Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Automation Linkfest

I'm glad I finally got off that last topic. Now I can start unloading all the links I've built up.

America Has Hit “Peak Jobs” (TechCrunch)

Automation Anxiety (Wilson Quarterly)
Life magazine held up an example in 1963, showing a picture of a device called the Milwaukee-Matic, an innovative industrial machining tool, surrounded by the 18 workers it could replace. “There are 180 Milwaukee-Matics in operation in the U.S., and a union official in a plant in which it was installed reported: ‘There is now no need for 40 percent of our toolmakers, 50 percent of our machine operators. Without a shorter work week, 60 percent of our members will be out of a job.’”
I've never heard of the Milwaukee-Matic and I've lived here all my life. At least I have a name for my rock band or fantasy football team.

Wealth, Not Robots, Makes Us Lazy (Overcoming Bias)

Low pay and the rise of the machines (Tim Harford, The Undercover Economist)

*The Second Machine Age* (Marginal Revolution)

From the comments (Marginal Revolution)
Another way to look at the effect of mechanization is to look at how it affected the other living employees of farmers. The U.S. horse population peaked at 26.5 million in 1915. It declined rapidly after that, hitting a low of just over 3 million in 1960. While it is about 9 million now, that’s because of increased ownership as pets.

I’m not saying humans will be destroyed like horses, but it raises some questions about the ease of transition.
And see: Machines Replacing Humans: They Shoot Horses, Don’t They (Asymptosis) Why I've talked about the "Final Solution" for the working class. Why do you think House Republicans are defunding food stamps - lack of money? And see: The Demise of the Horse and Mule Era and the Rise of the Automobile and Tractor Era (HayWard Econ Blog). Apparently, we used all that land for suburbia.

Eliezer Yudkowsky asks about automation (Marginal Revolution)

(Tyler, have you read that?)

I don’t actually get Brynjolfsson and McAfee. I read the original book and it seemed very unoriginal and not to address at all the basic question of “Why did Ricardian reemployment work fine when agricultural jobs went from 95% to 3%, work fine when automobiles put the whole horse-and-buggy industry out of existence, work fine when women entered the workforce during WWII, and then suddenly stop working?”
Part of the reply is interesting, especially in light of what we've been discussing (that progress really started in 1870):
Think of the machines of the industrial revolution as getting underway sometime in the 1770s or 1780s.  The big wage gains for British workers don’t really come until the 1840s.  Depending on your exact starting point, that is over fifty years of labor market problems from automation.
 So, anyhow, robots… Robots are increasing in numbers and it is indeed very possible that, within the next 25 to 35 years, there will be more robots than people. And the story will play out mostly as Kevin Drum describes it.

With one major exception: Capital owners will NOT be happy. Sure, at present, every individual company is happy to automate away its workers. That reduces the labour cost, one of the biggest expense item for most businesses. The only tiny whiny little problem is that one’s company labour cost is another’s revenue. So far, I think that a lot of big companies are doing exceedingly well, profit margin wise, because they’re capitalising on inertia – the fact that Westerners are, overall and all things considered, quite rich and that most of them have paying jobs (Even a 20% real unemployment or underemployment rate means that, conversely, 80% of the population is still employed). But both things are the result of long gone policies and social structures. When the process kick-started 30 years ago will reach its climax, I have a serious problem in figuring out who will buy all the goods those robots will produce.

And, if nobody is buying and if purchasing power, instead of ‘just’ stagnating, actually goes in reverse, well, I suspect being an owner of capital will feel pretty useless. Sure, you’ll have all those robots and factories and commercial real estate. And it will all be sitting there, doing nothing/little for lack of customers… What will be the point?

But it’s not like there are no historical parallel to the situation. The Romans had much the same problem. Except that, in their case, it was slave labour that had taken all the work, in the farms and the workshops, much to the initial satisfaction of the great aristocratic families. However, these families soon found out that the normal Roman free citizens were not happy about the situation and, from then on, Roman political life revolved around figuring out how to keep the Roman mob (the plebs) content enough for them not to riot or rise up.

One of the solutions they had to this problem was the original ‘dole’ – A free distribution of grain, at the state’s expense - the ‘bread’ in Juvenal’s famous quip about ‘bread and circuses’.

Eventually, this ‘solution’ proved too expensive for the state but one suspect that the tax rate applied to the rich land-owning aristocrats might have had something to do with it, once pillaging neighbouring countries or civilisations became impossible. Plus ca change…
Report Suggests Nearly Half of U.S. Jobs Are Vulnerable to Computerization (MIT Technology Review).
A recent report (which is not online, but summarized here) from the Oxford Martin School’s Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology attempts to quantify the extent of that threat. It concludes that 45 percent of American jobs are at high risk of being taken by computers within the next two decades.

The authors believe this takeover will happen in two stages. First, computers will start replacing people in especially vulnerable fields like transportation/logistics, production labor, and administrative support. Jobs in services, sales, and construction may also be lost in this first stage. Then, the rate of replacement will slow down due to bottlenecks in harder-to-automate fields such engineering. This “technological plateau” will be followed by a second wave of computerization, dependent upon the development of good artificial intelligence. This could next put jobs in management, science and engineering, and the arts at risk.
But I'm sure we'll create new jobs we can't even imagine for half the workforce, right? Right???

Robots May Revolutionize China’s Electronics Manufacturing (Wall Street Journal)

U.S. Textile Plants Return, With Floors Largely Empty of People (New York Times)
Take Parkdale: The mill here produces 2.5 million pounds of yarn a week with about 140 workers. In 1980, that production level would have required more than 2,000 people.
That's 1,860 new "takers" or "water drinkers" or whatever the preferred Libertarian term is these days. I hear Cracker Barrel is hiring. Better hurry, illegal immigration is rising again. They may want to think twice, though:

US farmers using robots instead of migrants to milk cows (BBC) As one dairy farmer put it: "I have yet to have the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) question the Green Card of a robot."

Empty F-16 jet tested by Boeing and US Air Force (BBC) Boeing has revealed that it has retrofitted retired fighter jets to turn them into drones. That should get rid of all those pesky useless eaters!
Wealth, Not Robots, Makes Us Lazy

1 comment:

  1. Well, if "each according to his/her need" held, then robots could be used to give stuff away. But that would mean the end of capitalism, right? ;-)


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