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?
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.
At some point, automation might be a cause for concern. But I really don't think this is that type of headline...
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.
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.
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.
This needs to be done in a global scale, otherwise those companies will just tax optimize all the income away.
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.
(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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
I think the "Chinese" (or Austen Chamberlain ) had it right when "May you live in interesting times" was meant as a curse.
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
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 and Nicholas Eberstadt who focus on a moral and cultural downward spiral, vs Steve Bannon  who credits the decline to free trade, and both legal (H1B) and illegal immigration.
 Read the last few paragraphs: https://www.nationalreview.com/magazine/2016/03/28/father-f-...
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.
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.
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.
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 . 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.
 - https://www.urban.org/research/publication/growing-size-and-...
 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_Institute#Political_stan...
Labor participation on the other hand isn't 
They’re also not stagnant https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/wage-growth
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
It ends with replacing humans with crystals. (so a combination of paperclip problem and automatization)
You can't imagine having a family when working on Uniqlo.
It should better be automated for the rest of the world.
Many countries don't have that limitation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The days of sheer numbers being useful are long past in the era of modern warfare.
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.
The two most famous Socialists in the US right now are probably Bernie Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez. Both are very aggressively anti guns.
"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
That is not true of Bernie Sanders . 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.
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.
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...
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
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 .
No one is arguing, 'cellphone, hence no poverty'. People are merely arguing that the lowest 10% are no longer destitute.
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.
The parent comment certainly does. Specifically mentions "things that used to be luxuries" being available to the poor as a reason.
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.
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, in general and in SF, is overwhelming caused by economic issues.
Ah yeas, the good ole "TV's and refrigerators" argument. They have luxuries! Even homeless people have cell phones, what a world!
Now how about things that actually matter:
* 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.
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.
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.
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.
- Healthcare: per-person spending has increased 9x since the 60's
- Education: the higher education cost has increased by at least a factor of 3x; that article doesn't take into account mandatory fees and living expenses. Or that's 2x if you account for increase in salaries. 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. In particular, the section titled "Death of interurbans and streetcars".
Car prices have remained somewhat stable, 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
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:
That. The comparison is not to middle ages here.
See page 7 of: https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/32896/...
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.
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.
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.
“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
>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 ? 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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
Of course, some would see that that's actually a DYStopia, I mean, where are the trans?!
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.
But yes, cooperatives like Mondragon are good examples, and also incredibly traditional.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ?
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.
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.
Demand is the key to the whole equation. No demand, no employees, automated or human.
That's exactly the point - we need to be conscious of these possibilities, and steer towards the one that is preferable.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!"
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.
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.
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.
Same "fears" different century.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Increasing productivity is kind of the point with automation. So unless demand drastically increases, it seems highly unlikely.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Those workers should feel free to do that right now and spend their money investing in capital.
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....
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
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.
Exactly. All unions become "that union" when given enough power and influence.
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.
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.
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
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.
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;
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.
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?
There are many other countries (Italy, S. Korea, others) that have the same aging population and low birthrate.
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 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.
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.
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?
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 . 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%.