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Unnecessariat (morecrows.wordpress.com)
383 points by thenobsta on May 24, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 238 comments

I'm reminded of Jimmy Carter's "Malaise" speech:

The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years. Two-thirds of our people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.

As you know, there is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.

Everything he listed has gotten worse, not better. Both local communities and our institutions have fragmented, crumbled, or turned, at least in part, cynically exploitative (see: degree mills, asset forfeiture, Creflo Dollar, myriad regulations enabling rent-seeking and hindering free enterprise).

Because HN and tech world chatter is my background noise, I think about Universal Basic Income, though I don't know much more about it than a definition. It seems to me the "winners" in the current game can provide assistance and some level of comfort in a more expansive and efficient way than the degrading system in place today. But they can't provide meaning. Neither can the institutions Carter listed, alone. At minimum, an earned trust in all or most of them is a foundation on which secure footing can be had to build a life, a family, a community. But I don't know how we get there from here. It sure doesn't seem that either party is steering that way, or that our current media is capable of engaging with the situation without driving 10 different outrage-optimized wedges through it.

The civic and moral fabric of the nation is not an election-winning topic, as Carter found out.

You were right until your last sentence. Reagan made the nation feel that its civic and moral fabric was strong. Nevermind that his policies undermined civil society and his religious backing was hypocritical of anything close to Christ's teachings on compassion, it made people feel strong and so it won him the election.

Trump's got the same thing with the specific brand of disempowered people that the article's talking about.

I have found people are frequently ready to kill one another to protect THEI specific brands of the disempowered of choice, often at the expense of the disempowered brand they despize.

The culture war is a great tool for dividing the disempowered and keeping economic issues off the table.

>Everything he listed has gotten worse, not better

Not productivity. It's roughly doubled. http://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-3/what-can-labor-producti...

The Luddites were right: all other things being equal (they aren't), more productivity means less jobs. Right now, not everyone can work full time, and it shows no sign of ever getting better: demand simply does not grow as fast as productivity.

This means lots of free time. The question is, how do we allocate it? There are only 2 ways to do it: have everyone work less, or have less people work at all. Really, this is a no-brainer. Yet somehow, we're still opting for unemployment (have less people work at all).

We can do better.

Unemployment is more efficient. It's not a choice between 20% unemployment and giving everyone 4 day work-weeks (20% work cut), it's a choice between 20% unemployment and 4.5 day work-weeks.

Training, communication, organization, and a dozen other things are per-worker costs which incentivize employing fewer people full-time. The only exceptions are regulatory distortions that incentivize part-time labor to avoid paying benefits. And those jobs only exist at the bottom of the pay scale (where flat healthcare costs dominate scaling efficiency costs), which is where full-time work is required to survive. It's not just foolishness, the current system is more efficient while being more devastating.

We can absolutely do better, but it's going to take a serious realignment.

When agricultural productivity went up people got different jobs and things got better unless you think all us coders should be out digging potatoes instead.

Unemployment through lack of demand is another issue and can happen with or without productivity changes. See for example Singapore with 2% unemployment and high productivity and say Mozambique with 60% unemployment and low productivity (figures from Wikipedia).

You're right. I was referring to the institutions he listed, but didn't make that clear.

I'm reminded of Jimmy Carter's "Malaise" speech:

Don't worry, there is someone here who promises to "Make America Great Again"

From the article: "We aren’t precarious, we’re unnecessary. The money has gone to the top. The wages have gone to the top. The recovery has gone to the top. And what’s worst of all, everybody who matters seems basically pretty okay with that."

That's it right there. We just don't need that many people to do all the stuff. Some of that is imports, but not all, or even most, of it.

Get behind the $15 minimum wage. Then the 8 hour day and 40 hour week.

Overtime is coming back to America, on December 1, 2016.[1] The threshold below which overtime must be paid rises from $455 to $913 per week. This affects about 4 million US workers. Goldman Sachs says this will add 100,000 jobs, as employers try to avoid paying time and a half for overtime.[2]

[1] https://www.dol.gov/whd/overtime/final2016/ [2] http://www.businessinsider.com/goldman-sachs-new-obama-overt...

You seem to have missed the point of the article. The $15 minimum wage will most likely help the precariat. This is a good thing. But it will do little if anything to help the unnecessariat.

> ... no matter how tenuous, the precariat had jobs. The new dying Americans, the ones killing themselves on purpose or with drugs, don’t. Don’t, won’t, and know it.

Overtime and wage increases are not going to help people who don't have jobs, and can't be trained for high paying jobs. UBI might help them, but might have some other unbeneficial social effects. And maybe if we invent Soma we could give people a safe way to escape a crushing reality.

But the gist here is that for a certain underclass, things are not improving, and no solutions are being offered. No one even cares that these people are dying, no community is organized around helping them. Nothing. It's bad enough to make one want to take heroin.

So vote Trump! If you can't save the world, better to watch it burn. Fire walk with me.

> But it will do little if anything to help the unnecessariat.

A higher minimum wage will most likely hurt the unnecessariat. One way to think of a $15 minimum wage is a prohibition on anyone who's labor is worth less than $15/hr from working. Not only will it make the current unecessariat's situation worse, it will likely expand it's ranks.

Elasticity in the US labor market is much closer to 0 than -1. Not only has this been studied, it's been studied enough that we can do pretty solid meta-studies to find bias is the studies:


I wouldn't advocate a jump straight to a $15 minimum wage because for sufficiently large MW jumps the elasticity has to start heading for -1 (and beyond -- that's just the break even point) and we only have good information for small changes. But for small changes the evidence is unambiguous. The traditional narrative taught in Econ 101 is an oversimplification.

It's not hard to figure out why: markets set the actual price of labor between the producer price (minimum people will work for) and consumer price (value to the employer) based on bargaining power. If employers are winning at the bargaining power game, wages will be close to the minimum. If employees are winning, wages will be close to the maximum. Only those earning wages already close to the maximum will be affected by a minimum wage increase. Since the unskilled labor market is flooded, approximately everyone is on the "minimum" side of the spectrum. Both theory and evidence say that small MW increases are boons to laborers under these conditions.

As machines advance and begin push humans out of the market, the maximum side of the spectrum will begin to drift downwards and impinge on all the people crunched up against the minimum side, squeezing them out of the market and into "unnecessariat" status. Minimum wage will become an ineffective tool at that point, just as you say. But we aren't there yet.

> Not only has this been studied, it's been studied enough that we can do pretty solid meta-studies to find bias is the studies.

The cited blog is by the CEPR, a leftist/progressive think-tank, this doesn't make their conclusion wrong, however, my reading of the graph present on the blog looks more like there is a negative elasticity, with respect to the demand for labor at higher wages, indicated by the meta-study. The graph looks like it might be as large as -0.1, suggesting that doubling of the minimum wage could have a noticeable negative impact on employment. Not all studies show that happening, but a greater number do.

Makes me wonder if we should eliminate the minimum wage altogether.

We should. And replace it with universal basic income.

Also: GP makes an excellent point, which I should have thought of myself.

Replacing minimum wage with UBI shifts employment subsidies to the same firms which are now pressing their workers to apply for welfare benefits whilst pocketing massive profits, including the wealthiest family in the US, the Waltons, of WalMart.

Another model is UBI and government as employer of last resort (or a equivalent strong labour movement). If there is an employer who can absorb all applicants at a minimum wage, then the market floor is pushed up.

Remember, a living wage is the minimum all-in cost of labour. If you're operating a business which cannot afford to pay a worker what they need to survive, you're not operating a business, you're operating a charity supported by your workforce (or social welfare systems).

If you can and fail to, you're simply pocketing profits from the public purse.

This is straight-up Adam Smith: "A man must always live by his work, and his wages must at least be sufficient to maintain him. They must even upon most occasions be somewhat more, otherwise it would be impossible for him to bring up a family, and the race of such workmen could not last beyond the first generation."


> Another model is UBI and government as employer of last resort (or a equivalent strong labour movement).

Exactly. It's amazing to me that people claim there just isn't enough work. There is more than enough work -- there's always some way to make the world a better place. And in the USA there are fairly obvious things, from social services (in the broadest sense) to mundane upkeep to large infrastructure improvements.

The problem is that there isn't enough work that's motivated by profit motive in the near-term.

> If you're operating a business which cannot afford to pay a worker what they need to survive, you're not operating a business, you're operating a charity supported by your workforce (or social welfare systems).

Likewise, if you are a working-age individual who is only capable of creating value at a rate less the minimum wage, you aren't looking for a job, you're looking for charity dressed up like a job. (That's fine as a social policy, but when that charity is expected to come private sources, it's a very unstable employer/employee relationship. The minute affordable automation comes along or the business revenues take a dip, such charity cases will be the first to be let go or have their hours cut, because they're fundamentally unprofitable in the normal condition.)

I'd strongly suggest reading Smith on that.

I'd also inquire as to:

1. Who or what the economy is supposed to be for, anyway.

2. What the situation is when it's not trivially possible to create increased value through exploitation of labour. That speaks to some problems with the production function.

3. The possibility of positive externalities and/or public goods (also of negative externalities and rent-seeking).

4. The relationships between wealth and political or negotiating power.

I'll give you a hint on that last. "Wealth, as Mr Hobbes says, is power." Smith again.

I have, years ago in college (Econ concentration and some justice/ethics courses to go with engineering major).

I am speaking on a micro-scale. Individual people with low skills and no capital. It's not at all clear to me that minimum wage laws and social safety nets with sharp claw-backs or cliffs (where money earned doesn't help at all or not much) help this class as a whole. Sure, minimum wage laws probably prop up many in the class who have jobs but harms those in the class who don't.

For me, I've run two small businesses and now am a happy employee. It's amazingly aggravating to deal with having employees and it's perfectly proper to me that my employer makes more profit on my labor than I take home. They should: they take all the risk that I'm a lemon employee and provide the structure whereby I can concentrate on where I can add vale and all the stuff I couldn't care less about (HR, Finance, Legal structure, IP, etc) they handle.

If I start a third company, it probably won't have any low-skill workers at all, certainly not if there's a min wage law that makes it uneconomical to hire them. On a micro scale, I'm deciding what's best for my company, not for the economy or for society.

Edit: I should also clarify that in my GP post that I was referring to the payment of minimum wage at a rate higher than the value creation as a form of "charity", not that all low-skilled work (paid at free market wages) is charity. One of the appealing aspects of most UBI proposals is the "U" in that they don't scale back benefits as punishment for gainful employment.

Is it better to employ a worker at 80% of a surviving wage, or on a wage only high enough to survive of if you are healthy and without children, or not to hire that person at all?

Also I think you can survive on minimum wage, but surviving just means not dying. A surviving wage would only have to be high enough to afford the worker a 9 squarefoot of decently heated dry room to sleep in, two sets of adequate but not nice or new clothing, a winter coat and sufficient caloric intake not to starve, as well as access to a place to urinate/deficate and, probably, the occasional shower. I don't think that is that costly, actually, but it is possible to survive at this level.

So personally I think we should aim a little bit higher than survival. I am not concerned with the differences between the poor and the rich - no person was ever fed because his neighbor is also poor, but with how the poorest are living.

That's a fair question, and again, I'd strongly suggest reading Smith. Chapters 8 and 10 of book one cover this in detail, and lay out numerous interesting arguments.

He's adamantly clear that the survival wage criterion is an absolute minimum. He also lays out what the story is, for the economy as a whole when this isn't met (his prolonged discussion of China).

He addresses (mostly in chapter 10) additional considerations which raise the value of some work. Something technical workers and contractors would do well to read.

Smith discusses the matter of elements which had been considered luxuries but which are, by the custom of a nation, essentials. That would include, in most developed countries, electricity, running water, sewage, residential gas (possibly), phone and Internet service, a fixed postal address, reliable transportation, and the like.

What Smith doesn't mention (excusably) nor Robert Gordon (in The Rise and Fall of American Growth) somewhat less so, is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. You'll frequently see (including sadly here on HN) arguments that the existence or ownership of a cellphone or smartphone somehow indicates someone isn't poor. While Gordon does* correctly point out that predictability and reliability of income is crucial to a middle-class existence, he fails to note that Maslow's pyramid cannot be built from the top down. Providing for safety and security, food, clothing, and shelter are the minimum.

I've explored Smith and Maslow more at my subreddit / Lair of the Id, you might enjoy reading articles there: https://dredmorbius.reddit.com

Ludicrous. This is the same kind of simplistic ideological fantasy as to think we're always on the RHS of the Laffer curve.

> Overtime and wage increases are not going to help people who don't have jobs

Did you miss this bit, or do you not believe it?

>> Goldman Sachs says this will add 100,000 jobs, as employers try to avoid paying time and a half for overtime.[2]

It will create jobs but not increase wealth at lower levels. Obviously not, because the whole reason companies do it is to avoid paying more to workers. It will just create more situations where people need to work two jobs, without the benefit of being paid overtime. Still no benefit to a man in his mid 50s looking for a low-skill job, because the job he was trained in doesn't exist now.

TL;DR yes, I don't believe it.

> It will create jobs but not increase wealth at lower levels. Obviously not, because the whole reason companies do it is to avoid paying more to workers.

It will increase wealth because the companies will still be paying more than they are today - if two 40-hour workers were cheaper than one 80-hour worker today, they'd be hiring the two 40-hour workers already.

Additionally going from one unemployed person and one person with an 80-hour job to two people with 40-hour jobs is probably a win, even if there were no extra money.

Probably cheaper to get 3 26.? hour employees and avoid full-time benefits like insurance and retirement.

They can get those through welfare, after all. /s

We just don't need that many people to do all the stuff.

Yes we do. There is so much work to be done. The problem is the poverty of the public sphere, brought on by specific, ideologically motivated decisions.

Indeed. Compared with many European countries US infrastructure and everything that is in the public domain looks like shit.

Little by little the argument that "taxation is theft" will come to sound like:

"But it's not fair to demand that the hard working robot owners pay more in taxes to help the people too lazy to own their own robots."

Taxation is viewed as theft by people who don't feel represented.

It's part of the foundation of every sovereign country. They formed a new government to get better representation because they felt the old one was robbing them and not providing enough services.

I don't think the next revolution is around the corner. But, this election cycle, evidence of the widening wealth gap is more apparent.

"Taxation is theft" is true regardless of whether robots are employed or not. The fundamental issue is, simply, that it involves the use of force (or threat of use of force). As long as men with guns will come and arrest you if you don't "pay your taxes" then it is theft. No rhetorical flourishes or byzantine logic can alter that.

Matt Bruenig (yes, the guy who was recently hounded out of his job for calling a powerful Hillary supporter a scumbag) had an interesting description of this argument, or rather this series of arguments. First, he says, libertarians defend inequality through desert:

* People should keep their money, they worked hard for it!

Then Bruenig points out that there is capital income, which does not come from work. Capital will keep "working" for you even if you stole it or inherited. It's extra obvious in the case of owning fully autonomous robots that could do anything a human could, but it's true for much simpler forms of capital, too.

Then they retreat to voluntarism:

* OK, so capital owners didn't work to get that money, but it was all voluntary. I'm just against force and for voluntarism.

Then he points out that property rights are enforced through violence too - the only reason you will make those "voluntary" trades for food and shelter, is that men with guns will come and arrest you if you just take it.

Then libertarians retreat to common-goodism:

* OK, we could imagine a society where people could just take as they please, so property rights are in a sense man-made. And they do require violence to enforce. But not having them would lead to the tragedy of the commons. Without property rights, we would all be miserably poor!

And this is certainly true, but if the common good is what we target, why not have a proper welfare state, a solid UBI funded by high taxes etc.?

Usually at that point they go back to the first step.

And this is certainly true, but if the common good is what we target, why not have a proper welfare state, a solid UBI funded by high taxes etc.?

Well, taxation is theft, so that is the easy answer to that. :-)

But to dig a little deeper... a UBI is an interesting concept, and especially so when one considers a future where most, or even all, human labor becomes unneeded. In a world of 100% technological unemployment, it does seem that we're going to require a different system than what we have now. But I don't think just saying "have an UBI" is much of an answer, because - IMO - the entire fundamental basis of the economy will be so radically different that we can't even imagine how the UBI will be funded and how the economy will work.

I keep running through scenarios, trying to come up with a scenario that makes sense, even hand-waving around the "initiation of force" issue temporarily, and it always seems to come out looking like a Ponzi scheme in the end.

Luckily, I think we're still quite a ways away from the total obviation of need for human labor, so we have some time to figure it out. Well, hopefully anyway.

It's not a Ponzi scheme. You simply tax the thing (savings from firing humans) that is increasingly eating the lunch of the other thing (humans being employed), which you want to subsidize, because of a constraint libertarians don't mention (we want all humans to live even if demand for their labor is low).

Here's what you do:

1) Tax the monetary gains made by corporations from greater automation, not enough to disincentivize R&D, but enough to counteract inflation from step #2.

2) Institute an unconditional basic income, like Alaska already does for natural resources. Everyone gets a check in the mail.

You balance #1 and #2 so there is no net inflation. The more corporations lay people off in the aggregate, the more wages will be replaced by UBI.

We can't divorce the need for human labor from distributional concerns. For all we know, in the future the extremely rich will place a premium on "hand-made" luxury yachts, even if the autonomous robots they own could do it far cheaper. Human labor won't be totally unnecessary in such a world, but it would still be a miserable world.

IMO, capital income does come from work; it's just that the moment of income is divorced from the moment of work. That could be by a year, a decade, or a century, and it could accrue to the individual who personally did the work, or to someone to whom they traded, gifted, or willed the capital.

I believe that an individual should be allowed to save the results of their work and consume the benefits later. I believe that they should be allowed to gift (or share) these savings with someone of their choosing. I don't believe that these allowances should be voided by death.

From that, I conclude that if my wife and I die with $2MM estate and give $1MM to each of our children, that they are entitled to the income from that capital, but it doesn't change the fact that that income originated from (my wife's and my) work.

In any case, they don't come from your kids' work. So you have to go back to arguing for voluntarism (step two of the carousel) rather than desert in order to justify your children enjoying something they didn't work for.

And the problem with that is that it really relies on a "facts on the ground" view on property entitlements. If our laws about property are man-made and supported with force, why shouldn't we change how they can be transferred (or possibly voided in case of death?). You can disagree, and you certainly can fight it, but you can't really morally condemn anyone for trying to take it from you.

My beliefs include that I'm able to share or gift my surplus capital as I see fit (and said so explicitly above).

You can disagree, you can certainly fight it, but you can't really morally condemn me for sharing my earnings with my family.

That you're able to isn't much of a belief, the question is whether you should be able to. Yes, you said so explicitly, and I acknowledged it.

But you're, as I said, not justifying it with desert now.

You think you deserve to be able to do as you wish with your money. But why do you deserve that? It can't be because you worked for it, because in giving money to people who didn't work for it (e.g. your kids), you acknowledge that having worked for it isn't important to you. And I guess you think that your kids, too, should be allowed to use the money you give them as they see fit.

Apparently, having the money ("facts on the ground") is sufficient for you to think you should be allowed to do with it as you please. That sounds like might makes right to me...

I'm not condemning you for "sharing your earnings with your family", but I'm certainly condemning your deficient justification for it.

Inherent in a property right is the right to give or trade it to someone else.

If I have property rights over a steak or a measure of rice, I can cook it and share it with my family. Likewise with my house, car, or abstract medium of exchange (money). I don't see that as "might makes right", but rather as "that's inherently what property rights are".

It's easy to imagine countless non-transferable or otherwise limited forms of property, and our societies have always had them, for entirely understandable social reasons (e.g. primogeniture, instituted for social stability reasons). Property rights don't have to be unconditional in my dictionary.

But let's use your dictionary where property rights are always unconditional. In that case, we have never had property rights and it doesn't seem like a good idea to get them!

This whole thing is just a few chained together straw men.

Libertarians do not say "people should keep their money because they worked hard for it." They say that "people should keep their money." No qualifier.

Libertarians are not "against force and for voluntarism." Libertarians are fully in favor of force, particularly when it comes to the defense of personal property. Some libertarians are in favor of voluntarYism (the y matters) but that's a totally different thing than whatever Bruenig trying to reference here.

It's partisan screed that oversimplifies concepts and twists words to appeal to people who don't actually know enough about libertarians to spot the bullshit.

What counts as "defending" personal property, and what's using violence to take other people's stuff depends on which property claims you consider legitimate. This in turn depends on how you justify the property claims. Leaving out the qualifier is a cop-out. If you leave out the qualifier, what is the justification? Why is your claim on it any better than mine, or your government's?

There are three possible answers to that:

* Desert: It's mine because I deserve it, having worked hard for it.

* Contractualism/Voluntarism/VoluntarYism or whatever you want to call it, the idea that the arrangement is fair because it was all voluntary from the involved parties.

* Tradition: It's mine because however I got it, now I have it, and you can't take it from me. I call this the "facts on the ground" argument. It's not really a moral argument, so if you take this approach you can't morally condemn people who challenge the status quo (want to take it from you). If you leave out a justification for property claims, you're really here by default.

These three answers are not compatible, for reasons explained at length.

It's not bullshit, because it's a clear argument that I can follow. Whether it applies to "real" libertarians is another matter - as far as I can see it does, though.

I just want to add that tragedy of the commons is NOT most certainly true. It is if 'people could just take as they please', but that is not what people are asking for, and not what happens in practice.

I will refer the following article to show how tragedy of the commons did not happen in common land in the last couple of centuries:


It is actually called the "tragedy of the UNMANAGED commons".

Yes, people fail to make that distinction though.

Ben Franklin nicely explained what is wrong with that view (letter to Robert Morris, 1783-12-25):

---- begin quote ----

The Remissness of our People in Paying Taxes is highly blameable; the Unwillingness to pay them is still more so. I see, in some Resolutions of Town Meetings, a Remonstrance against giving Congress a Power to take, as they call it, the People's Money out of their Pockets, tho' only to pay the Interest and Principal of Debts duly contracted. They seem to mistake the Point. Money, justly due from the People, is their Creditors' Money, and no longer the Money of the People, who, if they withold it, should be compell'd to pay by some Law.

All Property, indeed, except the Savage's temporary Cabin, his Bow, his Matchcoat, and other little Acquisitions, absolutely necessary for his Subsistence, seems to me to be the Creature of public Convention. Hence the Public has the Right of Regulating Descents, and all other Conveyances of Property, and even of limiting the Quantity and the Uses of it. All the Property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other Laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition. He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages. He can have no right to the benefits of Society, who will not pay his Club towards the Support of it.

---- end quote ----

Bastiat provides a nice counter point to all that. But I'm too lazy to copy and paste the whole thing here. I'll just suggest reading The Law and/or That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen if you haven't, for another take on things. Note though that there's a lot of subtlety to this whole thing, and Bastiat appears to allow for some notion of lawful taxation, but it's pretty clear that he considers most such transfer of wealth to be what he calls "lawful plunder" and he argues rather eloquently against it.

And the institution of private property doesn't use force or the threat of force? Property allows you to exclude, by force, others from use of a resource. Some organization grants a monopoly to some other organization or individual, and uses force, propaganda and intimidation to keep things that way. Whether it's "intellectual property" or owning huge swaths of land or whatever.

Every system uses force or the threat of force, to enforce the rules. A co-op or mall charging rent is not much different than a city or state charging taxes. "Men with guns" will come evict you if you don't pay your rent. But in the majority of cases what usually happens is that your taxes get withheld by the employer from your wages and no guns are involved.

And the institution of private property doesn't use force or the threat of force?

For defense, not offense. I thought that would be clear, but apparently that needed to be called out explicitly. My bad.

A co-op or mall charging rent is not much different than a city or state charging taxes. "Men with guns" will come evict you if you don't pay your rent.

It's not even remotely the same thing. In the mall case you very explicitly entered into a contract with the mall owner, with clearly defined terms regarding the rights and responsibilities on both side. Taxation, on the other hand, is done by agencies which presume the authority to tax anybody within an area defined by lines drawn on a map by men who are long dead. As Thomas Paine put it (paraphrasing a bit) "by what principle can the dead bind the living?"

For defense, not offense.

"Defense" of your property claims, not self-defense. Again, Matt Bruenig has been over this. What if we both claim something as property, are we both acting "defensively" in trying to kill each other over it? One man's defensive claim is an offensive claim to another man, and there's no objective standard by which you can decide who's right.

Sure, one may have the backing of a state, but surely that's just more effective violence. You're not in favour of might makes right, do you? And tradition is no good, because claims have to start somewhere.

> "by what principle can the dead bind the living?"

To achieve higher aggregate utility, by redistributing some of the money to those who would get higher marginal utility from it. Objecting to it based on freedom is backwards, because freedom is just one component of utility.

If your definition of "theft" is "taking something by (threat of) force", then (1) private property at least of land clearly is theft, (2) one could even go further and argue that some forms of taxation aren't theft, and (3) police are regularly involved in theft even while doing the right thing.

The key is in "taking something": there is a baseline state of the world against we're comparing the current status quo.

For point (1), there is clearly a historical baseline in which no land was owned by anybody, and all land was equally accessible to all. Then people started to make claims that some part of land was theirs, and that they had the right to exclude others from it - if necessary by force. They took something from others by (threat of) force - hence committing theft according to your definition, and this theft is enshrined by modern property law.

For point (2), consider the way income taxes work in many (most?) countries. Instead of money being paid by / taken from the employee, the money is instead withheld. The money that is "paid as income tax" is in reality never the employee's to begin with, so it is not taken away from the employee - hence no force is involved.

You might argue that the money is taken from the employer, but nobody forced the employer to employ someone.

For point (3), consider what happens when person A owns some widget, but person B enters their house at night and takes it from them - without force, because person A was asleep. Note first that, that is not theft according to your definition! Later on, person B is tracked down by police, who arrest him or her by force to return the widget to person A. The police have just engaged in theft - which is totally absurd use of language, but a necessary consequence of how you want to define theft.

Points (2) and (3) highlight something important: what belongs to whom is always a social construction. Social convention (encoded into law) says that land ownership is possible, and therefore land ownership is not actually theft. Social convention says that police are allowed to take stolen goods back to their original owner, and therefore those actions aren't theft. And whether you like it or not, social convention also includes taxes, and that is why taxes aren't theft. Because at the end of the day, the useful definition of theft has nothing to do with force - the useful definition of theft is "taking something against the established rules of society".

If your definition of "theft" is "taking something by (threat of) force",

That is not my definition of theft. Theft by force (or threat of force) is a subset of theft in the more general sense.

For point (1), there is clearly a historical baseline in which no land was owned by anybody, and all land was equally accessible to all. Then people started to make claims that some part of land was theirs, and that they had the right to exclude others from it - if necessary by force. They took something from others by (threat of) force - hence committing theft according to your definition, and this theft is enshrined by modern property law.

If no land was owned by anyone, then taking a chunk of land is not taking it from "others". Its taking something which was previously unowned.

The origin and nature of property rights IS an interesting discussion, but it's really a red herring here. Consider this: You live in the proto-world with no land ownership. You select a piece of land that is unoccupied and unowned, and you build a home on it and start a garden. Later, somebody else comes along and says "I want your home and your garden for myself". Would you argue that you have no right to say "bugger off" to that person? Are you saying you have no right to defend that home and garden, that you worked on, toiled, and cultivated?

If not, how do you propose mitigating this conflict?

> You select a piece of land that is unoccupied and unowned, and you build a home on it and start a garden.

In the proto-world, unoccupied land is generally regarded as held in the commons, free for use by hunters, fishers, herders, gatherers, migrations, ceremonies, scattering seeds of herbs and plants you like, and whatever else. There is basically no unclaimed land.

> Would you argue that you have no right to say "bugger off" to that person

You have no inherent right to do so, but it would absolutely be in your interest to do so. And indeed, while it took many thousands of years to settle the question, the settler-agricultural types did finally crush the more nomadic peoples in the last couple centuries and assert an absolute claim to formerly common property, so the question is moot: your property rights were established by thousands of years of violence and genocide by people tired of nomadic peoples asserting their traditional rights.

Theft by force (or threat of force) is a subset of theft in the more general sense.

Fair enough, but how do you reconcile that with my point (3)? Police returning an item as in the given example means the police are thieves according to your definition.

If not, how do you propose mitigating this conflict?

In the same way as it is done today. Note that I'm not the one who is saying that land ownership is theft - you are, because you are trying so say "taking by (threat of) force is theft".

In reality, what is and isn't theft is defined by social convention. So land ownership, police returning items, and tax aren't theft, even though they all involve (the threat of) force. Taking an item from somebody else's home is theft, even when no force between humans is is involved at all.

Note that I'm not the one who is saying that land ownership is theft - you are, because you are trying so say "taking by (threat of) force is theft".

I'm not saying that land ownership is theft. I don't advocate taking someone else's land by force, but I do claim that (at least in "proto-world") taking unclaimed land is acceptable exactly because it is unclaimed.

That whole discussion does lead to some other interesting points though... for example, if I abandon the home and garden I build on unclaimed land in proto-world, and move 8,000 miles away, does that land remain "mine" or does it return to its unclaimed state? It turns out that in the modern world, "we" decided that once you own a piece of land, it is yours forever, unless you sell it, trade it way, etc. I'm not actually convinced that is right. On this, I may be closer to the position of some left-anarchist types who hold that land ownership is temporary and only based in actual use/occupancy. I'm not entirely convinced one way or the other on this point though.

Inheritance is another interesting issue, although you can kinda sorta hand-wave around that by saying that "if you can transfer something to a new owner, then doing so a split second before you die is effectively the same thing as allowing inheritance".

In reality, what is and isn't theft is defined by social convention. So land ownership, police returning items, and tax aren't theft, even though they all involve (the threat of) force.

Sure, the social convention is what it is. What I'm arguing is that the social convention is wrong and needs to be updated. It's not like these things are chiseled into stone tablets and made immutable for all time.

I'll also point out that I'm far from alone on the "taxation is theft" thing. It may be a minority viewpoint, but it's hardly some fringe idea held by just two or three crackpots. There's at least five or six of us. :-)

I think you're underestimating the degree to which "taking unclaimed land is acceptable" is a controversial statement. Talk to the nomads about what constitutes 'unclaimed' land - the entire possibility of shared-use is being overlooked. Property rights aren't theft because you used land no one else claimed, they're theft because you denied everyone else the right to use otherwise-shared territory.

Certainly, but by this metric so are most of the things you care about. Property rights are undeniably theft, because the only thing stopping strangers from sleeping on your couch is your ability to have men with guns take them away if they try it.

The salient point here is that everything done with force is theft, but we depend on mild, egalitarian theft to keep society functioning. The primary issue with private theft is its asymmetry (every security system that doesn't deter a theft is a waste of money), while governmental theft is roughly symmetric and underlies even the institutions libertarians care about.

If you'd like that night watchman state to keep your neighbor from killing you and taking your canned beans, realize that you're asking for property reassignment through force. Not just taxation-theft to fund that government, the actual behavior you want is ownership determined by force. You haven't invented a grand claim against taxes, you've rediscovered the observation that somewhere down the line force (or the lack of it) is a consideration in every exchange.

Theft is when I take property which I have no right to take possession of. It doesn't matter if guns or force are involved, or fraud, or sneakiness, etc. If taxation is theft, then it is theft even if it's unenforced and involves no threats of force.

Why is taxation theft?

Why is taxation theft?

Because you're taking something you have no right to take possession of. And you're right, "theft" is a broader category of actions, but I don't consider that distinction relevant here. Eg, the State doesn't (yet, AFAIK) sneak into you home and take your property without your knowledge, in the name of taxation. Although they DO do some other pretty sneaky things, like civil asset forfeiture, but that's a separate issue, IMO.

The thing with what we call "paying your taxes" in the popular vernacular is clearly a case where the State wants something you have (the spoils of your labor, if we limit this to Income Tax for the time being) and if you aren't inclined to give it to them, they use force to take it. If you were willing to pay it without the need for coercion, then it wouldn't be theft.

And here's the rub, that makes this all so ironic: I expect most people would "pay their taxes" to at least some extent, even without the need for coercion. This is especially so IF the agency requesting said payment is actually demonstrating its value clearly.

Try living somewhere that has no / very little taxes, you will notice a complete lack of infrastructure. You want to live in a "developed" country where you have water, police, roads, schools.....

I live in a state with no income taxes, no sales taxes, and fairly low property taxes. Next door are states with far, far higher tax rates, of all assorted varieties. Infrastructure in my state is far, far better than infrastructure in those states. Corruption is far lower, however, and that probably makes all the difference.

What state would that be?

This is why his Trump/Sanders/Clinton passage lost me. OP seems pretty smart and well-informed, but also seems to believe some pretty simplistic and fatalistic narratives about what democrats do and don't care about.

In theory, the best economic answer is to reduce the number of hours in a working week. In practice, it's very difficult to do that with competition from all over the world.

It's not even a good idea in theory. There's already a shortage of, say, doctors and software developers. Lowering their hours makes it more acute without changing the unemployment rate at all.

They tried it in France -- nothing really changed. The law says you can go home but you still stay and work; the company culture doesn't change.

In theory, the best economic answer, I think we can all agree, is UBI.

Get behind the $15 minimum wage. Then the 8 hour day and 40 hour week.

Those policies don't seem well targeted to help the permanently unemployed.

They're not. But they'll get a lot of working people off food stamps and Medicaid, freeing up welfare resources for people who aren't working.

It will also take more people out of the category of "working people".

Goldman Sachs disagrees. See link above.

The Goldman link says that the overtime rules will add jobs. I agree.

My comment was addressed to the $15 minimum wage, not the 40-hour week. The Goldman link does not address that at all that I could see.

Why will the $15 minimum wage eliminate jobs? Basic supply-and-demand economics. When the price of something goes up, the usage goes down. (Unless you can make labor a Veblen good, where the high price increases demand. But that depends on status signalling. You could think about trying to make that apply to labor, but I think it would be rare to have cases where that worked.)

> That's it right there. We just don't need that many people to do all the stuff.

No. But we need that many people to buy the stuff.

Do we? I'm not sure we do.

Inequality has increased so much that the bottom 50% don't really own anything, they have no wealth to speak of. Their income, combined, pales to the top 1%. If they stopped buying and renting tomorrow, there was be a hiccup, to be sure, but not more than that. And that's new too.

> Get behind the $15 minimum wage. Then the 8 hour day and 40 hour week.

40 hour week? Try 32 (4 days a week). Active workers in the US industry are hardly working more than 30 hours on average anyway (lots of part time workers).

Of course, the minimum wage should be raised accordingly.

I need somebody to clean my bath and to cook me dinner. I currently have to do these myself because the country I live in it is too expensive to hire somebody to do that.

So that's the answer? Return to feudalism and slavery? We only have jobs for the top x%, the rest can clean their toilets.

I feel like calling citation needed on imports. Outsourcing is massive, and far larger than automation.

The tractor took the jobs of 70% of the US population, and the US is still a net food exporter. If we're talking about job destruction, nothing is more massive than the tractor. (I'm metonymically including the attendant Green Revolution technologies, which also don't depend much on imports — the US makes its own ammonia, too, and in highly automated plants.)

From the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco:

[1] http://www.frbsf.org/economic-research/publications/economic...

Get behind the $15 minimum wage.

Better yet, get behind eliminating minimum wage altogether. It's an unnecessary and immoral restriction on free and voluntary trade. If I want to offer up my time for $6.00 an hour, I have that right damnit. Especially if the alternative is doing nothing and netting $0.00 an hour.

You're sarcastic, right? Surely you're aware that when you starve, your participation in the "market" is neither free nor voluntary? Your hand is just being forced.

Pushed little bit further, this could even re-introduce slavery: just give this little bit of "freedom": the right to renounce all freedoms. Surely that's better than starvation, right?

> We just don't need that many people to do all the stuff

Altman says the same thing [1]. It doesn't resonate with me.

This is the 21st century's version of the "let them eat cake" attitude [2]

People need more than food or money to survive. They need challenge and a way to be creative. People who don't have these things either (1) blame themselves and fall into depression despite having plenty of money, or (2) band together against those who tell them they're useless.

There will always be a need for people to do work: people need people.

The case for BI is hurt by the argument that some people are worthless. Some would say techies do not fully understand the needs of the poor [3], and that this alienates would-be supporters of BI.

[1] http://www.techinsider.io/sam-altman-praises-basic-income-on...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Let_them_eat_cake

[3] https://medium.com/the-development-set/silicon-valley-s-unch...

I see the downvotes but no explanation. Do you disagree or just feel I misunderstand Altman's comments?

This is a pretty great personal account, and it helps me tremendously in my goal of understanding this group of people who feel left out and overlooked by their government. However, it's also a good demonstration of how people find ways to rationalize acting against their own self-interest.

One example: The author observes that the unnecessariat is having lots of economic value extracted from them, e.g. from required, high cost healthcare plans. She implies things were better when there was no requirement (and thus no coverage). I think that's a common sentiment among conservatives, which is why they have voted continually against Obamacare. But as she points out, these are people for whom even moderate healthcare costs can be devastating financially. So why didn't they all vote for Obamacare and for the public option, subsidized by higher taxes? And why didn't she consider that a reasonable enough future to even mention it?

I worry the answer is that they've given up on using (representative) democracy to improve their lives.

> So why didn't they all vote for Obamacare and for the public option, subsidized by higher taxes?

Did it come up for a national popular vote where you got five options and you picked the one you liked best? I don't remember it happening this way.

And let's just say that it did. If everyone didn't vote for that option, well, that's not what gets enacted and you're SOL. Government isn't pick-and-choose, it's all-or-nothing.

Well, in this particular case, there was no popular vote for any part of Obamacare. But there were a very large number of congressmen elected before the bill passed, during its negotiation and even now well after it's been cemented as law by the Supreme Court who had a major policy platform of reforming or completely rolling back the ACA.

Which is precisely the point. You don't get to TELL your elected officials how to vote. You just get to try and elect people who will HOPEFULLY do what's in your best interests. There are no guarantees in the system, anywhere.

That makes the question you asked rather disingenuous.

> You just get to try and elect people who will HOPEFULLY do what's in your best interests.

You get to do a bit more than that, though few ever do.

Making full use of representative democracy means continuously contacting your representative, not leaving them alone until you're convinced they'll act in your interests, and not leaving your friends/family/community alone until you've got as many other people as you can badgering your representative just as much. It's very time consuming and won't work at all if there aren't enough people with the same problem but, in the case of the author of this article, the relevant problem is quite widespread.

Sure, you get to call an intern in their office who will put a tally mark in a spreadsheet. The congressman may use this "how many people called about X" data to make decisions on what to vote for, or they may not.

Yes. But you can do this weekly. And spend tons of time getting others to do this weekly. Dozens of calls about X have more than dozens as many timed as much impact as ome call about X.

If you get a bunch of people with the same concern to form an ”organization“, and then you spend weeks making repeated requests for your congressman to meet with your group, they'll eventually do it. You can write a op-eds and publish content on the internet to try to generate political will. You need to convince your rep that (to go with the example from the article) thousands of their constituants think that the ACA is a terrible idea and that they would enthusiastically support this other policy in its place. If there is a sensible policy that a large fraction of the country would support that hasn't been proposed in a bill yet then they might consider trying to look good by being the one to propose it.

I'm not saying it's easy or that it's guaranteed to work. I'm just saying that most people's civic engagement is about 0.001% of what it should be if they really want a voice in the government.

Picking a candidate for President (a position which isn't even in the legislature) is not the most effective way for you to drive policy.

"The problem with the way you advocate is that you don't act like professional lobbyists"

I wonder why it is, that normal citizens with jobs and kids and mortgages, aren't able to effectively lobby the way full time paid lobbyists (with expense accounts!) are?

Which is why the 40 hour work week and dog-eat-dog economy seem to really suit those representatives just fine. No one has time or energy to make full use of representative democracy, unfortunately, except for some of the well off with resources to spare.

You're working a lot more than 40 hours per week if you don't have an hour a day to spend on advocacy.

The problem being that if you're in a job with standard hours, the hour a day you have to spend on advocacy happens during the time your representatives and their staffers are not available.

I have trouble imagining a realistic job (in the USA, anyway) that wouldn't allow you to take 20 minutes for a phone call during business hours or get a free afternoon every month or two.

And at least half of your advocacy will consist of writing and research and recruiting other citizens to your cause - all of which can be done just as easily outside of normal business hours.

Uh, I used to be a cashier at McDonald's (reasonable job? you decide), I can tell you that they would never have let me wander off to use the phone for 20 minutes randomly, other than at my lunch break, which I needed to use to, y'know, eat lunch.

> why didn't they all vote for Obamacare and for the public option

In substantial quantities, they did. That's what Obama in the general election (and with slight variations, he, Clinton and Edwards in the Democratic primaries) campaigned on.

But they didn't get it, because by the time the health care bill got through Congress it had no public option, because while it was in the version passed by the House, it was killed in the Senate. Killed, that is, by a minority in the Senate -- it was the threat of filibuster, not losing an up-or-down vote, that did it in.

And who elected those filibuster-threatening senators? Were the senators acting of their own accord, or on behalf of their constituents' desires?

The Senate is ridiculously undemocratic. Because every state gets two senators regardless of population, a vote by a Wyoming resident is worth 65 Californian votes.

Wyoming is one of the state's hit hardest by the unnecessariat phenomenon. Thats the tragedy.

The House is supposed to make up for this. A vote by a California resident is worth 3.6 Wyoming resident votes.

No. Where did you get that number from?

California has 53 representatives for 38.8 million people or 1 per 730,000 people. Wyoming has 1 representative for 584,000 people. So Wyoming is over-represented in the House as well.

Does it really matter? Senators representing around 10% of the population are enough for a filibuster.

Exactly: its unsurprising that people give up on solving problems through "representative democracy" when the system of government they have, whatever it claims to be on the tin, is poorly representative and functionally very far from democratic.

I think it's worth noting that it is very hard to understand or see the world of the disempowered. Having actual empathy for their situation becomes increasingly harder the further away from the situation you are.

If you start from that vantage point, you can try and operate from a opinion of "help me now today" which almost always comes back to "tax me less now."

In the same way that most uber drivers don't understand that buying a new car to drive uber is simply trading away future profit for cash today, many of the disempowered do not have the tools to think about money, voting, or political movements in terms of a long term future.

So why didn't they all vote for Obamacare and for the public option, subsidized by higher taxes?

Because there was nobody to vote for who offered that. McCain's proposal was to deny that the problem existed. Obama's proposal was Obamacare without an individual mandate. Clinton's proposal was Obamacare with an individual mandate. Those were the only entrees on the proverbial menu. No candidate ran on a public option, so you couldn't vote for that even if you desperately wanted to.

Ironically, one of the first moves of the candidate who got the most votes, Obama, was to decide that Hillary Clinton had been right after all and include an individual mandate. So if you voted for him over her because you opposed that idea, you were officially SOL.

The public option was specifically killed off by insurance industry lobbying by Karen Ignagni, as were reductions in Medicare drug prices by the equivalent guy for the pharmaceutical industry. As I understand it, Obama wanted a public option, but had enough difficulty getting Obamacare passed at all, and those sacrifices (along with requiring the individual mandate) were the price of preventing hundreds of millions of dollars of anti-Obamacare attack ads from those two industry lobbies.

I'm not sure how much more to the story there is than that, but for reference, see: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/obamasdeal/

> Obama's proposal was Obamacare without an individual mandate. Clinton's proposal was Obamacare with an individual mandate. Those were the only entrees on the proverbial menu. No candidate ran on a public option

Actually, all of Obama, Clinton, and Edwards ran on a public option. They differed on other points (as you note, during the primary Obama opposed and Clinton supported an individual mandate, and there were various other differences between the three plans, but largely Clinton and Obama cribbed their plans from the same place Edwards did first, so they all looked pretty similar.)

They sometimes mentioned a public option, but it was never central to either Obama's or Hillary's pitch.

See here for an evaluation of Obama on the issue: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2009/dec/... It was included in his platform, but as an "also, too" kind of thing. And if you took your evaluation of his position from what he said on the stump, you'd never have known it was in his platform at all.

(I'm omitting Edwards from this discussion because he flamed out so early.)

My recollection is that it was included, but then traded to the relevant industries for their acceptance of the plan we have now. Whether it was always intended as a chip or was a serious part of the plan is open for debate I suppose, but the best chips are ones that are serious, so I'm not sure there's much difference in practice.

Kind of, in that opponents of any bill were joined by some Senators that were closely tied to the insurance industry to threaten to filibuster the bill (which passed the House with a public option) if a public option was included, looking several attempts (both passing the form the House did and putting forward different public mechanisms) to include a public option in the Senate version, and dropping the public option was the only way to secure Senate passage.

There was one primary candidate who offered better than that: [Dennis Kucinich campaigned on a single payer platorm][0]. However, for various reasons, he never topped fourth place in primary polling.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Kucinich_presidential_c...

I don't think you're really putting yourself in their shoes.

For most people, things are were better for them before required, high-cost health plans. Most people don't get seriously sick in a given year; that's why health insurance works at all.

And for those with required health insurance, it doesn't really help.

Take me as an example: I'm 29 in NY and the healthcare plans I have available to me basically fall into a spectrum ranging from $170ish/mo with a $6000ish deductible to $600ish/mo with no deductible. At the low end of that range, health insurance does nothing to prevent a person making $15K/year from going bankrupt; $6K in medical costs is more than enough to bankrupt such a person and you don't get extra credit for going bankrupt by $6K instead of $50K. And at the other end of the spectrum, $600/mo is enough to drive many people bankrupt in itself. The plans in the middle don't strike a good balance; they just cost enough that a poor person can't build up savings so they'll go bankrupt if something does happen to them.

I'm lucky enough to have a job that pays much more than $15K, and I can actually afford my health insurance with relative ease. But for most, it's better to just take the risk and not pay for health insurance, because it's not going to prevent you from going bankrupt anyway. Except, now you can't.

And yeah, they can vote for Obamacare, but keep in mind that when you're living paycheck-to-paycheck, it's very hard to look at anything other than proximate causes of your problems. You see the tax coming out of your paycheck, you don't see the pointless military equipment it's spent on or the "privatize profits, socialize losses" companies that your taxes could regulate. And all the help the government promises you comes to nothing most of the time. You don't read the newspaper and spend mental energy on that because you're watching junk television to recover from your day, or just plain going directly to bed. You also don't have a ton of education (which doesn't mean you aren't intelligent). So you vote for the guy who promises to take less of your money in taxes and do less that you don't see.

All of this isn't finding ways to rationalize acting against their own self-interest (although that does happen too). It's a rational understanding of what's in your self-interest given the information you have, the time you have to research, and the experience you're allowed.

And when using democracy to improve your life doesn't work for decades, can you blame them for giving up on using democracy to improve their lives?

At 15000, you are making < 138% of the poverty line (https://aspe.hhs.gov/computations-2015-annual-update-hhs-pov...), and are eligible for medicaid, or large subsidies in other states. The details really matter here, and my sense (though I'm very open to correction) is that the people who the ACA is most burdensome for are high enough income that they qualify for smaller subsidies, but still can't afford healthcare.

>are eligible for medicaid

Depends on your state. Where I live, you can't get medicaid, regardless of income, unless you're elderly or disabled (not sure if low-income parents qualify). Thanks, Republicans.

Right, and if that person lives in a state that did not participate in the Medicaid expansion, they are exempt from the uninsured penalty.

That's true, but a lot of people (I'd bet it's most in very poor areas) don't know that, and the IRS doesn't send you corrections if you pay tax you didn't need to pay.

This is true, but subsidies are only useful if they are discoverable and truly available.

I grew up in a poor neighborhood, and the only reason I'm not poor is my parents were both educated and made sure I was too. But I know a lot of people who were poor and uneducated.

You might be able to take time off between the hours of 9AM and 5PM to apply for programs in person, or have time to fill out a lot of forms, or know what programs are available, or speak/read the language that's on the forms fluently, but a lot of people don't.

When you are motivated for an ideology it's rarely for short term self interest like you imply. If that were true there wouldnt be any rich people voting for Democrats, which isn't the case.

With first hand account of a family member that would benefit from Obamacare but didn't vote for Obama, it was a matter of disagreeing with many other policies. E.g. You wouldn't vote for a politician promoting the elimination of the Jews if he/she promised a thousand dollar bonus for everyone remaining.

> If that were true there wouldnt be any rich people voting for Democrats, which isn't the case.

I don't know about that. You can be completely self-interested, wealthy, and still vote liberal/progressive Democrat if you think the alternative is a Reign of Terror or Red October. Or, to dial it back a bit from that, if you think progressive policies will grow the economy of the nation in the long term (and, by extension, your own wealth) as opposed to looting it.

>You can be completely self-interested, wealthy, and still vote liberal/progressive Democrat if you think the alternative is a Reign of Terror or Red October.

The same logic applies the other direction. A party is promising free health care, but in their view that comes at a cost of a massive government that oversees every aspect of their life. Either that or they think it's fundamentally unsustainable and will lead to massive losses elsewhere.

Basically if you think people vote against their self interest, you don't understand the perspective from which they are voting. To be baffled by it is to fail to recognize your own ignorance.

> Basically if you think people vote against their self interest, you don't understand the perspective from which they are voting. To be baffled by it is to fail to recognize your own ignorance.

Didn't you just write that people can be motivated by ideology instead of self-interest?

Yes, you can be altruistic (essentially the opposite of self-interested) and decide not to support universal health care, or basic income, or whatever, because you believe it will be a net loss for society. This line of reasoning is pretty common in conservative circles, in fact, and I didn't consider it worth mentioning.

I suspect you are working with a definition of "self-interest" that is so broad as to lose most of it's meaning. I take it to mean the opposite of altruism: working to help others at the expense of your own material well-being (or, perhaps, just without seeing any personal gain). My point is that you need not be altruistic to support these policies (though it does seem to help), if you think enacting them will improve or defend your well-being.

So why didn't they all vote for Obamacare and for the public option, subsidized by higher taxes?

Forgive me for my ignorance, but was there actually a general vote about it? Weren't the elected representatives actually voting? If so, one could argue that the agents of the voters made a poor decision, but then one could hardly blame an common citizen for actions of the politician they voted for.

I seem to recall hearing about it being rammed through the Senate during a midnight vote. Barely a matter of having our elected representatives having a swing at it, let alone the American public at large.

99 out of 100 Senators voted on the issue. The abstained vote would not have changed the outcome.

Is that rammed through?

It was not a midnight vote (or at least, not what the term implies), but yes, it was definitely rammed through. I've never seen such an absolutely-will-not-take-no-for-an-answer ramming job ever on anything.

Sure, the Democratic House, Senate and President acted in a somewhat hasty manner to utilize the power that they possessed, but all the complaints about not respecting the process or whatever are dumb.

The press statements made about the Supreme Court confirmation needed right now are a nice illustration of how stupid the process complaints are. Pretty much every person that has made a public statement about what respecting the process means had previously made a public statement taking the opposite of the position that they have taken now.

How so? Obama didn't force anyone to vote a particular way, did he?

Force? No.

Strongly twist arms? Absolutely. Google "Louisiana purchase" for one example; there were several.

Now, to some degree, that's just normal politics. But I've never seen it done that hard, for that long, on a bill that passed by such razor-thin margins.

This reminds me of a This American Life episode where many members of a town collected disability because doctors there didn't consider them "smart enough to work". Seems to be the beginning of Universal Basic Income in all but name.

On another note, it must be depressing to live there.


Unfortunately it's not a Universal Basic Income at all.

UBI and related proposals like Negative Income Tax minimize economic distortion. As you make more money, there's a smooth transition from receiving money from the gov't to paying net money as your taxes increase.

When you're on disability, you are generally not allowed to work. Any "substantial gainful activity" beyond roughly $1k / month ends your benefits [1].

So you might have a choice between $13k/year working 0 hours a week, or he could make $15k/year working 40 hours a week doing something menial and unpleasant.

If you tried to design a system to incentivize the working poor to drop out and accept a lifetime of poverty and gov't dependence, it's hard to see how you could do more. The fact that the program also incentivizes states to convert welfare recipients into disability is just icing.


I think America needs sweeping entitlement reform. Not "entitlement reform" in the euphemistic Republican sense of cutting benefits, but reform done with empathy for the poor and guided by competent economists. IMO the goals should be to simplify and combine the many ways we have of giving money to poor people, and to reduce the perverse incentives that those programs create.

There's a writeup:


In the writeup, there is a county where one doctor considers whether a person he is talking too would be able to get a sit down job when he decides if he thinks they are disabled or not.

It's probably also worth reading the recent Slate Star Codex blog post that cites this.


I found that really interesting too. My comment from there:

Throwing money at the problem of poverty, ironically, is actually being treated as a serious answer by international NGOs these days, where for ages people tried everything else on the assumption that the feckless poor would spend it on drink. Build infrastructure for them, food aid, subsidized goods, food stamps, workfare, every which way but "here have some cash". But when they actually tried the cash, it worked. That's one reason I'm optimistic about a basic income. Another, is that I feel that a whole lot of creativity has been stomped flat by, basically, living one paycheck from the street. With an inflation-pegged basic income that's enough to subsist on, and protected against creditors, effectively that fear would be gone. Bad news for employers wanting cheap poor people to do awful jobs. Good news, for all those individual people. I have a feeling they'd rebuild their local economy. I have a feeling, too, a lot of people stuck in the city by the necessity of the next paycheck, would move out and join them.

I often say to my fellow engineers that software engineering is a profession of destroying jobs. There doesn't seem to be any follow up discussion though, everyone just nods and moves on to the next subject.

What can we do? There is no stopping the train of automation.

I would guess the discussion ends there because your fellow software engineers (myself included) don't see automation as a bad thing. Algorithms become smarter, processes more efficient, production cheaper and faster, etc. How is this worse? It's not.

Soon truck driving will be automated. This will eliminate millions of jobs. We need to figure out a system that supports people regardless of employment. We need to figure it out by yesterday.

I'm a firm believer that basic income is that system and that automation should fund it.

I personally don't see automation as a bad thing in principle. But without universal basic income (and a real chance for it in the current political climate), it poses the danger of fucking the world over big time. Think multiple simultaneous French Revolutions, or maybe even a world war. This is not something I want to see, and I shy away from even thinking about it.

Moreover, a lot of those people we're automating away are our friends and family members. Who do you think will they turn to for support? I'm already preparing myself for the possibility of supporting some tech-illiterates in my family in the future.

When basic income is a done deal, then maybe. But it's not, and in a toxic and divided political system basic income - and other necessities, like modern universal health care - are not guaranteed for years, if not decades.

Spend some time in some of these communities and figure out how to help? I don't think technology or software should be taken only to mean automation. A lot of fertile ground is opened up by easier communication, and many enterprises fail by inefficiency. Anything to help rural marketplaces or small businesses or healthcare could be very valuable.

Of course there's no followup discussion. The fact that software engineering is "destroying jobs" is the wrong problem to focus on, but any discussion that approaches the right problem -- capitalism -- is practically taboo in United States.

But what's the alternative?

Removing the incentive gradient of capitalism doesn't create paradise, it just creates a new incentive gradient that can be even more perverse and horrifying than the last.



But don't forget about http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/07/30/meditations-on-moloch/. Capitalism, while great initially, is getting very problematic now - its incentive gradients pull us more and more in directions we don't want to go. We need to alter those gradients, it's not a question anymore.

I don't think there's a coherent "ideology" that would be better (nor do I generally think accepting ideologies wholesale is a good idea), but UBI feels like a part of the right solution.

Broken-clock Ayn Rand did get something right in a scene in Atlas Shrugged where the [malicious and grossly incompetent] government figures toast to the "end of the age of money," and are interrupted by a [flawless and endlessly brilliant] capitalist who warns them that it will only usher in "the age of pull."

Power and money are largely interchangeable in a free market world where there's always a way to get what you want. At least money can be measured, and that makes it honest, sort of.

except, when you start looking into cash//fiat money (as opposed to promissory notes), it is anonymous and inherently dis-honest. What would be honest is a system where the "wealth" associated with an action could be traced. You could tell when wealth from a prostitution transaction, collected by a pimp, was paid to a councilman or official as a bribe. Our current cash system washes that stain and banks do their best to maintain that "privacy", with varying degrees of success.

Bernie Sanders seems to be quite popular as an openly socialist presidential candidate, so it cannot be said that it is practically taboo to discuss the supposed shortcomings of capitalism in the US.

He's not really a socialist, though. He's a social democrat, which is a much less extreme and more reasonable political position. It just seems extreme in the US because Americans tend to catastrophise their political orientations. "You think that the speed limit should be 65? I can't stand to breathe the same air as someone who thinks that 60 isn't the right speed limit."

Sanders has described himself as a "socialist" on numerous occasions. In any case, bickering over the validity of different schemes of leftist political ontology was not the point.

The point is that OP's belief that criticizing capitalism is somehow taboo in the US is factually wrong.

Sanders indisputably roundly and frequently criticizes capitalism to anyone who will listen, and he's quite popular as a presidential candidate for exactly that reason.

A lot of leftists, particularly non-American leftists, seem to imagine the US is some sort of Ayn Randian fantasyland where everyone is rabidly pro-capitalist and any views to the contrary are self-censored as a taboo. Sanders' candidacy (among many other data points) amply falsifies this misconception.

Well, then Sanders is wrong. Socialism is state ownership of "the means of production". Socialism is planned economy. Socialism is the USSR. Sanders' criticism of capitalism can be entirely adequately paraphrased as "the safety net is inadequate". Americans (and pretty much all Westerners) are generally uniformly pro-capitalist. A debate over the extent to which the present capitalist system should be regulated is being presented as a debate over whether or not a capitalist system should be practiced at all. It's nonsense. Regulated capitalism is a fait accompli and no one is challenging it because it works.

> Socialism is state ownership of "the means of production".

Socialism favors social ownership of the means of production; different branches of socialism prefer different mechanisms for this. These can broadly be split into top-down models (planned economy/state ownership models) and bottom-up models (council communism, etc.) It also includes models which are somewhere in between, like economic democracy (which tends to include elements of top-down ownership by the public through the state, by recognizing broader class of public stakeholders in firms whose interests must be served in addition to private shareholders, as well as elements of bottom-up socialism in empowering employees as represented stakeholders in firms as well.)

The latter seems to be the dominant (though not exclusive -- the group is diverse) focus of modern democratic socialists; Sanders seems to fit in this group as a reformist rather than revolutionary [0] proponent of democratic socialism pursuing (as is common among reformist democratic socialism) social democracy as a incremental step on the road to socialism in the economic democracy form.

> Americans (and pretty much all Westerners) are generally uniformly pro-capitalist.

Americans and most Westerners are generally supporters of the modern mixed economy, which is as much a reaction against the 19th century system for which the term "capitalism" was coined as anything else. That said, its a reaction which superficially retains the large-scale structures of capitalist relations while greatly altering the scope and nature of the property rights which are the defining feature of capitalism.

There are proponents of capitalism in America and the West; they are economic reactionaries.

> Regulated capitalism is a fait accompli and no one is challenging it because it works.

Plenty of people are, in fact, challenging the modern mixed economy (what you call "regulated capitalism") -- from both the laissez-faire capitalist perspective and a variety of different socialist perspectives, among others.

[0] in economic structure terms, if not necessarily in terms of the structure of electoral politics and their relation to private business, the latter of which is the focus of the "political revolution" Sanders often refers to.

> There are lots of socialisms.

Yes. But the point of this whole discussion is limited to whether or not Sanders is misusing the term. Even though there are all of these different socialisms that all satisfy the "social ownership" requirement, is Sanders advocating even a single one of them? I do not think that he is.

Obviously Sanders uses a different definition for "socialist" than you do. What makes your definition correct and his wrong? An appeal to authority fallacy? He can produce just as many "authorities" with equally fancy credentials who agree with his definition and say yours is wrong.

Part of the problem with socialism is that every particular faction thinks their own pet definition of "socialism" is the One True Correct Socialism, and all others are merely ignorant heretics.

People disagree on a lot of things, like the age of the earth. Are all of those viewpoints valid?

My definition of "socialist" derives from original usage, is concise, and distinct from any definition of capitalist economy (regulated or otherwise). It's the right usage because of its historical correctness and its current utility.

Sure, you can redefine "socialism". You can redefine any word you want. But if you then apply that term in its historical context, e.g. "criticism of capitalism is now mainstream", then you're committing a fallacy of false equivalency.

> My definition of "socialist" derives from original usage

It may "derive" from the original usage, but it both more restrictive than the original usage and more restrictive than the term has been used by large bodies of self-described socialists since the 19th Century.

> and distinct from any definition of capitalist economy (regulated or otherwise).

Your use of "regulated capitalism" to refer to the modern mixed economy is, BTW, inconsistent with original definition of the term.

> It's the right usage because of its historical correctness and its current utility.

No, its the wrong use, because of its historical incorrectness, and then fact that, insofar as there is utility in having a label for the category you want to apply the label to, there is already are broadly accepted terms for that group that don't require your ahistoric narrowing of "socialism" ("state socialism", "planned economy").

> Sure, you can redefine "socialism". But if you then apply that term in its historical context, e.g. "criticism of capitalism is now mainstream", then you're committing a fallacy of false equivalency.

Using terms in their correct, historical way (which your use of "socialism" doesn't, though that's somewhat tangential to the example you offer here, which doesn't even use "socialism", "criticism of capitalism" is decidedly mainstream in the US today, where the status quo is a mixed economy, and both social democracy as a stepping stone to socialism (on the left) and a return to capitalism (on the right) are among the alternatives with some mainstream traction (along with other tweaks to the mixed economy that neither move substantially to social democracy nor substantially back to capitalism.)

Indeed. The world needs to return to feudalism (EDIT: it looks like I said "feudalism" and meant "the current economic model of Europe"...), with elites -- who are more or less permanent and hereditary even in capitalism -- having, and believing and accepting that they do have, clearly-defined obligations towards the common people and towards the collective defense of the realm.

Of course, there'll always be room for islands of capitalism (imagine New York or San Francisco as a free city), and a modern neo-feudal system will allow social mobility more readily than the original; but still.

I'm not trolling, by the way. The usual assumption is "if not capitalism then communism," but there are older, more interesting systems out there.

(There are also younger, scarier systems out there. The far right is getting disconcertingly strong in Europe, and indeed in the US; I think that if we don't explicitly choose some sort of neo-feudalism, we're going to get neo-fascism instead, or possibly just the original kind of fascism.)

(Disclaimer: neo-feudalism does not mean the revival of torture and oppression. One, "revival" implies that they aren't currently with us. Two, I think that a king, who answers only to God, assassins, his own conscience, and his hopes for his heirs, is less likely to turn lawless or pander to bloodthirsty mobs than a president is.)

>Indeed. The world needs to return to feudalism, with elites -- who are more or less permanent and hereditary even in capitalism -- having, and believing and accepting that they do have, clearly-defined obligations towards the common people and towards the collective defense of the realm.

This post is a good reminder that capitalists are the radical liberal utopians of an earlier age, and what the realistic alternative is: social engineering and control of ordinary people by elites who think they know better, in the best case.

Count me out. I'll die fighting before I become a serf.

(edit: Also, it's just not true that the elite in capitalism are mostly permanent and hereditary. There are over two million Cuban-Americans who either came to this country with nothing to their name, or are the descendants of those who did. Today, they've found their way to the middle and upper classes in about the same proportions as non-hispanic white people who have been here for much longer.)

I think that what I really want is the current European social-welfare model, rather than anything as world-shakingly different as feudalism.

As for semi-permanent elites, I think I've been reading too many books on old money lately. You're right: people who start poor easily become rich, and people who start rich easily become poor. "Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations" is a human universal...

And, now that I think of it, "shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations" was just as true under feudalism as in any other system: the average noble house was extinct in three generations.


So much for that...

Then again, the prevailing opinion of the 19th century was that "inalienable rights" are so last century and the only true rights that exist are those that can be won from a free market.

That's pretty much the prevailing opinion now, and probably moreso than even during the Gilded Age.

I don't see a conflict there, between inalienable rights and free market. It seems to me like the right to sell your labor and property is an inalienable right. What exactly do you mean?

That largely resembles the contemporary European social contract, where there are elites and commoners and in exchange for the elites not having their boat rocked too hard the commoners are guaranteed health care and general welfare, but not necessarily prosperity.

So just like the US, but the elites are less elitist, and the people are less broke?

It sounds like that sums it up nicely. I should move...

Well in the US it doesn't matter where you came from or what you believe, the uniting factor is our work. This makes us believe that if you want a higher standard of living, you have to work for it, and if you are destitute, you deserve it. It has inspired many rags-to-riches lives and the caused hardship and suffering for many more.

"believe" is the operative word here. It seems to me that a lot of exploitation of the low and middle class in the US comes from maintaining the belief in the "American Dream". "The poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires", and all that.

I honestly hadn't thought about Europe that way, but I always did know that I liked the cut of their jib.

Hearing this is both heartening and depressing: heartening because a neo-feudal system already exists; depressing because it's precisely the neo-feudal part of the world that has a neo-fascism problem...

India and China aren't too far behind. The former enables religious extremism and the latter hammers public opinion into a blind acceptance of the solitary ruling party.

Here's what should concern you more: the 20th century was the age of strong states, from the active citizenry of the imperial United States, to the Communist dominance of society in the equally imperial Soviet Union.

The 21st century is the age of the corporation. This forum salivates at a man whose goal in life is to retire on Mars, presumably in a society of his own creation and ownership. Everything in this age is available at a price, even control of society.

Very good points.

My instinctive rejoinder to "the age of the corporation" is to ask how many bayonets the corporation has, but the answer is increasingly "not zero."

This also causes me to notice something else: what if neo-fascism and its Asian counterparts are becoming popular precisely as a way to coerce corporations -- because nothing less than that can bring them under control?

This sounds very plausible, and it's not a pleasant thought. You'd think that the international business class would know what _noblesse oblige_ means, and would realize that they need to not antagonize the planet, but that would be giving them more credit than they deserve; I've read books that casually, in passing, praise the merits of tax havens and condemn all social-welfare programs...

That's a really good point. Perhaps the Achilles heel of mass democracy is that it is easily manipulated in a capitalist economy where our interactions with the world can be exclusively private.

Think about it: we can spend our lives at home, work, and the grocery store. Except they deliver. And so do restaurants. And so does Amazon, so that's everything. Can't deliver love but you can download and swipe, good luck.

When do we interact with government? For the most part, when we: pay taxes; get a ticket; go to the DMV. Some of us even vote.

Then again Australians have to vote and they get proportional voting so their desires scale with support, and it all seems to work out rather well.

> Perhaps the Achilles heel of mass democracy is that it is easily manipulated in a capitalist economy where our interactions with the world can be exclusively private.

That's not a problem with democracy and capitalism. That's how people learn. We learn something and form an opinion about it.

The opposite is censorship, and we know that doesn't make people happy

In a democracy, society chooses where they're comfortable making sacrifices. We have free speech and also decided that libel and impersonation are punishable.

Even corporations have checks and balances that aren't codified. Every year, corporations find that the public cares about some new transgression that wasn't a problem the previous year. Bad press isn't good for oil companies, Apple, Goldman Sachs, etc, and the populace seeks to elect people who will be tougher on these businesses going forward. Failing that, the companies themselves realize they aren't all powerful.

The system is not perfect and was never supposed to be. Things are always changing. The trick is to give everyone their due attention despite their racial or economic background. I think the US does a good job of it compared to other nations. We can do better, and we may learn during this election cycle that we haven't paid enough attention to a widening wealth gap.

> The world needs to return to feudalism

Traditionally feudal lords have aimed mostly spend the minimal amount possible on welfare for their serfs - staving off social unrest but keeping for themselves as much as possible of the GDP subject to that constraint. Are you suggesting that neofeudalism will somehow do better in this respect? Or simply that that would be better than what we have now?

> is less likely to turn lawless

What's meant by this? It might true in the tautological sense that the despot acts within the law by definition, whatever he does. But I sense that's not what you mean.

> Will some sort of neo-feudalism do better than historical feudalism?

I think that what I'm groping towards by saying "neo-feudalism" is the existing European social model with the optional addition of ermine capes, as someone else commented below... This discussion has actually taught me a few things, and I don't have a pre-existing opinion here.

> Kings and lawlessness

A president's timeframe is likely to be "until the end of my term in office," at least if the behaviors of the last few presidents are any indication; a king's timeframe is, at least, "until the end of my life", more likely "forever" since he's handing off the kingdom to his children. (Or she to her children in a queen's case.) This should make it easier to resist panic and opinion polls, and make decisions that pay off in the long term -- like remaining a good country to surrender to.

On the other hand, when a king goes wrong it's hard to stop him -- especially in a context where the king has most of the country's military power. (And decentralized military power creates its own problems; the French religious wars, for example, lasted 80 years and ended in autocracy.)

A tyrannical elected leader (like Hitler) could secure power just as solidly as a tyrannical king could, so elections are no protection there, but what about an incompetent king versus an incompetent elected leader? Get a president with bad judgement, it'll be over in four or eight years; get a king with bad judgement and your country might be permanently wrecked.

So, I'll revise my previous statement: the world needs the European social model, but should probably stay about as democratic as Europe probably is now.

But I stand my position that "capitalism is the problem" means that there are multiple other choices that can be looked at, not just communism. Problems with communism don't mean that capitalism is flawless; and problems with capitalism don't mean that we should abolish private property.

Or maybe what I'm groping towards is this: if people behave responsibly, things will probably be all right, but if they don't, things will go badly. But that's what Confucius said, and his system ended up as a cloak for autocracy...

I'm trying to imagine a system whereby as much power is removed from a corruptible entity as possible. Could the king in your scenario be a set of algorithms?

Someone on HN previously pointed me towards this: https://mason.gmu.edu/~rhanson/futarchy.html

"Elected representatives would formally define and manage an after-the-fact measurement of national welfare, while market speculators would say which policies they expect to raise national welfare."

At least in the Middle Ages, there were algorithms that reigned over the king. A king had an executive role (comparable to a US president, greater than a parliamentary prime minister), but was constrained by customary law -- which is fancy-speak for "the way we've always done things," but even so, it meant there were things a king couldn't do. One of the issues Barbara Tuchman mentions in _A Distant Mirror_ is the way in which the French king could only levy a tax on the whole realm when at war, and even then couldn't continue it after the war ended -- the expectation being that "the king will live of his own," i.e. support himself from his personal estates, at peace.

Going forward in history, that's why the Carlists in 19th-century Spain were both pro-autocracy and fighting for their liberties: they preferred a king who was the absolute monarch of a half-dozen countries (Castile, Leon, Navarre, Galicia, Aragon, and Andalusia), instead of a centralized federal government in which none of the kingdoms had special privileges (note that Carlism was strongest in the northern parts of Spain) and all kingdoms' subjects were administered impartially from Madrid.

Hitler wasn't actually elected. He was appointed by the elected leader.

That's neoreactionary moldbuggery. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater - we can't figure out how to help people in the midwest, so let's make them serfs.

Just don't accuse me of being racist or fascist, and you can call me what you like. But note my point about having more social mobility than feudalism 1.0.

(Even back in the Middle Ages, though, serfs had property rights; they were sharecroppers, legally bound to their land but entitled to keep a proportion of their harvests. In the late Middle Ages, the obligation to give their lords a portion of their harvests was turned into the obligation to pay a certain amount of money -- which was not indexed for inflation, with interesting long-term consequences.)

Serfdom was an economic system that was predicated on the economic value of peasants. The entire problem is that the peasants are no longer valuable, they drain wealth rather than generate it.

I believe the right problem is progress, not capitalism. I'm an emigrant from a non-capitalistic country, by the way.

You're right that the problem is that progress, with each step, benefits fewer people.

Why capitalism is cited is that it exacerbates the problem. If you look at Switzerland or Sweden, you don't have the same issues that you're having in the US. There are protections. Health care is provided, universities are free.

It seems that us as engineers either partake in pushing these souls into oblivion or join them. I see no way out unless we invent an economic use for those who will be useless.

No economic use is not oblivion. Being useless needs to somehow be destigmatized while not being encouraged. It's not the end of the world, there are happy monks who live in seclusion off the generosity of others, there are some happy people with special needs who we don't try to make work and retired people who still enjoy life. There's no reason we can't have people being happy doing hobbies some day if we can get past training ourselves to feel like shit when we're not doing useless but socially necessary work (which is what most jobs are rapidly turning into). Some country is going to implement basic income and force us to talk about these ideas that successful people feel we can keep pushing away because it doesn't affect us yet.

> there are happy monks who live in seclusion off the generosity of others

Monks choose to live that way. Most people need more than money to survive. They need challenge and creativity, too.

> Some country is going to implement basic income and force us to talk about these ideas that successful people feel we can keep pushing away because it doesn't affect us yet.

Scandinavian countries have had better social programs for years. It's why the wealthy in the US fear discussion of things like basic income. They don't want to pay the tax rates of those countries.

There are countless ways to find challenge and creativity that don't involve working for money. In fact, most paying jobs are pretty bad at satisfying that need.

I totally agree with you. I should have been more clear.

In my opinion, some people want to work. They want to contribute to society and receive validation in the form of a variable salary that can go up or down according to their contribution. Others don't. Both are fine.

Calling people "useless" is not a great selling point for basic income. It strikes a nerve with some people [1], and while I think the post I just cited went over the top, I see what they're getting at.

Useless is subjective. I wouldn't call monks or anyone else useless. Yet, this is one of Altman's reasons for supporting basic income [2]. I don't think he intended his statement to be interpreted that way. It is what it is.

[1] https://medium.com/the-development-set/silicon-valley-s-unch...

[2] http://www.techinsider.io/sam-altman-praises-basic-income-on...

I bring learning from a distant shore! Over in India we've found an economic use for all those who will be useless!


So the solution is that the US should abolish the minimum wage and make it possible to cheaply bribe your way out of following regulations, so that middle class people can afford servants again?

Yes, we should abolish the minimum wage, and if necessary directly subsidize the poor with EITC and similar programs. That will reduce disincentives.

Of course, if we really cared about reducing poverty and inequality, we'd just skip the EITC and open our borders - but obviously the massive amounts of inequality between an American and an Indian are far less important than the relatively small amounts of inequality between two Americans.

Another solution is a basic job - basically a basic income, but you need to work for it (e.g., fixing our crumbling infrastructure and providing free child care for working mothers).

>Another solution is a basic job - basically a basic income, but you need to work for it (e.g., fixing our crumbling infrastructure and providing free child care for working mothers).

So you want to nationalize the construction and child care industries?

This is radically more communist than any basic income scheme i've ever heard of.

When did I say that?

All I propose is putting people on welfare to work on all the left wing's favorite projects. This will save money (we can reuse the existing pool of welfare money rather than finding new money to pay Davis-Bacon wages) and reduce work disincentives (either do a sucky government job or go be a maid).

You are talking about the government providing jobs to citizens in private companies? How does that work? The government interviews you and places you with a construction company who has no say in who is hired?

Thats nationalization of an industry

I'm proposing to have them work directly for the government, FDR style. You go to the government and say you can't find work, and they say "go to X location and do what the foreman says, you get paid $7.25 x 8 hours at the end of the day".

Well this is a great way to go from "some poor people have jobs and can barely afford rent" to "Why is everybody homeless now?".

Step 1: Poor person produces something useful, rather than simply consuming.

Step 2: ???

Step 3: Everyone is homeless?

Could you fill in step 2 for me? I'm not following your logic.

Poor person accepts job paying 1$/hour to compete with indian wages.

Absent coercion, I'd assume that was that person's free choice and that taking whatever state subsidy was implied plug $40/week is better than just the state subsidy.

(Work provides a way to fill the time, have social interactions, and a sense of purpose and accomplishment, in addition to the financial aspect.)

See my other comment - if you want to transfer wealth to the poor you can do this with EITC or other programs that don't discourage work. A job guarantee is my preferred policy.

(And keep the borders closed - poor brown people don't even count for 3/5.)

Also, you seem to be imagining that if landlords of poor people would rather get $0/month in rent (with houses going vacant) than reduce rents. When did landlords become so non-greedy?

What's there to say? We "destroy jobs" in the same way that cars destroyed professional carriage drivers and automated looms hand-weavers. Phone systems no longer run on switchboards. Few of these are considered major losses for society.

I once worked on a product that did a guy's 40-hour-a-week job completely. He had spent every working hour compiling a series of reports by hand. Then he spent none, because we did it for him. He was our happiest customer.

> What can we do? There is no stopping the train of automation.

Spend a year or two teaching people to program. It'll give your brain a nice rest

It won't solve the world's problems but that's something you can do as an individual.

Or you can read about your local politicians and start a Facebook page to support the ones whose views you share.

Job functions have been changing since the cracking of coconuts with rocks. There is no need to stop this train. Teaching helps society advance. If we spend some time teaching programming, whether formally or informally, I think that counts for a lot.

I'm reminded of the book 'Wasted Lives' by Zygmunt Baumann. In it he describes how the ever changing nature of capitalism constantly creates a population that is surplus to requirements. Think of what happens to dockside communities when the harbours are automated and the dock work dries up. Or coal mining towns when the mines are closed. This pattern is repeated all over the world throughout history as capitalism renews itself through creative destruction or flees to low wage countries in response to labour militancy.

> In 2011, economist Guy Standing coined the term “precariat”

Not really. It began to appear in German books in 2005 (https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Prekariat&year...) and searches took off in the end of 2006 https://www.google.com/trends/explore#q=Prekariat%2C%20preca... The German version of the word is still more common.

It actually really surprised me that the word is so young, as I think the word is pretty much common knowledge in German.

Automation can automate manual labor jobs the easiest. Maintaining cities, crafting medicine, colonizing space -- these are important jobs that humanity has.

I think the bigger issue is that most people don't have resources to pursue training to tackle this kind of work.

There are so many problems left to solve in the world it's a joke to say "there isn't work to be done"

> There are so many problems left to solve in the world it's a joke to say "there isn't work to be done"

There is a lot of work to be done, and there will be in the conceivable future - but it doesn't mean there's profitable work to be done by humans. a) machines keep replacing us doing more work and doing it better than us, and b) capitalism doesn't optimize for useful work, it optimizes for profitable work - so even if there's a lot of world problems to solve that could be tackled by the poor and uneducated, they're still screwed if they can't feed themselves from that work.

Of course there is work to be done. It's just work that a smaller and smaller percentage of the most competent people + technology can be useful in. This isn't just an issue of providing more training resources, technology allows people more access to the work of the most competent so there is less and less work for people who are not the best at things or capable of learning really quickly to fill the new wide open niches that are popping up before technology narrows them too.

there isn't profitable work to be done

I'm reading two books right now. The Rise and Fall of American Growth [1] by Robert Gordon and The Grapes of Wrath [2] by John Steinbeck. They complement each other, and this post, very well.

I would recommend Gordon's book as an objective overview of the astonishing growth in economic and quality of life terms from 1870-1970. It's not as thoroughly researched as I expected it to be, and the prose is somewhat clunky, but it's a good lesson in the history of technology that we take for granted nonetheless.

Steinbeck's tale of the banks/landowners displacing poor, rural farming families is also extremely pertinent in light of this post. Car dealers extract value from the fleeing, unnecessariat farmers in "Grapes", while insurance companies/debtors prisons extract value from the unnecessariat rural poor chronicled in this post. The promised land of "Grapes" (California) continues to be successful today, with the coasts accreting a large portion of the nation's wealth. It's also just a beautifully written and thoroughly considered (to the point of seeming spontaneous) piece of art.

I am waiting for the next paradigm shifting technology with bated breath.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Rise-Fall-American-Growth-Princeton/dp...

[2] http://www.amazon.com/Grapes-Wrath-John-Steinbeck/dp/0143039...

I've read Gordon and am planning a review (I've published a "first impressions" at https://reddit.com/r/dredmorbius). Some (brief?) thoughts:

1. His history of change 1870 - 2015 is good. Some weaknesses, but solid, and he makes his case for dramatic changes. A mention of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs would improve the discussion, but his point even without stating that is of drastic changes (and improvements) to basic food, shelter, clothing, and security needs.

2. He misses some infrastructure with his focus on consumer impacts. Less so with early work than in his discussion of information and communications infrastructure, in which I think there might be some weaknesses to his argument (and a possible out for the optimists).

3. You'll find the meat of his theory in the third section of the book. Chapters 15-17 IIRC. Focus your critical eye there.

I've got many quibbles with his economics arguments, though most of the errors actually bolster his overall argument -- I feel actual recent trends are worse than Gordon states.

Steinbeck's Grapes is a true classic. Reading that as a story of an epic animal migration (as Steinbeck begins it) is humbling.

> from where I live, the world has drifted away. We aren’t precarious, we’re unnecessary

You're not unnecessary.

Have you read your local candidates' views? Have you identified the ones with whom you agree? Have you ever run a voter registration drive to help elect them? Or suggested to friends who share your views that they run for local office?

You're capable of making change. Putting so much energy into saying you're unnecessary shows you have the time.

Not entirely sure about the "shows you have the time" part.

It doesn't take that long to write a blog post, particularly not a blog post about something you clearly think about a lot and feel passionate about.

I'm not convinced that "you had some time to write a blog post" equates to "you have enough time to thoroughly research your local politicians, network with all your neighbours, and if necessary run an entire political campaign."

If a person can maintain a blog with ~40 posts over the last year and a half [1], they can afford to spend some time reading about their local candidates' positions as it relates to issues they care about. Networking is just a Facebook group or page away. People in less developed countries such as Cambodia are mounting campaigns this way [2], and they have lower wages, longer hours, and worse living and working conditions than Americans. People there live under a government that has the longest running dictator in Asia (31 years), yet they show up in droves every chance they get to vote.

I'm not attacking the author. I understand the feeling of worthlessness and its effect on your desire to do things. My point is she has the ability to do these things. And, nobody can bestow confidence upon you to act.

[1] https://www.google.com/search?client=ubuntu&channel=fs&q=sit...

[2] http://sea-globe.com/virtual-democracy-social-media-election...

Fantastic article. Extraction of value by the elite is the problem and a partial solution is a movement for local business and constantly pushing back even with simple things like paying for local goods and services in cash, not credit cards. Why should banks get 3% on all local transactions?

Our system is grounded on the requirement for growth, and somehow that has to change. There is nothing wrong with businesses that don't grow and pay decent wages and serve their communities, but our economic regime heavily discounts companies that are not growing.

Just referring to the first section which was about AIDS, I'm curious about this statement:

"For much of the 80’s, AIDS was killing thousands of people every year, and the official government response seemed to be: Who cares? Let the fags die."

I was around during the 80s, too, and I remember a tremendous national effort to address the problem. From 1982 on, there were crash research projects all over the US and Europe to figure out what AIDS was, and find ways to treat it.

I also remember the ACT UP group and especially the reports of them invading medical conferences and screaming verbal abuse and threats at the researchers.

You could have written a similar kind of "What about us?" article in 1935, when fully 25% of Americans were out of work and no prospects. Or in 1905, when the Progressive movement arose in response to the grim abuse of factory workers (as per Sinclair's "The Jungle"). Or in 1890 when the robber barons were riding roughshod over small farmers and other businesses and American society was riven by vast injustice and income disparity. Or in 1875 when Blacks, freed from slavery, were disenfranchised, refused education, and put down violently all across the South. One could go on and on.

Things are not now, nor will they ever be, perfect. It's always possible to find fault with the system. It's important to keep trying to improve things.

Yet, I have to believe that the blogger who wrote this article has a roof over her head, not in danger of freezing to death for lack of utility payment, owns a computer, probably also a smartphone, probably also a car, and gets three square meals a day despite feeling underemployed or overlooked. In short, the poor and the victims of the vast economic changes that have convulsed our society are better off today than ever before.

At the same time, huge debts and vast regulatory structures have choked off the kind of small and medium businesses that at one time employed much of the middle class. We have a lot of work ahead of us to restructure our society and level the economic field once again. I think it's possible.

New disruptive industries will arise that will afford fresh opportunities for young people. 3-D printing might be bringing manufacturing back to the U.S., for example. The energy sector, currently in a bit of a slump, nonetheless has a bright future between fracking and solar/wind alternatives. The chemical industries are moving back to the U.S. thanks to rock bottom natural gas prices. There's a lot to be hopeful for, actually.

Just my 2c.

Disclaimer: Very half-baked idea follows.

The problem seems to be rooted in automation replacing jobs faster than it creates new ones. The solution, then, may be to limit automation so that we have close to full employment.

The best (economically) way to limit automation is to tax it. You set the level of the tax, and basic economics does the rest. The jobs that are more economically done by humans (after the tax on automation) get done by humans. If there are still too many people unemployed, raise the tax. If the job market gets tight, lower it.

What could go wrong? Plenty:

The tax might not cover all forms of automation.

The tax might be set at levels that are politically determined, rather than for the effect on employment.

Raising and lowering this tax could react in unfortunate ways with the business cycle.

Foreign countries using automation could eat our lunch. We could to some degree handle that with tariffs, but they might respond with tariffs of their own and kill our exports.

I'm sure there are more possible problems that I haven't thought of. Never the less, in theory, this might be a decent solution.

The California suicide map is interesting. Coastal suicide rates are low until north of the Bay Area. Then they are very high.

California's major cities are doing well, while its rural areas like those of much of America have been in a depression since 2000.

I would call it consumeriat. Our consumption drives supply and we need it to fund things like infrastructure and technology that help us consume things better, and in the process the general standard of humanity rises (as long as there are sufficient resources and the planet is not too disrupted by climate change).

That's cool and all, but it's not exactly what unnecessariat idea is about. People who in the past would be considered the proletariat -- the source of labor and capital -- are no longer useful economically. The labor they offer is no longer useful to society.

If a hundred people can be replaced by one skilled worker and some robots, that will always be the better deal due to costs like insurance, work speed, management overhead, lawsuit potential, and so on. So simple jobs that these people used to do simply do not exist. And while everyone can be a programmer, not everyone can be a competent one.

So yes, the standard of living for the labor class has decreased relative to others, but is still high. It's still high enough they get access to addictive drugs. Which is a problem, but also a symptom. I feel like the root cause is that we really do not have a great economic theory to handle the case where labor cannot produce sufficient value to capitalists. (IANAEconomist, though.)

Note that they're still human beings and we still have some duty of care to them as a society. Fixing consumption is not going to stop these people from killing themselves.


"Bessen argues that during times of technological innovation, it often takes years before workers see higher wages from productivity increases. Bessen stresses the importance of the standardization of education on the job as workers adapt to new technology."

http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2016/05/james_bessen_on.htm... James Bessen on Learning by Doing

William F Buckley advocated for forcibly tattooing people? I guess he really was a crypto-Nazi after all.

The map of suicides per capita are pretty depressing. 5x higher in the south west vs the east?!

The aids epidemic affected a much smaller community than the suicide and drug problem does, though. So I'm a little lost by the comparison.

The AIDS epidemic affected a community. The suicide and drug problem doesn't affect a community, which is why the community banded together to create change and the non-community hasn't. It's a contrast, not a comparison.

Well, the contrast lost me because population size wasn't contrasted.

If you still think that population size is relevant to the point, the contrast is still lost on you.

Imagine 10% of your community dies a year. Now imagine 0.1% does. Do these differing percentages make any difference to your sense of urgency and willingness to fight the problems causing those deaths? No? Well ok then.

Imagine a percentage of your community dies a year. Now imagine a percentage of people die who aren't part of your community at all. Does the differing membership in your community make any difference to your sense of urgency and willingness to fight the problems causing those deaths?

I'm not saying the percentages aren't relevant to the larger discussion, but the membership in a community point is also relevant, and doesn't require the percentages to be a valid point that stands on its own.

I wonder how many of the suicides and overdoses are veterans? Farmers? Both those communities contribute here. I've seen smaller scale outcries on veteran and farmer/rural suicides and drug use. Couldn't this lack of large scale outcry be explained by the small amount of people that it relatively effects when compared to aids in the gay community?


Please stop posting uncivil, unsubstantive comments here.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11767172 and marked it off-topic.

That sounds cruel, assuming you're talking about natural persons. They should at least get to live until the first gray hair shows up on their head.

Think of it as reverse stack ranking.

Is there a realistic way to cap earnings or holdings? Has it been tried?

I had an idea of tax that is Tax = Income - Log(Income). That would help make the positive loopbacks milder.

Well ... the big socialist experiments were not that successful in the last century. And the real growth of prosperity post WWII was due to a couple of hard to replicate factors. I guess it could be possible to mandate that no person could own more than 1/X of the national income. But won't pass unless after revolution.

The cap could still be high enough to motivate people, but effective enough that it limits the extreme hoarding we see now.

<inserts entire James McMurtry catalog here>

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