Sometimes I look at society as a complete organ, with a hypothetical ability to make cohesive decisions for itself. And I think, it is making extremely self-destructive choices. All for the sake of satisfying the urge to buy more, at lower prices, with more convenience.
I wonder how much of the stuff in those warehouses is utter garbage that gets bought and used just once.
Distribution is all about margins, if you can't keep costs low then you are toast, they are always utterly miserable places to work.
There is precisely one solution to this problem, and it is us electing leaders who change the rules in favor of the working masses, and enforce those rules mercilessly against exploitative employers.
I later found out that they were always on edge because on any given day, one mistake could cost them their chance at a raise, bonus or any cost of living increase for the year. Farmer's had an elaborate points system used to determine eligibility for pay raises (basically cost-of-living increases). We were mobile and had to investigate 3 claims per day without exception. Our daily assignments and locations were algorithimically generated by very substandard software (didn't fully take into account variations in traffic over time and wasn't based on reliable, curent data in the first place). It was in Los Angeles, so traffic and distances between appointments could be immense. Yet, we weren't allowed any exceptions. If we didn't make one of our appointments, depending on the size of the claim, that could disqualify you from a bonus or pay raise. Too many (5-8 per year) could jeopardize your job. The same went for providing iaccurate estimates. So if you missed something (more realisistically paid out too much without trying to deny responsibility) on one flagship luxury or sports car (7 series BMW, S Mercedes, etc.), you'd likely lose your bonus. It's like every day is a chance for you to lose while I feel like for many of us here on HN, each day is a chance for us to earn a bonus.
UPS drivers are under the same pressure. That's why they leave packages outside or in the lobby of buildings. If they don't complete their algorithmically generated deliveries for the day, they're dinged. They can never question the software either. Customer service is another field with similar pressures. Being under that daily constant fear and pressure for such little reward must be so mentally taxing, like if one was still in the food chain
As someone who only worked there for a month, it was a pretty nice unexpected bonus.
One of my favorite philosophical thought experiments! I'd argue that that society is an organism comprised of several governments/companies which act as the organs.
I usually observe each organ making decisions to optimize its use of money, (or blood in this metaphor!).
It is usually clear that these decisions have net negative effects on us individual humans (cells) in the organism.
But the question remains, when each company and government optimizes for money instead of individual health, is that healthy for the success of society, the broader organism?
The film evokes a sense of how things are connected and all the suffering we create due to a desire to alleviate suffering.
In multiple sizes...
If the workers don't like it they can work elsewhere or start their own Amazon.
Have some fucking empathy.
With health and safety standards, there's always going to be some really shitty jobs. For example, in terms of health and safety mining coal is pretty undesirable. But if nobody is doing the job, the demand still stays there and the position is available for much higher pay. If you could earn $500k a year doing a job that's destructive to your body it can still be very much worth it. Of course, most of these workers either have few choices for work or are not totally aware of all the health issues associated with their jobs. This is obviously of concern, but I don't think banning the job outright is the right way to go.
All our current system of labour and union law has accomplished is the offshoring of suffering. We've not gotten rid of the existence of, nor our reliance on abhorrent working conditions. We've just moved them elsewhere, in the process wasting tremendous amounts of energy (not to mention the associated destruction of the environment) shipping things to and from more lenient jurisdictions.
I propose that if the working conditions we rely on were present under our noses, we would do more to try to actually mediate our dependence their production.
Corporations aren't moral agents and can't be treated as such
the companies used violence to try and get their way
If they're going to be treated like people then go all the way, but until then they need to be regulated to prevent the worst of their excesses that have been played out again and again
Corporations may be groups of people but they don't get treated like people
And... I guess I must not be as optimistic as you are. If we didn't have things like OSHA, I do not expect that most workplaces would act in the best interests of their workers' health and safety. Look at countries where there aren't OSHA-like laws and see how well they do there. (Hint: not well.)
Look at countries where there aren't OSHA-like laws and see how well they do there
I'm definitely a fan of workplace health and safety standards, though. Countries without those tend to cut corners to their workers' detriment.
Note that the submitted article is from the UK, where the workers might not be able to work elsewhere, and where they may have had some element of compulsion through the current benefit system to apply for and take jobs at Amazon.
Sounds like speculation.
For clarity: people claiming Universal Credit will have been compelled to apply for work at Amazon, and will have had their benefits cut if they had refused to apply. And, once employed, people face a minimum 6 week wait before they can apply for benefits if they leave Amazon, and that time is extended if they chose to leave or were fired.
It's really sad, regardless.
Customers will never interact with the person that boxes their amazon shipment. Those individuals are not seen as people, but just a necessity to continue operations.
Costco's Jim Sinegal steadfastly refused to cut employee pay and benefits to satisfy investor's demands. That kind of "employee first" thinking starts at the top and filters down throughout the entire organization.
Even if you're being charitable towards Bezos' attitude towards employees, it's clear that people aren't his focus. He's focused on automation, growth and performance. That kind of thinking also starts at the top, and filters down through the rest of the organization.
I remember reading a profile of Zappos around the time they were acquired by Amazon, that highlighted the differences between the two companies. Zappos built its brand on legendary customer service, and there are all kinds of stories about how the retailer empowering its reps to offer customer service that goes above and beyond. Things like sending flowers to a customer's hospital room.
In contrast, at Amazon, every time a customer has to interact with a human, it's seen as a failure. The goal is to remove human contact from the sales process as much as possible.
With that attitude, it's no wonder that employee wellbeing isn't a major focus.
Also know a past Costco corporate employee and only had a positive impression.
EDIT: it does go to the top. The CEO resisted investor pressure to reduce wages and perks. Mad respect to him for treating his employees like people instead of cogs.
Costco has far fewer SKUs and sell in bulk only high quality and price items. So they can afford to pay well because they only entertain customers which are spending far more for fewer high selling items and not few dollar obscure replacement parts.
(This is not saying they shouldn't treat employees better, just that the reason they employ so many people in the first place is bc of reinvesting and expanding to more areas. It's not as simplistic as, 'if they have the money they should spend it on people instead of business')
There will always be someone who has less and is therefore satisfied with less, and companies will capitalize on that to offer the bare minimum to get the job done. Ultimately the person who'd do the job for more gets no job, the person doing the job for less doesn't get a fair compensation, and the only party benefiting is the company.
(Well, "crappy". Aside from the low pay and bad hours, it's alright. I haven't seen any of the abuses that get talked about, although I'm sure they happen elsewhere.)
Over half of new hires quit or get fired - I'm not sure which, but probably both - in their first two months, and they mostly hire for 20 hrs/wk part-time schedules. So it's not hard to see why Amazon is an easy place to find work at.
I've applied to a few hundred jobs in my life, ranging from software development to slinging lattes, and Amazon is the only company that's ever even given me an offer. Most of my male friends are in similar positions: they're pretty smart, but they can't get anything better than FC, retail, truck driver, that sort of thing. (Truck driver was, in terms of pay, the best outcome I know of, but that was one guy and he killed himself over it last year.)
The impression I get from my (generally more successful) female friends is that the only things that matter nowadays are networking and credentials, and most public job postings are only put up as formalities.
It is a simple fact I stated. Reinvesting in new areas allows them to employ more people in those areas. This isn't an opinion, it's just a fact.
> If you can't grow your business to be a monstrosity without treating your employees like slaves, your business should not exist.
Hardly any companies make it to be "a monstrosity" in the first place. Jeff Bezos did it by reinvesting and expanding. Apple did it with ridiculous margins and taking advantage of people in foreign countries (who literally jump off the roof of FoxConn to end the suffering). Microsoft did it with monopolistic business practices. IBM and Google as well. Giant clothing companies to this day still get caught with their hands in sweatshops. Banks milk people for fees and have the power to crash the stock market through stupid gambles, taking peoples savings down with them. Airlines take advantage of their employees by paying almost nothing and customers by merging until there is very little competition and then gouging fees from people. Same with ISP's.
The idea that "a business shouldn't exist if it can't get gigantic without unfair practices, taking shortcuts and hurting and taking advantage of people" is a moral one, but not realistic in today's world.
Should it be changed? Yes. Of course.
But all I did was state a fact. It's how the economy works. And Amazon would not employ as many people as it does now without the reinvestment in new areas and taking shortcuts in other areas, like how they treat their employees. Just a fact. A fact that is despicable. but a fact nonetheless.
Where is the evidence? Whose to say how much faster they would have grown without the employee misery and churn?
If you have $1 million to spend (as an example), and you can open a new store and hire more employees at a lesser rate, or pay your current employees more and not open a new store:
opening a new store = growth and more people hired + more revenue
paying your current employees more = less "employee misery and churn" and no growth + less revenue
I'd argue it's more like *slower growth, which should be acceptable, especially at Amazon's size.
Also, I'd in fact argue that making sure your employees have time to go pee wont significantly hurt your bottom line. At most you might need to hire a few few more people. Amazon operates at numbers big enough that this shouldn't be a considerable expense.
> I'd argue it's more like *slower growth
Exactly my point, just in a different context. I was speaking on a much smaller scale than Amazon as an example.
If you own a restaurant, and can open a second location and hire more people, you are reinvesting and expanding and bringing in more revenue, which you can reinvest to open more locations. If you pay your current employees more instead, then you aren't opening that new location, and there is no growth (or much smaller growth if your employees do a better job, which would be incremental compared to opening a second location), but people are happier and less taken advantage of.
It's a fine line to walk, and very rarely do companies get it right. Costco is an example of a company that does get it right. There are, unfortunately, far more examples of companies that don't.
The person that replied to me asked for evidence of how reinvestment causes slower growth than paying people more. That side conversation had nothing to do with Amazon.
> Also, I'd in fact argue that making sure your employees have time to go pee wont significantly hurt your bottom line
No one is arguing that. In fact, I agree with it.
I see other large tech companies (Google, Apple, Facebook) with these huge profit margins every quarter, year after year. Amazon has never made a dent in any of them, nor made a sizable profit themselves, despite all of that "opportunity."
Perhaps he's not speaking of tech but of retail, in which case the margins of companies like Walmart are already incredibly tight.
I feel like that's pretty revisionist. For a very long time, shopping at Amazon was about price first, variety a close second, and convenience a very distant third. I doubt so many people would have developed a habit of shopping there so much if the advantages were truly "convenience and variety" first.
Amazon's prices have gotten much less competitive the last several years, which has disrupted the value proposition that caused many people to choose it.
I find it hard to believe that free 2 day shipping and free customer-first returns did not sway opinions though since it basically pushed the entire industry forward.
They're all okay losing money in the short temp to capture online consumers
They have the money to make huge acquisitions and invest in planes, drones, etc. They have the money to treat their employees decently.
I fail to see the point of that comparison really.
That's being presented as some giant perk nowadays, but I don't really get the appeal. You're buying something sight-unseen and hoping what you'll get in a few days will match the mental images formed from the pictures. You can't size up the item in person, you don't get an excuse to leave the house, and you have to wait longer. If you don't like it, you have to go through the hassle of boxing it up, printing forms, and finding a post office.
I actually looked at my Amazon order history, it's beyond boring: soap that was out of stock last time I was at a physical store, washing machine cleaner, an OXO cutting board and a cheese grater, Anker USB charger, etc. I would never choose to go to a store and compare for any of these items and was quite happy to have them show up downstairs. If I do need to return I just print off a piece of paper and take the same box back downstairs (from my perspective way easier than having to go back to a store and wait in line).
That margin is Amazon's opportunity. /s
We often talk about the importance of working for a profit center not a cost center within a business. Amazon fulfillment is a great example of this.
Costco has a different target market than Amazon. They target relatively well off people who can afford the upfront cost of a membership and have the capital to buy goods in bulk. That customer base places a relatively high value on customer service.
It was also implied that there had been capture of first level supervisory positions who played favorites.
Their warehouse employees are extremely replaceable and amazon knows this.
With Amazon, it's hard to imagine all the smart people that are being paid well, and used indirectly to squeeze the folks on the "factory floor", however unintentional.
I worked at Microsoft during Balmer's reign. The founder/CEO's attitude dictates the work culture. And causes harm if it's bad.
I live in Seattle and often hear this joke: Being an Amazon customer is the best. An investor is great. An employee not so much.
I worked at Amazon in 2005 and was a customer before that. But I can't support Bezos anymore because he negatively impacts how people are treated. It's not on par with Nike's sweatshops in the 90s, but I still canceled Prime and stopped buying things from Amazon.
(Disclosure: I am a software engineer in AWS, and I love my job. Sorry, can't speak for non-tech jobs. Opinions are my own.)
Consider a mid-level software engineer hired 4 years ago, on April 16 2014, with a salary of $100k. A typical stock grant at hiring for a mid-level software engineer in 2014 might be $400k over 4 years, backloaded so most of it comes at the end; on April
16 2014 the share price was $323, so the grant would have looked something this:
Apr 16 2015: 154 shares @ $323 = $50k = $150k total comp
Apr 16 2016: 248 shares @ $323 = $80k = $180k total comp
Apr 16 2017: 371 shares @ $323 = $120k = $220k total comp
Apr 16 2018: 464 shares @ $323 = $150k = $250k total comp
Apr 16 2015: 154 shares @ $383 = $59k = $159k total comp
Apr 16 2016: 248 shares @ $625 = $155k = $255k total comp
Apr 16 2017: 371 shares @ $901 = $334k = $434k total comp
Apr 16 2018: 464 shares @ $1,440 = $668k = $768k total comp
Amazon (and Seattle in general) could be in big trouble if the stock price turns around. I don't think that's likely, but it's kind of scary to me.
If they are, holy shit. I thought the meteoric rise in housing prices around here was almost entirely due to the influx of people compounded by this region's seeming inhospitable allergy to building housing stock at anywhere near a reasonable rate.
But, damn, if your table is even within 80% of reality, I am floored. No wonder it's virtually impossible to rent or buy anything for a "realistic" (for me, and I make a pretty good income, or so I thought) price anywhere between Edmonds and Auburn. The rest of us, even those employed in the technology industry, simply cannot compete with that kind of cash on the barrel.
If this hypothetical employee quit on April 10th, 2018, they would not get the 464 shares (== $668k) on April 16th, 2018. They also would probably not get a comparable offer if they quit to join Facegooglesoft. So, if they quit, they lose out on hundreds of thousands of dollars. That's enough to keep many people even if the work is unpleasant.
I think growing housing costs are much more scarier for a worker than an idea that some engineer gets 200-300k less.
Why do technologists reliably chime in with completely irrelevant details of a technologist's experience of working for a tech company, in response to articles talking about how poorly those companies treat their non-technologist staff?
What does the one have to do with the other? "Amazon can't be all bad, if they aren't abusing (some of) the subset of their workforce that can meaningfully vote with its feet"?
EDIT: not singling you out specifically, but you did the thing here, so you get the follow-up.
Warehouse employees are cost centers. They're replaceable pseudo-robots that are filling in the gaps until the engineers mentioned above finish building the real ones. A new worker at a cheaper rate is objectively better than retaining one, because the number of boxes packed tends to increase inversely proportional with age and tenure. The company treats them accordingly.
The turnover rate is generally less than 2 years.
They work you like a dog but proof that you can 'graduate' from them gets you better offers afterwards.
Crazy system when you think about it.
I worked at Amazon for ~5.5 years, and it was fine. I wasn't in bliss, but it wasn't awful, it was fine. I eventually left not because conditions worsened but because my team's responsibilities eventually shifted to work I disliked enough to overcome the momentum (web ads), and I found out they have a very generous severance program if you know what to ask about.
What do you mean? Are you referring to the severance you get if you leave on a PIP?
Also I had been on an actual PIP before and I'm pretty sure that option wasn't mentioned.
All that said, I would advise that if you get put on a PIP, just take the severance right away. You're ineligible for a raise or additional stock grants in the cycle following the PIP.
Presumably both groups are vastly different regarding qualifications, income, ability to switch jobs and freedom to structure their work, so I think they should be taken separately when discussing workplace conditions.
(As an analogy, during the industrial revolution, the people that designed the machines probably weren't the ones that were working 18-hour days in hazardous conditions either.)
walmart.com is better designed that amazon.com. I don't know when that happened but you can take a look at two product pages for the same book and be the judge. 
That's just the tip of the iceberg. I could rant about Amazon's software for days, but in the end software doesn't necessarily mean they are a bad company. If I order something from amazon I expect to get it quickly and in the case something goes wrong I can talk with someone who will be more than agreeable. That is why they are successful, not because of their software prowess.
The design of a webpage for companies doing 100s of billions in revenue will be rather subjective and hard to change without materially affecting that revenue so I'm not sure how valid that comparison really is, or what it has to do with "better software".
I will say that building the infrastructure to power such an efficient ecommerce empire along with AWS is not trivial and you're likely vastly underestimating the quality of their systems based on what seem to be rather surface-level observations.
I'd also say that if AWS had a 6-7 year head start on the competition, then that was the competition being lazy. It's not as if Microsoft/Google didn't have the ability to deliver a cloud platform back in 2007, and history shows they were delivering cloud products around this time. Microsoft Azure was announced in 2008 and launched in 2010; Google App Engine launched in 2008, storage in 2010, and VMs in 2013.
Walmart can do one thing right, while Amazon has the majority of it right for me. It's going to take a lot to sway me away from Amazon.
Hacker News hates big companies, Amazon being evil is in the zeitgeist, and people are unable to contextualize criticisms properly.
Being a software engineer at Amazon is fine (yeah, yeah, congrats, out of the tens of thousands of engineers you were able to uncover a few horror stories and terrible teams. Shocking) and very lucrative.
This is sparing the employer at the expense of the employee. Employee's employment status is.....far more sticky.
They prefer calling it 'customer-centric'
> Amazon, Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company
If they'd like to be actually customer-centric, they can start by implementing a search that doesn't rank counterfeit products with a single 5-star review over real ones with 5000 reviews and an average rating of 4.9.
I feel like Amazon's reputation for being "customer-centric" doesn't actually reflect their current practices, but instead it leans heavily on past reputation (when their competitors were worse) and a convenient return policy that papers over problems.
The technology is not there yet man!
That said... Amazon is definitely not human-oriented. Leadership within established business units is brutally efficient, with far too much faith in their metric goals. Ask any engineer about HR's survey tool, I think that's a prime example of cultural decay within Amazon.
Amazon used to be "customer obsessed" with a strong engineering culture... these days the cultural values are "maximize revenue, minimize costs".
One can get this bonus basically everywhere else in the area with similar sized companies. Hell, I got way more than that 8 years ago.
The vesting schedule is diabolical:
> 5% 1st yr, 15% 2nd yr, then 20% every 6 months
coupled with the turnover rate: http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/blogs/business_inside...
I can't imagine anyone rational and with reasonable technical skills thinking this is a good enough incentive to join the company.
It's a much more reasonable quarterly vest with a 1-year cliff now.
I've been living in the Seattle area for a really long time and I've heard so many horror stories coming from Amazon that I could fill a book.
Also, I am aware of the 'Amazon is not for everyone' narrative. Yes, I agree, it's not for people who value their work/life balance and expect to be treated as a human at their workplace.
I am also aware of the 'it depends on the team' narrative. That's bullshit. Indeed it does depend on the team but 'generally' (to quote Zuck) it sucks.
The other reason to consider carefully before going there is they sometimes try to scare people by enforcing non-competes. So what are you going to do, deliver papers? Here's a recent article - https://www.geekwire.com/2017/business-personal-amazon-web-s...
edit - here's an example of layoffs in seattle https://www.seattletimes.com/business/amazon/amazon-laying-o...
I order something on Prime, then it doesn't show up when I expect it to, I get no notification of any delays, and then when I log in to see what's going on they have changed the original expected date so I can't even see what I was originally promised unless I took a screen shot.
This has been the case on 2 thirds of my deliveries over the past 3 months. And I'm not even going into the sham that is 3rd party selling.
The scummiest part, though, is that when packages get completely lost, half the time I can't request an automatic refund, I have to work with a customer support rep to get it issued.
Realistically, it should be completely automated. If Amazon knows my package was lost (in my most recent case, it never even shipped!) not issuing the refund automatically is anti-consumer greed.
I'm finding more and more (or maybe it's always been this way?) that the onus for correcting or making sure something is correct, is ALWAYS placed on the last person in the chain.....the individual.
I never hear other people complain about this though. I wonder if it’s not widespread?
> I never hear other people complain about this though. I wonder if it’s not widespread?
I've gotten increases like this on some items, though not as consistently as "every time."
I no longer consider Amazon to be generally price-competitive with other online retailers and big-box retail. I pretty much only shop at Amazon when I have no idea where to buy the item I'm looking for (such as weird informally-imported things).
Ironically, I'm actually starting to use Amazon as an "online showroom" for general searching, but actually make my purchases elsewhere.
The one thing I returned was a breeze.
The reason for my comment was that my experience receiving a shiny package doesn't really overlap with what employees are being put through. Both reflect poorly on Amazon, the conversation about employees is a valid on it's own as there are avenues with Amazon to already complain about poor delivery and have a recourse.
Amazon's total offer was usually about 100k lower. Sometimes more. Amazon SWEs still earn hundreds of thousands of dollars. So being treated poorly and paid less is relative.
In Amazon's defense, I have friends who enjoy working there. The MBAs especially love it. Again, it's not like anyone is stuck in some Nike sweatshop from 1974.
The best bet for amazon warehouse employees, and delivery drivers, would be to unionise. This would lead to either
1) More investment in robotics, taking away menial jobs
2) Better conditions for shelf-stackers.
Both are good -- as a society we should not be making people work when the work could be done by robots.
I think best solution is universal basic income, but that of course is far from being accepted in USA. But it gives power to people, it make them not being so afraid to lose a job, so employers have to act accordingly.
I have said before here that I cannot imagine universal basic income working in the USA unless American culture changes drastically to favour heavy state subsidy of arts, culture and community centers. In the Nordic countries where a substantial portion of many communities are on the dole, the state generously provides concerts and theatres and social facilities so that those people have something wholesome to do, they don’t just all sit home and drink (some do, of course; you can’t win every time). What would small-town Americans do with their time if they weren’t working?
Of course while people vote against their best interests (the false belief that hard work guarantees success) I'm sure that those with the power will continue to exploit those without.
A culture of makework can be harmful in that it would push some people to do pointless jobs when they might actually do something beneficial for society (but perhaps not profit-generating) if they were given free time.
For example, I am fortunate to work remotely in a job that pays me a lot of money, but I am in a country with low cost of living. That means I only work 2–3 days a week. All the rest of my time I am busy with obsessively editing OpenStreetMap, writing the occasional journal publication in the field I trained in at university, and participating in the local arts scene as an audience or writer. I know that if I got to receive UBI, I would still be doing things with my time that are overall contributing to society. Please don’t make me sit in an elevator all day to press buttons instead.
I would like to think we will. I suspect we'll have people doing 60 hora a week of breaking rocks for no reason other than making those higher up the food chain think they aren't hetting a free ride.
It's the Bell Riots and Sanctuary Districts I'm worried about.
Which is why I suspect when it comes to Star Trek's future, we'll get to the dystopia, but not the utopia.
Come on, that's so misleading. Offers from the big tech companies come in 4 year bundles. There's no way your offer was $100k per year lower unless you didn't get leveled the same at Amazon as you did Google.
I got an offer from Google in Mountain View and despite being CONSIDERABLY higher, the COL difference made Amazon's pay higher. And that assumed stock prices remained the same. They've doubled.
Which just benefits the company even further?
Edit: if you downvote please reply. How will I correct my stance if I get no feedback? I'm not sure why I'm getting down voted.
Edit: Thanks for the comments. I did assume this meant Amazon stock. Didn't think my comment sounded so combative until I was told.
If I understand your meaning and if your post's "confrontational" mood is/was the issue, you might have cast your post declaratively instead of interrogatively.
> Using compensation to buy stocks would benefit the company even further even though the company may unfairly exploit its employees. This would run counter to the employee's own interests.
Or something along those lines.
Recasting questions as statements sometimes reduces the rhetorical signals which can be interpreted confrontation.
EDIT: Remove double quotes; add emphasis. Clarify last sentence. Use past perfect in first sentence. Recast second sentence.
If you work for Amazon as a developer make this issue known. Few people have as much power to impact the company as a group of developers - we all know what a pain in the ass it is to hire.
I'd never work at Amazon knowing how it treats its workers. Given the market we're in I don't get why others would - if you work for Amazon you should be able to jump ship for another good company.
The argument is that they have a demanding work culture which people want to leave after a year or two, but are then incentivized to stay to earn out the bulk of their grant, or alternatively that they promise huge grants knowing that many people will not get to the point where they are collecting the bulk of it.
But I do wonder how insightful, clever or useful those methods are when towards the edges of his empire people work in constant fear and pee in bottles to survive.
The ever-increasing home price in the Seattle area seems to indicate it isn't bad enough to stop them from working there.
Graphs for this are shown here:
This is also in the article:
The e-commerce giant posted a record profit of $1.9 billion during the last three months of 2017, marking the 11th straight quarter of positive net income for Jeff Bezos’s company.
About $789 million of that can be attributed to a tax benefit resulting from President Trump’s tax plan. But even without the benefit, the profit number would have been the largest in the company’s history.
And depending on how you break this list down (Exclude Bermuda from North American cities,bundle Bellevue/Seattle, Brooklyn NYC) it's in the top 10
They don't make any money on distributing products.
My feeling is that in order to avoid this and prosper, the people need to own the robots that do all the work (Marxism heyy). If robots provide huge productivity gains, then they will provide those gains for their owners. If it’s the big corporations that own them, they will see the gains. But as long as people are treated like machines, they will be left out of this prosperity. Instead, if the people own the machines collectively, then they can enjoy the productivity gains themselves as a group.
What do you all think of this?
All necessities in life cost money: food, housing, childcare, healthcare; and those in the most precarious social positions are the people most willing to accept abusive employment for reasons directly tied to their survival. This is a natural consequence of a socioeconomic system that asks everyone to fend for themselves.
I have tremendous sympathy for the empathic pain they had by seeing those levels of exploitation. Das Kapital's first volume is basically 50% accounts of child labor and exploitation. But they had no way to know that when the state holds the capital the results are even worse, had marx seen the soviet union at its prime he would have probably revised his own theory.
Marx's reserve army doesn't hold water. And he himself denounces that one of the most common ways of the exploitative model was precisely how much the aristocrats ignored private property rights and pushed people to extreme poverty and marginalization.
He had and still has many interesting ideas, but he was very much wrong about many of them. Which is fine, all these economists got things super wrong.
And another interesting point Marx made: Look how well America is doing! Europe should be like that.
You can argue its not going fast enough, but the direction is unequivocally upwards so far.
Also, the direction currently is towards stagnating wages and growing wealth inequality.
After extreme poverty ends, you get poverty to uplift and so on.
> Also, the direction currently is towards stagnating wages and growing wealth inequality.
The problem with such nice catchphrases that are repeated over and over by interest groups is that they are inaccurate, and often end up advocating for even higher inequality.
What specifically is an "inaccurate catchphrase" in what I've said?
Smartphones, safer cars, cheaper travelling. Have to be very careful to look only at nominal bills to make economic judgement.
And maybe the most problematic and expensive things americans suffer generationally, housing and healthcare, are the defacto most intervened and regulated markets of all. It is the state, in its magnificent regulatory capture, that its pushing poverty unto people.
Also inequality has always been a topic of conversation, what is new is income inequality, and its still an open problem, not something there is economic consensus about. There are other things that have economic consensus, for example, getting rid of corporate taxes. But you dont hear that coming from "high inequality and stagnant wages" guys.
>housing and healthcare, are the defacto most intervened and regulated markets of all. It is the state, in its magnificent regulatory capture, that its pushing poverty unto people.
I won't defend much of anything about the state of housing or healthcare in the US. The government is certainly a huge part of the problem, I have no issue accepting that.
Here's the thing: I don't think that all government programs are good. Some are designed to push poverty unto people like you said. But the solution isn't to get rid of all regulation or the idea that government can be used as a tool for the masses.
We need to have a government that is much more aligned with the interests of the people than the interests of large corporations and capital. To me the way to do that is to expand the limits of democracy to include how the economy is run, how natural resources are used, and what the relationship between capital and workers should be.
When democracy is used to plunder, there is no way back. It will be living for the purpose of robbing others, and the poor have never fared well in such systems.
We live in a world with relative freedom but still very constrained. Look at the US spending 25% of its GDP through the state. And european countries reach 40 and even 50%!
Half of every thing produced consumed by the state. The State is the enemy. It really is.
The most positive effect I can imagine is people being stroung enough to resist the powers of states and pit them against each other. The most scary future I see is the collaboration of countries. Concentration of capital is bad, but concentration of power is the true danger. And the State garners its concentration with the power of might.
I'm suggesting that we can create a new form of governing that further decentralizes power.
Actually I don't think so. Even Marx saw that socialism was a stage of history which followed from capitalism. In the same way that feudalism's aristocracy provides the conditions which create a merchant class that eventually overthrows the aristocracy, Marx sees capitalism and capitalists as providing the conditions which create a working class which eventually overthrows the capitalists. He would probably be annoyed with the soviets for trying to skip most of a phase and he would probably be annoyed with us, modern westerners, for not recognizing where in history we are - with rising inequality, increasing productivity but stagnating wages and the general increasing returns to capital.
>Marx's reserve army doesn't hold water.
Doesn't it? With chronic unemployment persisting since our most recent crash and now that we're finally reaching low unemployment ten years later, wages haven't moved much. If you explained the idea without mentioning Marx I think most people on the street would intuitively agree.
I dont think the reserve army makes any sense in todays world. But it did in his were labor was so interchangeable that people migrated for labor in masse all the time. I dont think out of work janitors put a lot of pressure on software engineer jobs. That unemployment in general drops wages, or that full employment increases wages, is a much older concept than Marx's.
Supply and demand, after all.
Unions can only raise a workers wage in two ways: by increasing productivity (which they seldom do) or by restricting the amount of workers.
leadership that don't have the interest of the workers at heart
workers organizing together and using collective bargaining
Perhaps we might have a better discussion if you told me what it is you're actually driving at because I'm not quite sure I see it.
> large reserve of under-employed workers, or people who didn't previously participate in the labor force, is what enables the most exploitative jobs
This still holds.
No, what accounts for that is access to incredibly cheap energy, in the form of fossil fuels and electrification.
Energy is what lifted people out of poverty, not any of that other nonsense. Without coal, oil, and hydro power, most of us would still be subsistence peasants, regardless of whether or not we would live in Communism, Feudalism, Capitalism, Fascism, or some other -ism.
I don't know a ton about the economic history of these two countries, but prima facie this seems to belie your claim that it was simply energy availability.
China's a bit of a different case - but for contrast, compare it to the USSR. Despite three decades of war, civil war, near-genocidal purges, and some more war, by the 60s and 70s, it has lifted millions of people out of a similar level of intractable poverty. Again, not on the back of its economic system, but on the back of industrialization.
It's hard to stay poor (Compared to world poverty in the 1800s) when you have running water, indoor plumbing, and electricity.
 https://www.slideshare.net/ashishverma061/growth-of-electric... - Slide 16.
You are extremely confused about the history here. The British left India in 1947; WW2 ended in 1945. India and South Korea had a similar GDP/capita in 1950; they were on opposite ends of the spectrum 50 years later after 50 years of a wide GDP growth gap (during none of which time did British India exist).
I believe more than most people in the path-dependency of politics, especially with respect to things like colonialism. A lot of the sclerotic, Soviet-influenced, bureaucratic strangling of the Indian economy during this period is at least partially attributed to (reasonable) democratic political backlash against the abusiveness of the British economic system, in the form of eg labor laws that have been harming the economy for half a century.
That was James Watt's steam engine, which was efficient at turning combustion into mechanical motion, and it was happenstance that it was invented in 1780, and not 1580, or 1980. People didn't suddenly develop a need to move heavy things in 1780 - it came around then because of advances in steelwork, precision manufacturing, and general refinement of the idea (Such engines were around for over a century, but were not compact, or efficient enough to be very useful.)
All of a sudden, the labour of a coal miner was enough to feed a 10, then a 50, then a 100 horse-power engine. It was the AGI of its era.
Why was there a coal mine? Why not use wood or charcoal? Why didn't the Romans go down this path? They invented a toy steam engine.
These things have many causes. Obviously watson's invention was a big inflection point.
But, as for the question "were liberal markets necessary?" my suspicion is yes. But, I don't actually know. I think the answer begins before James Watt.
Why the steam engine did not succeed because Watt, was because the same reason that tri-deck galleons and gunpowder did not exist in the bronze age. Non-trivial practical inventions require a massive pyramid of other non-trivial practical inventions, each of which requires a pyramid of other non-trivial inventions, all of which have to solve a contemporary problem - cheaply then their alternatives.
If liberal markets were necessary for the invention of the steam engine, why was it invented in England, and not in Renaissance Italy? It had liberal markets, access to capital, and was a center of technological and cultural progress for hundreds of years.
There's no particularly satisfying answer to that, other then 'happenstance.'
It's almost tautological to say that energy is behind growth, but it's also independent of economic structure, which effectively boils down to "the manner in which we convert energy to utility".
PS: The China boom looks 'good' mostly due to how terrible the country was run prior to that. Expand the time scale and compare to other countries and things don't look nearly as good.
It is not the case in developed countries. For example, we don't increase food production by just adding more farmers with hand tools. We have mechanical engineers making more efficient machines, chemists producing better fertilizers, scientists studying plant growth, etc... These people need a high level of education, which mean they need the time and resources to study. People starving won't make the skilled workers employers need.
What really enables exploitative jobs is the need for exploitative jobs.
He is saying that through progress there are fewer "shit" jobs, so there are fewer people exploited.
It never has been and never will be economically viable to pay a ditch digger the same amount as a doctor. So as long as jobs like ditch-digging exists, people must be "exploited" to fill them.
I would like to think that in the 21st century we could have idleness for many, and abusive exploitation for none.
- housing - trending downward when not attempting to live in dense urban area (i.e. prefab modular homes)
- energy - trending downward once renewables and battery technology catch up
- transportation - trending downward when looking at non-luxury cars as well as on demand (Uber, etc.) and electric cars powered by renewables
- childcare/education - trending downward when combined with homeschooling and MOOCs like Coursera, Udacity)
- clothes - trending downward when you focus on store brands
- entertainment - trending downward (Youtube)
What happens if you could build an automated machine that you owned that farmed for you in your backyard and its cost trended downward?
Then really the only cost that needs to be managed is healthcare.
One thing Marx got right was this: He said that as long as Capitalism is the dominant system, there will always be full-time employment for the masses. There will be new jobs created in new fields which are far removed from producing goods(jobs like advertising, insurance, etc.). Marx thought that humans as a whole will never work for significantly fewer hours as long as capitalism exists.
Incidentally, Marx was vehemently opposed to things like Universal Healthcare, better Labour laws, Mandatory Vacation and a higher minimum wage. He famously said that if these things were considered Marxist, he himself was 'not a Marxist'. The reason? Because these measures are beneficial to capitalism in the long run because workers are more likely to stay working under a capitalist as their life is bearable. When conditions deteriorate, that is the time that workers are going to revolt and try to own the means of production.
So in reality most of the stuff liberals advocate like better pay and healthcare are decidedly anti-marxist and pro-capitalist. It is opposed by some corporations because they care more about short term profits rather than the long term sustenance of capitalism.
We can build any system we’d like.
Of course, we can build all of those things because we'd like it. Zero marginal cost world peace awaits us!
I encourage you to chase this! I also encourage a backup plan.
We already have machines that produce food. Why do you think they are still manned by an entire workforce? Out of sadism?
Backyard aeroponics: self-sustaining farm for Wisconsin cold -
Internet of Farming: Arduino-based, backyard aquaponics -
My friends and I tried to "end game" the conservative mindset and I hadn't thought of this option.
Our exercise was: if hard conservatives achieved their goal of, say, eliminating food stamps, what would happen? Presumably private churches etc couldn't pick up all the slack so the only thing we could think of was skyrocketing crime. What, are people going to just starve to death when they could simply walk out of Safeway with ten loaves of bread and a jar of peanut butter?
Felony conviction, kids that need watching, physical disability, mental disability, age, lack of language skills, lack of any working skills, lack of available jobs for education level, lack of jobs at all, explicit or implicit racism, off the top of my head.
If you think "laziness" belongs on the list, pm me and I'll send you a digital copy of "Evicted."
None of them make it impossible.
I never claimed life is fair, but does unfairness really justify criminality?
Also, as the underlying discussion is "why might honest people need to steal food?", it's not very reasonable to include felony convictions as the first item on your list.
I'm not arguing morality, I'm arguing reality. Just like a stock broker would be a fool to expect rationality in the markets, so too would a government be foolish to expect everyone to fall in line when the screws start to turn.
If you grow up a black kid on a street in Atlanta, and you watch your friends get snatched up by the cops for smoking pot, or shot in drive-bys or harassed for standing on corners, and you don't get to go to school cause they don't do bus service in your neighborhood, would you care about "fair?" You care about eating. You're a human. You need to eat.
From your example, it sounds like the real issue would be behavior from law enforcement / public officials that encourages criminality. The issue there is not "no food stamps". It's a bad system. Fix the system that you think is broken, and then you won't need food stamps, no?
Another note, I think it's dangerous to simply conflate "law abiding" with "honest." The system that creates and upholds the laws is simply too flawed to allow it to be considered 1:1 with the country's moral code. See: rich people getting away with sexual assault for ages, the useless "war on drugs," illegal and immoral activity by federal agency followed by the persecution of whistle blowers exposing that activity, etc etc etc.
A system of laws is necessary, but not necessarily good. It should always be questioned and evolving.
What you're getting at is that there are many people right now who are too poor (and are going to be too poor) to ever own any part of the robots.
This century's great debate is forming up to be whether or not we should give them some anyway even though they can't "earn" it for whatever moving value of earn society is currently accepting.
How? Keep in mind, I drive a car I bought for $1700 cash and I've restored and maintained it with my own hands.
Most people don't have the time, knowledge, tools, or space to maintain an older car, so a new car with a warranty is a smart move.
New cars are safer and more fuel efficient. They last longer than ever before. Not having a car is not an option for most Americans.
I don't see how a car payment is indicative of poor decision-making.
> If you were to invest that (...) into a good mutual fund with a 12% rate of return, you would have over $100,000 in 10 years! At 20 years, you would have made $470,000. And at 30 years? That mutual fund would be worth $1.6 million!
Maybe I'm not savvy enough but I have not encountered mutual funds that will reliably sustain 12% over three decades.
Nevertheless, I haven't had a car payment for so long that I can't remember the last time I paid one. Trips to the mechanic are frequent and costly, but at least I'm not uselessly paying interest.
I'm surprised Ramsey can have a successful national brand saying little more than infinite variations on "spend less than you earn", but there he is, and I guess some people need to hear it like that.
If you must have a new car (we bought used fairly often, with good results), there are a dozen cars you can buy for around $15k, which works out to $270/mo with a 3.1% loan. I'm really stacking the deck here: I ignored cars that are too small, since I assume a family with children, I'm using a pretty high interest rate, and I'm ignoring used cars. Bear in mind that the _average_ payment means that it's ignoring the substantial amount of people who don't have kids and would be fine with a smaller car, or those with better credit who can get a better rate.
That being said, I don't know enough about the distribution of the discussed figure to say whether it makes sense in the way we're using it: $500 is the mean payment, not the median, so it would be a mistake to assume that there's an "average person" who pays $500. It's just as likely that some people have higher payments (that they can afford easily) and poorer people have lower ones.
>The average new car payment in America has crept above the $500 per month mark for the fist time, settling in at $503, according to a recent study by Experian.
and here's your statement:
>When the average car payment in America is around $500 a month
See the mismatch? This is not evidence that people (especially poor ones) are overspending on cars. It doesn't say anything about people without car payments, people with used cars, people who bought outright or even how many people exist in those categories. Besides I just put $500/month on a 5 year auto loan into googles calculator and I got a cost of $27,751. This isn't exactly an extravagant purchase for a new car.
Besides this notion that most people will ever be able to cut their expenses enough to "amass multiple millions of dollars in investments over their working career" is just painfully out of touch.
So, the American people don't have a spending problem, America has an education problem. (America has many education problems, really)
People only do what they know how to do. If you let a street worth of kids grow up on the street without giving them another opportunity, how are they gonna put food on their table? The ways they learned on the street. Same idea.
The manufacturers needed to make them last more than 100K because most of the manufacturers are closely if not directly tied to the financing, and if they wanted to make loans at high interest and 96mos they needed a car that would last at least long enough to cover the majority of new 65+ mo loans people are getting.
Instead, buy a used car for $5,000 to $10,000 and use it. Invest the rest. Hell, financing a car for $200 and investing the rest would be much better than financing $500 worth of car per month.
Poor people aren't financing cars for $500 a month. $500 a month is the average monthly cost for a new car loan. Poor people aren't financing cars for that much.
And its also not given that such a money, well gotten, has been produced by giving something in exchange, so it has removed tat money from less inefficient hands. It was still owned by someone, just changed hands.
Bastiat was right about something, using money as a measure of economics is just an invitation to confusion.
I think stock schemes can work as an abstraction, but only when combined with other bylaws that grant clear powers to shareholders (like a bill of rights). I write a little about that in one of my speculative fiction stories on automated society here:
if i'm not an expert in using (and maintaining) that equipment (who also happens to own a space which is large enough and zoned for that equipment, and proximate to the customers or raw inputs for the equipment), owning the corporation that owns the equipment is better than owning the machinery, because it means i also employ people to run (and maintain) the semiconductor fabs and wire bending machines and shit (which have been located in cost effective places) for me, so i can go off and do the things i know how to do well.
> ...when you own a car you reap the benefits of cheap travel much more directly and in a very different way than getting a dividend check.
i also accept all of the risks and responsibilities directly. if i buy into a hypothetical publicly traded ride sharing company, i don't have to worry about any of that.
Can I? I've got no clue how to run a Kiva, I just know that somewhere, there's one making me a few pennies right now being run and maintained by people who know what they're doing.
A product/brand independent "means of production" type investment is an interesting idea. It still doesn't fix the fact that there are people who are just never going to have the resources to buy into such a thing, which I think is really the core of the issue.
Of course if you are a common stock holder you are at the bottom of the barrel as far as value goes. Preferred stock holders get all their money first, and then common share holder get what's left (at least in a liquidation).
There's plenty of blame to go around. You can thank all the NIMBYs and countless housing regulations that prevent cost effective shelter from being created.
It's within our technological power to create housing for a tiny fraction of what it costs today in SF: just look at the tiny house movement. Just imagine how much cheaper it would be if something like that was built but stackable. Housing, A potentially multi-trillion dollar industry, completely unassailable, very few companies or investors are investing in this, all thanks to: Regulation.
Regulations and land use policy hamstring developers, increasing costs endlessly. Instead of working against them, we should be working with them to streamline and reduce their costs and finding ways to create more competition between them, to ensure that people get the very lowest prices. It can be done. Places like Dallas are growing every bit as quickly as SF/bay area and can still create housing for 100$/sq foot. I suspect even lower prices are possible with the removal of regulation: which would finally allow humanity to innovate in this area, rather than creating yet more cat video apps.
This harmful idea that real estate is something that should go up and up forever is wrong: morally and economically. In a world that is progressing, things should be getting cheaper, even real-estate.
Right now, your options in SF are a 200$ tent under a bridge or a 2 million dollar condo. There, really ought to be more options between those two extremes.
Say, did you ever read or see "Ready Player One"?
Don't get me wrong, I'm very aware that most moral systems have somewhat-principled reasons to prioritize those that are geographically closer to you. This is intended more to illuminate that side of the argument than as a full-fledged suggestion for how to set our priorities. But the claim being discussed here, that the future will wonder why we let people die in the streets, is still bizarre to me in the context that you're framing it in.
You argued that thinking globally is more important than thinking parochially, which is fine by itself. But it's totally unrelated to what toomuchtodo is saying unless we were taking global action in lieu of local action.
So I assumed you meant that, because it's critical to your comment being relevant.
If you didn't mean that, then your argument falls apart. toomuchtodo is not arguing for being parochial, they're arguing that we should be making it a priority to fight this problem at all.
“Is the US facing an epidemic of 'deaths of despair'? These researchers say yes”
I'll agree with you on the environmental issues, but I think we're well on the way to solving those too and largely via the same mechanisms, Chinese solar is close to pushing coal out of business on price. That's not to say there's no role for regulation in the environmental direction though, I certainly think there probably should be, but how to do so globally and fairly is a bit of a catastrophe.
Given the incredible amount of energy and resources being wasted by some of the richest countries this level of inequality is far from acceptable.
But I am even more afraid that our future descendants will live in the same rampant callousness and cruelty that we've created and perpetuated.
If they live in a better world than ours and look at us like savages, then I think overall things will have gone pretty well.
Sorry that it's all The Guardian but they had a series that I happened to remember, and I think that publication has a good enough reputation:
Of course, if we find the slightest mistake or hyperbole (if there even is any) in an article or comment about the plight of the poor we can discuss THAT instead and dismiss the entire thought. Another form of bike-shedding, instead of using good faith for the discussion use every tiny opening of the "opponent" to sidetrack the discussion and to dismiss the issue.
So, where are the people of the masses of dying in the streets? None? Even in San Francisco they look shabby but very much still alive? Well, case closed I guess.
If future historians look at any part of this with confusion, it'll be the part where we ignore mental health and think dumping cash/housing/whatever on a person will solve everything.
It's weird seeing someone writing this in a thread about how Amazon exploits its workers for profits (ie. in part for its shareholders).
There are structural problems in our society that cannot be solved with new technology.
Is it though? Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't stock only generates value if it increases in price (or the company decides it wants to pay dividends), and not directly from the productivity of robots?
To put it a bit more clearly, your stock only makes you money if Amazon keeps growing. Let say Amazon were to reach a theoretical maximum size: profits and value stop growing. It would still generate massive amounts of money but would it be obliged to give you a cut of it?
No, I think you have it incorrect. As long as revenue > costs and internal expenditures, you make money by dividends. That's the whole reason we buy stocks. Price growth is ultimately just a projection of the belief in higher future dividends.
I'd just like to point out that if you believe in roughly efficient markets, if your enterprise maintains its value, if you amass a pile of cash, that will be reflected in your share price.
The dividends come directly out of that share price whenever issued. You can theoretically amass a pile of money that would make Smaug blush, and this will increase your share price to reflect. But that cash isn't being reinvested, it's only going to increase linearly with respect to that cash position. Which is why in many circumstances investors frown upon it.
There are also stocks with high dividends, which are paid out based on profit and not by the stock increasing in value.
This is obviously ignoring the fact many people either make horrible financial decision or are too poor to invest in stocks.
I'd like to retort this because I think it's important to have a bit of perspective here:
1. Population growth doesn't imply market growth.
If I sell polio treatment, my market are the number of people with polio, which thankfully hasn't been correlated with population growth.
2. Market growth doesn't imply revenue growth.
3. Revenue growth doesn't imply profit growth.
Say, for example, I run a company building cheap computers for the children of low-income families. As I move into new countries and expand my revenue I might want to, instead of increasing profits, make my computers cheaper so more children have access to them.
2 and 3 are usually not true when companies are trying to maximize profits, but I don't think 1 should be at all rare.
Anyway, this is besides where the discussion was meant to go, but thought I'd share.
The revenue is used somehow. The board decides how. And shareholders elect board members.
Thus, if growth stalled, but there was excess revenue, the board would need to decide where it goes. It could be used to help growth revive, by using it to invest in future prospects, it could choose to use it towards employee compensations, maybe if it believes its required to retain talent, or it could choose to give it to shareholders as dividend.
If the board does make decisions the shareholders don't like, they can eventually be booted out and replaced by a new one.
This isn't a new problem you are talking about. Stocks have worked like this since they have existed.
Go take a look at any major company that "stopped growing" but is still making money, and see how it works.
Amazon needs to do better, but working class Americans also need to do better with their finances so they don't spend themselves into awful situations like this. Ultimately the idea that the average working class American will never be able to afford stock is just a fairy tale peddled by Marxists. The average working class American is more than capable of amassing a multi million dollar net worth by retirement by making wise decisions and investing, instead of crapping away all their income on things they don't actually need.
Keep in mind this is just from a single decision the average person is making.
Serious question, I am not financially knowledgeable but I know you'd never get 10% interest in a savings account (for example).
Blaming any problem of this magnitude on individuals is not reasonable.
There's a systemic pressure toward overspending through advertising, etc., and we've created a society where many people make an amount of money, that, if spent "wisely", procures a stressful and unfulfilling existence.
Clearly Marxism is not the right solution: our system isn't inherently and completely broken, but it needs adjustment. I think Piketty has the right idea. A progressive tax on capital would do a lot to equalize this inequality — if we could ever amass the political will to implement it — though it wouldn't correct our current situation where everyone is constantly manipulated to think they'll be happy if only they buy this one more object.
This is just anecdotal, but I see this a LOT. The stubborn insistence that blame is paramount in any discussion and that the world should be made fair before action can be taken to improve one's life is a pretty substantial barrier to said improvement. Sometimes the deck is stacked, and working on unstacking the deck can happen in parallel with reacting to the world as it is now. Out of college, I had friends who made half as much as me and spent twice as much; income aside, we were both exposed to pretty much exactly the same environment, and somehow we made purchasing decisions that were completely swapped from what you'd expect. As the parent comment said, "Amazon needs to do better" too, but putting personal behavior outside of the realm of control of the individual isn't helping anyone, it's harming them.
I agree with your general point that simply wishing that people would do better for a behavorial issue at this scale is unlikely to do much, but I don't think that's implied by the GP comment's suggestion. There have been successful campaigns to cause large-scale behavioral shifts before, and recognizing personal choice as a potential mechanism of improvement doesn't mean we can't approach the problem in an intentional, structural manner.
Just an aside, but in all of this I'm taking on faith the power of advertising that the HN community at large seems to consistently think that we're helpless before; this has never been my experience; I don't care much about ads, I don't see any mechanism in which they could drive my purchase decisions, etc etc. To wit, I buy the cheapest option (that I haven't already tried and disliked) for cheap items and extensively research medium to high priced ones. There's no question that brand advertising affects my level of brand awareness, but it's _really_ not difficult at all to remove that factor from your purchasing decisions. If anything, my prior would be that all the people who blindly purchase based on brand awareness are shifting the value prop towards brands that are _less_ well-known, since theoretically they need to compete on something else (price, features, quality, whatever).
 Spend any time with Europeans and you'll appreciate how impressive the American anti-smoking campaign was.
I find it silly to blame individuals (if only they would do better!). The law of large numbers applied to these cases guarantees that there is a systemic issue, not an individual one — however — I think this sort of "you all should do better!" campaign can be a perfectly viable solution to a systemic issue in some cases, if it can effectively shift enough mindsets to turn a cultural tide.
Blame is a ridiculous concept when talking about large-scale social dynamics, and effectively shuts down the search for any systemic adjustment that would constitute a fix.
> Blame is a ridiculous concept when talking about large-scale social dynamics, and effectively shuts down the search for any systemic adjustment that would constitute a fix.
I agree with you. Frankly, I rarely find the concept of blame to be all that useful for improving matters. For an example from the other side of the politically-coded spectrum, terms like "victim-blaming" are most often used as thought-terminating clichés, selectively applied to avoid having to justify one's point. For example, telling women not to dress provocatively when going out and telling tourists to keep their passport close to them and watch their bags are both just as "victim-blaming" as the other, but only one of these is given that label. (FWIW, the reason I disagree with the former and agree with the latter is that being able to dress as one pleases is a lot more core to my conception of fsirly fundamental rights than being able to avoid paying attention to one's belongings).
e: Which, speaking of Marxism, this situation will keep you permanently alienated from your coworkers and will forever prevent community bonds from forming with them.
The point being, those drivers are doing more for the (short term) future of that company than any other entity. In the long term? For those drivers? The long term is not being an Uber driver.
I get what you are saying, but somehow this attitude also rubs me the wrong way sometimes.
It's like "Hey, I'll pay anyone a nickle per piece of trash they pick up in the local forests"
Soon: "NiceNature is the worst company ever! They exploit their workers to pick up garbage without proper protection, the employees have no rights or securities and are forced to pee on trees because no bathrooms are provided! Worst of all, they aren't even paid a living wage! /u/ythn is the worst CEO ever, he gluts himself off of the labors of the socioeconomicly desperate!"
Like, all I really wanted was to fix a problem I saw with our local forests, not become a human trafficker...
I.e. "biting the hand that feeds you" syndrome. Can't we just make cool things that don't require you to give 401k matching to everyone who touches your cool thing?
Again, maybe this doesn't apply to Uber and they totally could be giving full benefits to all drivers, etc., but I'm just saying in general
You get to have nicer forests to walk in?
> /u/ythn is the worst CEO ever, he gluts himself off of the labors of the socioeconomicly desperate!"
The problem is capital owns production, and capital is not distributed equally. And if you forcefully try to change that too much, capital leaves for greener pastures or is no longer put to work.
I don't think equality is a good goal. I think a good standard of living for all citizens should be the goal. After that's been achieved, I don't care how rich the 1% are.
The value of things are proportional to the human labor expended to make them, if robots do free shipping and all of that, their cost will tend to drop to the cost of making the robots.
The public narrative that robots should be taxes is as logical as saying we should tax computer, or hammers. Its not economics. A more compelling argument is that the shift of work in the future will be even more detrimental than what we know, which might be true, but it has also been true in the past.
That's one theory of value--there are many others.
Your example of collective ownership of capital happens to horsehoe back to not being all that different from my suggestion, but what's the advantage of collective ownership over simply high tax rates (on capital gains, if you like) and redistribution?
The usual argument against something like this (e.g. a UBI) is the psychological effects on those who don't work, but that seems moot for the purposes of this comparison, since the exact same would be true of collective ownership of capital that you have no real-world experience with or connection to.
This wouldn't own any robots from privately-owned companies, though.
Isn't this basically a corporation?
Building blocks spanning microcontrollers to motors to power converters to lighting to the rapid fabrication of small parts have never been cheaper or more accessible. And why would you buy remote-controlled lightbulbs from BigCo if you could make one yourself (or get a friend to) for the cost of a sandwich?
Because you can't spare the extra $3 to buy a fair-trade organic lightbulb every few months, would probably be the answer. And that would probably be because you're stuck in jobs like these. So maybe I'm just spouting baseless optimism.
I think you need to step out of the engineer shoes.
The majority of people struggle to understand their computer works, let alone building their own robots and writing the software.
There still aren't many people muddling through the introductory online courses on those topics, but there could be. Encouraging participation in learning about useful subjects seems like another good goal which could be helped by the low cost-at-scale of things like MOOCs, and showing people how to make useful things actually happen in the real world seems like a good way to reinforce that encouragement.
Or should we just look at the situation, throw up our hands, and
However look at all the factories closing down and manufacturing jobs lost, plus coal mines etc. Many of those jobs weren't that great either.
The only way I learned to program and now have a career is because I had easy access to the internals of a computer. I could start tinkering. I started messing with the internals of the computer even before I started programming. My curiosity led me to the file system of games and I started replacing sound and image files to mod my games. If someone's access to computing is a mobile phone they download and install prepacked bins. The can't and don't get to look at anything under the hood. No matter how strong their curiosity is they can't just discover.
You'd have to shift to a model that, much like REITs, requires revenue to be distributed to the holders. By which point, you've just created an automation trust fund, and companies start selling ATFs.
Life always takes work to run. Getting to work every day to pay for food at the store and run errands etc just to do it all again tomorrow feels like beaurocoracy too. I’d much rather have a world where the work I do to support myself is to vote on local community matters (the next merge request, etc), instead of commuting through a zoo and looking out the window at the sunshine.
What we don't want is a society where the governments/corporations exclusively own all the robots, such that we have to go through them.
Most of the software world made its choice. Remember the Open source movement is a political movement and not a software movement.
The point of Open source is to control the source or precisely 'Own the means of production'.
Most jobs have always been shitty, this is less shitty than most and pays somewhat better (I believe Amazon is harder work than Walmart but pays more). And you can't find Americans to work in the fields, mines, slaughterhouses anymore.
If it was really shitty the US would get foreigners to do it. So much of the stuff Amazon ships is made overseas we almost might as well cut out the middleman and ship it directly from abroad, put a few giant warehouses just offshore or in Mexico. (I kid)
...at the rate of pay offered.
Speaking as a software engineer, if you offered me double my salary and secure employment for a couple years to work in a field or mine, I'd do it. Test me. Make me an offer. Slaughterhouses I don't know if I could do, but I'll bet plenty of people would for my current salary or less.
About a decade and a half ago I probably would've done the same for maybe $50/hr.
By the same token, the fact that Amazon retains hundreds of thousands of employees at $13 an hour means working conditions can't be in a different league from Walmart etc. Of course Amazon should be managing this stuff so it's not a Dickensian sweatshop. But of course they know that and they know the worse it is the more they have to pay, and these stories are maybe a little overblown.
Or at least I don't see buying at Walmart instead of Amazon to be a humanitarian necessity or particularly welfare-enhancing.
I kind of see it as a FedEx vs. UPS situation, FedEx pays more and is more brutal, pick your poison as a customer or employee.
Everything you buy that's cheap is cheap because people worked hard in shitty jobs.
What happens when a private party (or a competitive public party, like China) designs cheaper and more efficient robots?
The conflict is explored in Ayn Rand's "Anthem", where the society is a collective owner of a candle factory and therefore resists advance of electricity, or Mike Judge's "Idiocracy", where half of the workers in the country are employed in various capacities by Brawndo beverage company.
People try to rehabilitate Marxism every so often, but the problem of the murderous regime pops up again and again, for a simple reason: when the state arrogates to itself enough power to remake society according to some Marxian vision, it opens the door for abuses far worse than anything Amazon will ever perpetrate.
Are you sure you're not thinking about Social Democracy instead?
That’s the problem with Leninism.
The (biggest; there are others but this prevents even useful discussion of those) problem with Marxism is that people (even those who oppose Leninism and disbelieve everything else associated with it) accept Leninism’s propaganda that it is Marxism, rather than a system which adopts the rhetoric and stated end goals of Marxism, but abandons both it's mechanisms and explicit preconditions.
You are, of course, free to say that the murderous regimes that have popped up again and again are not the true Marxism. But then you have to explain why the false Marxism has appeared so often, and then to explain, given that millions of lives could be at stake, how to prevent a recurrence.
That's only a small piece of vanguardism, which while it is a big change isn't the only significant change (and is, in fact, an adaptation to the fundamental change, which is abandoning the prerequisite of the development of a broad working class identity under developed capitalism.)
> You are, of course, free to say that the murderous regimes that have popped up again and again are not the true Marxism.
Well, I mean its self-evident true, and I didn't need your permission, but thanks.
> But then you have to explain why the false Marxism has appeared so often
I don't see why I should, since I am not advocating Marxism and, even if I was, the reason a system designed to be workable and leverage existing dissatisfaction in undeveloped, precapitalist conditions keeps doing so is neither nonobvious nor germane to discussing the merits of a different system in the developed world. Leninism has done horrible things in the environments which it was carefully crafted to thrive in, but even with the assist given by it's opponents fear mongering equivalence-drawing that painted all opposition to capitalism as equivalent to Leninism, it's done stunningly poorly at gaining any traction in places that don't have he conditions for which it was adapted from Marxism.
You're comparing apples to oranges here. The crimes you mention are all about subjugation of or violence against foreigners. Ill will towards foreigners is the human ur-prejudice -- it's older than our species, in fact. Giving in to this prejudice is something that could have happened under any politico-economic system. It happened under capitalism because capitalism is what we had then. If the world becomes a Marxist utopia tomorrow, and we travel to the stars, and find technologically underdeveloped aliens, it will happen then under Marxism too. It was certainly the case that the Soviet citizenry, however far advanced along the road to true communism they actually were, were perfectly happy to join the Red Army and oppress the hell out of the people of Eastern Europe for fifty years. And they did it they were told they were protecting the world from imperialism from the West!
The problem with Marxism that I'm talking about is much more specific. Communist leaders have a habit of liquidating populations that they deem insufficiently loyal. That's why Stalin killed the kulaks, Mao killed the educated middle class, and Pol Pot ordered the killing fields. Under capitalism there is no comparable tradition of massacring political enemies. And since political enemies are going to be a fact of life under any political system, thoughtful Marxists should worry a lot about how to protect them from the attentions of the state.
Are you saying there has never been a dictatorship or authoritarian government with a capitalist economy?
Capitalism and socialism are economic systems, not necessarily ways of organizing a government. You can have capitalism with or without democracy. Democracy is the true tool against authoritarianism, not capitalism. And I don't think the people in this thread that are arguing on behalf of marxism want to do away with democracy.
Again, to play this game, we could just as easily say that your crimes are all about authoritarian dominance hierarchies, which certainly occur under capitalism, as well (how many people did Pinochet throw out of helicopters?)
I was mulling that today as I worked on C# code to talk to a Sony camera over WiFi via JSON-RPC.
The fact that this unit has a wireless adapter, an entire TCP/IP stack and a webserver that can parse/generate JSON.
Basically the camera has processing power hundreds likely thousands of times more powerful than my PC and if it breaks there isn't anything on it that would likely be fixable with a soldering iron.
The average working class American is financing their car. The average car payment is now an insane $500 per month. Over the average working career, that type of monthly payment represents a multi million dollar net worth at retirement. So if people are afraid of shitty jobs, they should prioritize wise financial decisions over short-term spending so that they can build their wealth and get leverage over shitty employment opportunities.
This is completely wrong.
1. $500 is the average, averages are easily distorted by outliers. Most people who are worried about shitty jobs don't have $500 a month car payments.
2. Not spending $500 a month on a car doesn't mean you get $500 to invest. Most people need to spend > $0 on transportation.
3. $500 a month doesn't get you a multi-million dollar net worth. $500 a month at a realistic 7% gets you $1.2 million in 40 years. A more realistic $300 a month (from financing a cheaper car) gets you $700k.