When Joseph Whitworth was growing up in Stockport, the man who became the greatest mechanical engineer of the Victorian age witnessed a traumatic sight. In 1812, this unlovely industrial town on the outskirts of Manchester was overrun by Luddite rioters, all the more terrifying as they were wearing women’s clothes as they went on the rampage, smashing power looms and burning down textiles mills. Many of the Luddites were later hanged, their protest against new technology in vain.
Today, the impact of new technology on jobs and social order is as burning a political and economic question as it was in the 19th century. In recent years, millions of Americans and others around the world have lost their jobs in manufacturing, their disaffection helping to propel Donald Trump to the White House.
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