Friday, May 22, 2015

Automation/Basic Income Roundup

There's been a flurry of stories and videos about automation over the past few months, more than I can keep up with. Some of that is prompted by the release of Martin Ford's new book adding to the growing drumbeat that yes, automation is slowing job growth, and no, the amount of paid work is not infinite. In fact, sometimes I wish I were on Twitter because I came up with a tweetable that I think sums up the situation perfectly:

"There are plenty of jobs; there are not enough paychecks."

Feel free to use it if you like (credited here, please :)

We are ignoring the new machine age at our peril (The Guardian)
There will be lots of technical argument about the methodology and the algorithms used in the Oxford study, but there’s little doubt that the main thrust of the research is accurate: lots of non-routine, cognitive, white-collar as well as blue-collar jobs are going to be eliminated in the next two decades and we need to be planning for that contingency now.

We won’t, of course, for two reasons. The first is that our politicians pay no attention to anything with a time-horizon longer than the five-year electoral cycle. The second is our innate inability to handle nonlinear change. “We’ve always been able to absorb mechanisation and automation in the past” will be the response to the challenge of the technology. “Automation has always created more jobs than it destroyed.” And so on.

All of which was true in the past, when innovation was incremental and society had time to absorb and respond to the shock of the new. Combinatorial innovation is a different kettle of fish, because it feeds on itself and grows exponentially. Given that we’re bound to lose this race against the machine, isn’t it time we began thinking of how we might harness it to improve the quality of our lives, rather than merely enrich the corporations that own it?
What If Everybody Didn't Have to Work to Get Paid? (The Atlantic)

UBI Caritas (the best things in life are free) (EconoSpeak)

‘Rise of the Robots’ and ‘Shadow Work’ (Barbara Ehrenreich, New York Times)

Self-driving cars could be serious job-killers (Treehugger)

Video: Technology and Jobs: Should Workers Worry? (Economists View)

Robot sentences to ponder (Marginal Revolution)

The Machines Are Coming (New York Times)

Q: When automation replaces many jobs, as it surely will, how should the jobless spend their time? (Aeon Ideas)

Work makes Fritos (MaxSpeak)

Estimating the impact of robots on productivity and employment (Vox EU)

The robots aren’t threatening your job (Washington Post)

Robots vs. the Underclass (John Judis, National Journal)

US$154 billion rise of the robots planned for Pearl River Delta manufacturing (South China Morning Post)

Americans Can't Stand Their Bosses, and Bosses Admit They're Phoning it in (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Unemployment Report Shows Labor Force Drop Outs At Record High (Economic Populist)

The End of Meaningless Jobs is a Win For Us All (Reddit)

Is the internet killing middle class jobs? (The Week)

Productivity, Robots, China, Growth (Mish Shedlock)

5 white-collar jobs robots already have taken (Fortune)

"Jobs, automation, Engels’ pause and the limits of history" (EconoSpeak & FT Alphaville) Good historical article that points out something often forgotten - that the early industrial revolution actually lowered living standards and made most people worse off for almost a generation

Tip: Use Open in New Private/Incognito Window for NYTimes posts.


  1. I've always found this whole argument about the rise of the machines laughable, especially when you consider that we are in the death throws of the planet! We are running out of resources and ruining the environment in the process! Even if China does become the next empire, obtaining resources will be almost like squeezing blood from a stone! We Yanks did a pretty good job licking this planet clean, with a little help from our western friends!

  2. That's pretty much what I was gonna say: I'm not too worried about further automation because a combination of resource depletion, climate change and other environmental crises, and the fact that the ruling class is in one of its periodic fits of insanity where it demands the whole pie and the economy teeters,--and the response is to set up a police state to deal with the expected revolt--ensure that this civilization has very little time left. We're not going to replace farmers driving tractors with robots driving tractors--we're going to replace them with teams of peasants wielding hoes.

  3. That may be so in the long run. However, as long as "human resources" expect/need to be able to own and operate cars (not to mention houses, etc.), robots will be cheaper. It's going to be awhile before people en masse are going to be willing to live in medieval conditions, and before fuel for machines is more expensive than unruly neo-peasants and the guards to keep them in line. Privatized prisons will probably be the first to "innovate" in that area, provided we don't find a way to steer a course away from a death-spiral of Musical Chairs Disaster Capitalism.

    A relevant link: Self-Driving Trucks are Going to Hit Us Like a Human-Driven Truck. Self-driving trucks are going to gut a major source of middle-class incomes (trucking jobs) within the next decade or so, and destroy the economies of everything dependent on trucker salaries (e.g. truck stop towns), unless a Basic Income is adopted.

    Might be a good time for all those small-town Real 'Murikans to stop voting for "Core of the Conservative Mindset" policies, eh?


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