, recently installed
, lays out a future
) where the returns to capital
keep increasing relative to labor
: "What do we people do to add value?
- We apply large amounts of energy to move things around and transform them.
- We use fine manipulators to do precision work as we move things around and transform them.
- We amuse, please, and encourage each other.
- We figure out how the large amounts of energy are to be applied, and trigger the application.
- We figure out how the precision work is to be done, and trigger the manipulation.
- We coordinate our collective efforts so that we are mostly pulling in more-or-less the same direction.
- We communicate to others both what is going on and better ways of doing useful things.
- We think of new (and hopefully better) ways of doing useful things, or new useful things to do...
"But technology marches on
... So what's left for humans?
- Those parts of (3) that cannot or that we prefer not to have automated: live coaches, live performers, live companions--call this (3b)
- (6) in the form of all of the paper-shuffling to keep track of what we are all doing, what we are each allowed to do, and what we should do next--an economy of clerks, call this (6a).
- (6) in the form of actual planning--all this (6b).
- (7)--education, journalism, and marketing, but this too is breaking apart into a (7a) that can be automated by information and communications technologies and a (7b) that still requires high-human cognition.
- (8)--research and development.
"So right now we live in a world in which some people still do (1)-(5), but only (3b) is in any sense a potential growth sector for employment, and in which (6)-(8) (plus 3b) are what we do. And now (6a) is about to vanish into the automated info sphere as well, possibly accompanied by (7a).
"That will leave us with personal services--(3b)--actual planning and control--(6b)--elite education/journalism/marketing--(7b)--and (8), research and development
, as things that humans can do in the future to add value. Our society will then be enormously rich: our collective and average productivity will be awesome. But the society will only be a good society if we can figure out how to employ each other in high-value (3b) activities--only if we find ways to organize life so that most of us can actually add a lot of value by amusing, pleasing, and encouraging others will we have a society of mutual respect, and of only tolerable inequality."
: "We are moving forward into a world in which we are going to have to figure out a better way to share out of the common store."
It may be
: "Society could set a basic income
that rises with economy-wide productivity, and as workers' potential earnings fall below that reservation level they cease working. An alternative (or maybe complementary) policy might be to encourage broader ownership
of capital, either as part of standard labour compensation or in lieu of some other income subsidy."
But for 'distributed capitalism
' to happen, it could take a decidedly socialist
turn; "Technologies must exist which permit cooperative modes
of production... Here, though, it is quite possible to argue that we are moving in this direction, in (at least) two ways:
- The decline of mass production and rise of more human capital-intensive businesses means that traditional capitalism with external shareholders and top-down hierarchies is no longer technically efficient. A classic paper (pdf) by Luigi Zingales discusses this in non-Marxian terms.
- The internet is facilitating cooperation at the expense of traditional capitalism. We see this most clearly in the way the media and music industries are suffering, but we could add P2P lending too.
"Sure, these are small beer now. But they might grow. The socialist revolution
might take as long
as the industrial revolution."
And so, sure enough, this seems to be happening: The Rise of Invisible Work
...as farming became more efficient, people who once were farmers found other things to do instead (conveniently right around the same time as a massive expansion in secondary education)...
The sharing economy, however, is not exactly like economic disruptions that came before it. More complex technology typically demands more complex skills. And, in the past, major technological change in the economy has been accompanied by a shift toward higher-skilled work. Initially, there’s a shortage of those high-skilled people. Their wages go up, while wages go down for the people who are steeped in the old technology.
The sharing economy is fundamentally premised on new technology, and it's creating new jobs exactly like this for the developers and programmers on the back end of Etsy’s platform or SideCar’s app. But that’s not the most interesting part of this story.
“eBay’s impact hasn’t been on the thousands of tech jobs it created for eBay,” Sundararajan says, “but on the hundreds of thousands of sellers it created.”
That’s where the real economic impact here lies, and it’s not actually clear if all of those people – Uber drivers, Etsy sellers, Airbnb hosts – need more complex skills than what was required of them a decade ago.
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