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Bertrand Russell had it right
July 12, 2013 4:04 AM   Subscribe

As machines take over more of our work, we are going to have to find other ways of letting people fulfil these human needs. Forcing them to send 500 CVs out every week is not a good start. In stripping out inefficiencies and pushing digital goods to near-free prices, the Internet kills middle-class jobs. Digitization has already largely de-monetized academia, film, music, journalism, and lots more besides. More industries will feel the pain, including the legal professions, real estate, insurance, accounting, and the civil service, all of which are built on inefficiency, and all of which will be stripped of jobs in the years to come. As it becomes clear to those with established positions that there are no jobs for their children, they’ll push for a more radical solution.
posted by Happy Dave (112 comments total) 90 users marked this as a favorite

 
Forcing the unemployed onto a jobless market on the basis that “everybody has to work” is at best misguided and at worst cruel.

Truer words were never said. It's a pipe dream at best, but I like the UBI concept.
posted by Anima Mundi at 4:30 AM on July 12, 2013 [19 favorites]


> The middle classes (and their elected representatives) will not let that happen.

The middle classes have elected representatives?
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:32 AM on July 12, 2013 [48 favorites]


Maybe we could start with a 30 hours week.
posted by francesca too at 4:33 AM on July 12, 2013 [25 favorites]


Obvious truth, but politically impossible in the United States until we reach an unimaginable unemployment rate (40%? 50%?) and the .001% moneyed class feels genuinely threatened, which is unlikely when the Police/Military/Security industry protecting them has better-than-everybody-else-paying jobs.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:34 AM on July 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


The middle classes (and their elected representatives) will not let that happen

I hope they won't, but I expect they will. It depends on how much Fox manages to keep pushing the fear of Godless Communism. People vote and act against their own interests all the time through fear and ignorance.

The way to make this happen is to convince the Waltons and Kochs it's what they want.
posted by Foosnark at 4:35 AM on July 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Maybe we could start with a 30 hours week.

And universal healthcare and college education. Think of the things 7 billions humans will accomplish when they are healthy, educated and have a little free time.
posted by DU at 4:37 AM on July 12, 2013 [76 favorites]


Obvious truth, but politically impossible in the United States until we reach an unimaginable unemployment rate (40%? 50%?) and the .001% moneyed class feels genuinely threatened, which is unlikely when the Police/Military/Security industry protecting them has better-than-everybody-else-paying jobs.

They'll just put more people in prison.
posted by empath at 4:37 AM on July 12, 2013 [16 favorites]


"More industries will feel the pain, including the legal professions, real estate, insurance, accounting, and the civil service, all of which are built on inefficiency, and all of which will be stripped of jobs in the years to come."
posted by Happy Dave

Epony-something, shurely?
posted by marienbad at 4:45 AM on July 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


They'll just put more people in prison.

1. Disenfranchise 90% of population
2. Wait for them to protest and take action
3. Throw them in prison and charge the government
4. Profit!

*weeps*
posted by arcticseal at 4:47 AM on July 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


In stripping out inefficiencies and pushing digital goods to near-free prices, the Internet kills middle-class jobs.

I think this is complete horseshit, btw. It just killed a particular kind of middle-class job.
posted by empath at 4:47 AM on July 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


More industries will feel the pain, including the legal professions, real estate, insurance, accounting, and the civil service, all of which are built on inefficiency, and all of which will be stripped of jobs in the years to come.

Ugh. I wish we could ban the term "inefficiency". Or, at least, start imposing a less restrictive definition. Note that all of these professions deal with humans on an individual, customized level. Each person as an entity, with their own unique needs, concerns and problems. This is human-scale, one-size-does-not-fit-all work. It may be inefficient from one point of view, but from the point of view of solving individual problems, it's effective, often creative, and responsive to real needs.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:49 AM on July 12, 2013 [25 favorites]


I hope they won't, but I expect they will.

I'm afraid I agree with you. I think we'll go quietly.
posted by Miko at 4:53 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


> It just killed a particular kind of middle-class job.

Just the ones in offices, so far. iPlumber is still in beta.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:55 AM on July 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thorzad, yes. And the idea that making money requires striping out inefficiency is so overblown in the culture that I've worked at at least two companies that optimized themselves into very bad spots and I don't expect them to exist much to exist much longer - at least not in their current form. I understand you sent was the to be hemorrhaging money on useless work, but frequently the mindset seems to be " we can make this much more if we eliminate 80 jobs". Instead of looking at work that is duplicates and unnecessary. It's all backwards. And a lot of times those jobs end up being important, if not essential, so other parts start to decline.. It's a vicious circle.

Plus, someone pointed out that if all you're doing is eliminating jobs to compete, eventually (in theory), everyone is going to be at the same efficiency, so now what sets you apart from your competition? You don't have the man power to be better.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 5:01 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


iPlumber? Maybe those Mario games were prescient of a time when Plumbers would be the last fully employed people.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:03 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Every you ever need to know about living on Earth in 2013 is adequately covered in a documentary called Idiocracy.

"Welcome to Costco. I love you".
posted by dbiedny at 5:06 AM on July 12, 2013 [18 favorites]


Just the ones in offices, so far. iPlumber is still in beta.

But that's even a bad example. With the existence of the web and youtube, I've been able to do more home repairs than I thought possible. Same with auto repairs and my husband's ability to fix things he'd previously have had a mechanic do. You get stuck at some point, consult discussion boards for further help. Same with manufacturing your own stuff. Think what 3D printers bring to the table. Maybe the aren't at a price where you expect one I every home, but it won't be too long before that's changed.

I'm sure specialists will always exist, but in what numbers?
posted by [insert clever name here] at 5:07 AM on July 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


I'm afraid I agree with you. I think we'll go quietly.

When discussions about "wastes of time" come up, when people claim that cute cat videos, or posts about movies or games are fluff and shouldn't be on the blue, or, in a larger sense, when people rail about the mindlessness of following celebrities or sports, well, there's this. This, and the post last week about the near inevitability of rising seas effect on Miami (and the brutal degree-by-degree effects of rising global temperatures linked in that thread). These are things so big, so world shatteringly awful that really thinking about the problem causes a horrific paralysis that really only goes away when we manage to focus our attention on the pointless stuff again.

Quietly, and thanking the very few who still "have" for their largess in funding the bread and circuses that allow us to not focus on just how fucking horrible everything has become.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:15 AM on July 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm remembering way back in the late 1970s when I took my one required Economics class to get a vanilla Business degree and both the Econ professor at this Liberal Arts University and the textbook he used were totally in the thrall of Milton Friedman over stripping out the 'inefficiencies' in the American economy caused by powerful unions and trade restrictions. Of course, they declared ideological victory when Reaganomics didn't immediately destroy the middle class but I could see it coming, and hoped I wouldn't live long enough to see it come to fruition. Well, with my heart condition, I may yet avoid witnessing it, but it may be a close call.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:15 AM on July 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


The Instagram/Kodak comparison doesn't sit right with me, because the cost of buying Kodak cameras is substantially higher than the cost of downloading Instagram. People aren't funneling their money into the pockets of thirteen people; they're using a free product which costs them nothing and Instagram theoretically makes money off of showing the occasional ad. (Do they do that? Or do they just make money by making Facebook buy them out?)

The decline of creative capital is a bit more complicated than this article points it out to do, and has a lot to do with the decline of cost in both creating and distributing new work. It's easier to record music, self-publish novels, and shoot high-definition video now than it's ever been before, and it's easier to send all this stuff flying around to huge audience than ever before either. The result is that it's harder to pick up a guitar or write a couple of rhyming couplets and actually end up anywhere impressive—the standard for what people will actually buy hasn't necessarily raised, but it absolutely has changed. Usually when I discover a new poet, I find that the poems of theirs I can find online more than sates my appetite for their particular style.

There's an enormous market for certain kinds of creative people that is still in the middle of shaping itself up today. We still don't know what the future economy's gonna look like, because society is still in the middle of revising itself. And that's why I'm skeptical of this writer's arguments: I can envision many future outcomes which are less radical and revolutionary than the one he describes, and because society in general favors non-radical solutions, I suspect that's more like what we're gonna be seeing.
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:16 AM on July 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Actually, the vision of the future I fear the most is one that ends up looking a lot like Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake. Right now we're seeing a certain bisecting of our culture, as small groups of people decide they want to live considerably outside of the central jobhunting setup and devise means to exist outside of that system. Start-ups are one path out, but you also have creative collectives and communes, you have these groups of people who make something the Internet likes so they can afford to do fuck-all and still exist as a group, and I'm sure you have other people in other fields figuring out ways they can about "the system".

That's great and all, so long as the people escaping are concerned with making enough space for other people to escape to as well, but I suspect there's gonna be more of a "fuck you got mine" mentality than that, and we'll end up with one group of people patting themselves on the back saying "well look at that! we did okay for ourselves after all" as 99% of the population is stuck in the original system, which is drearier and worse than ever before because it's dying off. And then we get to watch a slow extinction of people learning to adjust to every new shitty thing in their lives until they get to the one thing that's too much for them, at which point boom—one less person to worry about.
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:23 AM on July 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


Wal-Mart killed more middle class jobs than the Internet ever could.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:32 AM on July 12, 2013 [34 favorites]


This is precisely why I'm leaving my "career" in graphic design behind and opening a donut shop in my small town. I'm tired of being the last-in, first-out in corporate land and refuse to be forced to compete against what are essentially unpaid interns for jobs. I'd rather get up at 3AM and rely on my own skills and the custom of my neighbors than continue to be a disposable cog in the collapsing machine.
posted by Chrischris at 5:36 AM on July 12, 2013 [35 favorites]


Maybe we could start with a 30 hours week.

Oh hey, I've just been passed the phone from geriatric Captain Obvious and he says it's Technocracy on the phone and wants to talk to you about the ancient Greeks mentioned in the 1920's and 1930's Depression era whitepapers on what should happen when machines and automation put people out of work and make more consumer goods than are actually needed.

Think of the things 7 billions humans will accomplish ... have a little free time.

Snark on the Internet?

Oh wait. Direct X for important computing tasks.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:42 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Think of the things 7 billions humans will accomplish when they are healthy, educated and have a little free time.

Call me a glass half-empty kind of guy, but really, I find that notion a little more chilling than not. (Maybe I'm just having a rough week.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:43 AM on July 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Instagram/Kodak comparison doesn't sit right with me

It's a bad analogy, because Instagram requires a smartphone with a camera. Apple, maker of the iPhone, which is the platform that made Instagram such a popular app, employs ~300,000 people, more than twice the number Kodak employed. Granted, not all of them work on iOS/iPhone, but then again, the iPhone and its camera also use third-party hardware, some of which is also manufactured in the US. If we add in how many people Samsung, who make the most popular Android phones, employ in the US, the number is higher.
posted by eustacescrubb at 5:43 AM on July 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


But that's even a bad example. With the existence of the web and youtube, I've been able to do more home repairs than I thought possible. Same with auto repairs and my husband's ability to fix things he'd previously have had a mechanic do. You get stuck at some point, consult discussion boards for further help.

This isn't new. The content might now be instantly accessible, but back in the day there were all sorts of magazines like Popular Mechanics which people regularly consulted when they needed to fix things around the home. Newspapers also had write-in columns where people asked for advice. Admittedly, it's much easier (and cooler!) to quickly look up a wiring diagram on an iPhone instead of going down to the library to get the manual, but it's not like people didn't do that sort of thing.

Think what 3D printers bring to the table. Maybe the aren't at a price where you expect one I every home, but it won't be too long before that's changed.

That's interesting, because my father keeps reminding me that when he was growing up, every single house on the suburban block had a small shop in the basement with basic woodworking and even metalworking tools. This was considered a necessity because when stuff broke, it was both cheaper and easier to fabricate your own replacement parts. The more things change, huh?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:44 AM on July 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


Marshal Brain has been talking about this for over a decade in his Robotic Nation series. A lot of what he predicted in 1999 has been coming true.
posted by Sophont at 5:47 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, basically the Negative Income Tax, a form of which was promulgated by Milton Friedman of all people
posted by IndigoJones at 5:50 AM on July 12, 2013


I think a change like this in the US would probably require some kind of revolution. (Real revolution, not just breaking into smaller chunks- American independence!= a revolution.) And I just do not see that happening anytime soon. Protesting is a mocked activity these days. The police state will shut down anything large. Protests like what we've seen in Egypt would be dispersed quickly and easily by the police, without a military presence needed.

Maybe in fifty years things will have swung back to the point where talk of a basic income is something Americans, but nothing like what Nixon (Nixon!) proposed in 1969 will pass anytime in the near future. Of course by then, Miami will be on it's way out, New York will be a walled fortress against the sea and the droughts in the central plains will decimate our food production.

I think that we need a non-evil Nixon, although, unfortunately, that sort of policy directive seems to come out of the Democrats these days, not the Republicans.
posted by Hactar at 5:50 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Think of the things 7 billions humans will accomplish when they are healthy, educated and have a little free time.

We could all finally watch everything on our Netflix queues!
posted by aught at 5:53 AM on July 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


Capitalism is, like all scarcity-based economics, a structure for managing scarcity. As scarcity becomes increasingly unnecessary, capital resorts to creating it to avoid people noticing that capitalism is increasingly obsolete.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:54 AM on July 12, 2013 [35 favorites]


Don't worry, we'll get lazier and lazier which will create more jobs.
posted by frenetic at 5:54 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also FYI Nixon's plan was to pay slightly less than poor people were already getting in benefits and for this to completely replace all government assistance. The myth of Liberal Nixon is ahistorical wishful thinking and needs to die.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:55 AM on July 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


There is nothing even remotely sustainable about this vision, and more than that, it's literally insane. The state is the people. If most of the people are not working, then where the hell does all the magical money from the state come from?

Lord have mercy.

Techno-utopian shortsightedness. Every time an industry or a type of labor has died off, human ingenuity has created another in its place. It takes time, there is upheaval, people get screwed. Welcome to progress.
posted by gsh at 6:00 AM on July 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


I wanted to do a post about this. How technology is likely making jobs more difficult for humans.

The increasing need for training and knowledge for even relatively less important job is increasing. Even being a janitor requires training to work with Roombas, dangerous chemicals, even computers.

With more and more technology coming in for mundane activities and businesses looking to reduce workforce to save on costs and increase reliability. Unemployment will go up. The only reliably human jobs would be in areas of senior/middle management, research or art. And all of them would need a lot of training/education to be successful.

And with education getting costlier .. most of the population will not be able to afford it.

So how does one feed an uneducated, unemployed population? Govt dole? But with corporates paying less taxes, where will the money come from?

Interesting questions to ponder.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 6:01 AM on July 12, 2013


Just pay a class of scribes who sole job it is to copy CVs by hand. Full employment! Problem solved.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:04 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's interesting, because my father keeps reminding me that when he was growing up, every single house on the suburban block had a small shop in the basement with basic woodworking and even metalworking tools.

And now there is an industry seemingly spawned by people who live in very small spaces that want you to be rid of anything you have not used in 6 months (like tools for repairing, or even parts for repairing) and a small part of the Library talks about how you should only rent the things you "need" or just hire out for "experts". The website Neighbourhood Goods is an expression of such, but I know how my Neighbours treat loaned tools.

(Meanwhile the 1937 vintage vacuum pump that is part of a desoldering station from 32 years ago gets added to a homemade box with a thick plastic top from a 6 month dead LCD monitor. To seal the ziploc bags a 22 year old daisy wheel printer's positioning screw to provide the sealing pressure and motion in the vaccum so that a 35 year old NESCO will work as a sous vide machine. Or, one can just "wring out the inefficiencies and buy it all new for an item that gets used every couple of months. Cobbler/"Hoarder" VS the consumer economy. Or is all of that stuff "repurposed" "upcycling", its so hard to tell. )
posted by rough ashlar at 6:04 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The state is the people.

This assumes the state survives. I think it's pretty damned clear that "the state" is living on borrowed time, as power shifts to globalized financial and corporate entities.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:08 AM on July 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


If most of the people are not working, then where the hell does all the magical money from the state come from?

From the 1% and 0.1% and 0.01% who have managed to create magical thinking money games through banks and derivatives which seem to, even now, be creating money out of nothing even while most of the country stagnates.

As long as those little magic tricks keep happening, we just have to make sure to tax those at the top adequately and the rest of us could live on the dole forever.
posted by hippybear at 6:08 AM on July 12, 2013 [15 favorites]


Capitalism is, like all scarcity-based economics, a structure for managing scarcity.

But is Capitalism the system in place? Or is calling the present system a label it is not just more sleight of hand that ends up having the wrong solution applied to the issue?
posted by rough ashlar at 6:08 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is nothing even remotely sustainable about this vision, and more than that, it's literally insane. The state is the people. If most of the people are not working, then where the hell does all the magical money from the state come from?

You seem to be implicitly assuming that we can only tax income from labour, but not income from capital. The premise of the article is how to adapt to a future where labour has been almost entirely displaced by capital as a factor of production.

In such a world, a state that derives its income almost exclusively from the taxation of wages couldn't exist.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 6:09 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


You guys are watching the coverage of the (US) House Republicans stripping any mention of food stamps out of the farm bill, are you?
posted by newdaddy at 6:13 AM on July 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think that labour cannot be almost completely replaced by capital, but the requirement is much smaller than the current available population.

Hence, most would be unemployed with some very intelligent, dedicated and hard working people getting the available jobs.

And the current structure as it stands today, doesn't offer a hope of dealing compassionately with the horde of unemployed.

Today being unemployed is stigma, is "your problem". Most systems today (be it Chinese or American) don't really deal well with the concept of "not working". They think of it as negative.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 6:15 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


But is Capitalism the system in place? Or is calling the present system a label it is not just more sleight of hand that ends up having the wrong solution applied to the issue?

No matter how hard we try to deny it, we live in a world split between a dominating capitalist class which makes its way by owning capital and skimming profit off the top of labor and a proletarian class which makes its way by renting its labor to the capitalists in exchange for wages. I know there's this horrible meme where we redefine capitalism to mean "a perfectly free and perfectly fair market system" and pretend that therefore we're not living under capitalism, but that's a useless and ahistorical definition which is not useful for anything other than shifting the blame for the inevitable and predictable failures of capitalism onto other things (said things being, well, the inevitable and predictable outcomes of capitalism).
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:19 AM on July 12, 2013 [17 favorites]


I think that labour cannot be almost completely replaced by capital, but the requirement is much smaller than the current available population.

The Robot Reality: Service Jobs Are Next to Go
Burger-making robot could make fast food workers obsolete

Think your 'American IT' is safe? Don't look behind you by Microsoft wants to offer services - so your boss can just outsource you to India via a MIcrosoft support contract.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:20 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


If most of the people are not working, then where the hell does all the magical money from the state come from?

Also, I want to focus on the "magical money" bit, and the reference to most people not working. There is no such thing as real money. The state has no obligation to ensure that money has some nebulous quality of soundness. If there is a huge glut of productive capacity that could be cheaply utilized, but consumers have no money and are starving, it would be bizarre to object to the state or central bank creating money out of thin air and giving it to people to spend. What is more important: that the artificial scarcity of electronic abstractions of green pieces of paper be preserved, or that an economy continues to produce things people need and want?
posted by [expletive deleted] at 6:21 AM on July 12, 2013 [15 favorites]


In stripping out inefficiencies and pushing digital goods to near-free prices, the Internet kills middle-class jobs.

I think this is complete horseshit, btw. It just killed a particular kind of middle-class job.


As someone whose job is to automate away these workplace inefficiencies, I can assure you we're not done yet - and those professions listed above and in the article are on the list. They might not provide a great service right now, but LegalZoom, WebMD, and other services like them will slowly improve and expand - and that's not even all of the business workflow automation that continues to be done that covers all sorts of middle-class jobs. Let's face it: as the price, accuracy, and flexibility of robotic platforms plummets, even all sorts of manual labor that hasn't traditionally been fully automated will be as well - someone's going to sort out that they can build drone construction equipment run primarily by autonomous agents with just a bit of human input, and that they can work 24 hours a day to get the building up/bridge constructed/road repaired. In an ideal world, that frees up time for employees to do more productive work. The reality tends to be a little harsher... It's not something that's generally covered in social implications of computing classes for CS undergrads, but it should be: what happens to the workforce you automate out of a job?

Personally, I would love more leisure time to pursue anything other than work. That I am lucky enough to be able to enjoy that potential extra leisure time makes me quite fortunate - it's ridiculous that situation could be considered 'fortunate'.
posted by combinatorial explosion at 6:27 AM on July 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


There is nothing even remotely sustainable about this vision, and more than that, it's literally insane. The state is the people. If most of the people are not working, then where the hell does all the magical money from the state come from?

It comes from increasingly automated labor performed on ever more efficiently utilized resources, creating capital that is consequently separated from the real work of actual human beings.

This is going to sound weird, but I think we as a society are starting to wake up to part of the answer here. In the post-WWII era, the response to increasing automation has been to ramp up consumption and to use demand as an engine for economic development. That's been pretty awesome, since it got us the internet, a dizzying range of consumer electronics, and entire categories of digital goods that didn't exist before. But it's also gotten us obesity, big box/online retailers, and speculative bubbles that periodically lay waste to the economy and do the work of shifting increasing social stratification and consolidating capital in the hands of a narrow elite.

The emotional net effect of the new economy is people who are hungrier, sadder, more frightened and feeling powerless. As a result, they're prone to make decisions not on the basis of rational calculations in relation to actual evidence, but to see the world through this distorted emotional lens. The effect is a host of predatory cultural forms and encroachments on individual sovereignty that only amplify these anxieties.

A big part of the answer, I think, is physical exercise. Or, more to the point, more using of our bodies to make and do things. We evolved in a way that forced us to survive through the exercising of our bodies. Every engine has a two-fold impact: it increases the amount of energy available for the system even as it alienates the human body from that energy. If we're not going to turn that underutilized human power back on ourselves in negative ways, it needs to be channeled and properly directed.

Think about how you feel after a run or a good workout. Clean. Clear. Part of the rush after exercise is the sense that your body and its capacities is perfectly adequate to its environment. Imagine if that emotion, on a societal scale, were to replace the noise and shrill spectacle of our contemporary culture. This was why the founders (and before them Rousseau) imagined that democracy is best served by people who are responsible for the physical labor that sustains their existence. Taxing our bodies to their limits prevents all kinds of mischief.

So far, we've been thinking about the obesity epidemic as a biomedical and public policy problem. When folks wake up and see it as a symptom of underlying shifts in peoples' relationship to the labor markets they've created to sustain their lives, things will start to change. More to the point, the moment we wake up and realize that we who need not physically labor to live are living in a utopia, and that we had better use this utopia to create some good for ourselves and in the world, we can start using our clearer heads to make the world better.
posted by R. Schlock at 6:30 AM on July 12, 2013 [19 favorites]


And now there is an industry seemingly spawned by people who live in very small spaces that want you to be rid of anything you have not used in 6 months (like tools for repairing, or even parts for repairing) and a small part of the Library talks about how you should only rent the things you "need" or just hire out for "experts".

To be fair, having the space to keep useful stuff is most often a luxury. It's just not possible to have a tablesaw in a studio apartment let alone use it in one.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:33 AM on July 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm also amazed at the argument that people will stop working just because their most basic needs of food and shelter are met. What kind of insanity is that? I'm sure some would. But most people will want more. It's the same reason most people don't work at the lowest paying job and stop. Because a) they want more money and b) they find work rewarding.

I've been out of work for a year and a half because of medical problems. Dispute severe limits to my ability to function everyday, I'm always trying to make new projects for myself. Even if I'm not physically capable of completing them, my god, the drive is there. It drivers me nuts because my body can't keep up with my desire to do, to build, to create.

And before all that, I was working my ass off not because I needed the money, but I loved the work and the recognition. Pay was just an acknowledgement of how well I was doing, not the goal.

I'm really starting to believe the most vocal opponents to giving "something for nothing" are those that would themselves do nothing if it were an option.

But here is the thing.. I'm okay with that. Why not? If they're content with just a roof over their head and food to stay alive, good for them. It might make sense to get those people out of the work force. It certainly makes sense to get people that hate their jobs into another field, rather than working poorly at a job they hate.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 6:41 AM on July 12, 2013 [17 favorites]


If you want to know more about what I'm talking about, by the way, you'll find Foucault's late discussions of technologies of the self to be fascinating.
posted by R. Schlock at 6:41 AM on July 12, 2013


So far, we've been thinking about the obesity epidemic as a biomedical and public policy problem.

It can't be a problem of a consumption culture backed by a very one sided knowledge advantage?

Where the knowledge of not only propaganda but food science research works to put out "food" items ment to push what would otherwise be called addiction?

Or is 'public relations', 'advertising', and understanding how 'one can not each just one' potato chip "just good business"?

And like upthread about 'hey programmer! - you are unemploying someone' and the other day Metafilter FPP on 'architect - don't design jails' at what point do "marketers" and "food science" people have a responsibility for their actions?
posted by rough ashlar at 6:45 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


It might make sense to get those people out of the work force. It certainly makes sense to get people that hate their jobs into another field.

Is Whistleblower a new job? How did keeping someone in a job they hate work out for the NSA?
posted by rough ashlar at 6:47 AM on July 12, 2013


Basically, people are obsolete labor machines. I will wager that abortion is soon outlawed as a result, because of the cognitive dissonance. Yes, we're also obsolete thinking machines if we can't take action. Our cultures and religion continue with the old supply-side labor plan. Most people are hesitant to resist this because our traditions are sacred rot.
posted by Brian B. at 6:50 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


rough ashlar: that's one side of it. Probably the best understood side. What I'm saying here is that there's another side, which is the fact that the energy we consume is intended, biologically, to sustain action. We need creative action to feel whole. So the increasing efficiency of labor markets, insofar as they lessen the demand on actual human bodies to create goods, also create excesses in potential human bodily energy. Those excesses get transformed into all kinds of negative emotional and physical effects, or they get channeled properly. Exercise and artisanal labor are two ways to do that.
posted by R. Schlock at 6:51 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is nothing even remotely sustainable about this vision, and more than that, it's literally insane. The state is the people. If most of the people are not working, then where the hell does all the magical money from the state come from?

Lord have mercy.


Step #1 when Big Waves are approaching. Don't Panic.

If most of the people are not working, then where the hell does all the magical money from the state come from?

I did a personality test decades back that more or less concluded I was a workaholic (I've gotten a little better in time). The weird part was, I was broke to the point of poverty at the time. Because the work I was perhaps fanatically devoted to was a combination of creative stuff (writing etc) and educational stuff (informal tutoring) that for whatever reason, the Market didn't seem to have much use for.

So I couldn't help coming to the conclusion that the Market was just the Market, a vastly imperfect means for somehow keeping track of who did what and rewarding them for it. And it's still very much the case. We have real estate agents who make as much in one year as a teacher will make in a lifetime. We have software entrepreneurs who will make as much in two weeks as a cop will make in a lifetime. We have movie stars and athletes who make as much in one day as a housewife will make in a lifetime ... (and so on).

Maybe Step #2 in all of this (after not panicking) is simply accepting that we've got a lot wrong when it comes to establishing the value of the work that many people do ... and getting smart, innovative, wise about evolving a new paradigm. Which is something many have already been doing for a good long time ...
posted by philip-random at 6:53 AM on July 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


This article doesn't go into the details much, but a Citizen's Basic Income seems to me one of the best, most promising and most plausible economic ideas out there.

I'm pessimistic about it in the short term, because there's so much reflexive hostility to it. But I'm optimistic in the long term, because it makes so much sense. I think it's going to be something like fiat currency or the welfare state: something that is seen as terrifying and impossible until it happens, and inevitable and necessary after it's happened.

I think it just takes one state to implement it, and when the rest of the world sees that the sky doesn't fall in, there will be an increasing clamour for it in the rest of the world.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 6:56 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The ever accelerating globalization of labor and capital will lead, I think, to a increasing localization of "power" (political and social). As the concept of employment becomes more ephemeral ( liable to evaporate at the first whiff of better profits/efficiency/regulatory freedom in whatever nebulous elsewhere Capital is always fleeing toward), power will devolve into ever smaller , more locally committed entities, whose strength will derive from a kind of new tribalism, the contours of which have yet to be worked out. Alas, I fear the future will be ruled by corporations and warlords...
posted by Chrischris at 6:58 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


the future will be ruled by corporations and warlords...

But you repeat yourself.
posted by gauche at 7:00 AM on July 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


The most efficient way is not always the best way.
posted by I'm Doing the Dishes at 7:20 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]



The Robot Reality:...


The REAL Robot Reality

so your boss can just outsource you to India

Xenophobia aside, there is a strong double-whammy that involves not just automation, but a long overdue equalization of value capture across the global economy.

The rhetoric is to focus on technology and 'others' instead of the disparity in distribution that happens between owners/rentiers vis-a-vis the rest.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 7:22 AM on July 12, 2013


the future will be ruled by corporations and warlords...

oh my god - it's a new dark age ... except this one won't last near as long, because of all the nukes and other assorted WeaponsOfMassDestruction we've got lying around ... because if enough people see their children starving, trust that extreme and/or desperate means will be implemented toward seeking a redistribution of wealth etc.

Or we could all just relax, get a little more pink in our politics (and economics).
posted by philip-random at 7:24 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Techno-utopian shortsightedness. Every time an industry or a type of labor has died off, human ingenuity has created another in its place. It takes time, there is upheaval, people get screwed. Welcome to progress.

The rise of robotics and automation isn't progress that leads to more jobs; it will inevitably lead to less jobs. Like it or not, there are only so many job functions in the world, and a lot of those jobs in the manufacturing sector are not difficult to displace for many workers, forever, worldwide.

That is already the reality:
There's no arguing that manufacturing jobs have been tumbling for decades. Not only are they falling, but they're falling at an increasing pace. There were more than 19 million manufacturing jobs in 1980. Today, there are a little more than 11 million. Those numbers looks far worse adjusted for population growth. The decline in manufacturing employment is real. It's bad. And it's getting worse.

So there's another disconnect. Why is manufacturing output so strong while manufacturing employment so frail?

One answer is productivity.

As a 2004 Congressional Budget Office report points out, "Since 1979, the productivity of manufacturing workers has grown at an average annual rate of 3.3 percent, significantly faster than the 2.0 percent growth of labor productivity in the nonfarm business sector overall." It's even faster more recently. Manufacturing productivity surged 4% annually during the 1990s. Everything else averaged half that much.

Simply put, manufacturers have grown incredibly efficient over the past several decades. They're able to build the same amount of stuff with far fewer people.
And, using a little common sense, if you need less people to make practically anything, there is no economic reason for the market to balance this efficiency improvement with more jobs*. What are these people going to do? U6 unemployment is still 15%. The duration of unemployment is skyrocketing past previous records since WWII. It's obvious that we don't need, or can't afford, much more stuff because the manufacturing employment has been dropping for nearly 35 years.

I think economists need to recognize that the foundations of the current model of capitalism were formed in a time when moving goods from China to America was expensive, deadly, unreliable, and restricted to non-perishable items. It was a time before automation, the revolution of the pallet/shipping container, and when a corporation meant something entirely different than what it does today.

Additionally, declining health outcomes, a deteriorating environment, rising employment, failing education systems, and abusive state security forces are not signs of progress, no matter what you think the Dow is telling you. Progress means improvement in the life of an average citizen, not in the bottom lines of corporations, or in the lifestyles of the ultra rich.

The changes needed to our economic system aren't that difficult to formulate or enforce. That's rarely the problem. The real issue is that the changes needed to our economic system means that the current owners of our society, which is largely a class of board-sitting multi-millionaires, would lose loads of wealth and power, so real change is off the table. Politicians are well aware that election success is largely a function of having a ton of campaign money, usually from lobbyists and their corporate partners.

Things could probably be fixed with a simplified tax structure, progressive taxation, and more rights for consumers and workers. But I think the greedy will choose the path of outright collapse over giving away a small portion of their wealth. Hopefully it won't be an awful solution found in a moment of crisis, but it's hard to see the solution coming from above. They can't see past the end of the next quarter or election cycle.

We need some candidates to win who have no party or lobbyist support. Otherwise, all campaign promises translate into living in DC and spreading democracy by going to free dinners and taking money for favors.

You know, politics.

*Well, until the corporations collectively realize they are dooming their future economic environments by gutting the middle class, but the people pulling the strings won't care until it's far too late.
posted by deanklear at 7:29 AM on July 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


"'In stripping out inefficiencies and pushing digital goods to near-free prices, the Internet kills middle-class jobs.'

I think this is complete horseshit, btw. It just killed a particular kind of middle-class job."


And replaced it with nothing. Or, at least, replaced it with less labor/fewer jobs.

You're a math guy. The point made here was about rates, not constants. Think in terms of derivatives. The trend is downward.
posted by Eideteker at 7:30 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


but a long overdue equalization of value capture across the global economy.

Do feel free to be 'non xenophobic' and explain the pay difference
http://creativeconflictwisdom.wordpress.com/2011/10/07/ration-of-ceo-pay-to-average-worker-by-country/

Then explain how Wages aren’t stagnating, they’re plummeting is a valuable expression of this long overdue equalization. Oh and do that in a 'non xenophobic' way please.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:35 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Personally, I would love more leisure time to pursue anything other than work...

Hate to break it to you, but you're working on the infrastructure for mass starvation--if not enslavement. Just combine your tech with the tech of the mass surveillance state, and let that sink in for a while.

"Removing inefficiencies" without first figuring out how to get around (some) humans needs to establish themselves at the top of a dominance hierarchy is not going to work out well for 99% of humanity. It'll just be ancient Egypt all over again, but with cooler, high-tech toys.
posted by mondo dentro at 7:39 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Once the cost of security is so high and the consequences of failure so drastic (rich folks and their kids only have one life like the rest of us, still), I imagine we'll see a return to the old Roman model of bread and circuses (which will prob. take the form of a basic income as described above). Historically, It is safer and cheaper for the Rich to placate the masses than try to perpetually insulate themselves from a resentful population with, literally, nothing to lose...
posted by Chrischris at 7:42 AM on July 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Removing inefficiencies" without first figuring out how to get around (some) humans needs to establish themselves at the top of a dominance hierarchy is not going to work out well for 99% of humanity. It'll just be ancient Egypt all over again, but with cooler, high-tech toys.

Eugenics, my friend. Or the same idea under a different name...
posted by Chrischris at 7:48 AM on July 12, 2013


How to pay for the UBI? There's a vague suggestion toward the end: "We could start by getting corporations to pay their taxes." Here's what I'm curious about in this regard and I'd like MetaFilter's input on this. I'm not even sure about the following assumption, but for the sake of discussion, I'll put it forward. Say production has been increasing and the wealth that results from production has been increasing notwithstanding the fact that fewer wage earners are required to main the ever increasing production. If more and more of the activities that required human effort in the past are automated, then it seems reasonable that production could increase without a corresponding increase in human labor. If there were the political will to mandate a UBI and pay for it by redistributing all the bounty of ever increasing production from those who controlled (for lack of a less-loaded term) the means of production by getting corporations to pay their taxes, could the ever increasing production be sustained and could the regime under which there was a UBI continue? From where I sit, I'm tempted to say that such a system would be sustainable; if automation causes the increase in production and fewer people are required to maintain the increase then what does it matter where the bounty of excess production goes so long as the wealth will be used to spur more economic activity? In fact, if this is right, then wouldn't the UBI stimulate even more production because of increased consumption on the part of the UBI recipients? On the other hand, perhaps I'm wrong about the importance of the where the wealth goes. Perhaps the system wouldn't be sustainable if the profits from increased production didn't get piped right back to those who control production. This doesn't seem likely to me unless there's a corporate taking-my-toys-and-going-home attitude similar to the one so clunkily put forward in Atlas Shrugged. What do you all think? Have I skipped an important step?
posted by Wash Jones at 7:50 AM on July 12, 2013


When they came for the unemployed, I had a job, so I said nothing.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:55 AM on July 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


All of this "machines will make us free" presupposes we have "progress", which in turn presupposes we have sufficient energy and resources in geometrically increasing amounts, forever.

Obviously that isn't true. Eventually we're going to run out of stuff to feed our extraction systems with, and then it's going to get really sad.

Humanity, as a whole, has jumped the shark.
posted by MikeWarot at 7:58 AM on July 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Maybe we should just start a list of jobs we expect to be gone (or heading that way) within a generation. Here let me cherry pick a few easy ones;

Pilots
Truck drivers
Bus drivers
Taxi drivers
Fast food service jobs
posted by newdaddy at 8:01 AM on July 12, 2013


Something all this talk of robots and automation seems to be leaving out is that we have to power all of these machines. With what? Fossil fuels?
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:10 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Off the top of my head: Cashiers, warehouse employees, bank tellers, garbage collectors, most of the rest of manufacturing job, retail sales persons...
posted by [insert clever name here] at 8:11 AM on July 12, 2013


I'm really starting to believe the most vocal opponents to giving "something for nothing" are those that would themselves do nothing if it were an option.

I believe that with something like a guaranteed minimum income or citizen's basic income, there might be some kind of cultural Renaissance, because given the freedom to dial back on the "day jobs" people would choose to write, paint, make music, garden, and other creative pursuits. Not all of it would be good art or music or whatever, but people would be having fun and doing something personally fulfilling. And others could enjoy it as well (download music, buy paintings or just get them as gifts, etc).

I also think that people would spend a lot of their time volunteering, as well. People like to volunteer for causes they believe in, and if more of us had more time to devote to charity/volunteering it would be A Good Thing.

I've wondered the same as [insert clever name here] if those who protest the loudest about freeloaders are the ones who would choose to freeload when given the chance. Perhaps they know they have no inner life and, if they had their druthers, would rather watch TV and eat Cheetos for hours on end. More power to them, if that's what really makes them happy.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:12 AM on July 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't think energy is going to be the problem we think it is. Oil is cheap, but alternatives have been steadily dropping in price and will likely continue to do so. Moreso if we have a shortage.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 8:14 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wash Jones: this is complicated.

First, many of the advocates of a Basic Income think we should keep taxes at their current levels. If you do the maths (see this again) you can get some kind of basic income without increasing tax rates at all.

Other advocates of a Basic Income would like to raise taxes and make the income more generous

Now, the suggestion in the article that "we could start by getting corporations to pay their taxes" isn't amazingly convincing.

The standard right-wing economists line on taxing corporations is that it's really just a tax on consumers. Their view is that a corporation that starts paying taxes will have to raise its prices to pay for those taxes. The consumers who pay these higher prices are the ones paying these taxes. So, corporation tax is really just a sales tax.

(That argument of course depends on an over-simplified economic model in which corporations don't make any profits, because perfect competition drives all profit margins to zero. In reality, some of the new tax money will be taken from investors as well.)

However, there's a fair amount of truth to it. Corporations are ultimately owned by people, and sell to people. If you increase taxes on corporations, ultimately the money has to come from actual people in the end. (Even if the corporation is owned by another corporation which is owned by a hedge fund which is owned by a bank which is owned by an umbrella corporation: somewhere at the end of the chain are people).

People often seem to think that a Basic Income must increase the total amount of money around, or the total amount of production around. But every dollar going into the basic income, has to be taken from someone else in the end. It redistributes that money more evenly: a billionaire might lose a million dollars, each dollar going to one of a million individuals. But the total amount of money around doesn't change. Instead of a billionaire buying a yacht for a million dollars, a million people buy a one dollar can of beans instead.

So, there's no reason to think that a Basic Income should change the total amount of production, or alter the rate of inflation. Total money, total consumption, total production are neither increasing nor decreasing.

(Of course, there might be shifts within consumption. If tax rates on the rich are increased, as some but not all of the Basic Income advocates want, there might be less demand for yachts, more for beans).
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:17 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Historically, It is safer and cheaper for the Rich to placate the masses

When cable TV is mandated to be given away for $0 to keep people off the street, errr to provide education per an executive order, you'll know that history has arrived.

we have to power all of these machines. With what? Fossil fuels?

The upper body wattage of a human is under 75 watt output. The legs - 200 watts. 1 $250 solar panel has the wattage work output of a man as long as the sun shines.

With the costs of labor associated with a human (healthcare et al) why wouldn't the people be replaced? Powering a built machine is far cheaper than providing resources for a Human being.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:28 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


So, there's no reason to think that a Basic Income should change the total amount of production, or alter the rate of inflation. Total money, total consumption, total production are neither increasing nor decreasing.

Wouldn't those on a basic income circulate their money and thus stimulate more production while those with billions tend to sit on their cash, engage in speculative bubbles, buy and hold unused assets and so on? One big part of our current economic malaise is that many big corporations are just sitting on massive cash reserves because they rightly recognize that there are limited investment opportunities as wealth concentrates into fewer and fewer hands.

Someone with $15K a year isn't going to hang a $60 milliion picasso on their wall.
posted by srboisvert at 8:35 AM on July 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


yup, those damned poor. They spend every penny they get within six blocks of home. How dare they undermine the world's economy?
posted by philip-random at 8:37 AM on July 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I really like what you say, R. Schlock. I would just add that along with a physical programme, there should be an intellectual programme. Through reading, we should be creating our own dream school with all the greatest teachers that mankind has ever produced.
posted by No Robots at 8:42 AM on July 12, 2013


TheophileEscargot, your last couple of paragraphs rest on the assumption that money is neutral. I'd say that the last few years have put that claim into serious doubt, regardless of the theoretical underpinnings.
posted by PMdixon at 8:46 AM on July 12, 2013


Wouldn't those on a basic income circulate their money and thus stimulate more production while those with billions tend to sit on their cash, engage in speculative bubbles, buy and hold unused assets and so on? One big part of our current economic malaise is that many big corporations are just sitting on massive cash reserves because they rightly recognize that there are limited investment opportunities as wealth concentrates into fewer and fewer hands.

This is at least partly the question of the velocity of money through the economy. The higher the velocity, the faster money circulates. There is a theory that if money circulates rapidly, the dynamism of the economy as a whole will dramatically increase. One famous example of attempting to engineer rapid circulation is the Worgl experiment, where a town in Austria issued its own currency which had to be spent within a certain fixed period - a sort of 'best before' date for money.

There is a long history of economists - not just Russell - speculating about what life would be like if we could dramatically increase our productive powers. Keynes wrote in "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren" in 1930 that:

for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem-how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.

Sigh. One day, maybe.

Incidentally, Kellogg & Co. tried shorter, six-hour working days in the 1930s and they worked out quite well for everyone concerned:

Inspired by reports that a six-hour shift increased productivity at an English soap company, Kellogg Co. founder W.K. Kellogg changed cereal-plant production schedules from three eight-hour shifts to four six-hour shifts in 1930. The initiative, championed by company president Lewis Brown, let the Battle Creek, Mich., company hire 300 workers who'd been put out of work in the Great Depression. Kellogg's existing workforce took a slight pay cut.

The company found that the shorter workday influenced employees to work harder and more efficiently. The results included drastic reductions in overhead costs, labor costs, and the number of work-related accidents. Unit cost of production "is so lowered we can afford to pay as much for six hours as we formerly paid for eight," Kellogg boasted in a newspaper in 1935.

Improvement was even more dramatic outside the factory, in the town of Battle Creek. "For the first time they had real leisure," writes Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt, professor of leisure arts at the University of Iowa, in his book, Kellogg's Six-Hour Day (Temple University Press, 1996). Parents spent more time with their children, in the neighborhood, and at libraries. Women gardened, canned, sewed, and made ice cream; men played baseball and softball, hunted, and farmed... it wasn't till 1985, more than 50 years after the program's inception, that the last 530 workers gave up their six-hour shifts at the plant.
[from here]
posted by lucien_reeve at 8:53 AM on July 12, 2013 [16 favorites]


SAY BUDDY CAN YOU SPARE A DIME?
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 9:30 AM on July 12, 2013


That's another spectacular point with the loss of jobs. A lot of middle class salary jobs are no longer 40 hours a week. A minimum of 45 hours is the norm, and often times, much more is expected. Hours are now 8 to 5, lunches optional. Sure, some nights you might get out on time, but that doesn't make up for the other nights of working late or working from home. Unfortunately the answer to more work from businesses is usually work more hours, not hire more people. If you're in any kind of professional capacity, you're generally expected to keep your phone handy "in case of emergencies" and probably are taking work home at least some of the time. The problem of course is that many salaried positions are that was because of outdated notions regarding the type of jobs people do.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 9:38 AM on July 12, 2013


Wal-Mart killed more middle class jobs than the Internet ever could.

A Wal-Mart employee is worth 1/3 of an Amazon employee, in terms of gross corporate revenue (using numbers from Wikipedia). Wal-Mart is a company which was built with a 1990s technology backbone, tracking, shipping, but still retail. Amazon forgoes retail entirely.

Going pure Internet seems to be worth roughly two fewer for every three Wal-Mart retail jobs. That may not be worse than what Wal-Mart did to traditional retail, but it still looks pretty bad to me.
posted by bonehead at 10:08 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's another spectacular point with the loss of jobs. A lot of middle class salary jobs are no longer 40 hours a week. A minimum of 45 hours is the norm, and often times, much more is expected.

Yes. This is going on, and getting worse and worse as companies get rid of people, and just distribute their work load to other people.

And it's a horrible idea for any sane business. Productivity research has shown, again and again, that people working longer hours only gets more done in the short term. 8 hours was considered the sweet spot for manufacturing (though lucien_reeve above pointed out that 6 was successful when tried out), and office/creative work's sweet spot is likely even fewer hours.

Those long hours people are putting in aren't getting more work done. And even worse, when people push even further - like "crunch times" in software - people can actually start moving backwards, making more mistakes and bad decisions that will need to be reversed. It's been said that Apple's MacIntosh, which was made by a team that was so proud of their long hours that they all had shirts bragging about working 80-90 hours a week, would likely have been ready one year earlier, had the team just worked 40 hours a week.

It's as if all the knowledge about this, which companies knew decades ago, has been forgotten, and they're actively trying not to learn it.

I know I'm of the opinion that the exemptions that so many white collar workers have around overtime pay should be eliminated. If a business wants to make their office workers do more than 40 hours a week, they should be paying them for it. It would probably make things better for both businesses and workers in one fell swoop.

(And then move to 32 or 30 hour work weeks)
posted by evilangela at 10:16 AM on July 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


"This is at least partly the question of the velocity of money through the economy. The higher the velocity, the faster money circulates."

Worth noting that the "velocity of money" functions as a sort of frequency. It's sort of like how the speed of individual electrons in a wire isn't that large, but lots of tiny movements together means the light goes on almost the instant you hit the wall switch.

So it's arguably better to have a large number of people with fluid money moving small volumes very frequently than very few, but large, bursts of cash movement.
posted by Eideteker at 10:25 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's also of note that the very wealthy don't spend money -- they have, in fact, run out of things to spend it on. There's no more stocks, land, long-term investments, futures, or other places where they can spend their money on stuff without causing massive bubbles, inflation, or other negative effects, so most corporations and extremely wealthy people are sitting on billions of dollars. Which, in today's economy, means they're just bits on a financial server somewhere -- there isn't near enough physical currency to even remotely cover their cash holdings. So the next million that some already wealth executive makes doesn't go to buy a new yacht, the profits earned by that multinational doesn't go to new equipment, it sits in an account somewhere as a line item on a spreadsheet. Tax that same million and turn it over to social services, the dreaded entitlement programs, or other income for the 99%, and it'll get spent. Greed says no, fear that inflation will destroy the economy says no, and fear that some undeserving hated underclass might get some benefit from it says no.
posted by Blackanvil at 10:34 AM on July 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


More industries will feel the pain, including the legal professions, real estate, insurance, accounting, and the civil service, all of which are built on inefficiency, and all of which will be stripped of jobs in the years to come.

I don't think I understand what's being said here. How are these "built on inefficiency"? How are law and accounting and insurance going to be de-monetized by the internet? The other examples he cites were often issues of access and distribution. I'm not clear on how blogs and piracy will help people issue insurance or mount a competent defense in court.
posted by Hoopo at 10:36 AM on July 12, 2013


Coopers are merely carpenters, now that the horse-drawn buggy has gone tits up. Farriers are still doing well. The market for shipwrights has dwindled, and their slots are filled with the likes of welders. Job replacement isn't a major problem.

The issue, to my mind, is the capillary nature of our version of capitalism. Economic inequity is required, and the net movement of wealth is upward. Only the top of the economic pyramid can gain assets in any meaningful way. The rest of us accumulate goods. Assets increase in value as they become scarce, goods decrease in value as they become scarce. Those who work, by in large, produce goods. Our wages are tied to the market for goods, but it's a ratchet: our wages don't fluctuate with the price of goods. When the goods increase in price we lose spending power. When the goods decrease in price, we get laid off because the business can't afford to pay us. The problem isn't that people become wealthy, it's that the very wealthy require exploitation at a certain level. (Our service economy contributes heavily to the capillary pressure, but at its heart it's only one of the tools.) The peonage is expected to move up economically as they become educated, but then a new peonage must take their place. This aspect reflects a vestigial colonial mentality. Modern capitalists are refining it, broadening it, so that it encompasses not just the lower economic strata, but every one except the very rich. As always, the higher rungs in the economic ladder are used as the running dogs, because someone has to dangle the carrot for the rest of us. If we have our dreams, then our failures reflect our own unworthiness, not tenets of the system. Our laws reflect it: we are, heretics, or even criminals who dissent.

This is a fairly broad-brush sketch of how I see this. One thing is clear to me, though. Gene Roddenberry's universe is possible, but only after we reconstruct our paradigm, so that it's no longer possible to gain power by the accumulation of wealth.

There. I said it, and I'm glad.

I like the notion that we are shifting to an information culture. I hope it's true. After John Connors defeats the machine, we all can peacefully await the advent of the warp drive, and go where no one has gone before. Meanwhile, it's business as usual.
posted by mule98J at 10:42 AM on July 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


One of the lessons of the ACA is that a lot of companies are perfectly willing to make do with less hours per employee if that means cheating them out of benefits. Healthcare being tied to employment is a huge hurdle in the way of this - lose benefits if you shorten your hours, or find your employer wringing every last drop of your free time out of you because you're over the threshold and get health insurance and damnit, they're going to make you pay for every cent one way or the other.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:53 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, what happens when the creators of the technology are, themselves, replaced by the technology? Is that when the revolution finally begins?
posted by Thorzdad at 10:54 AM on July 12, 2013


I mean, a lot of the more complex jobs aren't going to see humans replaced until the Singularity, amirite?
posted by Mooseli at 12:32 PM on July 12, 2013


[insert clever name here]: "I'm also amazed at the argument that people will stop working just because their most basic needs of food and shelter are met. What kind of insanity is that? I'm sure some would. But most people will want more. It's the same reason most people don't work at the lowest paying job and stop. Because a) they want more money and b) they find work rewarding. .............


That argument is pretty much the conservative argument within acquaintances and extended family, on why government assistance should be cut. 'They won't want to work if they already have their own place to live, food to eat, free (cellular) telephone, and medicaid.' and 'Many in the ghetto culture do not have any ambition to improve their lives so they will just sit around and cause trouble if they get any money."

Interestingly, nearly all of those conservatives are ost of those people who say that do not know anyone who currently is poor and realize that it's a lot difficult



But here is the thing.. I'm okay with that. Why not? If they're content with just a roof over their head and food to stay alive, good for them. It might make sense to get those people out of the work force. It certainly makes sense to get people that hate their jobs into another field, rather than working poorly at a job they hate.


Some of my friends and acquaintances believe that they don't deserve benefits if they are healthy and able to work, or reply back with the line: "why should they get benefits and not work while I have to bust my ass while going to work"

I sometimes respond to that by stating that if it looks so good, why don't you quit working which usually shuts them up and/or replies back by saying that they (the conservative) don't want to live next to them (those who receiving govt assistance) or in the ghetto, and/or they want to have luxuries, take vacations.
posted by fizzix at 2:09 PM on July 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


"As it becomes clear to those with established positions that there are no jobs for their children, they’ll push for a more radical solution."

The 'B' Ark?
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:09 PM on July 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


As it becomes clear to those with established positions that there are no jobs for their children, they’ll push for a more radical solution.

More prisons to house their children's competitors?
posted by Thorzdad at 4:26 PM on July 12, 2013


Well, for a long time before the singularity, we're going to pass through a period where some people have 'full-time' work, and others do not. As a society, we haven't really made our peace with that yet.
posted by newdaddy at 5:13 PM on July 12, 2013


The 'B' Ark?

But then who will sanitize my telephone?!
posted by dialetheia at 5:25 PM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I need one of these depression inducing stories a week, blue. I'm serious. One a week. Helps me keep it real.
posted by Halogenhat at 5:27 PM on July 12, 2013


Well, for a long time before the singularity, we're going to pass through a period where some people have 'full-time' work, and others do not. As a society, we haven't really made our peace with that yet.

Nor have we made peace with the concept that global warming may mean we can't grow food like we used to, either because climate change won't allow plants to grow in the spaces we have allowed for such things, or because all the pollinators are going to die off.

There are factors in play which have nothing to do with all this economic shifting stuff which are much bigger than anything anyone could imagine.
posted by hippybear at 6:23 PM on July 12, 2013


Ah crap: goods decrease in value as they become scarce.

I meant to say that goods decrease in value when they are abundant. And vice versa. Our wages don't follow the graph, so we get screwed either on the inflationary end, or on the end where we get laid off because the bottom dropped out of widget production.

Assets are pretty much immune to the more jittery parts of the curve, but tend to increase in value according to factors that aren't so strictly related to their availability, except that rarity enhances their value. Ah crap again. I wanted to be brief.

Getting off the grid used to be fairly simple, although it required some generalisms of the Heinleinian variety: you had to be able to write a proposal, shoe a horse, tend a garden, and shoot invaders. Nowadays the space required for generalists is becoming increasingly more rare, and, probably, it's already inhabited by the sons and daughters of folks that bought fallout shelters back in the 1950s, and they are willing to let you try to pry their weapons from their cold dead fingers, if you can, when you come sniveling around their compounds begging for food after the (X) happens.

The hippies had the notion of off the grid communes that treaded lightly on the land, and produced a significant portion of their needs themselves. Okay, the ideal seemed nice. Somehow puka shells, arty wax candle production and bumper crops of Kona Gold didn't work out as well as it might have, but, hey, it was a good try. As you can see, this paradise went to Silicone Valley for modification, and their kids and grandkids settled for iPhones. Fine. But don't say you weren't warned.
posted by mule98J at 6:42 PM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Think of the things 7 billions humans will accomplish when they are healthy, educated and have a little free time.

Perhaps they already have.... /s
posted by MikeKD at 7:34 PM on July 12, 2013


The hippies had the notion of off the grid communes that treaded lightly on the land, and produced a significant portion of their needs themselves. Okay, the ideal seemed nice. Somehow puka shells, arty wax candle production and bumper crops of Kona Gold didn't work out as well as it might have, but, hey, it was a good try.

There are actually fully functional hippie communes who live off the land and fulfill most of their needs on their own. And your painting of them in this light shows your ignorance. Yes, there were MANY more failed attempts than successes, but doing the full-on prairie homesteader survival thing is indeed possible, as it was for many who were actual prairie homesteaders back when we were homesteading the prairie. There are trade-offs, and finding supplies of things you can't produce yourself (cloth, sugar, metal items, glass) can be very difficult. But people lived on the prairie just fine in the 1800s, and there are people living very simply and sustaining their lives without much need for modern economy right now, on this planet, in this country, maybe even in your state. You just don't notice them, because, well, you're sitting here typing into a computer.
posted by hippybear at 8:01 PM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's a testament to the basic goodness of the American People and their faith in the rule of law that no captain of industry or rentier has been dragged out of their corner office and hung from the nearest lamppost. I don't expect this will hold true indefinitely.

It is rather depressing that a nearly 40 year-old movie is still so relevant though. Thank God for strong drink.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:18 PM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a testament to the basic goodness of the American People and their faith in the rule of law...

It's more a testament to our various opiates of the masses and how effective they are. Our entire population is enjoying their Stockholm Syndrome comfortably, and we've pretty much destroyed traditions and ideologies that might have once been effective tools of popular opposition.
posted by Miko at 7:50 AM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not clear on how blogs and piracy will help people issue insurance or mount a competent defense in court.

For real estate and insurance, I would imagine cutting out the sales people (agents) in those industries and just have people purchase directly from a centralized website. For accounting, maybe the Big Four would farm out some of their work overseas? I have no idea for Law.
posted by FJT at 10:44 AM on July 13, 2013


Yeah, law has the attorney-client relationship baked in to the profession in a way that you can't really get around. I mean, you can present a ton of basic, accessible legal knowledge online to help people get a good grounding in their situations - basic roadmaps to navigate the legal system to deal with your situation, what kind of questions you should be asking, etc - but anything deeper is going to run up against a wall of IANYL disclaimers and lawyers unwilling to risk the liability of online, informal attorney-client relationsips. And it just feels like the client would have a really hard time with trust in something so impersonal. Plus you'll still want to work with a lawyer directly to verify that stuff you think you know and to represent you anyways, at the end of the day. That and the jurisdictional stuff is a huge obstacle in the way of centralizing legal professions.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:25 PM on July 13, 2013


There are actually fully functional hippie communes who live off the land and fulfill most of their needs on their own. And your painting of them in this light shows your ignorance.

Yeah, them was the days all right. It wasn't, and isn't, easy attempting to live off the grid, and it's vanishingly rare, the community that has any kind of long-term success. I don't begrudge these people their piece of paradise. I also don't romanticize it. In my neck of the woods, the area fondly know as the state of Jefferson, off-the-grid and hard-scrabble communities still exist. A large contingent of peripheral free souls inhabit various flavors of dwellings in the Siskiyous and environs, especially around Ashland. It warms my old cockles when I go to the theatres in Ashland and rub elbows with superannuated hippies, venerable hippies-turned new-agers, and a couple other flavors of free spirits who defy categorization: we all get by with a little help from our friends, and the cultures run from the obvious (hanging around the university) to the obscure (living on the other side of the river, miles from the nearest bridge).

Anyhow, they may have found a bit of their own acreage, but they still use certain of the grid's facilities. In their more pure form they are pretty much invisible, or let's say, indistinguishable, from the student posers and earnest buskars looking for the gentler options to naked capitalism.

Around this strip, from sounthern Oregon to a ways down into California, they are a non-homogenous bunch, and range from the very well-read renaissance people (who can write literate proposals, build houses and repair machinery) to the gentle, mellow stoners who tend their small fields: truck crops and a little weed. Some live in synergetic villes, a few huts, some actually live in apartment flats (usually well-kept Edwardian types) in town. Their mix depends on the luck of the draw. Some clusters have people working as food servers, or at the food co-op, or they teach Tai Chi or Yoga, or calligraphy, or music: for filthy lucre, no less. The isolated community that doesn't extend its economy onto the grid is, as I say, vanishingly rare.

One fellow I know husbands 400 acres in the foothills. He cuts trees under the supervision of the a BLM agent, calls himself a husband of the land. He has an Alaska Mill, which he uses to make lumber for his carpenter associates, in trade for their labor, and whatever. He puts up wine in ten-gallon bottles, about twenty of them each year--strawberry, blueberry, huckleberry wine, if you please--and his yearly everclear parties are a legend. He drives a Toyota. His wife, a diminutive lass, can use the elephant hook effectively on 20-foot logs, 18 inches in diameter, to get them to the loading pawls on the mill, and she can buck rounds like a timberjack. Their compound is a thing of beauty, and their house--they built it with the help of the Alaska Mill and a few carpenter friends--is a thing of elegance and grace. A truck generator uses a small stream for electric power, and a couple of solar panels on their greenhouse keeps their batteries charged.

All of these folks, except for maybe a certain type of poser, and some of the ignorant hard-scrabble folks, live good lives, and their children are lovely. They don't affect the overall economy. They don't represent the paradigm: Pax Americana, show me the money.

Please don't try to characterize my ignorance until you've actually had the opportunity to plumb its true depths.
posted by mule98J at 11:26 PM on July 13, 2013


fwiw, here's some stuff...

on living wages: on basic income: on a jobs guarantee: speaking of which... also btw keep in mind that a lot of this stuff is being proposed now because of failing monetary policy in boosting 'aggregate demand' ("these policies may not benefit the non-financial economy much, but they are helpful to the financial services sector and those who work in it") so while monetary policymakers are trying to get more creative (and macroprudential) there are limits to what central banks can accomplish; in response, many are returning to fiscal policy (despite widespread belief it's been hijacked...)

oh and india is actually going ahead with direct cash transfers; i think it's an 'experiment' worth watching: also btw...
-Young and educated with a dead-beat job in Europe
-Young and educated with a dead-beat job in Japan
-Young and educated with a dead-beat job in the US
-Just Released: Are Recent College Graduates Finding Good Jobs?
-I get what you get in ten years, in two days
-Inequality: The 1 percent needs better defenders
-Economic inequality: Market forces and appeals to fairness
-Rents and Returns: A Sketch of a Model (Very Wonkish)
-Friday Musings on Profits, Production, Trade, and Inequality
-Who Killed Equality?
-Our Broken Social Contract
-Want To Reduce the National Debt? Find More Workers
-We Don't Need More Capital. We Need More Labor Income.
-Wage deflation charts of the day
-Economic Inequality Is Not An Accident, It Was Created
We can't have a prosperous economy without a strong and prosperous middle class. Inequality can be fixed. So, let's fix it.

inequality.is, a new interactive site from the Economic Policy Institute, explains the causes of and solutions to income inequality.
on that note... This assumes the state survives. I think it's pretty damned clear that "the state" is living on borrowed time, as power shifts to globalized financial and corporate entities.

Apparent strength conceals instability in a model for the collapse of historical states - "Contrary to intuition, a state is predicted to be least stable when its leadership is at the height of its political power and thus most able to exert its influence through external warfare, lavish expense or autocratic decree." fwiw...
posted by kliuless at 12:12 AM on July 14, 2013 [25 favorites]


What the hell, man? You could personally run one of those essay-writing services by yourself with those chops
posted by Hoopo at 8:12 PM on July 17, 2013


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