Monday, August 18, 2014

Automation and Jobs

Now that all the robots have been trained and are being trained to build our stuff for us, what’s next? What age are we entering?

I kind of want to complain at this point that economists are kind of useless when it comes to questions like this. I mean, aren’t they in charge of understanding the economy? Shouldn’t they have the answer here? I don’t think they have explained it if they do.

Instead, I’m pretty much left considering various science fiction plots I’ve heard about and read about over the years. And my conclusion is that we’re entering “the age of service.”

The age of service is a kind of pyramid scheme where rich people employ individuals to service them in various ways, and then those people are paid well so they can hire slightly less rich people to service them, and so on. But of course for this particular pyramid to work out, the rich have to be SUPER rich and they have to pay their servants very well indeed for the trickle down to work out. Either that or there has to be a wealth transfer some other way.

So, as with all theories of the future, we can talk about how this is already happening.

I noticed this recent Bloomberg View article about how rich people don’t have normal doctors like you and me. They just pay out of pocket for super expensive service outside the realm of insurance. This is not new but it’s expanding.

Here’s another example of the future of jobs, which I should applaud because at least someone has a  job but instead just kind of annoys me. Namely, the increasing frequency where I try to make a coffee date with someone (outside of professional meetings) and I have to arrange it with their personal assistant. I feel like, when it comes to social meetings, if you have time to be social, you have time to arrange your social calendar. But again, it’s the future of work here and I guess it’s all good.

More generally: there will be lots of jobs helping out old people and sick people. I get that, especially as the demographics tilt towards old people. But the mathematician in me can’t help but wonder, who will take care of the old people who used to be taking care of the old people? I mean, they by definition don’t have lots of extra cash floating around because they were at the bottom of the pyramid as younger workers.
The future of work (Mathbabe)
From a latest article in PressTV:

“Did you know that there are nearly 102 million working age Americans that do not have a job right now? And 20 percent of all families in the United States do not have a single member that is employed. So how in the world can the government claim that the unemployment rate has “dropped” to '6.3 percent'?”

“Well, it all comes down to how you define who is 'unemployed'. For example, last month the government moved another 988,000 Americans into the 'not in the labor force' category.”

102(!) million working age Americans that do not have a job right now? 20%(!) of all families in the US do not have a single member that is employed? Do you find these numbers exaggerated? Maybe not, if you read the following story by the "eye-witness" Yanis Varoufakis.

What is going on in front of our eyes?

Yanis Varoufakis in his article "What if the capital of future doesn't need us?", describes what he saw in Austin-Texas and what that means:

“While I was watching from my window in Austin-Texas, I saw a big cloud of dust deep in horizon. Two days ago, I was walking in that area and I was surprised by the view of the big factory where bulldozers and machines were continuously working, producing the dust. From the front side of the building under construction it was obvious that (fortunately) they were not building a new trade center or apartment blocks. No, it was a big industrial center.”

“Although I didn't notice it the first time, after a few seconds I realised that something was missing from this factory: people! Specifically, I counted three. All of them were wearing helmets and protection suits and were located in a small office in a space outside with a few computers, while they were covered by a tent like those used by the army. Ten bulldozers, three cranes and more or less ten moving tools, at least from what I could see, were moving without drivers, operators, workers generally.”

“When I returned to my office, I went straight to find a colleague who knows well what's going on. He informed me that the workplace I saw, was the new factory of Apple to produce MacBook Pro. It was true that, it was constructed through almost complete automatization. The materials had been selected through a way with which, the automatic machines - therefore robots connected to eachother through a local wireless network (intranet) - to be able to construct without human interference - even the hydraulic structure of the building will be constructed by plumpers-robots. A factory that under normal conditions should employ thousands of workers is functioning with the presence of less than one hundred souls...”  
 How long a society could tolerate an unemployment rate of 30% - 50% without uprising that could bring an "instability" to the system? When unemployment rate for the young people has reached 60%? When pensions and wages have been cut? How much the unemployment benefit should be cut in order to allow people to survive and consume without uprising? How many could be left totally helpless without any kind of social benefit? How much the mainstream media propaganda affects people in order to stay scared inside their homes without uprising?

The new nightmarish facts in Greek experiment could be proved quite useful for the big companies that hyper-automatize production and seek to remove the human labor costs.
Already happens: Capitalism destroys human labor force and goes to the next phase (the unbalanced evolution of homo sapiens)

Robots make up for China's manual labor shortages (Want China Times) To solve the problem of chronic labor shortages and soaring labor costs, manufacturers in the Pearl River Delta in southern China are lining their production belts with robots and lining the pockets of the robotics industry with explosive growth, reports the Chinese-language Economic Daily. Labor 'shortages' in a nation of over a billion people !!?

Utopian Robotics (Naked Capitalism)


Let’s Get Rid of Wage Labor (Filip Spagnoli) I’m serious: make it illegal. But not before we have a universal basic income. A UBI will encourage self-employed or cooperative ventures freely chosen by those who engage in it. In the absence of a UBI, many of us have a job not because the activities associated with the job allow us to pursue our goals, but because the job comes with a salary and because this salary can buy the necessities of life. We then either pursue our goals during our leisure time, or convince ourselves that the goals of our jobs are somehow also our own goals (the burger-flipper telling himself that “making kids happy is all I want”)...
Voltaire once said that “work saves a man from three great evils: boredom, vice and need.” Many people endorse this sentiment. Indeed, the ability to seek and secure paid employment is often viewed as an essential part of a well-lived life. Those who do not work are reminded of the fact. They are said to be missing out on a valuable and fulfilling human experience. The sentiment is so pervasive that some of the foundational documents of international human rights law — including the UN Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR Art. 23) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR Art. 6) — recognise and enshrine the “right to work”.

But what about the right not to work? Although the UDHR and ICESCR both recognise the right to rest and leisure, they do so clearly in the context of a concern about overwork. In other words, they recognise the right to work under fair and reasonable conditions. They do not take the more radical step of recognising a right to opt out of work completely, nor to have that right protected by the state. But maybe they should? Maybe the right not to work is something that a just and humane society should recognise?

That, at any rate, is the argument developed by Andrew Levine in his article “Fairness to Idleness: Is there a right not to work?”. In this post, I want to take a look at that argument. In broad outline, Levine defends the claim that a right not to work is entailed by the fundamental principles of liberal egalitarianism (of a roughly Rawlsian type). He does so, not because he himself endorses liberal egalitarianism, but because he wishes to highlight the more radical implications of that view.
Should we have a right not to work? (Institute for ethics and emerging technologies)

Universal Basic Income: A Thought Experiment (The Conversable Economist)

Universal Basic Income: Something We Can All Agree on? (Pacific Standard)

The Pragmatic Libertarian Case for a Basic Income Doesn't Add Up (Rortybomb)

Basic Income is good because it's basic (Noahpinion)

The Robot Economy and the Crisis of Capitalism: Why We Need Universal Basic Income (Religion and Ethics)
The idea that humans are meant to work 40 hours a week is a relatively recent innovation. During the Industrial Revolution, factory workdays stretched anywhere from 10 to 16 hours. The eight-hour-day movement came about in reaction to those conditions in the early 19th century. In 1817, the Welsh social reformer Robert Owen was calling for "Eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest." By 1886, the U.S. Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions declared that eight hours constituted a legal day's labor.

Yet for all our innovations, workers may have actually been better off in pre-industrial times, when they already knew how to structure a sustainable, lighter work schedule without the help of robots. In her book The Overworked American, Juliet B. Schor explains: "Before capitalism, most people did not work very long hours at all. The tempo of life was slow, even leisurely; the pace of work relaxed." Medieval labor was broken up multiple times a day for meals and refreshments. A full "day of work" constituted only "half a day," Schor writes. In 14th-century England, servile laborers worked only 175 days out of the year, and farmers and miners just 180. Even with these schedules, they were able to sustain themselves.

So why don't we aim for something like this now, cutting down our commitments instead of dreaming up machines that will enable us to labor better instead of less? The problem is systemic, as Marx suggested in his 1867 Capital: "Capital is dead labor, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks." The more labor we produce, the more demand for labor we drive.

Wadhwa and Summers' dream of a robot-run utopia is not a new one, of course. It's a myth that exists in the Jetsons and in Pixar's Wall-E, which increasingly resembles a cautionary, rather than fairy, tale. In 1960, the Japanese architectural critic and poet Noboru Kawazoe sketched his similar vision: "Soon the time will come that everything will be done by machine. The only thing we have to do will be dreaming." That time hasn't arrived, but we can certainly dream.
Don't expect a robot utopia to spare you from working in the future  (The Week)

Robert Litan: As Tech Advances, Big Business Will Reap the Benefits (Next New Deal)

1 comment:

  1. Jobs are so over.

    But the interesting thing is this: are we headed into feudalism, where most people toil in the food biz, or will the food biz remain relatively automated, with much fuel that remains directed thataway? I simply cannot picture the millions of people who are unemployed, older, often overweight, often ill, no country skills or coping skills whatsover, toiling in the fiieds. Much simpler to wipe them out, and reserve what the machines provide for those who can cope and be of use. Not to even mention the environmental benefits a la Genghis Khan. Anyone willing to tackle this one?

    Enter bioengineered ebola... or?


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