socioeconomic landscape of the 19th century?

Traveling from Shenzhen, to Gothenburg, to Mumbai, to Silicon Valley, Avent investigates the meaning of work in the twenty-first century: how technology is upending time-tested business models and thrusting workers of all kinds into a world wholly unlike that of a generation ago. It’s a world in which the relationships between capital and labor and between rich and poor have been overturned.

Past revolutions required rewriting the social contract: this one is unlikely to demand anything less. Avent looks to the history of the Industrial Revolution and the work of numerous experts for lessons in reordering society. The future needn’t be bleak, but as The Wealth of Humans explains, we can’t expect to restructure the world without a wrenching rethinking of what an economy should be.