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Uniqlo cut 90% of staff at one warehouse by replacing them with robots (qz.com)
249 points by prostoalex 6 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 297 comments





Modern societies are going to have a very real problem to grapple with as this replacement goes from newsworthy to the norm. This could result in significant worker displacement with massive bottom-line ROI for companies in the next decade or two, particularly as minimum wages rise.

I'm not of the opinion that this automation will create an equal number of jobs for the ones they replace. Even if they do, it is unlikely those new positions will employ the same degree of skilled worker.

Assuming a net unskilled job reduction due to automation in a couple of decades, what happens as this becomes pervasive in a society?


The source of the problem is simple. Real societal value is generated through this activity, but it is reaped entirely by Uniqlo and its stakeholders.

Yes, consumers are also a stakeholder, but your typical consumer will receive very little or no direct benefit from this change. Eventually, yes, the profits will be reinvested, but the impact will be so diluted as to be a noticeable. Some small fraction of it will probably also go to tax evasion, being expatriated or sequestered by wealthy upper management.

Meanwhile, a whole lot of people are suddenly out of work, imposing significant negative externalities on them and their families. This could conceivably ruin a marriage, or turn a good parent into a raging alcoholic. It may well be that the negative gain to society (in the form of laying off so many employees) has severe follow-on effects, and in terms of net welfare this could do more harm than good.

The effects of leaving the workers out of the profit-sharing is more than just a matter of equity. Without redistribution of the welfare created by automation, it's perfectly conceivable that the net welfare gain is negative due to the negative second-order effects outweighing the positive second-order effects.

This is the stuff they don't teach you in Econ 101, but it's how things really work.


The other thing they don't teach you in Econ 101 is that treating corporations as obligated to keep and preserve jobs prevents them from creating societal value, and treating workers as entitled to a job disincentivises the invention of new methods of creating societal value. It causes stagnation of the economy.

Also, clothing is a commodity. Whatever benefit Uniqlo shareholders get from this will be short-lived as clothing prices drop around the world, benefiting all clothes buyers (everyone) at the expense of a textile workers, who -- at least for the time being -- can easily find a job elsewhere.

At some point, automation might be a cause for concern. But I really don't think this is that type of headline...


My argument is that this effect is small, diluted, and doesn't admit a strong positive feedback loop. Whereas the effect of sudden unemployment with no social safety net or training can trigger a strong negative feedback loop. You have the potential for strongly negative outcomes concentrated on a small number of people.

Now the question becomes, "is that a bad thing?" My answer is yes, because the forces that produce the negative feedback compound with each other. It becomes a "negative welfare contagion". It also is fundamentally unjust.


But your argument is solely build upon fancy words.

Here, let me pull an absurd scenarios out of nowhere too: Two of the now jobless workers are destined to become the next Beethoven and Musk, only able to follow their dreams being relieved of their crushing day job.

It is just absurd to diminish the positive effects of automation just because the negative effects combined with the (US-only) horrible state of state provided safety nets makes for better sob stories.


Unemployment isn't the problem, and forcing corporations to keep and preserve jobs is not the solution. Lack of income, however, is a problem. If machines generate a lot of value, but only the owners of those machines can profit from that value, that is problematic.

Thus, we'll need to find a way that combines providing value to most people, with a mechanism that actually results in methods that provide that value (e.g. machines) being developed and maintained.


Exactly! Corporations should be free to do pretty much anything to increase value (except for a few obvious things like causing environmental damage), but also they will need to be taxed heavily, and those taxes should be spread out via basic income to everyone.

This needs to be done in a global scale, otherwise those companies will just tax optimize all the income away.


And what is Econ 201's solution to pervasive unemployment, or lack of spending power due to underemployment? Is that also classified as "societal value"?

They teach you economic history and show that predictions of pervasive unemployment and lack of spending power caused by technical innovation have been made every decade and never been borne out as new ways of delivering societal value are constantly being invented.

In Econ 301 they teach you to never say never.

Whether this time is different than the previous rounds of automation or will have larger dislocative effects is the at the heart of the current discussion. We’ve literally been worried about robots replacing all workers since Fritz Lang made Metropolis in the 1920s. Maybe those concerns were early and maybe we’re repeating ourselves. It’s not really clear.


This may be a slight tangent, but I always took the interpretation of Metropolis as one of humans being _reduced_ to the level of machines (and in some ways subservient to them), less in replacement; the "moloch" scene comes to mind. The only robot in the movie seemed more an analog for questions of humanity, blurring the line of human and machine, and additionally touching on the whole classic "reviving a loved one" tropes.

(Not to distract from your point, other works such as Rossam's universal Robots definitely covered the subject matter you refer to, I'm being pedantic about Metropolis largely because the subtle difference I'm emphasizing feels to me as what makes it _so much more accurate and predictive_ to the actual relationship between man, machine, and the owners of production.)


> humans being _reduced_ to the level of machines (and in some ways subservient to them)

Oh, you mean like Uber and Deliveroo drivers?

In the last century, humans served machines. In this century, they will serve algorithms.

Lang's work is more relevant than ever. In many ways we are re-living the events of 100 years ago, only this time the US are in the driving seat, rather than Europe.


> Oh, you mean like Uber and Deliveroo drivers?

How is that any different than a waiter working for a restaurant or cafe? The old nature of things doesn't change if you replace a notepad with a web service.


> How is that any different than a waiter working for a restaurant or cafe?

This is the sort of insensitive and short-sighted remark that gives HN a bad name.

In one job, you work with a group of people, answering to people. In the other, you work alone, answering to a computer. The computer doesn't care if today you have a headache, your mother died, your child needs to see a doctor, or customer XYZ is an asshole: you will only be compensated precisely for how productive you are at any given time. The computer won't make you favours and won't help you any differently on any given day. You will not get to know the computer better over time, you won't become friends and go out together, or collaborate on a new business. The computer won't invite you to his wedding or introduce you to his children.

It's weird that we have to be reminded of this, but there is no humanity in the relationship with an algorithm.


I appreciate the clarification, and you're totally right. I grabbed at the cover image as it flashed through my mind without actually taking time to remember the film, which I haven't seen for a while.

I think we're definitely looking at, at the minimum, another day off the working week - similar to the shift from the early 20th century from 6 to 5 days, as combine harvesters triggered a movement of something like 90% of agricultural workers into cities.

Beyond that, it's hard to say. There is lots of work that needs to be done - picking up plastics anybody? - but the money is in the wrong places to pay for it, and at some point the flows in the system become so disrupted by wealth accumulation, that the only solutions is to press the reset button in any case.

...such interesting, interesting times.


>...such interesting, interesting times.

I think the "Chinese" (or Austen Chamberlain [1]) had it right when "May you live in interesting times" was meant as a curse.

[1] https://quoteinvestigator.com/2015/12/18/live/


US employment rate has steadily fallen over time. Currently the overall rate for working age people is around 60%. Which means ~40% of the adult working age population does not have a job.

Why the huge discrepancy with the official rate? Well some of it's stay at home parents and early retirees, but a large chunk of that is prison and disabled which have both quietly ballooned over time.

These numbers look worse when you include women and older men, but here is the long term trend: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/LREM25MAUSA156S


Actually the numbers including women don't look too bad. With the recent recovery in employment it actually looks like labour participation has been relatively flat since the mid-eighties.

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/?g=lxWv

One does have to wonder how the statistics are affected by millions of working adult residents participating in the economy as illegal aliens and therefore not counted. The reduction in male labor participation also brings to mind what is clearly now one of the biggest splits in American conservatism: between people like Kevin D. Williamson[1] and Nicholas Eberstadt[2] who focus on a moral and cultural downward spiral, vs Steve Bannon [3] who credits the decline to free trade, and both legal (H1B) and illegal immigration.

[1] Read the last few paragraphs: https://www.nationalreview.com/magazine/2016/03/28/father-f-... [2] https://www.amazon.com/Men-Without-Work-Americas-Invisible/d... [3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAfm5L_DOLM


I don't agree. The combined rate for 25-55 year shows every year from 1988 to 2008 was above the rate from 2008-2016.

Now, if the current trend continues for 5-10 years then we might recover. But, based on historical trends 2018 is likely a peak right before a recession vs the new normal.


I'm not sure if you have noticed, but unemployment is at a multi decade low.

We are not seeing pervasive unemployment, we are seeing the opposite. A situation where there are too many jobs, and not enough workers to fill them

So econ 201 would say that there isn't any societial problem right now.


Off the top of my head, I can think of the "disappearing middle class." The trend seems to be that anyone that would have previously found themselves with a place in life, that placed them below the upper middle class rich but above the working poor, are either becoming significantly richer or significantly poorer.

For perspective, a lot of households have seen a large increase in their wealth. Comparatively, the vast majority of food stamp recipients actively participate in the work force but still need government assistance. While it appears that there are many jobs available, it also appears that these jobs don't pay enough to allow the people who work them to live outside of a life of poverty.


The 'disappearing middle class' is not what you think it is. I try to actively research the things I talk about in in searching for information on the widely reported chiseling out of the middle class I came upon this [1] paper. And that paper does describe that. In 1979 the middle class controlled 46% of all income, and the upper/rich classes controlled 30%. Today (well at least today as of 2014) the rich and upper class control 63% with the middle class left with 26%. The middle class has also shrunk, going from 38.8% of society to 32%. And that's where most media reports on this generally stop, but it's incredibly misleading.

That paper also gets into exactly how the size of the various socioeconomic groups are changing. This is their change in size from 1979 to 2014, as a percent of the total population:

- Rich: 0.1% -> 1.8%

- Upper Middle Class: 12.9% -> 29.4%

- Middle Class: 38.8% -> 32%

- Lower Middle Class: 23.9% -> 17.1%

- Poor or Near-Poor: 24.3% -> 19.8%

Statistics like this are certainly subject to biased interpretation and 'massaging'. If one is curious about the source, wiki has a section on the political stance of the Urban Institute [2]. Though the paper itself is very transparent in their methodology and extremely readable. I found it all eye opening to the point that it literally changed my worldview. Everybody is moving up at an incredibly rapid pace. I mean keep in mind this is only over 35 years! We are doing something very right from an economic point of view.

[1] - https://www.urban.org/research/publication/growing-size-and-...

[2] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_Institute#Political_stan...


> unemployment is at a multi decade low.

Labor participation on the other hand isn't [1]

[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/191734/us-civilian-labor...


Then econ 201 clearly hasn't studied a graph of income inequality over time, and appears ready to ignore that the bulk of economic activity has shifted from manufacturing and other labor-intensive activities to the financial industry. But by all means, tell us more about how folks working "gigs", the pervasiveness of underemployment, and the frequency with which individuals have to work 3 or more jobs to survive isn't a societal problem.

Are those jobs comparable to the ones those people would have had before? Or is it just a glut of cheap labor that is exploited because it's cheaper than automating things?

Then why are wages so stagnant?

Because wages are a small part of the total compensation package - leaving out bonuses, health, dental, vision insurance policies, 401k (with matching), employee stock purchase plans, stock options or stock units awards, access to food and on-site services, company cars, etc.

They’re also not stagnant https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/wage-growth


If my employer's group health insurance is considered part of my compensation, should I not be glad that health care costs are rising, since that drives up my total compensation?


The increasing size of the unskilled labor pool? Could that be it?

ahem Income inequality suggests otherwise.

Income is far more equal than it was when people began worrying about automation causing unemployment (~100 years ago).

Perhaps you should go ask a blacksmith. btw, unemployment is extremely low currently.

Just wait a couple hundred years and your skills will be back in demand. Artisanal blacksmiths make a killing today.

Sure, all twelve of them. It's a cottage industry, but I think you understood the point I was making.

unemployment, or lack of spending power due to underemployment?

I think you misunderstood. You are describing negative societal value. Long-term unemployment can ruin not only your life but the lives of your family members.

Econ 201's solution is to punt on the issue and start doing calculus, because the economics orthodoxy was developed by heartless market neoliberals and computer scientists, and they can't really rationalize it in human terms. You literally have to go to grad school to un-learn all this shit.


your typical consumer will receive very little or no direct benefit from this change

Eh? I've shopped at Uniqlo in SF. Compared to buying clothes at hipster boutiques, it was shockingly affordable. I'd say whatever they are doing is unquestionably offering a direct benefit to the consumer.


You already receive that benefit. Will prices go down as a result of this automation? Will the freed resources be cleanly rerouted to other activities? Hell no, if there wasn't an article you'd never have noticed.

Will prices go down as a result of this automation?

They almost certainly will; that's just ECON101. I'm sure H&M and Zara aren't just sitting around admiring themselves in the mirror.

Clothing is a weird market but there is definitely an elastic low-end and Uniqlo is playing in that space. There's no reason to believe the rules of basic economics are not functioning.


Prices are set to maximize revenue. Most companies aren't going to lower prices just because they can afford to; cost savings should (and usually do) go to shareholders.

You're right! Costs savings, in isolation, will invariably go to highly privileged shareholders.

With that said, what do you think happens when a second company in the same sector starts to realize the same cost savings, and realizes they can move more units by using the cost savings to lower prices and ultimately return even more to shareholders?

Again, you're completely right. Companies don't lower prices out of the goodness of their cold, black, capitalist hearts. Yet, might there be other factors at work here?


> Will prices go down ... you'd never have noticed.

Note that these two are entirely compatible. Prices routinely go down and customers receive benefit but they do not notice.

For example, I wrote about research on effect of barcode scanner here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11414435


Interesting, thank you.

>Will prices go down as a result of this automation?

Can you name a single instance where prices did _not_ go down due to automation? You're saying process won't go down tomorrow, but of course that's not how any of this works.


Prices don't go down unless there is competition. If a company figures our a way to make massive cost savings while their competition does not, they pocket that margin and use it to either invest in more productive capacity or give back to shareholders. They don't feel some ethical need to lower prices just because they can

Automation is correlated with cost savings for consumers because usually the competition can figure out the same thing after seeing another player do it. It's a mistake to think they are causally related


Well, sure, "if a company figures our a way to make massive cost savings while their competition does not" - but Uniqlo isn't that unique; nothing that they have done here is something that's fundamentally impossible for their competition to implement as well, it's just a question of appropriate investment. Yes, there's no reason for them to lower the prices right now, but that will result in mid-term (3-5 years) price decreases in the industry.

>If a company figures our a way to make massive cost savings while their competition does not, they pocket that margin and use it to either invest in more productive capacity or give back to shareholders.

Well sure, but in what world is that going to happen in here? They didn't invent time travel; they automated a factory. This can be replicated. They may also lower prices simply to undercut competitors if they think the increase in volume will work out to more profits overall.


>Prices don't go down unless there is competition

Prices also go down if it will lead to more profit. If you can sell 2.1 times as many widgets selling at half the profit then of course you will.


Pocketing extra margin dollars is not necessarily profit maximizing. As other have pointed out, depending on where their customers (and currently priced out customers) are on the demand curve, reducing prices could increase profits. I expect Uniqlo to seek to maximize profits.

But that's only the case for consumers with income. People who can only do jobs that machines can do better will have no income, so once a lot of people are in that situation, we will need to find a way to provide those people with at least the income required to be able to buy even the cheapest clothes.

Which is very silly, in the end: I am thrilled while thinking how many iPhones Apple will sell worldwide once we have 6.9 billion people unemployed.

What is silly is not taxing the economic efficiency reaped by capital owners and re-distributing it members of society so that they don't need to be employed.

Wouldn't this mainly just be a problem if there wasn't much competition in the market? If cost savings aren't being passed on to the consumers I would blame lack of competition before I consided blaming automation

It's not just about passing the savings onto consumers. Even if you deduct 10-15% for tax evasion, most of that money will end up recirculating into the economy.

The point I was clumsily trying to make is that it doesn't really matter. There are forces in the US economy that lead to strong feedback loops of negative welfare for individuals and the families of individuals who come on economic hard times. So while your shirt gets $2 cheaper, someone out there is getting addicted to Klonopin while their wife buys bread on food stamps, and their kid grows up to be a gangbanger, who kills another kid at the age of 15, because he had anger issues and they couldn't afford therapy.

I'm being deliberately hyperbolic, but I hope it helps illustrate the point. In the USA it's shockingly easy to end up in a vicious cycle of poverty that hurts everyone, not just the person with no money. Net welfare gain could well be negative from the situation described above.


I think what you are saying is automation is harmful when there is no safety net. I tend to agree. I think the right solution is to set up safety net. In particular, I don't think stopping automation is the right solution.

The question is, who is going to pay for that safety net, and is it really still a "safety net" when a majority of the citizens have to rely on it?

It could be argued that since automation drives the need for these arrangements, it ought to be taxed accordingly to pay for the measures that mitigate them.


As a child I remember reading one of stories of Stanislaw Lem on where robots did all the work mass producing goods trying to find markets for them.

It ends with replacing humans with crystals. (so a combination of paperclip problem and automatization)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Star_Diaries (1958!)


Unfortunately, Uniqlo's job is so inhuman from top to bottom. Possible exception for a few tops but it's just because they have large capital to buy share.

You can't imagine having a family when working on Uniqlo.

It should better be automated for the rest of the world.


Marx knew though and is still relevant as teaching material, regardless of your ideological leanings. I've only read the comic book(!) though, "Marx for beginners", so im just a happy amateur. "happy"

The "job" as a foundation of modern life is the result of the industrialized revolution and, while it served its purposed, is something we need to abandon as quickly as possible. Corporations don't have a monopoly on economic value creation. We should be, as a government and society, encouraging independent tradesmen/women, entrepreneurship, and artisanry. If we can manage that, job loss due to automation is no longer an issue.

We can't manage it until we remove employment as the sole condition for access to basic services like healthcare. We also need to ensure that people are able to retrain themselves if/when their job becomes obsolete.

> We can't manage it until we remove employment as the sole condition for access to basic services like healthcare

Many countries don't have that limitation.


The rest of the world _has_ worked this first point out. The US is close enough to the only developed country that ties healthcare to employment.

The second point is a given in the more socialised parts of Europe, and is a core tenet of most support programs for the involuntarily unemployed elsewhere.

Which is to say; I don't get your point. Sounds like everywhere but the US could do this right now.


You realize that "cottage industry" is not necessarily an aspirational concept, right?

Jobs are a way to exert social control, though. The dystopian solution is to reopen gulags and labor camps to re-educate people. Oh, wait...

The lower class gets bigger and bigger, and is either kept just happy enough to not revolt or...

At some point this boils over and the ultra wealthy are forced to redistribute wealth either through new political policy or by violent force.


> At some point this boils over and the ultra wealthy are forced to redistribute wealth either through new political policy or by violent force

Not necessarily. The same robotic technology that decouples low-skill labour inputs and outputs is decoupling populations from force projection capabilities. Less cynically, there are organic ways for the situation to positively evolve (e.g. higher across-board labour productivity) without overt wealth redistribution.


Can you expand on this? I don't understand which populations you're referring to as having become decoupled from force projection?

In the US at least, there's 1+ gun for every man, woman, and child. Even if the elite class is backed by the entire US military, there's something to be said for overwhelming force of numbers.


Guns have limited range, and are easily rendered largely ineffective (e.g. armored vehicles). Robots and other advanced weapons make direct combat entirely one sided. Surveillance apparatus allows identifying combatants attempting a guerilla warfare approach. AI could allow identifying an assassin attempting to draw a weapon and killing them before they could get a shot off. Etc.

Against the current US military I dare say that overwhelming numbers would win, against a theoretical future military that is less clear. Moreover the current US military would probably revolt if used to overtly oppress the population, but a more robotized one with humans only required at high levels might not.


Guns don't do anything without bullets. Bullets don't do anything if they don't hit a target. Disable power and communications and most people become immediately useless at living, let alone mounting an assault.

The days of sheer numbers being useful are long past in the era of modern warfare.


I’d say the recent experience in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan runs counter to your claims.

Not really. The US followed certain rules of engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan that a truly ruthless military would not.

For example the Battle of Fallujah was fought with Vietnam level tactics. There were about 100 KIA for the US side. The battle could have been fought differently with zero US losses.


So you imagine a scenario where the US military would annihilate it’s own citizens ruthlessly to preserve insane wealth disparity. Ok.

You are talking about a scenario in which every man woman and child grabs their 1+ gun to deal with inequality...

The gun owners are typically on the other side of the aisle from those who support redistribution of wealth. Not saying that couldn't change or that desperation can't trump principle, of course.

This isn't true, most democrats do not support redistribution of wealth, where leftists who do support the redistribution of wealth are generally in favor of gun rights.

There's no chance that's close to true. The further left you go, the more ardently people are anti guns in the US. With few exceptions it's a dramatic difference between the center left and far left on gun rights. The far left is entirely anti gun, the center left occasionally panders to win votes out of necessity.

The two most famous Socialists in the US right now are probably Bernie Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez. Both are very aggressively anti guns.


From my understanding classic Marxists are very pro-gun, as a necessity to protect the rights of workers from the ruling class.

"The whole proletariat must be armed at once with muskets, rifles, cannon and ammunition, and the revival of the old-style citizens’ militia, directed against the workers, must be opposed. [...] Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary." ~Karl Marx - Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League

Source: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/communist-l...


You're wrong, and the reason is that your definition of "far left" is nowhere near far enough. Neither Sanders nor Ocasio-Cortez are far left, and Sanders isn't even a socialist (despite using that label).

Actual hard left - the kind that actually believes in Marx and revolutions - is not a hive mind, but it is true that it tends to be a lot more acceptive of grassroots violence, and things that enable it (like guns). Which is not all that surprising, given the history of the movement.

Look up Redneck Revolt or Socialist Rifle Association to see what I'm talking about.


> The two most famous Socialists in the US right now are probably Bernie Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez. Both are very aggressively anti guns.

That is not true of Bernie Sanders [0]. He has moved to some degree towards favoring more gun control laws than he used to, but he is by no means more anti-gun than most mainstream Democrats.

[0] https://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2015/06/24/41718...


Which Democrats don't support redistribution of wealth? I didn't know any such Democrats existed.

This was intended as a serious question in good faith so the downvotes and lack of responses are unfortunate.

To elaborate: Hillary Clinton's 2016 platform included increasing the inheritance tax, and she's about as centrist as Democrats get these days. The inheritance tax is redistributive. Did any Democrats come out against her position? https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertwood/2016/09/23/hillary-c...


Redistribution of wealth usually refers to seizing private assets directly, rather than simply creating more taxes. Democrats almost universally support private ownership of the means of production, where the opposite would be either workers ownership of companies held in trust or the nationalization of companies and industries.

> Redistribution of wealth usually refers to seizing private assets directly, rather than simply creating more taxes.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redistribution_of_income_and_w... says: "Redistribution of income and redistribution of wealth are respectively the transfer of income and of wealth (including physical property) from some individuals to others by means of a social mechanism such as taxation, charity, welfare, public services, land reform, monetary policies, confiscation, divorce or tort law."


I don’t know if thats true: I think everyone wants a “fair” distribution of wealth. The question is in the definition of fair, and means to achieve it. Conservatives believe that distribution achieved by tax and regulation will hurt the total economic production of the US, and lead to everyone being worse off, though more equal (in the extreme: everyone is equally poor), and they also consider it fair that the distribution is unequal (as do liberals). Its just a matter of how unequal.

But at least part of their definition of includes that they have the chance to increase their position, which is incompatible with tax/regulation at the extreme: if everyone has their incomes set in stone by the government, there is no chance to change in status.

But losing all low-level jobs to robots, notably, removes that chance. For different reasons than the liberal (who dislikes it for the centralization of wealth/power, and the extreme polarization of wealth distribution), conservatives would intuitively be against it for the denial of opportunity across the board

Tldr: everyone hates being poor/homeless, and too many people being homeless will cause a revolt regardless of their individual political leanings.


One aspect of UBI (when/if we can afford to implement it) is that it presents some solution the problem you describe if it's unconditional. If everyone has an set-in-stone income provided by the society because the robots are doing all the low-level jobs and the society doesn't need their labor, then they still have sufficient free time and ability to do something extra to increase their position.

There are many useful things that aren't (or won't be) viable as jobs because they pay too little or too sporadically to sustain yourself, however, they do provide enough to increase your revenue and status, and give a feeling of opportunity - if you'd have the basics provided in some other way.


One function of UBI has never been clear to me: if everyone has X, then no one does.

Applied to UBI’s case, the baseline of $0 has been “lifted” to say $1500; wouldn’t that just cause the market to increase prices proportionally, until $1500 is effectively the same as $0? Specifically, those baseline goods/services where that $1500 targets?

I would imagine luxury goods wouldn’t change much, as those spending in the area won’t change their spending behavior significantly with a fresh $1500; but a poorer community certainly would, and I would expect the market to match


In a modern first world economy (i.e. the only economy where UBI starts making some sense, and we're probably talking decades in the future so even more automation/productivity than now), the basket of goods that would be considered "basic" constitute something like <10% of total consumption and production. There would be some inflation caused by extra buying power, but it's not expected to be prohibitive in all the commoditized products such as food; I mean, the amount of consumed food would not change meaningfully as we feed pretty much everybody anyway, the only question is how the compensation is arranged - it doesn't matter that much for the economy if the poor unemployed person gets fed by food stamps, conditional social security, universal basic income, government supplied food packages, charity cash donations or charity soup kitchens.

One aspect that would change is the rental market. We would expect the landlords to try and capture much of that money. However, the big impact of UBI on rent is that it decouples the residental areas from the industrial areas; if you don't need to live where the jobs are and can credibly leave for a place where rents are cheaper, then some people will do so and that puts a limit on the rents.

As you state, small poor communities would feel a significant impact; however, in their case the main effect would be that they would become subsidized by the other parts of the society - much of the UBI they get would be spent on goods coming in from outside; their local market won't impact the price of a bottle of Coca Cola or a bag of potatoes, it's coming "from outside" anyway.

The cost of local services, on the other hand, would become much more spread out - if currently the cost for many services clusters around a single point (often close to minimum wage) because everybody needs a job so they do that service even if they don't want to; and everybody needs to eat, so they have to charge a reasonable amount even if they would be doing it as a hobby; In an UBI world you'd expect the cost of services to spread out widely so that services that are pleasant and interesting (for the provider) are cheaper than now, and services that suck for the workers become more expensive, as the workers now have a choice.


Even without guns, it's much easier to break a robot than it is to operate one. I think the economics of the physical economy favor the physical masses over the paper wealthy.

Is it easier to break a tank than operate one? Then why a robot?

I think I misplaced my post, the intent was to respond to someone arguing that automation would help the wealthy quell the poor. Any comments I make about robots apply to machinery in general.

To your question, it is easier to break a tank than to operate one. Anti-tank weapons are cheaper than tanks, and range down to well-timed Molotov cocktails [0].

[0] https://www.quora.com/How-can-a-Molotov-cocktail-destroy-a-t...


What if the lower class is getting simultaneously bigger and also better off? Do you think the bottom 10% is living as bad as they were in 1940? 1980? Things that used to be luxuries are now normal across all income brackets... That's a good thing. :-)

People don't compare themselves to how people lived 80 years ago. They compare themselves to other people, today. So saying "Look poor people, who cares if you can't afford decent housing, or health care, or quality food - you've got a cell phone!" will not quiet the social unrest that a growing underclass will cause.

Overall though, more people have healthcare, more people have housing, and more people have food than ever before.

No one is arguing, 'cellphone, hence no poverty'. People are merely arguing that the lowest 10% are no longer destitute.


Yes, I agree the lowest 10% are no longer as destitute, but my point is the dangerous social unrest that is likely to be caused (some would argue already has been caused) by widening inequality is not something that absolute measures of living standards will have much bearing on.

That remains to be seen. There's clearly a certain level of "comfort" where the majority of people become satisfied enough, and the quality of life at the bottom is rapidly increasing as technology and the world matures. The rise of the middle class in China and India seems to be the biggest indicator of this approaching steady state.

There are some indications that relative inequality creates vocal anger and unrest, however, it generally takes quite low levels of actual living standards (or physical security) before masses of people become willing to actually risk their lives in violent overthrows of the regime.

Historically, "Bread and circuses" is sufficient to keep disgruntled poor masses just disgruntled but not revolting; regimes get overthrown either when the rulers can't provide bread anymore, when they do unbearable physical harm (e.g. disappearances, torture, etc), or when an external force comes in. And currently it's not a big burden on the economy to just provide lots of cheap food and entertainment for everyone to pacify them, that can be done with just a few percent of GDP.


You attacked a very poor interpretation of the parent comment then. Claiming ' they may have iphones, but they don't have food ' is patently ridiculous.

>No one is arguing, 'cellphone, hence no poverty'.

The parent comment certainly does. Specifically mentions "things that used to be luxuries" being available to the poor as a reason.


I'm not sure if that's a helpful observation, though. The floor for the "lowest" percentile in America is outright destitution.

Homelessness means no shelter from the elements or people that want to hurt you, possessions beyond what you can carry and defend, no health care, and being treated like a second class citizen.


I would be interested in the numbers, but based on my experience of homelessness in California, most homelessness is due to severe mental health issues, not poverty. I'm unsure of any data suggesting these kinds of mental health issues are increasing, but I'd be interested in the data.

Also, having seen the situation in third world countries, I have a real issue calling American homelessness destitution, but I understand the arguments from social cohesion.


Homelessness is overwhelmingly caused by economic issues[1][2], even in the Bay area[3], which are certainly exacerbated by mental health issues.

[1] https://www.nlchp.org/documents/Homeless_Stats_Fact_Sheet [2] http://homelessresourcenetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/0... [3] https://www.spur.org/publications/urbanist-article/2017-10-2...


I have no doubt homelessness in San Francisco is caused by poverty. However, San Francisco is not california. Do your data apply to California as a whole, or just the bay? San Francisco is a very bad choice in city to extrapolate from.

I supplied numbers for homelessness in general, and homelessness in SF.

Homelessness, in general and in SF, is overwhelming caused by economic issues.


> What if the lower class is getting simultaneously bigger and also better off? Do you think the bottom 10% is living as bad as they were in 1940? 1980? Things that used to be luxuries are now normal across all income brackets... That's a good thing. :-)

Ah yeas, the good ole "TV's and refrigerators" argument[0]. They have luxuries! Even homeless people have cell phones, what a world!

Now how about things that actually matter:

* Housing

* Healthcare

* Education

* Transportation

* Income security

All these things are less accessible now than they used to be.

As for the "luxuries": when everyone is expected to have something, it's not a luxury anymore, it's a necessity.

Before most people had a fridge and a car, daily grocery delivery and grocery stores a walk away were the norm. It isn't now because cars and fridges changed the infrastructure. You are screwed without either in most places (and yes, relying on McFoods instead of a fridge is "being screwed").

Public bathhouses aren't the norm because most people aren't homeless and have access to those at home. In that regard, the very poor are worse off than a hundred years ago when a lot of tenements didn't have showers/bathtubs[1].

Before everyone had a cell phone or a computer, people weren't expected to find jobs online. Now this is a requirement to be a member of the society in most cases.

And so on, and so on.

In short, "Poor people now have ________, so we're better off!" is a bad argument. If these people had good lives, you wouldn't call them poor. Their lives suck. Yes, in a different way than a 100 years ago.

But back then, nobody would be out of job because they couldn't answer recruiters' email either.

[0]https://everydayfeminism.com/2016/02/poor-people-having-nice...

[1]https://journals.ku.edu/amerstud/article/download/2244/2203


What? More people across the entire world have more access to those things that actually matter than ever before in history. This is indisputable fact. There are also 7.5 billion people now so it's impossible to compare absolute numbers without looking at the actual billions who have been lifted out of poverty.

There is greater inequality and that is a real problem, but the bottom is still rising, helped along by the very things you seem to mock.

It's a really big stretch to say that some people are somehow worse off now than before because of a lack of public bathhouse (we do have public shelters and bathrooms) and lack of cell phones (we do have libraries, subsidized phones, social services, etc) and just comes off as disingenuous.


>What? More people across the entire world have more access to those things

I won't argue for the entire world, but I have some numbers for the US - all adjusted for inflation:

- Housing: real-estate prices have increased 4x since the 40-s. The median age of purchasers jumped up by more than a decade.[1]

- Healthcare: per-person spending has increased 9x since the 60's[2]

- Education: the higher education cost has increased by at least a factor of 3x[3]; that article doesn't take into account mandatory fees and living expenses. Or that's 2x if you account for increase in salaries[4]. Should I even talk about jobs available to people without college degrees? You could support a family with a high school diploma back in the day.

- Transportation: public transportation has been in decline in the US. It is by far less available to people today. Read this article for a bigger picture[5]. In particular, the section titled "Death of interurbans and streetcars".

Car prices have remained somewhat stable[6], but that doesn't help people who can't afford one. They are really screwed in a society where car ownership is pretty much expected and public transportation is nonexistent, especially in the suburban areas and small towns.

- Income security: it's hard to characterize that with a single number, but long story short - we are worse off now than in the 70's[7][8]

---------

To sum it all up: in the past 5 decades, housing, healthcare, education have increased in cost several times, public transportation died, income stability is down the drain.

To answer your question:

>What?

That. The comparison is not to middle ages here.

---------

[1]https://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/23/how-much-housing-prices-have...

[2]https://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/23/heres-how-much-the-average-a...

[3]https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/29/how-much-college-tuition-has...

[4]https://college-education.procon.org/view.resource.php?resou...

[5]https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2018/08/how-america-k...

[6]https://wgntv.com/2016/04/25/the-average-car-now-costs-25449...

[7]See page 7 of: https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/32896/...

[8]https://www.epi.org/publication/bp213/


If you just discount the rest of the world then you're talking about < 4% of the population of the planet, making your post nothing more than random examples that you're stretching into a strange narrative. The people at the bottom aren't living great lives, but they are much better off than the people at the bottom even 50 years ago.

Plenty of people are still buying homes (unless you think those prices just rose without any buyers) and higher education is not necessary to fill the 6M blue collar jobs that remain open in the US today. You can't just look at some isolated negatives and yet ignore all the positives of change with the immense amount of opportunity available today.


>If you just discount the rest of the world then you're talking about < 4% of the population of the planet

Talking about a country with population of ~325M which we both happen to live in far from being merely "random examples" in my opinion.

>higher education is not necessary to fill the 6M blue collar jobs

6M jobs in a country of 325M. That's 2 years worth of high school graduates for you. Not exactly inspiring, don't you think?

>The people at the bottom [...] are much better off than the people at the bottom even 50 years ago.

I made my case above why I can't agree with that statement, with sources. If you have a different metric, please provide it, with sources. Then we can discuss that.

>You can't [...] ignore [..] opportunity available today.

Sure, there' plenty of opportunity for some people - including you and me, given that we're on HN. Arguably there's less opportunities for vast amounts of others. Less opportunities than there was in the 70's, in particular.

You can ignore that, but that's a part how we got Trump. Saying that the lives of poor people are improving doesn't seem to bode well with the said poor people.


Yes, talking about a fraction of US population, which itself is just a few percent of global population, while billions of lives have been improved is random samples.

If you must scope your argument that narrowly, it does not hold. The US also has the greatest opportunity and socioeconomic mobility in the world and this has only improved. Your attempting to piece together a narrative from disparate data while ignoring the world, even though we already track measures for what you're talking about and they all show great improvements.


>random samples.

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

>The US also has the greatest opportunity and socioeconomic mobility in the world

Hahaha no. We are lagging behind Canada, Australia, Spain, for example, and not by a small margin[1]

>we already track measures for what you're talking about

Yes! That's my point!

>and they all show great improvements.

No they do not! They do the opposite!

See the little numbers in square brackets, like [1]? They refer to footnotes. There are links in the footnotes. There's data there, data that supports what I'm saying.

Try arguing in the same way: make your statements quantifiable, and follow up with references that support your statements. It's fun, and we all learn something!

[1] https://www.epi.org/publication/usa-lags-peer-countries-mobi...


Globally this may be true, but it's just false for the US. Wages haven't increased since the 1970s, and now even metrics like life expectancy are falling.

Wages have increased since the 1970s. Median and average wages are at new all-time highs. The middle class hasn't improved, the bottom 25% have seen dramatic improvements since the 1970s.

That 1970s income figure, is a fluke of history. The sole reason it was that high back then was because the US inherited a unique position post WW2, in which it had 55% of all global manufacturing, temporarily. That caused a brief 20-25 year period of artificial economic results that saw the US pull far away from everyone else. Over time much of the developed world has caught back up.

Total compensation has increased since then. That includes health care, which is very expensive. The per capita cost of healthcare is near ~$11,000 now, several times what it cost in the 1970s inflation adjusted.

Homelessness is near an all-time record low in the US and poverty is near 40 year lows.

A record number of people are covered by health insurance.

The per capita income transfers for social welfare policies have tripled since the mid 1970s, inflation adjusted. That is, the US welfare state has dramatically expanded over 40 years, to the benefit of the poorest.

Sure, there's a lot more to do. That doesn't mean there haven't been some vast improvements.


> At some point this boils over and the ultra wealthy are forced to redistribute wealth either through new political policy or by violent force.

There's also the dystopian possibility that automated forms of social control are developed neuter the ability of any kind of popular political movement from challenging the elites. That automation could be anything from systems of censorship, surveillance, and propaganda to police androids.

I think it makes some sense to deliberately cultivate and preserve IRL communities and networks that aren't very tech-mediated. By no means are they a panacea, but I think they have fewer vulnerabilities to tech-based automated control.


>automated forms of social control are developed

Legalisation of drugs fits in here IMO, it's a salve for the people to keep them from mounting rebellions. Making hard drugs cheap and widely available probably is a relatively effective way of killing off a proportion of your poorest citizens without raising too great an alarm.

Things like VR could placate the people too, give them a fake "luxury existence" and they're less likely to rebel.


I think this will happen. Brings to mind Google's secret project The Selfish Ledger, especially how it can be used for "Behavioural Sequencing"... [0]

As tech gets better it'll become easier to analyse the masses and make good predictions - how much can the masses put up with? How much further can we push them before the boiling point is reached?

[0] https://youtu.be/QDVVo14A_fo?t=439


Do you have a license for this post?

"And just before the nuke hit, he reflected on what a great life he had. Under his watch, Skynet raised the percentage of female programmers to an even 50%."

Of course, some would see that that's actually a DYStopia, I mean, where are the trans?!


An alternative, which I advocate for, is that the lower class form productive collectives, stop contributing to the ultra wealthy, and generate their own real wealth. Much of the worlds wealth exists in wealth-generating infrastructure and information that is accessible to all of us. If we simply divest from the ultra wealthy and build a new economy based on cooperation, we can construct a system that inherently lifts us all. Automation will increase our productivity. In the end, the question is simply how we share the result of that gain. Normal capitalist corporations are designed to funnel wealth to a few board members, but cooperatives could succeed here too, where the wealth they generate is more naturally shared amongst all the workers. It’s not a silver bullet, but I feel as though it would represent a real improvement. We have to do something about how we distribute the creation of new wealth, and I don’t think we should wait for someone else to make this change for us - we must take action to realize the potential here!

EDIT: I also think some billionaires are sympathetic to these issues and would be willing to contribute. But if we form large economic collectives, we can amass enough power to force the wealthy to notice when we divest.


One concrete step can be getting rid of the capital requirements (by regulation) to invest. The idea of 'qualified investors' is literally a way to keep poor people poor, and rich people rich, by cutting off poor or middle class people from the major vehicles of wealth creation. It is ridiculous that I cannot invest in the IPO of a company in my local neighborhood because, while I have enough money to satisfy the business, I don't have enough money to satisfy uncle sam's onerous requirements.

But yes, cooperatives like Mondragon are good examples, and also incredibly traditional.


These capital requirements are regulations that have been introduced as a response to companies fleecing the poor-ish, the uneducated and those who had a bit of cash, but decided to put it into one (fraudulent) investment.

Drop them and you'll see what already is happening in the cryptocoin scene: people getting exploited left and right. Point is, no sofa investor will be a shark and get rich, contrary to the ICO promises.


Notice I said 'neighborhood business'. I feel comparing ICOs -- which usually consist of a team you've never met asking you for money for a product you've never seen -- to an established neighborhood business interested in raising capital for expansion of a proven business model is comparing apples to oranges.

Won't take long for the crooks though. Most government regulations are introduced in response to abuse and everywhere they've been rolled back, the abuses come back. No matter if in finance, in taxis (e.g. Uber's surge pricing), net neutrality, whatever.

It is also possible for regulation to be exceedingly onerous, like Prohibition.

Allow people to invest 50% of the amount they paid in taxes in a given year. It can only be done via online platform that does basic due diligence. They can only raise half of the money from a regular user, the rest has to come from a professional investor.

That could create a moral hazard, where businesses court mom & pop investors, who don't have the means to pursue legal action against the company should they do something less than scrupulous with their investments, instead of investors with the means to hold them accountable.

I certainly don't disagree, but the idea that someone like me, who has no debt, and who is in no danger of losing my lifestyle should not be allowed to invest because I don't have 'enough' is absurd. I would be in support of requirements where you have to show to the government that investing will not cause you to lose your livelihood, but most people do not need $1million in the bank in order to achieve that goal.

For example, I have several hundred thousand saved, and wanted to invest 20k of that in a business in my neighborhood that was doing a public offering. Because I 'only' make in the 100k-200k range, and I 'only' have 300k in the bank, versus the 1 million required by the government, I was deprived of this otherwise perfectly fine opportunity.

It is clear to me that the regulatory environment we have now is not at all fair. I am certain that my system would cost the government more. However, the government should be happy to take on extra expense when it means the creation of richer taxpayers, and the democratization of capital, IMO.


It's more insidious than that.

Most investment opportunities aren't available to the unconnected, even if they have some semblance of wealth (e.g., RSU grants for an employee).

Private investment opportunities seems to only flow from the connected to their friends. I wish this weren't the case. I wish that even a small time investor (in the order of 1k-10k) can participate in these private deals that often payout with 10%-20%/p.a, but other than govt regulations, the biggest barrier is knowing they exist.


It's straightforwards knowing when deals exist when you're actually allowed to invest in them. Then you can just get to know your neighbors and they will be able to raise money from you.

More importantly, these regulations mainly impact poor communities. If you are a potential business owner in a poor community, you are forced to secure funding from people outside your community, even if you could probably find enough investors within it, who you already know, who could contribute a bit.

Thus, imagine a kid growing up in a poor minority community. When they grow up and want to start a business, will they be able to exploit relationships with the older people they already know? No, because securities law limits the number of such investors they can take on to 35, and requires that these 35 be intimately familiar with the business. Instead, this minority child will have to request funding from rich people who may be culturally slightly different than they are and who they do not know.


One reason why this seems unrealistic is that if "the lower class form productive collectives", they stop contributing to the ultra wealthy but will not generate their own real wealth. Currently, wealth generation is not really labor-limited (especially for the kind of labor that the lower class of population can do), and such a collective wouldn't generate much if any wealth because as "automation will increase our productivity", they'll be less productive than the ultra-wealthy - such a cooperative by definition would be labor-rich but capital-poor and thus would/could automate less than the ultra-wealthy that they abandoned. Organizations that have easy access to capital and difficult access to labor will outcompete organizations that have easy access to labor and difficult access to capital.

In late 19th century capitalists absolutely relied on laborers to create their wealth, in late 21th century capitalists rely on investments in automation to create their wealth, and they have limited need for the lower class laborers. Already right now there are millions of jobs that could be automated but aren't just because you can get dirt cheap labor to do it manually (e.g. textile/footwear industry in SE Asia) - and as soon as the laborers start asking for decent income (or simply the tech falls in price, as it does over time) the laborers will get replaced with automation.

And the displaced workers won't be able to form productive collectives, because in that economic scenario, to be productive and efficient, you need to do the same thing with few people and lots of (expensive) machines; the whole reason why they become displaced is that most of their labor objectively isn't useful anymore - it won't become any more useful if they form up into a collective.


I agree with most of what you are saying, but not with the takeaway.

Yes, I absolutely expect these collectives to be less productive than the wealthy class. Does that matter? I’m thinking it doesn’t! The biggest reason is that currently the wealthy take 95+% of the wealth they create, so the fact that they’re more productive has little affect on the workers who live off the paltry wage they are paid. A collective that is less productive but shares more of its profits could pay their workers more than the capitalist companies are. These collectives needn’t compete with non-collectives as the participants of the collectives can opt to buy from a network of collectives whenever possible, providing them economic protection. Finally I think there is work to be done to commoditize robotics hardware and software such that capital costs are low, and this is a key goal of my planned life’s work. The collectives would of course work all in open source, and I think this would lower their costs across the board as there would be no intellectual property to artificially raise costs.

Finally I will say that I agree it sounds unlikely. But think of the outcome! The people would work for themselves and share in the wealth gained by productivity. Instead of wasting away working 60 hours a week until they die, there would be a chance for them to earn more wealth and take time off. It’s a choice of misery or freedom. Even if it’s unlikely, it’s not impossible. And I think it’s a goal worth pursuing.


Thing is, "currently the wealthy take 95+% of the wealth they create" is an accurate description of the dynamics in pretty much any industry, in pretty much no business has so extreme margins, probably not even if you're digging out gold and diamonds with slave labor. Even in industries where the largest value added is IP and branding (e.g. Apple), so direct expenses are comparably low, you get margins like 40%, and those are the winner-take-all economy-of-scale industries where worker collectives can't plausibly ever compete.

If the margins in a "wealthy-class-run" company are 20% and they take it all out as profit; then a competing worker collective that's 20% less efficient would have a margin of 0 and no profit whatsoever and no ability to pay their workers more. You can run a labor-heavy shop as a collective (e.g. fast food has had some successes) but anything relating to manufacturing seems just wishful thinking.

Your example of commodity robotics would bring the per-item robot cost down, but that that would make the whole industry much more capital intensive - if robots are expensive, then there's more labor and less robots; if robots are cheap, then you replace more workers with robots and the percentage of capital vs labor shifts to capital. If robots are expensive, then a less automated workshop can compete price-wise with a large, more automated factory. If robots are cheap, then the large factories that get economies of scale on configuring and integrating these robots simply drive down the cost of end product so much that any smaller shop can't compete at all. No matter how cheap robots are, the worker collective can't afford to build as large and as automated factories that the wealthy capitalists can.

A separate point is that if cheap commodity robots would enable worker collectives to run a just as automated operation, then it's impossible for most people who leave their "overlords" to join those collectives - if an industry now has 100000 employees; and because of arrival of very cheap commodity robots the results can get done with 10000 employees, then it doesn't matter much if that revenue gets taken by a capitalist employing 10000 laborers; a worker collective of 10000 people; or 5000 / 5000 in tight competition... then it doesn't matter because 90000 people have to leave the industry anyway, even the worker collectives have no need for them.

Let's use self-driving taxis as an example of automation. Let's assume that some time in the future, cheap commodity "robots" driving cars enable automation for most of taxi driving. In the "capitalist overlord" scenario, Uber runs and manages self-driving taxis. In the "workers collective" scenario, a bunch of current taxi drivers form a collective, buy "commodity robots" i.e. hardware that makes their cars self-driving (to have comparable efficiency/price with competitors) and run and manage a company that competes with Uber... but they won't drive taxis anyway, they're maintaining and managing a self-driving-taxi company that doesn't need much if any actual drivers. Now what's the practical difference between them forming a "workers collective" versus them buying shares in any other self-driving taxi company? In both cases they're the owners, but not the workers, because their work has been made obsolete by automation. In both cases they get their income as rent on their capital, not wages for their labor; at least not most of them. If they can't afford to buy the shares, then they can't afford the capital investment to start an equivalent competing company, those should be pretty much the same amounts.


Thanks for the stimulating conversation.

Regarding efficiency: that’s a good point about lower efficiency leading to zero/negative profits, and this reflects a reality for many workers collectives today. That said, I would expect these collectives to charge higher prices, perhaps 1.5-2x as much, and let consumers decide. I’d definitely rather pay more for quality goods that support a more fair system, and usually find it difficult to do so.

Regarding collectives versus buying shares: a key and significant difference with collectives is the notion that each member has equal voting power for decisions made within the company. Shareholders meanwhile have less control, owing to the power of the board of directors. Concentrating power makes anti-social behavior more likely, as the class difference between the board and everyone else means decisions they make may not affect them the same way they affect others. This is significantly less pronounced in a coop as I describe, so there is less anti-social interference caused by businesses in this scenario.

You have other good points I’d like to reply to, but I’ve got to run. I just wanted to mention that a key thing I feel you are missing is that working for and a society made up of worker cooperatives would lead to a qualitatively different life. It’s not a pure apples to apples competition scenario as I am advocating that people actively make buying and employment decisions based on a desire to realize this new cooperative society. I agree with you that absent ideology, the capitalist organization would crush the coops based solely on a selfish purchasing decision. That is, the capitalist products may be cheaper and may be better (or not), but I still believe a coop can survive and thrive if enough people choose to stop supporting the capitalist way.

These terms are a bit loose by the way - I stil describe a scenario rooted in a fabric of capitalism. The coops sell to each other based on markets if they want, or other agreements if they want. No government interference is required. And I advocate that these groups behave in intentionally pro social ways. It takes devotion and energy and heart. It is not for those simply looking to make a buck.


downvoters please share your reasons with us

Seriously! I consider my political philosophy to be about as inoffensive as they come, and am surprised I would be downvoted for this.

Seriously, do it. However, I'll warn you that it's not as easy as you might imagine. Cooperatives require cooperation and if you've worked on a software team before, you will see that true cooperation is quite difficult to achieve. Usually it devolves into power plays where a certain few decide that they should be making the decisions to save us from the stupid people. And having taken the power and made all the decisions, they feel that they deserve more than other people because without them, there would just be chaos. So you just end up constructing a new wealthy layer.

It's not like this hasn't happened before. If we go back 200 years ago, the money was all tied up in the super wealthy families and royalty. The system was set up so that the wealthy would inherit their god-given gains (slight sarcasm, but I don't think that if you asked them they would disagree with that statement). Our financial system has changed and there is the "new rich" now (who have vulgarly worked to become rich). Of course the financial system is mostly controlled by this new rich class and they spend a considerable amount of effort to ensure that they continue to control it (obviously). Donald Trump is president and got there by campaigning against the legacy of rich people. You can't make this stuff up.

Having said that, I once belonged to a home brew beer club. That club was amazing. We got fed up with the stores completely ignoring our requests (because they were concentrating only on casual customers who only made beer to save money, rather than because they wanted to make beer). We just decided to approach producers directly and ask them what kind of minimum order they required. Then we organised bulk purchases every year. Somebody would organise the purchase and put everything on their credit card. We'd collect all the money and then get together at someone's house to split everything up and deliver it. Eventually our bulk purchases got so popular that we started doing them at much higher frequencies (like every couple of months). We no longer needed minimum orders and in fact we were making purchases that were larger than most of the micro breweries in our area. We could actually command rare hops, etc that nobody else could get, because we were the best customer that the suppliers had. Our purchase sizes were tens of thousands of dollars and we had people lining up to organise buys because the air miles (or whatever deal the credit card companies were giving) would mean free vacations anywhere in the world for the person doing the work.

Eventually the homebrew stores started complaining because our business was orders of magnitude larger than theirs. But it was too late. They tried to sour the suppliers against us (and it worked in a few cases), but for the most part the supplier preferred us. I moved away and so haven't talked with those guys for a long time, but I've always thought this is basically the ideal cooperative. But it only really worked because the guys organising the deals had high paying full time jobs doing something else. The organisation was just a hobby for them. You can easily see that if someone decided, "Hey I'm going to start a home brew store and since I'm the one with the contacts for the malt/hops, I can force everybody to go through me". And suddenly they are the ones in charge and you get what they decided to order, etc, etc. They start making decisions based on what makes them money, not based on what makes you happy -- it's only common sense, after all. And they try to make sure that nobody can steal their business out from under them (like we did one time to the incumbent home brew stores). Now instead of a collective, we just have the same thing we had before -- only difference is a different person in charge.


That is a foolish thing to say

Why? That's pretty much a summary of how social change has worked for the last 2000 years or so.

high skill jobs are at risk too.

It's reasonable to assume, given recent tech developments(AI, low code for software, generative design for graphic design/engineering and architecture, blockchain for professions working on trust in transaction like accounting, some automation in the legal field, automation in insurance) that many high-skill professions will suffer unemployment too.

And can someone with high-skill job always shift to another high-skill job? pretty hard, many high skill jobs have very high barriers to entry. And could they aim for the low skill burger flipping job ? Who will get the job, some spoiled engineer, or someone who is used to working hard doing hard labor for low pay and may be younger ?

So why is everybody under the assumption that high skill jobs are safe ?


The jobs you listed have largely been augmented rather than replaced. You’re also not accounting for new jobs we can’t even imagine yet.

Ten years ago no one would think YouTuber or Instragram model would be viable jobs for some people. Social media directors at companies large and small have to find unique ways to engage with other humans. The guy that fixes cracked screens on smartphones couldn’t have done that in 1999. UX developer/designers craft human interactions to be better.

Automation taken to the end game may create a Star Trek like world where material goods are so cheap as to almost be free. The economy could shift to value knowledge, art, creativity, novel experiences and more.


On a large scale, there's no meaningful difference between augmenting or replacing a job.

If an industry augments a function employing 100000 people so that every person can do twice as much, then that has the exact same effect as fully replacing a function that employed 50000 people; in both cases they need 50000 people less and they should do something else.


Augmentation increases productivity and as long as the organization has demand for their goods or services, they will keep the more productive employees to serve demand.

Demand is the key to the whole equation. No demand, no employees, automated or human.


The key word is could. It could also create a hyperstratified neo-feudal society a la "Diamond Age".

That's exactly the point - we need to be conscious of these possibilities, and steer towards the one that is preferable.


Great comment.

Actually, people did think that the internet would greatly increase niche markets pretty early. And that requires marketers to support.

And people did think people will own something like a smartphone, so it makes sense some people will be responsible for maintenance.

So maybe with all those new technologies coming(which some do new jobs), someone will need to build and support them, and who knows how many people that will take.


Augmenting is enough to massively disrupt industries. Look at law which used to be a safe middle class job and is now in a bimodal distribution of super high paid and low wage work. All that came from just having cheap OCR which let firms replace legions of well educated law grads searching through paper documents with "Ctrl+f" for the lawyers actually running the case.

Automation like this has led to new jobs everytime there's been a major change in the past and has been better for humanity. The problem is that this sometimes takes years or decades and the old workers are told to eat shit in the meantime while the capital owners collect all the newfound wealth.

Are you willing to live in abject poverty while your bosses get increasingly wealthy just because it'll be better for people in some distant future? That's a question that's usually answered with "No" and that societies don't want to even have asked if they wish to remain stable


I don’t think a single one of your examples have resulted in the loss of jobs from those areas. If anything it’s the opposite.

People are under the assumption that high skilled jobs are safe, because that's what the actual facts on the ground show.

Engineering salaries and jobs have skyrocketed in the past decade, and they only show signs of continuing to increase.

I have heard people yell about how we are all going to be replaced, every year, for the last 10 years, and yet here we are, with that future not coming true.

Eventually, after making so many predictions, and getting it wrong so many times, people need to reevaluate their guesses, and instead use a fact based analysis of what the market looks like.


You assume a continuing trend based on what exactly? Because it worked that way in the past under different circumstances? The different circumstances are kind of the point.

Where are actually market ready solutions for automation of high skilled jobs today or in the past? Once market ready solutions exit, this will very likely be a completely different situation.

And there is a wide array of even high skilled jobs, where it is feasible, that automation can replace people in the next generation. Maybe not next year or in 10 years, but it is on the horizon for quite alot of professions. Starting such a career now has a different risk scenario then 50 years ago. It is similar to lower skilled jobs like truck driver or warehouse worker. We are not there yet, that they go the way of the street lamp lightener, but assuming a positive trend for warehouse workers, based on past demand seems to be rather distorted. The difference is a warehouse worker doesnt spend years and years and thousands of dollars to enter his field.


I can’t help but think about what this thread would read like if it was thousands of software engineers displaced by machines writing code. I’m guessing there would be significantly less preaching about economics 101...

Software engineering seems safe, if that is what you are primarily thinking of in your question. Developing software at the same level of a skilled engineer is a problem we'd only be able to solve with general AI. Even if program synthesizers (things that take declarative high level requirements and produce code) worked (and they don't at the level required for an non-technical user to use), most engineers today must be involved in the design process, and finding requirements and formulating solutions is a skill that requires humanistic and non-technical intuition.

It's not at all clear that software engineering is safe.

Sure there will probably always be a few programmers, but as tools (and soon I expect AI) gets better those programmers can do more and more of the work. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find the number of software engineers decreasing in the not too distant future.

The only reason it hasn't already is that we've managed to grow the number of things software developers are doing at the same rate as the increase in number of software developers * the increase in efficiency per software developer. And in some parts of software development (e.g. games) it has.


It's possible that you are right. That said, tools are already better than ever before, and yet demand for software engineers has only increased. That's because most tools which are powerful enough to do all the things we need aren't simple enough to be applied without human-level intelligence. Not to mention—the tools themselves are software that also requires programmers.

Personally, I'm of the opinion of the commenter above you—automating most software jobs will require strong AI. Replacement of those might happen someday, but it's sufficiently far away to not think about as an imminent threat to your job (though I agree we should be doing high-level planning about how as a society we will cope with strong AI).


Some of it has nothing to do with ML/AI, docker probably killed more Sysadmin jobs then all of ML combined.

Better tools allow us to do more, faster etc. Thing is amount of things software can do that it is not doing yet is absolutely immense and ML only opens more and more of it.

I think any actual reduction is so far in the future we have no concept of when that will happen and how.

I mean a am I huge proponent of self driving car.. when is that coming? When it works it will absolutely change economy as massive amount of people are now involved or depend on those that are.


It's not at all clear that software engineering is safe.

Software is an arms race. You need new software if your competitors are writing new software, but any organisation can coast for a long time on its “legacy systems”. That’s what we saw after the dotcom crash. If there is a prolonged economic downturn and the software industry just goes into maintenance mode, it will be very, very unlike anyone who wasn’t there last time will understand.


If current trends are any indication, the only way I can foresee the number of software engineers decreasing is if we make the job so complicated that the IQ floor on being able to perform at an acceptable level rises too high. We are currently piling the abstractions higher and higher, and we're patching them up with duct tape fast enough to keep most of the leaks at bay, but when things go south into Here-Be-Dragons territory, there are just a helluva lot more dragons lurking around these days, and they can be some nasty Lovecraftian dragons.

From your comments I feel like I cam safely assume you do not do any serious work in ML/AI. It's not even close, and none of your examples are being threatened by advances in this area.

It already has eaten the lower ends of programming on the web side with centralized services and templated web development. You can keep defining software engineers as those who haven't been automated away yet -- but I'd wager many already have. For example most companies are not spinning up their own hardware anymore, and less and less of their own software.

It's easy to see how lots of programmers could be replaced, just look at Zapier. Now imagine where something like that is going to be in a decade.

You’re completely right! I’ve thought this myself: Zapier and the ecosystem that enables it is such a good example of how something that used to take a programmer days or weeks can now be done in minutes.

I wonder if the end result of things like Zapier will ultimately be unemployment for devs. Perhaps, but maybe it’ll just free them up for something else. I mean, is the demand for programming really fixed? Or will more and more powerful force multiplier tools like Zapier just free up devs for new demands that we can’t predict now? Hard to say and I’m concerned like you, but it’ll definitely be interesting to watch.

So yeah, I agree with you and I think Zapier is a great example. I think we all just have to wait and see if that ends up replacing devs in the long run or just shifting what they do.


We've been replacing jobs with automation for a century. It already is the norm. Why are you so worried?

EDIT: more thoughts

I just finished reading an Asimov novel written in 1955. There were computers in this book. They were people. Computer was a job title. Now we have machines that do that job, and we have an entire new industry employing lots and lots of people that didn't exist before that one job, Computer, was automated.


It's a good sentiment, but the replacement of fast-food workers with robots won't really open up a whole new field in the same sense. Robotics and AI are wonderful and interesting fields, but honestly, let's not kid ourselves, most people who are flipping burgers probably aren't going to go on to work in the field of building their own replacements.

"the replacement of fast-food workers with robots won't really open up a whole new field in the same sense"

No, it won't look exactly like moving from human computers to machine computers. It won't look exactly like moving from manual farming to tractors and combines. It's hard to imagine what it will look like, but it seems overly pessimistic to just assume that this time automation is going to turn out terribly.


Just because its been terrible before? The industrial revolution was a time of starvation and death for the families of the displaced.

The issue isn't how to keep people busy. That's not a very worthy goal. In the '50s we dreamed of a society where robots took the yoke from our shoulders and let us live better lives. Now that it's happening, all we can talk about is how to get people back to work!


Do you honestly believe this isn't going to be a problem?

People have predicted that it would be a problem every year for the last hundred years. And those people were all proven false.

How many times do the same predictions have to be proven false before we don't take them seriously anymore?

People won't do that though. We will continue to hear the same predictions for another hundred years, and every time the people making will say "but this time it's different!"


No, they weren't proven false, it's just that the effects of automation aren't felt evenly across the whole population at once. If you aren't in the groups it was affecting, you likely didn't see it beyond a newspaper article here and there, and maybe it didn't really register. There are entire towns filled with people who are suffering from poverty and all its knock-on effects because they were single-industry towns and that industry went through automation that eliminated those jobs en masse.

Everyone always says that these people are just suffering from a skills shortage and need to retrain into a different career and move to where the jobs are. But which careers should they choose to retrain into? Retraining represents several years of time investment and at least tens of thousands of dollars in money investment, money which they don't even have in the bank, so choosing wrong will often be the last nail in the coffin. When I was entering school I was told that going into CS was too risky because everyone was offshoring these days. Instead the most recommended "safe" jobs were: lawyer, pharmacist, welder. Of those three choices, only one was still in demand by the time the entering cohort had graduated. The other two had such a glut of entering workers that many new grads were being advised to retrain again. When industry demand is changing faster than people can reasonably retrain and pay off their student loans, "skills shortage" is just another way to say "let them eat cake", and the pace of automation is absolutely contributing to this issue.


The reason why we continue to hear the same predictions is because the predictions from the other side (that everything will be alright this time) are never concrete. It's always something like, "oh, there will be new industries you couldn't possibly imagine before, and jobs will be there". Excuse me if I don't find that argument convincing.

Saying that it happened before is not really convincing either, unless we understand the underlying mechanism and can predict that it will continue to operate the same - and I haven't even seen any convincing theories yet. Relying on past observations alone without understanding what's behind them is not always such a good idea; you might be crossing the river by walking on ice because it never cracked before - and then one day it does, because it's springtime. If the risks are high, I'd rather be more sure than "it never happened before". And we're talking about a potential economic disruption so massive that it'd likely erupt into violence, so the risks are high.


You're right, energy resources are limitless so there's no possibility a system based on ever growing consumption could possibly fail. /s

The laws of physics are of course true. But we will run into "infinite growth" issues in a couple thousand years. Not in a couple decades.

The burden of proof is on you, if you want to argue that the limits of growth are right around the corner.

I have been hearing people yell the the same arguement that you are making about infinite growth for years. And yet every year they get proven wrong. So talk to me in a thousand years, when we actually start to hit those limits.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luddite

Same "fears" different century.


Modern societies need to figure out distribution of economic power that isn't based on employment. Of all the things corporations should be held responsible for, directly propping up low-skill labor employment opportunities shouldn't be one of them. Employment and jobs should stop being used as fundamental economic indicators.

The naive approach would be to just increase overall corporate taxes, reduce payroll taxes (so companies are mildly incentivized to pay humans) and more effectively redistribute tax income to society. The problem with this is the geographic inflexibility of this approach, as Amazon could be sucking up tons of resources from Florida and no amount of taxation on Amazon really pays back to Florida.

Surely we can eventually come up with a better system to let companies optimize their business practices (net value++) and redistributing those improvements across society?


Truly. Minimum [to say nothing of market!] wages are climbing fast in my state, and I have heard real chatter from business owners about implementing [robot] automation on the production line / warehouse sooner rather than later.

Another industry I have knowledge of, orcharding, is moving toward harvest automation at an astonishing rate, driven mainly by the rapidly-escalating cost of labor [having to pay for H2B visa costs, the disappearance of harvest-following migrant worker bands in favor of more professionalized workers who demand pay greater than the prevailing minimum wage, regulations that require orchardists provide quality housing [at a cost upwards of $10k/worker/year] and pay for rest periods, rising liability / workers' comp insurance costs, etc. Adoption of automation in the orcharding sector is increasing as cost of equipment falls -- for example, two years ago, a typical apple harvest machine [which replaces a crew of, say, ~20 humans] cost in the neighborhood of $500k, whereas today viable models are available at half that.

My understanding is that the vineyard industry is even further along in implementing automation, owing to the relative simplicity of their harvest process.


I'm not of the opinion that this automation will create an equal number of jobs for the ones they replace.

Historically people do shift to other tasks and society adapts, but this takes a generation and we can expect massive disruption, suffering and unrest in the coming decades across the world as manual labour (drivers, pickers, sorters, assemblers) are replaced by machines.


state-backed jobs with negative income tax/UBI/wealthfare. This is what gonna happen in Japan. USA? no idea, some kind of revolution. The biggest problem will be in countries like Bangladesh.

The second (third?) most recent Sam Harris podcast episode with Yuval Noah Harari discusses this. We normally talk about UBI in the context of one country, but like you said, third world countries will suffer the most.

Automation killing basic factory jobs will have a much larger effect outside of first world countries, and unfortunately there's no real way to address that disparity from the context of policy in any one country.


Realistically, we know how the First World countries are going to solve it, because many of them are already in the process of implementing that solution. They'll dump some token amount of humanitarian aid to relieve their conscience, and meanwhile set up electrified razor wire fences with automated turrets and drones at their borders. They're not going to share as much as would be necessary to implement something like UBI worldwide, even at local levels of "subsistence wage".

The US already sent most of these jobs offshore a few decades ago. Automation has been improving efficiency, and slowly decreasing the physical labor market, since then (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/10/23/welcoming-our-...), but the majority of the physical world jobs being displaced by automation will be in China.

Theres already a lot of automation at car factories and places which heavily rely on machinery to produce goods. I remember seeing that the only people needed is people to repair the machinery if it broke down and the whole manufacturing process being automated with self-driving carts moving around the materials. Note this was a Toyota factory, so it could be skewed.

In the US, the biggest plurality employment sector by a long shot is long-haul transportation.

It's going to be an interesting next 25-or-so years as self-driving vehicle technology moves to Level 4 or 5 readiness and the people with a significant vested interest in long-term investment in driving down transportation cost displace a major chunk of America's workforce.


Doesn’t that depend on the characteristics of the work robots are replacing in modern economies?

Let’s take Japan, ftom the article. They are replacing warehouse workers. Demographically, Japan is experiencing a shrinking workforce.

So, the issue isn’t exactly whether ribots replace workers, but whether the pace of replacement is in sync with the reduction in the aging workforce.


Most likely two outcomes. Either everyone will be given a basic income for meeting their needs or the robot revolution will make goods so cheap that very little money/effort will be needed purchase things. Most of the jobs may move to the entertainment and healthcare industry.

> or the robot revolution will make goods so cheap that very little money/effort will be needed

Any such robot revolution would drive the cost of labor down faster than it'd drive the cost of goods. It might just not be immediately visible from every vantage point in society, because economic sectors will be taken out one by one - so today you live like a king because of all that cheap stuff, and tomorrow you can't afford it because you have no job, and hence no paycheck. So some form of basic income would still be needed for many.


What if we're not satisfied with mincome and soma, and we want something more? With no framework to provide for useful productivity, what will young people end up doing? A lazy population with no way to differentiate and striate financially will find other ways of anteing up over each other, including criminal acts...

Meh, if anything think vr, internet, video games will keep most people occuppaid. Lazy population will be too lazy to bother each other.

≥ I'm not of the opinion that this automation will create an equal number of jobs for the ones they replace.

Increasing productivity is kind of the point with automation. So unless demand drastically increases, it seems highly unlikely.


I'd suggest reading The Driver, by Garet Garrett

I like the movie elysium.

I love uniqlo doubling down on tech.

One thing I found really interesting is that inside the labels are small rfid (I think?) chips. At the cashier, the person just folds them nicely, puts the pile of cloth on a metal pad and the system tells you how many items and how much it is. No manual code scanning!! The first time I noticed that I felt like a kid again discovering something magical.

The next step was to have person-less cashiers with the same system which works great too. So a completely autonomous store was just the next logical way to go.


Our local public library has a similar system. You check out your books by placing the pile on a sensor and a screen lists the books you placed there, then you scan your library card and it's done. To return them, you put them down a chute that scans them as returned instantly (then still goes into a bin for staff to return them to shelf).

There's half a dozen of these automated checkouts, and 1 staff person elsewhere at a desk for support, questions, info, etc.

There's also terminals all over the library that you can use to search for books, games, DVDs, etc, and it'll tell you where they are and if they're available or checked out, and if checked out, when they're due back so you can reserve them.



Decathlon in Spain has a very similar system. The first time I saw it I had the same reaction. Pretty exciting to experience it.

I haven't noticed that in the US stores (NJ specifically). Is this specific to some countries where Uniqlo operates?

Do those tags stay on the clothes afterward? Or are those external to the clothes?

The staff told me it’s inside the price label so I’m guessing it stays on

I have wondered at what point will job cuts start affecting the overall supply demand equation as more and more people get out of work and will have less spending capacity. Who will buy more 'stuff' and how? We don't know at what rate the jobs will be replaced, if at all. What will be the equilibrium point then?

If everything will be automated then "time with a human" will be really expensive. Why work 8h/day when you can buy everything with very little money (automation)? You will work 1h/day and ask a full salary for it.

The only problem are changes that come too fast and people have no time to adapt. Exactly what startups try to do, to disrupt stuff.


Well, Parkinsons law seems to be intact so we will all work in middle management in a few decades, all responsible for requesting service level agreements from each others legal department AIs.

How about instead of selling robots to companies to replace their laborers, we sell robots to the workers to do their jobs. You keep getting paid as long as you keep your robot running.

> How about instead of selling robots to companies to replace their laborers, we sell robots to the workers to do their jobs. You keep getting paid as long as you keep your robot running.

You're basically talking about the democratization of capital. Companies and their owners will resist it tooth and nail, since they want to reap the dividends.

I don't think we'll get to a world like that, with former laborers owning the automation that replaced them, without some kind of radically new regulatory regime or an outright revolution.


Yeah, you'd have to curtail the freedom of some people to own robots and drastically limit how others could use them. This is a non-starter for most voters.

> This is a non-starter for most voters.

Only to the degree that they've been trained to see themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaires, and identify more with the interests of the owners than their own personal interests.


How do you think a law would work, which would only allow floor workers to own/operate robots, but not the workers (the CEO/warehouse foreman) that oversee other workers?

> How do you think a law would work, which would only allow floor workers to own/operate robots, but not the workers (the CEO/warehouse foreman) that oversee other workers?

I don't think "most voters" who don't see themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaires would shed a tear if CEOs, business owners, members of the management and ownership class, etc. had their ability to own robots limited. At least after some consideration of what where most labor was replaced by automation would look like. So I object to the idea that such a law would be "a non-starter for most voters."

I'm not a legislator who's spent a lot of time thinking how such a law would be implemented, but you could probably accomplish with some kind of per-capita ownership limit. A CEO could still own robots, but not any more than a pleb to make a difference. They'd have to employ the pleb's robots instead of buying all they need themselves. That gets around the problem of classifying people. There's still the problem of determining the overall number to be rationed, and that probably requires a bit more thought than I have time to give right now. Though part of it could probably be modeled after the present-day labor market.


Telling a person they can't own something because they might create too much value, sure seems antithetical to western values of personal freedom.

And why not take your idea further. Only one person per truck? Per acre of farmland? Per airplane? Per computer? Per pencil? Per lathe?

Why shed a tear over lost crappy factory jobs when those people might be better employed fixing the robots, at a higher wage and skill set?


The modern Western ideas of personal freedom with respect to property arose in conjunction with a particular economic system that made sense at the time. But, as any economic system, it has its constraints. Right now, it works because ownership of capital is pointless without a labor force to make it produce things - so you can have capital concentrated a lot, but the workers still get a slice of the pie for working it, even if it's not a big one.

Full automation essentially means that labor is no longer necessary - the owner of the capital can have it produce wealth directly (and robots can fix robots, after all - although the system breaks down long before that, since even when you have humans fixing robots, one human can fix a lot of robots - so you're still employing only a minuscule part of the labor pool). From a perspective that is concerned solely with economic efficiency, all those humans are now simply redundant - they can go and starve to death for all anybody cares. And from a perspective that is concerned purely with property rights, theirs is the freedom to do so, since any other course of action - say, expropriating some robots that would then feed them - would be in violation of those rights.

Somehow, I don't think they will care for it, though. If you make enough people desperate, you get torches and pitchforks. And judging by how revolutions went historically, those torches and pitchforks won't be directed against the capitalist class first and foremost - they'll be directed against those immediately accessible that still have cushy jobs and the associated lifestyle, i.e. whatever remains of the high middle class by then. And if we don't want that to happen to us, we've got to start working out practical solutions, and using our political power to force them through.


"i.e. whatever remains of the high middle class by then" but for every person who leaves the middle class to become poor, more than one person leaves to become upper middle class. The middle class is shrinking, but a slight majority of those are leaving it to join the ranks of the well off.

We obviously have a problem, but it's how to make the poorer more valuable through education and training, not how to make the well off less valuable through arbitrary productivity restrictions.

IE, sorry, doctors make too much money so we've capped their patients at 20. Versus, doctors make too much money, so we've streamlined more people to become nurse practitioners and PA's.


> for every person who leaves the middle class to become poor, more than one person leaves to become upper middle class.

I'm not sure this is true, and the only way I can see it possibly be is because "middle class" is a very fuzzy category that's defined relatively to others, so it can grow in absolute terms by e.g. lowering that relative standard. Income inequality has steadily grown, not shrunk. Concentration of capital at the top, and concentration of income from that capital, has also grown.

> not how to make the well off less valuable through arbitrary productivity restrictions.

You're looking at it the wrong way. It's not about restrictions on productivity. It is about redistribution of capital, and prevention of it getting concentrated too much in one hands at the point where labor is going to lose access to more and more of it to feed themselves via wages. I don't even thing that capping ownership of capital is the right way to do so. Taxing the hell out of it would be a better idea.

And education and training is not going to do anything to the fundamental problem of 100 people competing for 50 jobs.


Workers don't have the capital or the know-how... that's why they are selling labor in the first place.

the ones that do are replacing the ones that don’t, but not a 1-1

Are the workers putting up the capital to purchase the robots?

There would probably need to be rental services/financing options for those who can't afford to buy one outright.

Uber and others offer leases to drivers now. I'm sure the same could apply.

Maybe instead of free education and health care, we can get free robots?

Maybe instead of giving people free shit, we give people the education and opportunities to earn and make stuff?

On Star Trek doesn't everyone have their own Replicator than can churn out anything? Why does someone even need to get paid? Just make one from your replicator and ship it to a friend in need.

Just use your replicator to make another replicator and send them that!

Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Give a man a fish replicator...

I'm not sure if this is serious, but I'll risk the miss and say that they addressed this in TNG, saying that humanity evolved past the economies of earlier times.

How about instead of giving them bullshit jobs, just give them money instead.

Realistically, that's what's going to happen. They're going to hire people to keep the robots running. It won't be the same people they're replacing, and not 1 to 1 though.

There is nothing stopping you or anyone else from buying a robot and renting it out or something.

Those workers should feel free to do that right now and spend their money investing in capital.


The lack of capital is probably a factor stopping people from doing that, this feels like a "let them eat cake" scenario.

A "robot" usually replaces multiple meatbags.

Why not the workers invest in the company that sells the robots?

The people being replaced by automation don't have the means to invest in anything.

But they would have the means to buy the robots as OP has posted?

People with job anxiety right now typically aren't investing in robot manufacturers or buying stocks at all. If they're not doing it now, why will they do it in 10 years or 50 years?

I worked in a warehouse for a summer in school because the hours fit around my other job and the pay was little higher than some other options (retail). But the Teamsters union ran the show and it was so political that I went back to the food/beverage service business.

All that said, it's too bad that warehouse work isn't going to be an option for many people. There are fewer and fewer jobs for a lot of people.

Note: I support Unions and wish we had more. That union, however....


Just curious but why do you think other unions are better than the one you had experience with? (Not looking to argue just genuinely curious in your perspective, thanks.)

It would be better for all if there were enough unions for a choice to be had there, and if negotiations were across all unions and businesses 'in a sector' at a time.

This way there isn't a dramatic power imbalance...

    * Big corp VS single worker
    * Monopoly on labor (Union required) VS single corp
    * Monopoly on type of job (Union required) VS single worker
That gives a choice at every possible side, and also gives the worker the option of switching unions if the political leadership of one is poor or they have bad support/promotion.

It also gives sets of businesses and sets of worker pools the opportunity to reach the most amicable agreement for the compensation and treatment of works as possible.

This does nothing to reflect larger economic imbalances caused by things like minimum wage, but it could slow or reverse the deterioration of the middle class and increase stability of workers within an area which would promote more investment in having a community there and fixing things like insane housing costs.


> That union, however....

Exactly. All unions become "that union" when given enough power and influence.


That's a gross generalisation and I would strongly disagree, this boogeyman of the evil union gets trotted out every time in tech forums like hackernews.

There will be a great deal more demand in the healthcare sector all over the developed world in the coming decades. Japan is leading the way with the oldest demographics among large economies. Its demographics leads Western Europe by a decade or so and perhaps a couple more for the US.

We should start training people for jobs like homecare assistance, nursing home care, etc and developing institutions and solutions for funding them. An apprenticeship program complemented by some classes might work better than college for these jobs.

The jobs do require some skills but they are skills most people can acquire with good training. The latent demand is enormous and the work is potentially more fulfilling than moving stuff around a warehouse.


By the time they're trained up the robots will have taken their jobs too.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/06/japan-robots-w... https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-5014079/15-000-ro...

I love technology, but honestly I find this terrifying. People aren't just going to be unemployed, they're going to be unemployable.

This how workers must have felt during the first industrial revolution, I'd say we're in the second one now.


Home assistance and nursing assistant jobs require competence in a large number of highly varied tasks and many require human-style intelligence which is among the hardest to automate from our experience with AI research. (See Moravec’s Paradox.)

It will be at least a couple decades, likely longer, until we can really automate those jobs cost effectively, which gives us time to reconfigure socio-economic systems to suit the burgeoning new industrial revolution.

Check out the following predictions by a noted roboticist and former director of MIT’s CSAIL

https://rodneybrooks.com/my-dated-predictions/

Example from the page:

Dexterous robot hands generally available. NET (Not Earlier Than) 2030

It will take at least a decade and often longer for a hardware product to become affordable to the masses. So we are talking about 2040 or later when most of home caring jobs will be at risk.

Even then, the need for human interaction will still be there so it is unclear if most elderly would not want human services if it is accessible to them.


Surfacing it from the POV of retailer's reality. Uniqlo's net profits(2) at ~ 20% are higher than what is mentioned below for American Retailers (2)

From: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/08/12/the-pay-is-too...

In 1960, the country’s biggest employer, General Motors, was also its most profitable company and one of its best-paying. It had high profit margins and real pricing power, even as it was paying its workers union wages. And it was not alone: firms like Ford, Standard Oil, and Bethlehem Steel employed huge numbers of well-paid workers while earning big profits. Today, the country’s biggest employers are retailers and fast-food chains, almost all of which have built their businesses on low pay—they’ve striven to keep wages down and unions out—and low prices.

This complicates things, in part because of the nature of these businesses. They make plenty of money, but most have slim profit margins: Walmart and Target earn between three and four cents on the dollar;

(2) https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/07/12/business/corpor...


I've heard the argument that this situation is unique to japan due to their aging population and low birthrate.

They don't have cheap teenagers to exploit at minimum wages which is why automation is even financially worth it. The amount they are spending ($887 million) can hire 60,000 years of labor at $15,000/yr.


The point is, it's introduced there because it's profitable even if the robots suck but are more productive as a human. The experiences gained, though, will lead to the robots becoming cheaper and cheaper until the robots are on par with Western wages, and then hell will break loose.

Japanese society right now is paying the R&D and the western countries, especially the US, will suck up all the profits.

The one question that remains, though: who will buy all the products when large swaths of the population don't have a job to feed themselves?


> I've heard the argument that this situation is unique to japan due to their aging population and low birthrate.

There are many other countries (Italy, S. Korea, others) that have the same aging population and low birthrate.


The Question is if Robots should pay income tax? Robots replaced humans that paid tax. The society still needs income.

Tax wise do you replace the replaced workers with zero tax robots or do you tax robot workers?

When a company do not pay tax or pay lower tax they do not pay for schools and roads. That is not cool. We still need roads and schools to build a future society.

Ie the bigger question is that of income distribution. Do you give all the money gained from the robots to the very few percentage who owns the store? What if a majority of worlds work are automated by robots.

How do you tax for the global warming that the store new low cost labor produces? In other words as products starts to almost cost zero to consume but we are having global warming. How do we price so that we do not over consume cheap meaningless stuff?


> Robots replaced humans that paid tax. The society still needs income.

Robots should pay tax in exactly the same way that the wheel, internal combustion engine, fire, chemical fertilizer, electric motor or stone axe paid tax.

You're trying to do macroeconomics (calculate tax revenue) with a microeconomic analysis (looking at one task/job in isolation). What happens in practice is that the people displaced by productivity gains (shoemakers, maybe) eventually find work in the broader economy doing jobs (like programming computers) that were previously infeasible due to labor costs but now have access to cheaper labor.

Obviously there are social aspects about distribution and justice inherent to rapid change like this. But they have nothing to do with tax revenue.


> The Question is if Robots should pay income tax? Robots replaced humans that paid tax. The society still needs income.

That's not a sensible question. Every tool or piece of hardware is an efficiency multiplier for the human benefiting from it. You wouldn't charge income tax to a carpenter's table saw, even though they're suddenly not having to use a handsaw that takes 10 times as long. There's no rational way to implement an income tax on efficiency boosting tools.


From an initial speculation on the subject, I don't believe we should tax robot workers, on the basis that it would be too difficult to logically create legislation for, especially considering the tech-knowledge of our legislators.

How would we measure? If it's per-robot, businesses would just figure a way of linking the computers together and calling them 'one'. If it's per-output, then what is a 'robot' vs computer/software, that exists in virtually every business already? Would it be fair giving small businesses another tax, for investing in computers and technology instead of human manpower?


The money saved gets taxed twice: as corporate income and then when distributed to shareholders again as individual income. It likely gets taxed at a higher rate, actually, because the income tax rate of the workers this replaces is probably very low but the rate of the company + the individual could easily be 60%.

Could you break down how you get to "easily" 60%?

If the money is passed back in dividends instead of share buybacks, it's taxed as income. The people who are receiving this income are probably quite wealthy. Let's lowball it and say that they were making $200,000 per year before receiving the dividends. I live in Louisiana, so I'll use a Louisiana income tax calculator [0]. At $200,000 per year, the marginal tax rate is 39.4%. The whole income is not taxed at this level, but any income you earn past $200,000 (e.g. dividends) is.

Uniqlo is a Japanese retailer, so they would be paying Japanese corporate tax rates. I can't pretend to be an expert in Japanese corporate tax, so my estimate of their marginal tax rate is just going to be their profit divided by their tax paid for the latest financial year I can find. We can find these data from their 2017 financial statements [1]. In 2017 they paid $584,025,000 in income taxes out of a total of $1,751,484,000 income before taxes. This gives us almost exactly a 1/3 marginal rate (33.345%).

Combining the personal and corporate tax rates gives us 1 - (2/3 * (1-.394)) = 59.6% tax rate. I may have underestimated the easily part, but in most states income tax would be slightly higher than in Louisiana, which would push us over the 60% threshold.

For comparison, an average worker in a warehouse might be making $30,000 per year. At that income, the total tax burden is $5,578 = 18.59%.

[0]: https://smartasset.com/taxes/louisiana-paycheck-calculator [1]: https://www.fastretailing.com/eng/ir/library/pdf/ar2017_en_1...


Technology is not stoppable and if jobs are going to be lost they will be. Ultimately all tech has been absorbed into society.

But many also cynically use 'threats' of technology to scaremonger and try to keep wages low. This is incredibly exploitative. For instance this story itself is thin on details and talks up 90% without mentioning the actual numbers or details of the automation. Amazon bought Kiva and while the robots are used they continue to hire aggressively.

If McDonalds or anyone else can use robots efficiently today they will. No company is employing workers out of goodwill but because they need them. If one must worry current trends show the environment may create far more disruption than automation.


Actually sad since manual laborers are wonderful robots. It's just that they get pricier ever since.

Things that make them less advantageous to robots are (e.g):

- the used up demographic dividend of China (with no real replacement in sight)

- western population decline

- western population aging

- west's much better off population, uninterested in manual labor (at least as mid/long term job)

- rising minimum wages

- rising costs of employment

- tightening immigration laws

etc.


This article needs a lot more detail before it can even begin to be used as an indicator of impending rapid mass technological unemployment.

The huge, mostly mechanical system pictured in the Japan News article doesn't visually differ much from AS/RS systems that have been developing for fifty years. And according to the linked Reuters article, Uniqlo doesn't appear to be benefiting from AI or breakthrough tech, but is merely attempting to deploy automated warehouses, a relatively old technology, globally.

Barring new details, this article doesn't describe the beginning of an avalanche of robot workers, but an established $XXm custom build process entered into by the latest company with sufficient scale, margins, capital, etc to make it worth the investment.

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