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Buckminster Fuller on technology and useless jobs (openculture.com)
101 points by miles 5 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 140 comments

The busy-ness of business and our general obligation to "earn our keep" have squandered more human potential than every other stupid thing we've ever done, combined.

How many Einsteins never left the patent office? What other contributions were never made, because dude who could have made them decided food and shelter were more important than aspiration? That is a societal loss, and we only have ourselves to blame for it.

Yes, this. It's not even limited to "patent offices" (which I take to mean places of menial labor).

I know people even in supposedly high-value intellectual workplaces (like academia, where I am) who don't find any value in their work but stay in it for completely external reasons which have nothing to do with knowledge-generation (family/PI/societal expectations, fear of disappointing others, fear of being unprepared for the 'real world').

I agree with the point that it's the pressure to do anything that keeps people[1] in shitty lifestyles.

[1]: using "people" to mean those who have sufficient privilege to have the flexibility to choose their work.

edit: word

I don't know if you meant it to parallel the Bezos quote about blue origin / the desire to push our species out across the solar system but it came to mind right away when I read what you wrote because I have been thinking along similar lines:

"The solar system can support a trillion humans, and then we'd have 1,000 Mozarts, and 1,000 Einsteins. Think how incredible and dynamic that civilization will be," Bezos boasted during a speech at New York's Yale Club, which was transcribed by Business Insider.

I wonder if can't figure out something as simple as how to allocate the basic rewards of our system socio-efficiently if the future will turn out more like "The Expanse" than "Star Trek". And if we focused on simply getting all the near-Einsteins out of the patent office (as you said) here on Earth first how much faster the goal of colonizing the star system would be achieved.

The irony being that Bezos runs a company that monopolizes a lot of very smart people who end up working on some web microservice that powers some small part of Amazon.com.

The irony is that he tries to scale creativity and geniuses

We have 15x the population as when Mozart lived. Do we have 15 Mozarts now? And arguably more of the population is living in better conditions, so maybe it should be closer to 30x or something?

Oh yes we do. Music today is orders of magnitude more in all directions that you want to explore "music space". Mozart would feel he is in paradise if he were resurrected today, sooo much to explore, sooo many more options. From instruments to the variants of music, not all based on the European system, to how easy it is to listen to music at any time, anywhere (even if the quality is not concert hall, even a mediocre player beats not having the option at all).

I play (alto and soprano) recorder and violin, amateur-casual, and listen to almost all styles there are at least occasionally, and depending on mood and context find amazing things in many places. The kind of music Mozart knew is such a small subset.

What may have suffered, not sure, is the ability to play an instrument. Given how easy it is to listen to music made by others anywhere there is no need to learn how to play. On the other hand, using computers and modern music tech in general you can compose and play music that Mozart had to get a hundred people together for, and you don't need to train your synthesizer to play your notes.

When I imagine I would meet a medieval society the one thing that I would want to bring is a synthesizer (and solar panels and good speakers), and a huge electronic library of music. We have come a looong way in the last one- to two hundred years, with ever increasing speed in new musical developments.

Probably. A major problem with talent, genius, and hard workers is discovery. Our models of societal discovery are broken; we point our focus towards a few 'rock star' type jobs and everything else is left for historians to discover.

A huge influence on Mozart's success was his father, a renowned musician. He discovered his talent early on, and put a lot of effort into growing it, effectively making it his full-time job for some time.

I bet a number if naturally gifted kids just don't receive such a boost, and don't spend as much time and effort on unfolding their unique talents. Young Mozart worked a lot, sometimes against his wish.

I think we do. We, general public, just don't know them. My conspiracy theory suggests that dead artists are more popular than the modern ones because for a government it's much to easy to keep reselling Mona Lisa brand.

Maybe we do. John Lennon, Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson, Jim Morrison, Jimmie Hendrix, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Prince. We might not know for 100 years just how history will judge them.

I think such quotes are for simpletons. There is no way a highly intelligent person that knows history and science would actually believe such things.

Any chance you might expand on that idea (for us simpletons)?

The idea that there is a constant %P of an Einstein for a given population is an overly simplistic view on human creative drive. So obviously thinking that you will get a thousand Einsteins out of a population of 1 trillion is simpleton "math". Ideas matter, culture matters, availability of resources matters. You could have a trillion people like in the movie WallE and get not a single scientific advancement out of them. In the order of importance I dont think the total population size is really a significant factor here.

I think Jeff Bezos is smart which is why I doubt he holds to any comments indented for layman audiences.

I also feel that this has ruined society. People use to be more rounded. People had knowledge about music, clothing, food, etc. Now people learn one profession, and the majority of info that they learn is just about the bureaucratic aspects, regarding their tasks. Without rounded people the quality of everything drops. People can't distinguish what makes quality clothing, what is an important feature of a car. All we are left with is terrible marketing.

> People use to be more rounded.

People who could afford to be were more well rounded.

I disagree. Most people until the 1930s were farmers. It was the largest class of people. Farmers really needed to know a lot, about a wide amount of things; mechanics, animal husbandry, weather, markets, sales...

People also use to live in smaller communities. So they understood each others' roles. Many people in smaller communities also had multiple roles/jobs. There are studies that small towns also produce better athletes for this reason https://www.researchgate.net/publication/279469393_Community...

With specialization I think that the overall general knowledge of people has declined.

This reminds me of Mark Twain's "Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" [0].

The volume of knowledge the protagonist displays is phenomenal, in my opinion.

[0] https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/86

Reading about farming at the turn of the century there is nothing to envy there, most farmers were bare-foot and starving. I’d have to dig up the references but I think Hume espoused specialization as a cornerstone of advancement for our species.

We all got rounded by going uphill both ways in the snow.

There was no Golden Age. People have always been the way they are now.

I don’t think there is any doubt that our roles have become more specialised over time. It seems an inevitable consequence of globalisation.

Our jobs, maybe. But I don't see this spilling over into our personal lives. If anything, the problem is too much choice.

I don't know how old people are or how much they've dealt with people who are truly poor or uneducated, but the narrowness of experience is really telling when you do. How much taste and sophistication is one supposed to develop if they can't even read, or never travel? But that was the norm not so long ago.

Statistically we've become more stationary.

"Back in the late 1940s, when the Census Bureau started collecting this type of information, roughly 20% of the population moved in a given year, Ihrke referenced. Since then, the rate has fallen to between 11.5% and 12.5%." https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/americans-moving-at...

Moving isn't the same as traveling. It's not likely to induce a new cultural experience the way that, say, visiting another country will.

I don't think much travel introduces a new cultural experience, certainly not like living and working in another country.

You might not like what he has to say, or you might disagree with his visions, but Marx, especially for his day, was especially insightful on this point:

>He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

Of course he was also a visionary in this idea of alienation, which makes up the core of his early work and is persistent through his mature work. To him, this alienation from one's species-being to achieve ends set by others is only a core part of class society, and it can be overcome.

It would seem to me, though, that society would lose the advantages of specialization. If I decide I want to fish for a while rather than being a computer programmer, well, I'm a professional computer programmer, but an amateur fisherman, and not even a very good amateur. If society needs the fish to keep from going hungry, it needs good fishermen and women, not just whoever felt like fishing that afternoon. If it needs the cattle for the food supply, it needs something better than whoever felt like rearing cattle that evening. And when I go back to being a computer programmer, I very much do not want to untangle the mess of whatever amateur felt like programming on the afternoon that I went fishing.

But it is true that specialization leads to alienation, or (a term I think might express it better) isolation or disconnection. I'm disconnected from the fish I eat, because I'm a computer programmer and not a fisherman. I'm disconnected from the professional fishermen and women, too. That may not have been the sense that Marx meant, but it's also true.

The tension between

> where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes


> society regulates the general production

seems like it's still a bit of a challenge

While a great deal of jobs create non-zero-sum value, and many people thrive in their roles (in a Maslow self-actualization sense), a significant subset of the labor market seems to exist only from a slavish devotion to the social ritual of "jobs" for their own sake: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullshit_Jobs

I've bounced around and worked in many different kinds of jobs. From my experience; people identify themselves by what they do, the majority of work is 'make-work', people really want to learn new things, the worst type of knowledge is 'internal knowledge'.

'Internal Knowledge', is the paperwork that goes into knowing a specific job in a company. It multiplies rapidly as managers keep inventing more of it to protect their positions. It is useless, and cannot be used in another company. Companies use it as a form of punishment, you have to do this in our particular way or you won't get promoted.

But from what I've seen, people are dying to learn new things. Companies just don't want to teach employees anything new, so they won't leave and find another job. I've worked factory jobs, where this was the defacto policy. Don't teach any new skills to the new hires, they'll pickup and leave.

OK, people have to be fired from such jobs, because they produce negative value. It's not these people's fault, though.

Imagine that they are fired. How do they earn their subsistence? Earth is now too crowded to live by hunting, and subsistence farming is even worse than wage slavery. The only available option is some kind of organized work for the marketplace.

Since they, as you say, "produce negative value", this means that there is enough value produced to sustain everyone already. It's just a matter of distribution. That's very briefly why Marx argued for communism.

Unless you can "earn your keep", you will not have any time to follow your aspirations because your entire existence will be dedicated to basic survival. You are Baker and Charlie[1] spending all day fishing, while Abel can follow his aspirations because he has capital and does not need to spend his entire waking hours wondering whether or not he's going to be hungry tomorrow.

I'll give that there is no point in "work for the sake of work", and that bullshit jobs probably shouldn't exist, but the real question comes down to this: If you are not going to earn your own keep, who is going to earn it for you? Why the hell should somebody else's effort be spent sustaining you when they could be following their own aspirations. A 5-year old can understand this, but apparently many college educated westerners cannot (It usually clicks after they start paying their taxes)


> Why the hell should somebody else's effort be spent sustaining you when they could be following their own aspirations.

A modern economy in a democratic state is built by the collective will of the people. No entity at the top setting rules, no modern economy. So: why the hell should everyone else agree to create and maintain a system that doesn't serve their needs to a degree that, taking into account the constraints of reality and not killing the golden goose et c. et c., satisfies them, regardless how nice a place you've found for yourself in same system?

Because it's too difficult to not kill the golden goose. Everyone wants to get a bit more, with a bit less of effort. You can call it the tragedy of the commons.

If we had pure one-person-one-vote democracy—no representation, no parties, no interest groups, everyone basically living a solipsistic political bubble—and some way of preventing the rich from gaining outsize control over the media in that system, then yeah, that might be a real concern. As it is I don't think their interests are at legitimate risk of being wholly—or even substantially—overlooked, unless things get really unbalanced in their favor. Assuming the golden goose is the rich, which I suppose it is or else I'm not sure what we're worried about.

[EDIT] and more to the point, the various OECD states seem to have a decent track record of not killing the golden goose, while also protecting basic human dignity and providing more benefits to their population than the economy might give them "naturally" (Ha!) Bad, yes, but then look at what there is to compare them to, historically or now.

This is covered in the book I linked. The "contingency fund" for the most needy. When properly managed, has a net benefit to society because it helps people get back to work and become productive capital accumulators, which benefits both themselves and society.

However, when welfare is badly managed and is essentially given out to anybody, is overpaid because "muh rights to basic standard of living," and without adequate consideration of where the capital comes from to provide the welfare service, then there cannot be a sustainable welfare. The government does nothing but drain capital away.

Poor voters will always vote for the politicians who promise them freebies (out of other people's capital savings!) It is only savers who have skin in the game and who ultimately have the moral right to decide how their hard earned capital should be spent.

Youth for the past few decades have been fed a heavily distorted image of reality where they are expected to believe that capitalists are evil and that government is protecting them from those evil capitalists. It's no surprise they have no idea that capitalists are providing 100% of the funding of their welfare systems, and that their government only consumes the capital - it creates nothing, and cannot survive without the capitalists which fund it.

Capitalists are of course not these evil monsters who only care about getting rich at the detriment of everybody else. They're just regular people who try to improve their own lives, and accidentally improve other people's lives in the process if they succeed.

You really love capitalism: https://www.prageru.com/video/why-you-love-capitalism/

> However, when welfare is badly managed and is essentially given out to anybody, is overpaid because "muh rights to basic standard of living," and without adequate consideration of where the capital comes from to provide the welfare service, then there cannot be a sustainable welfare. The government does nothing but drain capital away.

You cannot separate income and especially capital from the system we all collectively buy into (well enough not to rage-vote it out of existence, anyway). It's not magic'd into existence out of nowhere. It is nothing without laws, a military, treaties, some basic market-creating norms, the joint stock corporation, opportunities churned about by trust-busting (when we bother), and so on.

And no, that doesn't mean all your stuff belongs to everyone. It does mean that drawing an absolute and immutable line between what's yours and what's societies is more complicated than "it's mine, so there". There's no context to give capital meaning in anything like the sense anyone today expects, without society, without the state. The whole thing's "unnatural" and just because the system tilts one way or the other when regulation is adjusted doesn't mean any particular direction is absolutely correct or the natural state of things.

"iPhones and wage stagnation" versus "Communism and handouts" is a false dilemma.

EDIT: I'm also quite entertained (though not in a good way) that we're having this conversation on the internet, in which it's being claimed that the government "creates nothing".

That's a really one sided view of the equation. You aren't considering all the benefit from encouraging people to do jobs they might not otherwise do, yet that need to be done.

I'd imagine there are many positives to the system that you are ignoring simply to find the next Einstein. Which is kind of a fallacy, because science is not done by a lone genius but by teams of researchers over decades.

I never said no-one should have "jobs" or do difficult things.

Maybe there are people in the world whose aspiration is to do those unglamorous things that need doing, just to keep the societal wheels properly greased. There are absolutely enough people in the world who are civically-minded enough that they'll take on crap work that needs doing, without obligating everyone else also to do what is, for most of them, also crap work, but which doesn't do those "socially necessary" things, and instead merely shuffles papers from one folder to another.

I fail utterly to see how "there are some things that need to be done" is most appropriately addressed by "Ok, make everyone do something..."

EDIT: Phrasing

>I fail utterly to see how "there are some things that need to be done" is most appropriately addressed by "Ok, make everyone do something...

If something needs to be done, someone has to do it. The person who is going to do it either must be forced (slavery) or compensated such that they do the unpleasant, necessary thing voluntarily (payment). If others, who do not want to do that thing want to reap the benefits of it, they can choose to force the other person to do it through violence or they can produce something else of value to exchange. That's why everyone who is able-bodied is ethically required to contribute to society: the only alternative to free exchange is forcing someone to be your slave. For those who are not able-bodied, the able-bodied among us voluntarily enslave ourselves on their behalf, to lift their burdens. But if you have the means to work and you choose to be a burden on society or your loved ones, that is an unethical choice.

Sure, you can motivate people to do jobs they might not do otherwise by paying them enough to willingly put up with the shit instead of exploiting existential threats (no job: no food, no home) and being able to get away with paying minimum wage.

to play devil's advocate, why value (current) efficiency above all else?

evolution, for example, marches forward via experimentation over efficiency: billions of organisms, each slightly different, some highly viable, most marginally so, and some not viable. that's super-inefficient! it has to be easier to find the handfuls of best individuals and propagate them to the next generation, right?

capitalism, too, is inherently inefficient--people deploy capital in all sorts of ways, often profitlessly. it's not like we have one restaurant chain for each type of cuisine.

if the answers are so obvious, why don't we get it right the first time?

I am absolutely not valuing efficiency above all — or even much — else.

My highest "good", and the thing I want to optimize for, is human potential. So maybe Bob wouldn't have been another Einstein, but he could have invented something that made millions of people's lives marginally easier. But Bob had to pay for his (involuntary, on his part) existence, so he ended up driving a garbage truck instead. It's not a bad job, and he's not unhappy, but he knows there's something more, something missing. Do we really want to blame Bob for the structural forces that made "ensuring you can continue to eat" a question he even had to ask?

I'm arguing for a model where everyone is structurally enabled and encouraged to find their own best fitness function, on the theory that such a diversity of thinking and technique will yield a vastly richer world than the "you can have Coke or Pepsi", "Google or Bing", and so on one which we seem hell-bent on ending up with.

EDIT: That's not a question of efficiency. It's one of whether we're structurally dis-enabling people from living their best lives. If we are, what are we trading that for? So the fraction of a percent that already owns most of everything can own a little more of it?

Because, in my categories, when you argue for Capitalism, that's ultimately what you're arguing for: not iPhones and every kind of ethnic restaurant you might want, but more wealth concentration. If that weren't the case, then wages should have risen alongside prices.

Instead, this rising tide is only lifting the biggest boats, while only the waterline is rising for everyone else, and that seems awfully likely to end badly for pretty much all of us. Just look at the history of more or less every other time people have resorted to trying communism in response to exploitation. Those tend to be among the worst outcomes, don't you think?

EDIT 2: Preemptively, no, I don't think the fact that (some) people can buy iPhones or big-screen TVs or whatever means things are great. The real measure of the health of an economy is better taken with things like the prevalence of precarity, than how whiz-bag a thing someone can buy, if they happen to have the right number of monkey status points available at the moment of purchase.

Yeah, the USSR produced some great living conditions where people could thrive and reach their creative potential.

I'll take squandered potential every day of the week if the other choice is "no middle class"...

Except you're skipping over the dual question, of how many true total slackers have had to not weigh down society by the idea of having to work, aren't you?

The purpose of every job is to change the world in the way that employer wants it changed. Employers employ people for no other reason. But I don't think Fuller is saying all of these jobs are useless to their employers. It's more "these jobs are useless to me, to the goals that I support and understand." I think that just means that Fuller's goals aren't aligned with these employers. He wants to accomplish different things, and people trying to accomplish other things look useless to him.

Reshaping the world to be closer to a given ideal may well be foolish and frequently is. But the proper judge of the usefulness of a job is the person paying for it, not a remote intellectual.

Your view requires the employer to be aware of its needs, how to best accomplish the goal, and an accurate view of what the goals should be. You don't need to be a "remote intellectual" to have witnessed that this is often not the case. I would say if you've ever been employed somewhere and didn't see this, you likely weren't looking very hard.

I'm reminded of when people talking about politics decry public sector waste, then I think of my own work experience and say to myself, wait a minute, they don't think private sector waste exists? Because it's quite huge, and everywhere. Perhaps in real life there is no "proper judge of the usefulness of a job", because as far as I have seen, those who confidently think they know are usually wrong. This is one reason hiring, firing, allocating bonuses, etc., is so challenging and contentious; it's all subjective, and an employee's value isn't always clear.

> The purpose of every job is to change the world in the way that employer wants it changed.

Change the world by polluting it more?

The idea that employers' actions are motivated by changing the world is a very idealistic view of business. They may have that idea at the start but that idea gets lost very quickly when actually doing stuff. Plus people from other common professions like doctors and lawyers want to change the world. Wanting to change the world says more about youth than it does about the field of business administration.

I think the poster meant change in a concrete sense.

As in, I’d like to change the world by having a hole dug right over there.

There are various levels of work that can happen around the change.

The lowest level is physical, actually digging the hole. This is usually the lowest paid.

Then there’s the knowledge/expertise level. This is a step up but still pretty lowly. What shape should the hole be? How can we dig it most efficiently and what amount of dirt must be trucked away.

The next layer of work is usually more highly compensated again, feelings, or the sales of holes. How do all the stakeholders feel about the hole? Will this hole help bring someone fulfilment? Do we need more PR to tamp down anti-hole protests? Could an op-ed help sway the council?

The apex layer is usually politics or capital. This is where all the real money is made. Who owns the hole? How are we going to finance the hole? How is it going to increase the value of an investment, and what are the chances I can sell this hole to someone else for more money?

The higher the “level” the work, the more potential for true waste there usually is.

So ok there was one person digging and two people who kinda looked like they were leaning on shovels the whole time. Sure, that’s waste of a sort but to really screw up you need to aim higher.

“Turns out, we spent all that money on the hole project, but gosh darn it, hole investment has cratered and nobody actually needed a hole there and we can’t sell it.”

They're not just useful to the employer, but useful to the customer that the employer serves. This mindset of work being above certain jobs is completely alien to me.

The truth is that capitalism is less selfish than communism, because you have to negotiate and produce something that is valuable to others.

We can imagine that society would be well served if we all spent time on our own hobby projects, or if we could subsidize artists to produce creative works...but what about the great bulk of hobby projects and creative works that are ultimately not valuable or desirable to society as a whole?

That is to say, there's nothing wrong with pursuing hobby projects for your own sake and your own satisfaction. But doing that to the exclusion of what people need and want, and then having society subsidize that...that's wasteful and inefficient. It's part of the core reason why communism fails as an economic model.

There's no such thing as a bullshit job.

I do not at all buy into the idea that many people are doing jobs not worth doing or that we are on the verge of running out of worthwhile things to do.

A significant fraction of people, if asked, will tell you that they believe the work they do has no value.

That includes a wide range of people from gas station attendants to high-middling corporate dudes.

Other people might think differently, maybe that person is depressed, maybe they are depressed because of factors at work -- nevertheless it is a real sentiment.

>A significant fraction of people, if asked, will tell you that they believe the work they do has no value.

In optimal conditions, a basic job performed to average standard should be saving life of at least one person. Ideally, of a family. That's no small thing, and that's obviously is going to make the worker proud and self-appreciating.

Hear me out: it used to be that a job, no matter how mundane (a subsistence farmer, a hunter-gatherer, etc.) was all that stood between this person's - and often his or her family - starving and dying. Used to be there was a clear and present connection between even the most basic task, and prolonging and improving life for the person, and commonly also his or her family.

Not anymore. We here in the west have taken this away from most people. No matter how badly they work - or even not work at all - we provide the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy to virtually any citizen anyway [1]. By stripping away the necessity of work we have removed its importance, appreciation, pride, fulfillment and a lot other aspects up top the Maslow's hierarchy.


[1] not to say "to all citizens at once", but to any given individual? essentially yes.

I can't think of anywhere in the west that guarantees all of the physiological needs to people who work poorly or not at all. The physiological needs include shelter which many, at least in America, go without.

If anything I'd argue the opposite of what you have to say. People are unsatisfied because Maslow's needs are not being met. I work and I'd say I do it well but I don't make enough money to guarantee shelter for myself.

I’m more inclined to believe that the reason why people find less meaning in their work is due to a gap in productivity and pay: if a person’s output is increased but their income has not — income for most is a way of measuring the value of work — then it makes sense.

I as a software engineer feel the same way. There are way too many ppl in on the scam at any sized corporate comapnies. Mangers inflate the value and effort of their work, workers inflate and overestimate all the way up to the chain.

I mean just think of how many tens of thousands of individuals are employed building, designing, and selling the nth re-iteration of a CRM product that already exists on the market and is virtually indistinguishable from one another

The market has a solution for that: competition. Any CRM that fails to distinguish itself will eventually fade out of existence. Those individuals make a choice to work where they are, doing what they do. Let's not pretend they have no agency. And if customers find the CRM product valuable to them, then those thousands of individuals are performing a valuable service for the world. Saving time, improving efficiency, these are all noble things to strive for. It's not a small thing. There's no such thing as a bullshit job.

1. My company has massive first mover advantage and inertia. All other players have exited the space because all other players were driven out by deep discounts that my company was offering via VC money to capture the market. Now the market is impermeable to any new players.

2. My manager is not really watching out for companies overall profitability. His main goal is to make himself look good and have some BS "accomplishments" on his resume, rise as high as possible in the chain. Eventually this company will go down( for the reasons u mentioned) and my manager will find a new job with his buddies at new place. Repeat.

Sure, maybe in the short term BS companies survive...but long term they don't. How many companies are still around that were here 100 years ago? 50 years ago? 25 years ago?

> How many companies are still around that were here 100 years ago? 50 years ago? 25 years ago?

Why did these companies go down if there aren't any bullshit jobs?

Because they were valuable at one time and then they faded into un-profitability. See Sears, Roebuck & Co.

Companies, industries, and jobs all have lives just like organisms. We don't look at a dead person and claim their life was bullshit, because they died, do we?

> We don't look at a dead person and claim their life was bullshit, because they died, do we?

So every company has a fixed lifetime like human beings, because its law of nature. :D

Every companies died with the people technology (whale oil lamps died out after new invention).

In an ideal economic world, yes, employees would have perfect information about a market and make changes accordingly, being rational agents and all of that yada yada. But for the average worker, that’s just simply not true: the job market is imperfect and labor is often sticky.

the jobs they're doing are profitable, but it's not useful. You're not doing anything meaningful or beneficial on a societal scale by creating an iteration of a CRUD app that already exists

Who's the judge of that? The market. The customers. Not you, not me. If they're profitable, then they're providing value to someone.

the market is not a good judge of value

Have you worked in a corporate office before?

I can imagine entire swathes of my office being eliminated after a manager figures out how to use Zapier or Microsoft Flow.

your average office worker on all levels probably does ~20 hours of real, meaningful work on any given week.

A, but not B. Many people are doing bullshit jobs. But there are also plenty of worthwhile things to do. And frankly, a lot of people would be doing them, if they didn't have to spend much of their time on the bullshit job they need to justify their right to eat.

those are two very different points.

the first depends on what you consider "worthwhile". for example i think the advertising industry could disappear without detriment to society.

but agreed on the second point, as long as there are problems, there is work to do

The problem with eliminating work (which we're getting pretty good at) is that we don't then have a system to support people who don't work.

In order for A to not have a negative effect, you have to have B.

See: Healthcare Insurance Companies

Employs millions, but is ultimately a nationwide make work program to satisfy congressional districts. USA encourages a byzantine system that substitutes waste for the appearance of choice.

Why? The productivity is there.

95% of the labor input of farming has been wiped out over the past 200 years, and yet hunger is a smaller problem than it has ever been in the course of human history.

The anarchist Bob Black had plenty of interesting things to say about this, but a good generalization of one of his key thoughts is that any job worth doing will have people volunteering to do it. If no one ever had to want for anything in terms of food or shelter, we'd still have firemen. We'd still have doctors. We'd still have farmers. We'd still have teachers. These are all jobs with intrinsic meaning, beyond the paycheck.

As with communism, or democracy for that matter, faith in humanity looks great on paper but never actually seems to work out in practice.

That's just platitude. My faith in humanity is grounded in the reality of what we have accomplished, especially over the past century.

USA has at least 4 systems to support people who don't do anything of utility. Wellfare, bureaucracy, prison system, army.

Also academia and journalism

We should have a 4 day work week, with 1 mandatory day of eduction/training (not about ones work).

I'd sooner see one day mandated for 'anything you see fit to do', which would leave people free to create (or do nothing) as well as to absorb.

I'm thinking it should be more structured. But, I'm thinking of Amazon warehouse workers. 4 days working in the warehouse, 1 day of training. The training should be provided by the local school board, or the employer would be sure to sabotage the exercise. The person gets to choose form a wide array of courses that the school board has to offer.

Mandatory? And who's going to determine what it is mandatory that I am taught?

That's too close to Maoist-style re-education for my taste...

Perhaps give people the option. What we think of the 'school system', only really started around 1900. That everyone had to attend to at least grade 6 or 8, or the family would be fined. It was a big struggle to enforce mandatory eduction for children, in official schools.

I think we need to have more adult learning opportunities. And, that this has to come from governments, unions, and employers all working together.

Take for example car manufacturing plants. We know those factories are going to close, they always do. That means 1000 to 2000 people laid off. Wouldn't it better to have a 4 day work week, with 1 day of education. Perhaps learning auto repair, welding, or some other skill that people can fall back to or transition to.

But, the only way to get the 4 day work week, with 1 day of education, is to have a large social shift in how things function.

The faithful believe that the very billionaires/trillionaires who have pillaged all their holdings from the public, or who inherited their holdings from persons who pillaged it from the public, will magically be willing to float all of society following automation.

The idea that "billionaires... have pillaged all their holdings from the public" is fundamentally flawed, however emotionally appealing it is. How is Jeff Bezos "pillaging" me? By offering me a broader selection of products than any local store, for better prices and less effort on my part? If this is exploitation, sign me up. (Read Marcuse and other post-WWII critical theorists for in-depth analysis of how this undermined 19th century dreams of proletariat revolution.)

Means can't justify the ends. "Might makes right" is the same logic used by rapists and murderers. We're seeing the privatization of national security into a strictly for-profit endeavor, in real time, and there's no reasonable way to downplay that.

What does that have to do with my point? I'm just saying the internet billionaires aren't stealing from me (except maybe Facebook). They got rich by creating products that people find useful and valuable.

There's this perception by both left and right that wealth is a zero sum game - that it isn't created, only taken.

"Money doesn't grow on trees." And neither wealth or power comes from good intentions.

> We could stop inventing bullshit, low-paying, wasteful jobs that contribute to cycles of poverty and environmental degradation. We could slash the number of hours we work and spend time with people and pursuits we love.

The problem, ultimately, originates from greed for material possessions. It also originates for a need for meaningful work and contribution to society.

I'd love a world where, if I quit my job, I could live in subsidized housing with free food and transportation.

But how do we "pay" for it? Yes, in theory, we can automate so much food, shelter, and energy production that the cost of living is so low that it's essentially free.

IMO: The way to do this is to keep the bullshit jobs, but figure out how to let people retire young. Perhaps there can be some kind of government-managed program where, once someone performs 1-10 years of full-time, minimum-wage work, there's enough money in the system to sustain that person in government-managed housing, with government-managed food, clothing, ect.

At that point, work becomes truly optional.

Furthermore, for people who choose full-time work, we can also do things like pair cost reductions in housing and transportation with shorter loans. Instead of targeting lower monthly payments, we can target shorter terms.

> "...to sustain that person in government-managed housing, with government-managed food, clothing, ect."

This sounds like a nightmare and to me it wouldn't feel like I'm free at all...being so dependent on the government seems like a terrible idea...Who would want to be so reliant on the government for such basic needs?

I propose it as completely optional. You basically can choose to depend on the government at a very young age, or have a career for more material wealth.

That's why I suggest working towards shortening loan payments, so someone can have a career and get similar benefits.

“We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery…. He must justify his right to exist.”

This is a framing designed to get attention but is obviously empty. "We" don't "invent" jobs. There isn't some big council of job inventors we all sit on with the purpose of giving everyone a right to exist. People and organizations decide to hire people for various reasons, and people sign up to be hired---usually so they can make money. Jobs are agreements between people. This is true even of government jobs in a democratic society: people are hired by various government agencies which, with a couple of jobfare exceptions, hire people for reasons of their own---not because of a mandate to make up jobs for people. This is a plea to an imaginary decision-maker.

Eh. Supply and demand matters. There's a supply of labor even for bullshit jobs, in part because of a lack of reasonable alternatives to having a job. If there was something people could do that didn't pose a direct threat to their own safety that didn't involve "job" (you know, like UBI), then jobs would have to compete much harder for employees - better wages, or more importantly, being intrinsically rewarding.

Of course, it's quite possible for the supply of workers to exceed the demand for workers. It's not a pretty sight - read up on the Great Depression for example. And that seems to be exactly where we're headed right now. People who once worked in jobs that no longer exist thanks to technological advance and market forces, who have no alternative ways to make a living, and are getting shamed as lazy moochers for it. That's how revolutions happen.

There may be a supply of labor for such jobs, but why is there a demand for it?

If I run a company, my goal is not to hire a bunch of people to do useless "work". I want as few such people as possible, not just because I have to pay them, but also because they slow everyone else down doing the work that actually earns money. In a capitalist economy where inefficient firms can go bankrupt, why is there demand for people who will do useless work?

One possible answer is that we don't actually live in a capitalist society - that government influence prevents real capitalism from happening. There is some truth to that position, but I doubt that people who promote the "useless jobs" theory think that less government involvement is the solution.

I think the correct answer is that the "useless jobs" theory is flawed. No company is deliberately hiring people to do useless work. (Some empire-building managers within companies may do so, however.) The jobs are useless because of inefficiency in the company, not by design, and a more efficient company would find something real for those people to do.

It's easy to tell who's pulling their weight in a company of a couple dozen, but beyond that it's near impossible. And frankly what I've seen is that a company is more likely to use it's capital to block competition than to become more efficient. And even efforts that are on their face about becoming more efficient like layoffs, instead tend to be more about internal power struggles than gaining efficiency.

I think "useless" doesn't mean that it doesn't benefit the employer, but rather that it doesn't benefit the employee, and it arguably doesn't benefit society.

It benefits the employee. That's what a paycheck is.

What I think you're trying to say is that the employee doesn't perceive any meaning in the job. And if you do mean that, I can whole-heartedly agree with you.

And, arguably, the employee can't perceive any meaning in the job because they can see that the job doesn't benefit society in any meaningful way.

It's not clear to me what the solution is, either.

Whatever the solution is, we need to get to it, and fast. I've been reading Andrew Yang's The War on Normal People (among other books), and it is terrifying. We are poised to shed tens of millions more jobs (in addition to the millions we've already lost) in the next decade or two, due to virtually every repetitive job (what he distinguishes as routine, rather than non-routine) being replaced by robots that do it faster and better for less money. And there is nothing on the horizon to replace them, to provide an alternative income for the millions of truck drivers, fast food workers, call center operators, retail clerks, insurance agents, paralegals, even doctors who are about to become obsolete.

And if the answer to this dilemma is to throw them out on the streets because they're obviously lazy and/or stupid, exploiting our hard-earned tax dollars with their immoral ways - or to just keep swelling the ranks of unemployment and disability and "retraining" programs that will never lead anywhere - then the people who are still able to make it are going to face some very nasty shocks.

If supply and demand matters then it would seem employment does not exist because of societal wish for people to justify their existence with madeup jobs, but rather because of many independent decisions between workers and employers. This was my point.

Not to be confused with Buckminsterfullerene (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buckminsterfullerene), the interesting fullerene inadvertently named after Buckminster Fuller.

Can't tell if you're being sarcastic about "inadvertently". The molecule was named buckminsterfullerene after the man Buckminster Fuller. ("-ene" is a word ending for molecules.) Chemists then developed a more general class of molecules which they named "fullerenes", of which the buckminsterfullerene is a special case.

I have read the Wikipedia page I linked so I was aware of it, sorry if my choice of words appeared poor.

Except there are limited resources. We haven’t learnt to exist without a parasitic relationship to something/someone else. And that ‘host’ as it were..is constrained and not limitless. Even the sun will disappear after a time..admittedly after a very very very long passage of time..but even solar energy ..our sun’s energy..isn’t ‘renewable’ in the bigger picture.

Also.. about the occurrence of more Mozarts..and Einsteins...they will be tempered with more Hitlers and depressingly even higher proportion of ‘average joes’ who will all consume more than they produce. That’s when the cart will tilt and tip.

I fear we have all passed carrying capacity long time ago. For our planet, about a billion is a good number. If we want to be ‘fruitful and multiply’ we will have to find other suitable habitats for ourselves or alter ourselves(genetically is one way) to be compatible with our new environment.

This is assuming there is no other life forms out there that is already completing and searching for resources.

Having said that, I have become more comfortable with the notion that rather than numbers, quality of being is better. Human evolution is random mutations. We are products of a chaotic unpredictable fickle system. That’s scary. I wouldn’t want to perpetuate or encourage it unless we have some understanding or grasp over who we are and where we are..

IMO the premise "everyone needs to work in a corp" is already wrong.

The question should be what do so everyone can live a good life. Maybe some want to work to have a good live, others not. The next question would then be if and how a society can afford the individual live styles.

Lets discuss in a more philosophic, post-capitalistic way.

Regardless on your feelings about "socialism", you have to ask yourself: What will happen when automation comes for more and more jobs?

If the means of production are all automated, what does that mean for our society? Do we rail against automation in order to retain traditional jobs? How would that be materially different from Keynes' idea of economic stimulus by making jobs to dig holes and them in again?

What happened when automation came for farmers' jobs? They went to work in factories. The result was that we had at least as much food as before, but we also had cars and refrigerators and washing machines.

Don't think of jobs as employing people. Think instead of society spending people on jobs. When we didn't have to spend a third of our people on growing food, we were able to spend them on manufacturing, and society was better off. If we don't have to spend as many on manufacturing, we're able to spend more of them on computer programming, and society is better off. If we can automate less-valuable work, we can spend our people on more valuable work.

For any individual person without a job, this isn't necessarily a good deal. "You lost the thing you knew how to do, now you have to go learn how to do something harder." That's uncomfortable. We as a society need to do better at helping them learn the next thing.

But the concern seems to be that we're going to run out of "next things". What if there's no work to be done? I don't think we're close to getting there. It's like the farmer wondering what will happen when the factories have produced a car for everyone, and so there's no need for factory workers any more - not knowing that factories are going to produce more than cars, and that factory work isn't the final stage of the economy.

I agree we're not that close to complete automation. But one day we will be. What then?

Society needs to have some sort of plan in place for people when there are too few, too difficult jobs left.

Completing automation of what?

Farming? We're close. Factories? We're getting there.

Completing automation of writing software? I mean, we're not writing machine code any more, but we really haven't even started. It's not clear that we're close to being able to start.

Completing automation of scientific discovery? Completing automation of new product ideas? Security? Writing novels?

I mean, I'd hate to say that none of those things could be automated. And yet I can't believe that everything will be.

Assuming AGI takes off, why not?

That's quite an assumption, though.

But even if it happens, then what? Any scheme you propose to handle it is at the mercy of the AGI. If it doesn't agree, your scheme doesn't happen.

The Corporation Wars trilogy has some interesting ideas about what this could look like.

If you want to know what happens to monkeys when AIs don’t need them to think, look at horses when we didn’t need them to labor.

Exactly why volunteered for Andrew Yang 2020!

Andrew Yang is the only candidate who seems to me to be actually serious about the future. Everyone else, it's either liberals saying that our problems can be solved by more 1960s welfare and 1970s regulation, or conservatives saying our problems can be solved by less 1960s welfare and 1970s regulation. Andrew Yang is the only candidate who isn't working from a 50 year old playbook.


Please don't take HN threads into generic ideological flamewar. There's nothing new in them, therefore are boring, therefore are off topic here.



All grandiose rhetoric about mass ideology is off topic here. Please don't post any more like this to HN.


You guys are the ones that posted the article that was grandiose rhetoric about mass ideology.

Experience has taught us that it's possible to have thoughtful discussion of articles like that if people will follow the guidelines. That in fact is why the guidelines are written as they are.


Hang on, have you read Marx at all? He's not calling for mass genocide or a complete eugenics movement.

Marx didn't kill all those people, the dictators (mistakenly) thinking they were acting on his behalf did. And if you do actually read Marx, you'll understand he's more critiquing capitalism than anything else. Marx didn't invent socialism or communism. Those ideas already existed. Marx simple put a fresh coat of paint on ideas people have been interested in for a long time.

If you have a meaningful issue with the socialized means of production, please, let's hear it. But blaming someone who said "we should try to improve things for the people providing value to society" for mass genocide is a bit silly.

edoo 4 days ago [flagged]

Marxism is the idea you have the right to use violence against innocents to better your world. Capitalism is simple freedom. Attacking your own society is the basis, exactly like all the dictators did. Words like "improving" are weasel words, completely subjective. Their idea of improving a society is exactly what I would do to destroy one.
sbenitoj 5 days ago [flagged]

rosser 5 days ago [flagged]

No-one ever counts the dead that "wealth" and its pursuits created like this. Why is that? Are all of the slaves, and people who died in crap working conditions, and victims of colonialism and profit-driven wars and on and on and on just "necessary sacrifices" for progress, or something?

Um, WAY more people have died and been assaulted in former colonies than died or were assaulted during colonial rule (see Egypt and South Africa).

The ethics of colonization can be debated, I’m certainly not an advocate of it, but the safety of the citizens living then vs now can’t be, it’s at least an order of magnitude more dangerous to live in Egypt and South Africa now than during colonial rule.

The power struggles of post colonial time frames don't have nothing to do with the colonial rule. In a lot of places the goal of the colonial power was to leave the former colony in as shitty of a position as possible. For instance the French had orders to remove every bit of copper, iron, and steel on their way out of Guinea, going so far as to pull wires out of walls. When you wreak entire countries economies like that and leave a power vacuum, what do you expect to happen?

And BTW, the whole "the savages are better with a little civilization forced on them" was one of the primary arguments in favor of slavery.

My claim was in response to rosser's claim about "victims of colonialism" -- no doubt there were plenty, but there have been many, many more victims of poor government (and counting) in those countries (again, see Egypt and South Africa) since the fall of colonialism.

I'm also not aware that the goal of colonialism was to "leave the former colony in as shitty of a position as possible" (seems like a pretty shitty way to treat an investment, which is what colonies were -- expansions of empires) -- care to provide some sources?

Colonialism primarily fell as a result of internal political struggles within developed nations, not as a result of any legitimate physical threat by the colonized country.

I'm inclined to quibble mildly with 'monocasa's phrasing, but the ultimate point still obtains that the post-colonial conditions in those countries are, in no small part, rather direct consequences of the rapacity of their colonizers.

If the Dutch had left Rhodesia even marginally less resource-stripped, can you really assert that Zimbabwe would have played out like it did?

If the French hadn't treated the Cambodian and Vietnamese peoples like it did, would Pol Pot even have happened?

If we (the US) hadn't propped up puppet assholes around the world, would those countries and their regions have fallen into the states they did after?

The entirety of the current mess in Middle East can, in a very real way, be traced back to dividing up Kurdish territory into multiple countries, because the colonial powers recognized that the Kurds were the greatest real threat to the oil flowing. Literally drawing lines on maps right through the heart of their historical lands fixed that — temporarily. Now, though, we've got the House of Saud and Iran (another great example; the Shah much?) and Iraq (another!) and Syria, and, net, a death and misery toll we will never be able to fully reckon.

Consequences are a thing. Our system has a cost in other people's lives. Is that supposed to be better than having a cost in our own? I repudiate that notion. The GPS coordinates of your birth do not alter the intrinsic value of your life.

Your claim is that with more economic resources these places would’ve been peaceful, civilized societies post-colonialism?

No, my claim is that, if they hadn't been stripped bare as the colonizers were leaving, what followed would have had a better chance at being those things.

Burning someone's house to the ground, and then bailing leaves them in a rather more precarious state than simply sneaking out in the middle of the night. That's on the person with the match, not the folks who had to clean up after.

EDIT: To torture the metaphor further: Of course, if the people who are cleaning up the fire decide to go full-on Lord of the Flies with their cleanup and post-cleanup organization, that's on them.

My point is: It is beyond specious to suggest they would have done the same if the house hadn't been burnt down.

Sounds like an argument that the colonies should’ve been left intact rather than destroyed as a result of interna politics in the colonizing country.

In any case, why are they still dangerous places now? It’s been quite awhile, and places like Singapore prove that backwaters can be turned into empires rather quickly.

The "internal politics in the colonizing country" were premised on the notion that the colony was their (the colonizer's) economic resource, not the indigenes they took it from.

The existence of multiple-axis exceptional cases like Singapore doesn't obviate the general pattern. The notion of "the exception that proves the rule," might apply here.

All of these things ultimately, directly or indirectly, fall into the bucket "consequences of markets". Whether we're are trying to own a market, or own a resource, or whatever, we have demonstrated a set-your-watch-by-it reliable pattern of considering the people in the way of the thing we're trying to own expendable, but we somehow very pointedly ignore counting those people and consequences when we talk about how "bad" Communism is.

It's a double standard, and it's boringly predictable, and boringly disappointing, especially in a crowd that purports to be as smart and capable of understanding all of the things as this one does.

So what form of govt do you believe solves the problem?

I don't know. I wish I had the resources or otherwise were meaningfully able to hang out with that question, because it fascinates me endlessly.

I do, however, find it a curiously "happy" (for someone, anyway) outcome of the current model that the lack of opportunity to contemplate "better alternatives" is kinda structurally baked in.

People who do have the opportunity to ponder that kind of thing are, on the whole, the people who benefit most from the system, and so are thusly disinclined. And the people who suffer most under the system are in a position of, generally, having none of the time, inclination, or education to do so.

I won't go so far as to suggest that's by design but it is rather, "Well, isn't that curious?" to me.

Gotcha, I suggest checking this out, it’s rather long and mind-bending (but what good political treatise isn’t?) and I think will change your perspective on the matter.


> I'm also not aware that...

It was the goal of _decolonization_.

Edit: And my point is that making a hard separation between colonial and post colonial circumstances is a mistake, as many of the post colonial issues trace their reasons to colonial decisions.

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