Secondary conclusion: As long as manufacturing productivity continues to improve, increasing our manufacturing may lead to American prosperity, but it won't save the economy, in that it won't produce jobs.
Long-term, I've actually not been concerned about American manufacturing for a while now. Why is overseas manufacturing cheap? Primarily, cheap labor. When does that cease to be an advantage? When labor is no longer a significant cost in manufacturing. We're getting there pretty quickly, and IMHO robotics has only recently (i.e., last two or three years) taken off, which should be able to continue the increased-productivity-per-human trend for a while yet.
Bad time to become an assembly line worker. Good time to get into robotics for manufacturing, probably.
I had a contract job in a tool & die facility a couple of years ago. It wasn't a factory, it was a "build-to-order" facility that had a wide variety of equipment in various places and they needed better tracking of their jobs and such. I didn't mention this to anyone, but I was struck by how much work was being done that could be automated in the near future. Tens of jobs dedicated solely to moving things around, which robots are going to be able to take over in the 5 year timeframe. Another tens of jobs that involve placing a metal part just so in a press and pushing two buttons (two so you have to use both hands). QA can't be replaced with robots entirely, but it could be helped. The bulk of the people on the floor were not doing things that required human judgment, even for human-class vision or human-class pathfinding. The future is basically now.
We get richer as labour gets more automated and cheaper. So it’s not a bad thing. It shouldn’t be.
The big problem is that we don’t have work for bigger and bigger parts of the population. They are poor not because society as a whole got poorer, they are poor because they don’t have anything the labour market wants because it can be had cheaper now.
I think it’s about time we recognize that. We have to make it possible for everyone to live ok lives, even without having a job. We are rich enough. We didn’t get any poorer as a whole. We should be able to afford that.
How to do that is anyone’s guess (I’m betting on some sort of ‘basic income’), but it’s about time to start. We can’t think about work and earning money with our 19th and 20th century goggles on.
We gotta be really careful about how we do it. Were I single and not willingly in the scenario where I am going the extra mile to have and provide for a family (that best-case scenario for society), I might very well decide to just take your "basic income" and call it a day, but if society is going to have that "basic income" it's only going to happen if people like you and me and anybody else hanging around on HN don't rationally choose to take the option, if given. (I hate to pander to the audience, but the HN community really is set up around being a community of producers, so I'm not just trying to pander here.) And forcing me to work to provide for those others, the easiest obvious answer, would be slavery, full stop. There's enormous moral hazard in that idea. It also makes it very easy for a person born into a family who has chosen that option to not be around any person who can teach them the culture or the mental toolkit necessary to make the transition to producer, which would make "being poor" a one-way ticket for a family, on average. (Arguably a problem we already have in the inner cities, which in a way gets worse the more comfortable the "basic income" becomes.)
Mind you, I don't disagree. As a futurist looking out across the next thirty years I too see an increasing number of people who through essentially no fault of their own will basically have no marketable skills; they'll have skills, just not marketable ones. Somehow we've got to deal with it. But it's going to be enormously tricky; all the easy answers are wrong. All the politically acceptable answers both liberal and conservative are also wrong. I don't have a clue what the right answer is, either.
You would take, say, $1200 (a very high estimate) and call it a day? You can live, it doesn’t even have to be a bad life, but it’s not really all that much. I doubt many would find that to be enough. I wouldn’t. And I’m not even all that ambitious.
I think a basic income can create very strong incentives to make at least some additional money compared to traditional social security. There is no need to find a job that pays at least $1300 in order to make it worthwhile, for one (you get to keep your basic income no matter how much you make – minus taxes, so this is in a way not always true).
I would even think that something like a basic income is especially nice if you want to become self-employed.
(There would be higher taxes, probably much higher in the US, a little higher in Europe, but I – being one of those liberal Europeans – have no problem with that.)
I’m still kind of on the fence when it comes to basic income, though. I think finding the right way to do it (how to pay for it, how to organize it, what kinds of social security systems to slim down or abolish, etc. etc.) would be very hard indeed.
"You would take, say, $1200 (a very high estimate) and call it a day?"
$1200 what? You're missing a time element there. I assume "per month". I've lived on less than that before, with some comfort, and I was working, too! If I get to assume health care (not unreasonable in the world we're hypothesizing) and don't forget that I'm not working and I'm not worrying about working either, then yeah, that sounds like a pretty good deal for a single guy with no family.
And by the time we kick this into gear, society may well be able to afford more than that. We're not talking today's society (which already has unsustainable levels of social obligation), we're talking a 20-30 year minimum future society. Or at least I am, since I'm actually talking about the real possibility, not a hypothetical parallel universe where it exists today.
An important part of basic income, is a research effort on reducing the cost of basic living. with reduced costs , pressure on taxpayers would be reduced , which should help both politically and socially for the acceptance of this ideas.
Research is both DARPA level research , and investing money in 3rd world r&d and commercial efforts, since low cost technologies are bound to come from there.
Just as an example, The cost of an high rise apartment could be reduced to $8000(excluding land) using container building techniques.This shows a path of really cheap rent for really basic housing.
(My comment was written from a German vantage point where the unemployed have to jump through tons of degrading hoops and everything is set up in a way which expects them to pick up work again sooner or later. I don’t know much about social security in the US, so I won’t comment on that.)
That partisan think-tank study is pretty laughable. Since when is quality of life judged by appliance ownership? I don't have healthcare, a proper education, job skills, and my neighborhood is dangerous but hey at least I've got AC and this wonderful color TV!
I echo that sentiment. To share another testimonial, I work in a vaccine manufacturing facility with control systems and robotics. The only reason biologics manufacturing facilities haven't been built overseas with the same zeal as other factories is the stringent requirements by the FDA, MHRA, etc. on manufacturing facilities that use live cultures. Many of the technician jobs are similarly dedicated to pushing carts and transferring components to the robots for processing. Because of the reduced efficiency of old drug discovery methods, many of these jobs are taken by college educated science majors who are finding that jobs in drug discovery research are quickly dwindling.
However, I disagree with the idea that robots are going to be able to take over in a five year timeframe.
I agree with you that the capabilities for robotics to do these tasks exist. "The future is already here - it is just unevenly distributed." I doubt however whether large manufacturing companies would be willing to shoulder the huge investments needed to develop robotics for these applications even in a healthy financial climate. Maybe this type of development could come from a company that proposes to do consulting work for manufacturing facilities, for example, Honeywell.
Additionally, I've seen that while companies see automation as an asset in pharmaceutical manufacturing, they also view it as a huge liability, as a single automation error can lead to enormous problems that take time to detect and can have huge costs, while human error generally leads to small mistakes that can be corrected and detected easily. Not sure how it is in other manufacturing subindustries.
"However, I disagree with the idea that robots are going to be able to take over in a five year timeframe."
That's not quite what I said. I specifically meant that robots will be able to take over the task of moving things around in the five-year timeframe. That is, the guys moving bins of things from here to there. We've already seen warehouses adopting this technology with a fairly high degree of sophistication today, so it's not really a far-out prediction. I'm not predicting that something that doesn't exist will be created, I'm predicting that something that does exist will be commercialized to the point it will become irresistible.
Remember, even if the robots are initially expensive, to replace an employee for a year opens up about $50,000 in capital to play with, assuming a low-paid employee + insurance (yours, not the employee's) + overhead, give or take $20,000. $50,000 is becoming a lot of robot.
Completely taking over in five years, no, definitely not. Certainly not in the facility I saw. But the long-term job trend will be clear in five years.
I guess we both agree on the long term trend and at this point, that's all that really matters.
But the task of creating highly reliable industrial robots is really quite difficult and quite a bit more expensive than $50,000. We have 12 robots in our facility and the field testing and applications testing process for a similar facility elsewhere is taking approximately 2 years and counting. This doesn't include the entire development and specification process of developing the robots as well as the control systems. Each robotic system is upwards of $5,000,000.
A lot of this cost comes from the additional points of failure. Large systems are prone to failures due to small, cascading errors. This necessitates a larger testing and development period.
This is different I'm sure for other industries however. The cost of a failure is exponentially greater in pharmaceutical manufacturing as compared to other forms of manufacturing. Its possible that costs could be much lower in other industries where the cost of a failure is reduced.
To me it is interesting to attempt to guess the winners in such a scenario (where robots for a lot of tasks are cheaper than asian unskilled workers). Could it be that countries like Dubai would become manufacturing centers? Some advantages for it as opposed to China/India would be: less corruption, no taxes, flexible and business friendly regulations in general and cheap energy.