Enclosure (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enclosure) is suspiciously never mentioned whenever the Luddites are invoked. It's not as simple as "technology took muh job, rar!" -- it's more like "hey, this common land that used to belong to all of us has been forcibly taken away and given to this guy with a factory who now gets to be super productive and take away our livelihoods, but he doesn't have to share any of the increased wealth he now enjoys."
Technology undoubtedly increases productivity and wealth. The question is, WHO gets to own that wealth and what gives them a right to it.
There is a lot of very murky history to land ownership in Scotland - one of the reasons I'm so pleased with the "right to roam" that we have now as well as Scottish Government policies favouring community land ownership.
Suffice to say, early industrialization was abysmal for the workers, who really had no choice but to take whatever bad deals they were given. Corporal punishments were used to inflict respect and security didn't exist.
So Luddites were bascially revolts, and in several ways a precursor to the worker's movement that came later. It nearly escalated into civil war (at one point more soldiers were occupied with fighting Luddites than Napoleon). Leaders were tortured and killed.
In propaganda, they were bascically pictured as lazy and/or against technology itself, which carried over to the modern meaning of the word. Well worth a read.
Never mind that it may well be that early factory products were of poorer quality, and potentially harder to repair, than the stuff made rurally.
After all, when you make something for your own use, you put effort into it in the hopes you don't have to do it again any time soon.
This is especially condescending before the creation of unemployment insurance and the welfare state. You can't feed your family with without your job.
Those ease the pain, ultimately a democratic economy is needed so technology cuts the amount of work we all have to do.
However, the micro level version of the fallacy is, I think, not a fallacy at all, but very much true and can be disastrous for a great many individuals: “Labour-saving technologies increase unemployment among people with my qualifications by reducing demand for labour for people with my qualifications.” (The consequence may not be unemployment. The affected people more or less only qualify for jobs where no qualifications are necessary, probably leading to unemployment for some, a reduction in income for others.)
Put another way, while the labour market in general may be left intact, the effect on specific individuals may be disastrous. In that context luddites smashing up machines may be entirely rational for them personally, because even though the industrial revolution lifted large swathes of humanity out of poverty (eventually), along the way many individuals had to suffer greatly and it didn’t get better for them personally until they died. Maybe it got better for their kids or grandkids.
That’s one reason why thinking about macro level effects is not enough (but there may also be better solutions than smashing up machines, i.e. it may well be possible to get the positive macro level effects over longer time scales while also, through other means, reducing or eliminating poverty or suffering on a micro level).
What bothers me about this sort of discussion, though, is the assumption that we need to work. I want technology to do my job for me, so I can focus on fun stuff. But for that to work, we should change our economic system so we don't need to work, or at least not as much.
What technology has really done, is not so much take away people's jobs, but make capital investment an increasingly large part of productivity, leading all the profits of this increased productivity to end up with the small elite that controls the capital. Look at how much wealth inequality has grown over the past 100 years, particularly in the US.
Keynes predicted in the 1930s that due to increased productivity, we'd all have to work a lot less than we're currently doing. He's wrong because the benefits of our increased productivity are not distributed equally.
In short: we need a basic income. Or something else to ensure that everybody benefits from this.
Agree on the basic income (in general, I'm not sure about the details). Jobs so far have been a convenient and pragmatic (not necessarily fair) way to both create and distribute wealth. At the same time, we should note that popular alternatives like communism or socialism have failed rather badly.
I'm sorry, did you actually make an argument? All I could find was some un-supported assertions.
Once a ditch digging machine was created, the machine outcompeted humans in that niche, humans were still by far better generalists. A better way of looking at this would probably be systems biology. Machines started as the corollary of a specialist lifeform. More and more they are evolving into a generalist lifeform. As they become more generalist they will directly compete with a larger population of the humans. This will push more people into specialist roles in society. Any specialist lifeform runs the risk of extinction if the environment it depends on is significantly altered or disappears.
The strange thing is that is well understood in biology, but for some reason when we apply it to people we think it doesn't work that way. Most people are limited in their ability to significantly retask. If you think you'll take a bunch of 50 year old accountants and turn them into (good) computer techs for the 15 years before their retirement, I would guess it won't go so well. As the rate of change increases because of technology this becomes a bigger and bigger problem as specialisation takes time to achieve and by the time you become well learned the entire field you are in could be automated.
It's an assertion that I happen to agree with, but not because of this article.
In any case, if you agree with the assertion, what would be your argument for it?
Your comment does make sense, but "we are losing the edge" does not automatically mean that we'll ever be completely defeated. And even a small victory is good enough to avoid a crisis, because of Jevon's paradox (that's also not a paradox).
To argue that we are headed to a crisis where humans won't be able to compete with capital, one needs evidence supporting that there'll be absolutely no economical activity where humans will outcompete machines (at least for a reasonably big share of the humans).
I do think that'll happen because there's no feature of a human that a good enough machine could not emulate, and machines are inherently cheaper (because we are "wasteful" from a production perspective), but my argument is fundamentally a repeat of materialism, for what the only possible evidence is the lack of evidence of the alternatives.
Also, the timing is iffy, there's little evidence that we'll have that crisis soon (there's little evidence either way, but it mostly points into a crisis soon). I happen to think we will because our current machines started to do lots of tasks that we learned that were very hard at the last AI explosion. But there's no guarantee that there aren't even harder tasks, that we just didn't try yet. Also, our computers are approaching the same capacity that people estimate that our brains have. But those estimations have lots of assumptions, that could easily be wrong.
Do you have any convincing reasons to believe that?
- Human hardware is fairly fixed (unless we go the cyborg route) whereas robot hardware (at least the computation part) evolves roughy exponentially and I don't see reasons for that to stop.
- As robot behaviour evolves (whether through deliberate design, genetic algorithms, or other types of learning) improvements can be replicated quickly and approximately for free. Improvements to human behaviours is notoriously hard, expensive, and time-consuming to replicate.
- We can rewrite many of our wealth creation recipes to make use of more specialised robots instead of flexible humans, which means robots won't need to get close to general AI before this has significant effects on jobs.
- We are starting to see robots perform the most sophisticated human skills: visual recognition, acting on and producing language, and decision making under uncertainty. Granted, robots don't do most of these things very well yet compared with humans, but I don't see fundamental reasons for why the development will stop short of human abilities.
- Robots can work 24/7, won't go on vacation, won't quit on you, don't play political games with the other robots, won't sue you, don't require food and bathrooms, and they'll make fewer mistakes.
- If you're mostly questioning the timing, I don't have a particularly good answer, but given how I understand the state of things I believe we're talking low single-digit decades rather than centuries for a significant proportion of people to look around and not find a job they could do better than a robot for a liveable wage (without government subsidies). If you disagree on the timescale I think we'd need to have a detailed discussion about how we understand technological developments and the jobs people do. You may well be able to convince me that I'm off on the timing.
Instead of taking wealth from the smaller number of humans who are creating that wealth and giving it to those who are not, why don't we just accept that we don't need so many of us any more? Let the extras die off naturally (note to angry skimmers: I SAID NATURALLY) and migrate to a new lower-population equilibrium. There have been a lot of explanations offered for why the world's more advanced economies have been seeing lower birth rates for decades, but one rarely reads the most obvious one: people are having fewer children because fewer humans are needed. This isn't a problem to be solved, it's a boon to future generations.
While some resources are created through economic activity driven by humans, others (most notably land, in the form of space between neighbors who desire it, frontiers, the economic viability of wilderness conservation, and of course land for economic purposes) are fixed. If fewer humans can create just as much of the variable stuff while leaving more of the fixed stuff for each one, how is that not better for all? The vast majority of humans, if not literally every last one, will be much wealthier. And that's even before we consider the fundamental unfairness of redistribution, or the waste associated with the political and bureaucratic machines it entails.
Instead of thinking about how to redistribute the dividends from automation, we should be making sure we won't have to. In a given environment, every species has an optimal population. If we alter our environment such that fewer humans can produce the same amount of wealth as more humans, that optimal population has decreased. We need to accept that and adjust to it, not fight it with gimmickry and theft. If (and it's a big if) automation is really going to put billions of people out of productive work, then the only sustainable answer to that is fewer people. Embrace it.
Because in practice that doesn't work: natural population growth is inversely correlated with the strength of social safety nets; if you want to negative natural population growth to move toward a lower population, you need more, not less, redistributive policies by which those who profit the most from the structure of society support those who don't to get there.
If you want to get to a "lower population equilibrium" and avoid taxing those at the top more to achieve it "naturally", you aren't going to be able to be that passive about it.
While I do believe that smaller populations may be more desirable, the logical conclusion of your line of thinking would be that once we automate everything, then humans should naturally bow out to their technological creations.
Well, I also noted that it wouldn't occur, so... ok?
> For whom is it optimal to have a human population of zero?
While this is moot given the above, the sad reality is "probably most species other than humans". But that really wasn't the point here at all. Even if an ecosystem is a zero-sum game and the success (or anything less than total extinction) of humans means the failure of something else, that's not a reason to voluntarily go extinct. Nor did I say otherwise. The point isn't there should be zero humans but rather that there's probably a need for far fewer than 8 billion, and that not only would every individual human be better off if there were fewer, humanity as a whole would likely be better off, too. The fact that most other species would have a much better chance of survival in a world with a few million humans than with tens of billions is a great bonus, and one that also adds value to those humans' lives, but was not really the main point.
Because we value people's lives and happiness, so "You're unemployed now, please die quietly" is actually only slightly less unacceptable than "You're unemployed now, we'll take you out behind the chemical sheds and shoot you." It's the misery and death we take chief issue with, and only a little the violence.
> And that's even before we consider the fundamental unfairness of redistribution
You mean the fundamental unfairness of forcibly giving over the vast majority of the Earth's spoils to a tiny minority who don't care about anyone but themselves? Because if you don't, we disagree on the definition of "unfairness".
> If (and it's a big if) automation is really going to put billions of people out of productive work, then the only sustainable answer to that is fewer people. Embrace it.
We can stabilize the population for ecological purposes just fine while keeping the non-parents happy and healthy for their entire natural lives (or even well beyond that).
(a) A producer, whose entire production is taken from him or her by force of arms and given to others, or
(b) A consumer, who does nothing and contributes nothing but lives off the work of others, and
in either case one lives in a horribly crowded, polluted, sweltering world, then we will have to agree to disagree. I'm not even sure which of (a) or (b) would be worse, but I know I'd choose suicide if those were the other options.
Enough people want to leave a biological legacy, so halving population each generation seems optimistic. (yes, many people don't want children at all, but many that do also want their child to benefit from having a sibling. I will assume these numbers cancel out.)
So it will take centuries to get down to the "low millions" range, even longer if lifespan extension pans out.
Automation, meanwhile, is already happening, and the current wave is more likely to be felt in a span of decades rather than centuries. Unless you count "starving in the streets" as a "natural die off", redistribution is going to be needed regardless.
So why is it suddenly unfair to suggest redistribution?
Why are the deaths of billions of people somehow more just than a redistribution of wealth accumulated through centuries of ruthlessness?
> The vast majority of humans, if not literally every last one, will be much wealthier.
What makes you think that there would be any wealth made available for those who are not owners of wealth producing businesses? This is a serious question, because it is the same problem your solution is trying to fix.
> We need to accept that and adjust to it, not fight it with gimmickry and theft
Or we can recognize that the current state of affairs was brought upon by years of gimmickry and theft by a slim margin of people against the whole. If you rely on trading your time for money, you are not part of that slim margin.
Honest question: where do you think you'd be in this situation? On the side of vast wealth holders who will welcome you with open arms into their enclaves where a multibillion dollar net worth is required? Or rotting with the rest of us who rely on programming a computer to pay the bills?
This reads like an earnest Modest Proposal and efficiency porn mashup.
Or we could do what's worked reasonably well at keeping people from dying in the streets and enact social programs through taxes.
Wealth accumulation to the extreme that it is today wouldn't be possible if not for the centuries of intentional enclosure of land, subsequent displacement of people, violence against workers looking for just compensation/treatment and political/legal/economic disenfranchisement of organized labor. This still happens today in the form of Right To Work legislation and in less luxurious industries and places.
Yet anything that can be couched as "redistribution" is deemed wrong and unfair.
It seems like something like the Fair Tax, where legal citizens get a stipend every month to offset the sales tax against basic needs, that came with a slightly higher stipend to make it more like a basic income, would have the net effect of make low cost labor more affordable and those jobs more viable. It would basically have the effect of doubling minimum wage WITHOUT passing the costs along to the businesses and making labor more expensive.
Just makes you wonder if we wouldn't be better off finding ways to repatriate the jobs that exist than to worry about the ones that are continually more automated.
As production automation increases, fewer humans are required, and the cost of transportation becomes more important. Also, as the standard of living in these distant countries increases so does the cost of labor, further tilting the scale. So, we are seeing Mexico become a much bigger source of manufacturing for the U.S. recently.
As manufacturing continues to automate and costs decrease further, we may see manufacturing move back to the U.S. However for the same reason it won't be bringing any notable amount of jobs with it.
As for political solutions, in the U.S. at least, labor has quite simply lost. With a few exceptions such as the larger government employee unions there is no money and no bargaining power on the labor side and we can only expect the scales to keep tilting further in capital's favor. We'd need to see something that caused a really huge demand for local, unskilled labor in the next few years to have any chance of this happening before all labor is automated out of existence.
Think of a society/civilization spending people. Oh, we can automate much of agriculture? Great; we don't have to spend 90% of our people on growing food. Now we can spend them on factory jobs, and our society becomes better off. Now we don't have to spend so many people in factories? That's a good thing, too - we can spend those people on more productive things. Again, our society will become better off.
There are a couple of ways this could not work out, though. First, there is the social unrest that can happen in the time of transition. Second, we can lose one kind of jobs before we figure out what the new kind is, and so leave a lot of people idle. Third, we could eventually create jobs that are beyond our ability to train the bulk of people to be able to do them.
We'd need to see changes in human nature or society to ensure that misplaced labor can still have a quality of life if idle, because profit optimization says you won't see a cent if I don't have to give it to you.
[Edit] Spotted this after reading the article:
"Technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed, says 140 years of data"
"Past results are not indicative of future performance"
We can't compare the last 200 years of human to the past 20,000.
For example 66 million years ago the dinosaurs had already lived around 140 million years. In another million they would be dead because of exceptional conditions. Everyday in which we live in modern society is an exception condition based upon both the rate of change in human knowledge and rate of change in the environment.
As to your first statement. If I own the machines why should I keep you, that are now unnecessary, alive and instead live in super luxury with a few million people on the planet.
Hint: they are the same people who own your employers, buildings and machines that currently let you do your job
I say this as a somewhat-former libertarian, and partly out of libertarian sentiment. The totalitarian state that would have to be put in place to enforce widespread poverty in a post-employment era would be significantly less libertarian than the alternative. I imagine something that looks like a cyberpunk noir horror film with drones and scanners and gates everywhere. Since humans do possess empathy, the (few) rich would have to be surveilled and policed as much as the poor; your wealth would be absolutely conditional upon your support of the system. Ultimately the situation is unsustainable and would collapse and probably lead to something even more totalitarian.
Many suburban yards are large enough to grow plenty of food, and the food you grow yourself can vastly outperform anything you buy in terms of taste because you no longer have to be restricted to eating varieties that travel well.
But back in terms of wealth, owning land still remains important as it makes the above possible.
No need to worry about it in our lifetime.
Bought cheap stuff from Walmart so middle class manufacturing jobs were sent overseas? Refused to get a STEM education so we're required to import 100,000 engineers ever year? Didn't develop a better immigration plan so now we have 11 million undocumented people, many who will work for far less because life is better here. That'll keep wages down.
Professionals are routinely wrong about predicting economic trends. Random teenage kids from average high schools should not be expected to be better than, say, the Fed chairman in this regard.
But you're not, right?
There isn't an ounce of uncertainty in any of your comments despite the fact that you make several outlandish claims about the future.
"It's always turned out that way in the past" is a poor argument IMO.
The world isn't binary. Disagreeing with you doesn't automatically mean I believe "well, in the past it happened that way so it must continue to happen that way."
My only point is that you should be applying the same litmus test to yourself that you're applying to everyone else. You're balking at the certainty of others seemingly without acknowledging that you're suffering from precisely the same flaw in your communication.
This is what a post-scarcity society in denial looks like.
The reason cities like SF and NYC and London already look like this is because they are the vanguard of the future. If present trends continue a house in rural Kentucky will be as unaffordable relative to average wages as one in SOMA. All that cheap money has to go somewhere, so if labor is deflating it must go into assets.
In-deflation is "deflation of labor and the products of labor, and inflation in assets, consumable resources, and essential services like health care and education." It's been the condition in the USA and to some extent Europe since 2008. It's today's equivalent of stagflation in the 70s, something else economists did not think (at the time) was possible and did not understand. Some are starting to get it, which is why you see some starting to talk about inflation in areas like housing separate from inflation in the rest of the economy. In-deflation is not visible in traditional aggregate inflation indices because deflating manufactured goods and labor are grouped with inflating assets and essential goods/services and the two cancel.
So far this has been driven mostly by outsourcing, not automation. When automation really kicks in with good AI, it's game over. There will be universal basic income or blood in the streets.
The basic dichotomy of industrialization is that the workers of one factory is the customers of another.