Long-Term Developments in Human Labor and Their Political Implications

Christian Cordes

Table of Contents


This paper provides an analysis of the qualitative changes in human labor which are in mutual dependence with the evolution of the epistemic base of technology. The role of human capabilities in long-term economic development is depicted and a taxonomy of human labor inputs is suggested. A recurrent historical pattern is identified: humans learned to successively transfer certain qualities of labor to machines. Subsequently, the requirements on labor changed, which is reflected in the complementary qualitative structure of capabilities employed in production. This approach accounts for contradictory patterns in work organization found by different strands of thinking about skill change in technological advancement. Furthermore, it is shown that these processes can trigger self-reinforcing economic developments. Some political implications are discussed.

JEL Classification: J21, J24, N30, O33, E60


  • skills
  • technological change
  • qualitative change
  • labor market
  • policy making