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The GM strike is really about the switch to electric cars (marketwatch.com)
135 points by reddotX 11 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 281 comments





No it's about money and who gets it. Unless electric cars are going to generate less revenue than petroleum based, which they won't, the pie is the same size.

That manufacturing becomes more efficient is no surprise: it always has. The question is whether they have fewer workers at the same compensation level, fewer workers at a higher compensation level or the same number of workers with fewer hours.

Owners are pushing for the first, labor wants anything except the first. And while Keynes envisioned the last, that has clearly no been allowed to happen. It is an archetype case of who benefits from technical improvements and forces driving inequality.


> No it's about money and who gets it.

> Owners are pushing for the first, labor wants anything except the first.

There are two important actors left out of this analysis: consumers and parts suppliers.

It doesn't fit the evil owner narrative, but often these efficiency gains translate largely to reduced prices for consumers. Consumers vote with their wallets, so it is often the case that unless the evil owners conspire against consumers by fixing prices, businesses are often forced to pass on efficiency gains as cheaper prices.

As for suppliers, a very large portion of an electric car price is in the battery. If the size of the pie is remaining the same, then this new player is taking a lot $$ off the table, offsetting efficiency gains.


>There are two important actors left out of this analysis: consumers and parts suppliers.

This is indeed plausible and has happened for other commodities but note: 1) since the model-T, inflation adjusted consumer prices for automobiles have never dropped and 2) car manufacturers have historically replicated or bought any serious profit centers in their supply chain.

>Evil

Shareholders act in their interest, employees act in theirs. Often everyone ends up fairly satisfied. Is that not how the system is supposed to work and is describing it plainly without effusive praise now automatically suspect?


Would it still be legal to produce a model-T? I imagine it would run afoul of all sorts of quality and safety regulations.

That might be linked to the lack of price reductions. I selling a model-T were still legal it would be likely be laughably cheap.

A lot of technology improvements that would have reduced prices are eaten by increased government regulation. The consensus position is that that is a good outcome.


No, it would be unsalable. Emissions, safety, etc. Even if you made it by hand at an art-museum level of fabrication quality...no first-world government would allow its sale as a passenger vehicle.

> This is indeed plausible and has happened for other commodities but note: 1) since the model-T, inflation adjusted consumer prices for automobiles have never dropped and 2) car manufacturers have historically replicated or bought any serious profit centers in their supply chain.

While that may be true, the word 'car' is hiding all of the consumer surplus. Cars are not simply repackaged model Ts. Todays cars are orders of magnitude better in myriad ways than a model T. The fact that the price merely hasn't dropped in inflation adjusted terms really means nothing here. What consumers are getting for their money has increased dramatically.


Yes of course cars now are vastly superior. I was responding to the claim that the shift to electric will reduce gross revenue which reduce the sticker price and so explain any workforce reduction.

So we clearly agree, sticker price has not gone down since the assembly line. So to say it is happening now is not really justified. Especially since, far from say the Yugo approach, electric currently is very much billed as an improvement over petroleum (correctly imo). But while cost of ownership maybe less, nowhere is the sticker price pitched as a cheap alternative to petroleum. And this is what affects manufacturers and the point I was addressing.


>>Evil

> Shareholders act in their interest, employees act in theirs. Often everyone ends up fairly satisfied. Is that not how the system is supposed to work and is describing it plainly without effusive praise now automatically suspect?

Apologies, I think I mistakenly inserted an implied value judgement when reading your original post. Rereading your post I see that your words can be read with a neutral tone.


Nonsense. Did you ever see an i-device get cheaper? Or a cheap car get even cheaper? There is a reason why wealth inequality has grown in recent decades, while manufacturing efficiencies increased.

This is incorrect. The inflation adjusted price of the first smart phone is ~$600. I can get a vastly more capable device shipped to my house for $129 unlocked for any carrier. The most barebones available car has steadily dropped in price relative to average income while becoming drastically safer, more reliable, and lasting longer.

The cheap car isn't the same cheap car though. Try finding a 2-door sedan with manual controls and an AM/FM radio. Even the cheapest new car has bluetooth entertainment controls and backup cameras. It also has airbags in every zone and a decent crash rating.

Nobody produces the cheap base-model car of yore, if they did they could easily do so for well under 10k. But that doesn't support the bottom line especially when you have to cut in the dealership.


The Nissan Versa is about as close as you can get and it comes in at about $10-11k.

To be clear, cheap base-model cars are still being manufactured and sold, just not for the U.S. and other wealthy markets. They’re being sold in droves in India, Africa, Asia, and Central and South America.

The NHTSA has mandated backup cameras in all vehicles sold in the US as of 2018, I believe.

Apple actually has made new iPhone 11 $50 cheaper than the phone it replaced.

Furthermore smartphones in general _have_ been getting cheaper. It's only top of the line flagships that are getting more expensive while also being much more powerful and with better (AKA more expensive) tech inside them.


By analogy, you might as well be asking if I've ever seen Rolexes get cheaper. Why are you talking about Rolexes and not watches?

Strange you chose something that is essentially a luxury item instead of commodity electronics that are cheaper than ever.

It’s also interesting you chose a segment that is already at the slower end of reaping benefits of improved productivity. Reminded me of a NPR segment this week contrasting items that have room to become cheaper vs those that don’t. https://www.npr.org/2019/10/04/767095401/the-baumol-effect-a...

> No it's about money and who gets it. Unless electric cars are going to generate less revenue than petroleum based, which they won't, the pie is the same size.

Right now the margins on gasoline vehicles are much better than electric vehicles, partially due to the technology being relatively immature. The internal combustion engine has more than 100 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in R&D behind its infrastructure.

Apart from that, most dealerships (which is not the same as the automobile manufacturer, but they are closely related) make most of their money from maintenance and servicing vehicles. One of the big selling points of electric vehicles is that they're simpler and cost less money to maintain.

A cursory analysis suggests your opening statement is actually wrong - there will be less revenue if there is widespread shift towards electric vehicles.


> Apart from that, most dealerships (which is not the same as the automobile manufacturer, but they are closely related) make most of their money from maintenance and servicing vehicles. One of the big selling points of electric vehicles is that they're simpler and cost less money to maintain.

Good. Dealerships are generally horrible consumer experiences at the best of them. They prey on upselling cars off their lot with lock in maintenance these days. "Oil changes for life" - baked into the cost of the car using the cheapest materials they can source in bulk. And once they have you locked into this built in service plan they incentivize you to come back in the door by giving you an "all other maintenance under your plan is automatically 10% off". Except that 10% doesn't matter when you control the parts and labor chain on a cost that is unknown before the discount. Dealerships are leeches of businesses focusing on the maintenance and repair of overly complex ICE engine and drivetrain. We move from thousands of parts to 10s of parts comparatively by going to electric. Electric cars will have lifespans similar to that of long haul diesel trucks, and better when you consider batteries and electric motors are easy to swap. So the dealers will feel the squeeze in about 15-20 years when those old ICE vehicles are finally in the minority and/or have been banned (hopefully).

Good riddance to the dealerships we know of today. They're there to suck money out of a sold car, almost treating it as a "subscription" model these days.


> Right now the margins on gasoline vehicles are much better than electric vehicles, partially due to the technology being relatively immature. The internal combustion engine has more than 100 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in R&D behind its infrastructure.

American automakers make all their profits on pickup trucks, because they have no foreign competition in the giant gas-guzzling family-mover-with-a-vestigial-tail market. They have little incentive to innovate, and haven't got around to electric pickups yet. There may also be technical reasons EVs would currently be less profitable, but for now in America crony-caplitalism and cultural decay alone would suffice to maintain that dynamic.


You say that maintenance is a large part of the pie that will be lost to electric.

Here's an unfounded but different perspective: Electric's reliability and return on investment will only make the transportation industry that much more profitable, and the amount of transportation will only increase as time goes on. The total size of the pie will increase.

Maintenance will still be needed, especially on many generations of electric transport not limited to cars or trucks.


I am genuinely curious, when has a company deliberately making a stark pivot in offering better reliability for a product line led to better sustained profits? This is not a rhetorical question - I genuinely want people to provide me with examples. I suspect it is very rare that this happens, but hope I'm wrong.

Honda and Toyota are the reference models for this premise. They completely owned multiple segments by offering a better quality product.

Hyundai is another more recent-ish example. Hyundai cars were absolute garbage for a long time, they improved but the market didn’t know. So they their money where their mouth was by offering a 100k warranty. (Audi did something similar in the 80/90s).

I’d be cautious in assuming that electric cars will be better. Scheduled maintenance is reduced, but there are plenty of quality and repair issues with Tesla as evidenced by consumer reports. Unscheduled maintenance is still a factor of assembly and engineering quality.

Also, from a cost POV, franchise laws aren’t going away right away. So the price of that ICE maintenance dealer margin is going to be baked in, or the dealers won’t move the cars.


Mercedes Benz? It's actually very common. It's just that the recent trend in private equity is to cash in past reputation for short term profits.

There might be other revenue streams like battery recycling. Might not replace ICE maintenance jobs completely, but will hopefully provide some cover.

When/if the ECs get to be a lot cheaper than the ICEs, I think you'll see a 'fast fashion' in cars. Like with smart-phones, the accessorization will take off too; pop-sockets, cases, backgrounds, etc. Sure, it'll be less money overall, but it'll be good too.

Or the opposite. Fast fashion increased customer frequency (both by lower cost and lower quality). The retailers used the increased visits to upsell higher margin products. (Notice how H&M, F21, Old Navy have huge accessory sections).

Less maintenance and higher reliability means the fear of maintenance is not as strong of a motivator for a new car, resulting in lower customer frequency.


I don't think "the size of the pie" refers to how much is in the pie, but how it's divided.

It’s size of pie vs share of pie. The former is most definitely related to absolute size while the latter is % of the whole.

In practice, it won't be quite that simple. Car companies buy components from third parties, and if entire components are no longer needed, there's no "same number of workers with fewer hours" to be had---catalytic converter companies are just going to see business fall off.

But in the company core, final assembly? Yes.


>Unless electric cars are going to generate less revenue than petroleum based, which they won't, the pie is the same size

As battery prices continue to fall, electrics will get cheaper than ice's, so there will be less revenue. Beyond that, fsd means many people who now own a car will use robotaxis instead, which means many fewer autos needed. In addition Tesla is working on making its cars last a million miles. So total auto industry revenue is due to go way down.


The move motivated by Full Self Drive away from full-time ownership and towards robotaxis should indeed reduce the number of personally owned vehicles, but would it really reduce the number of vehicles?

Instead of vehicles driving 150K miles over 11 years (~~ average car age now in US) a robotaxi could burn through 500 miles in a day or 500K miles in 2.7 years. They'd certainly need the interior replaced several times in that period.

Overall miles driven, could it increase with robotaxis, if the cost per mile is less than for owned cars? I'd think so, since it would open up car usage to whole new classes of people who don't use cars much, since they can now 'buy' the usage of the car a lower rates and in the smallest package, of only the miles they need.

Anyone have some data that points more strongly in either direction?


Robotaxis will quickly become highly durable (well, maintenance become cheap), since for the first time incentives mostly align. The car will be produced and maintained by the same one of few powerful corporations.

The bigger problem will be aligning incentives with the customer. Especially regarding safety, since riders can hardly evaluate that by themself.


>>Especially regarding safety,

Yes, that's a big one, and indeed may be setting up a commons problem, if not strongly regulated.

For the short term, and for each individual company, cutting corners for safety will be in their interest (save funds now at no cost).

But for the industry and the long term, the entire concept could be destroyed by a relatively small but tragic number of safety failures. A few high-profile passenger deaths will probably be covered in the volume of terrorist attacks, and even if the actual risk is still small, give the impression of horrible widespread risk.

I'd like to hope that all the players are responsible and far-sighted, but the experience with Uber killing the cyclist in Arizona does not bode well -- they had many lapses and corner cutting, only reforming a bit when they killed someone.


> Overall miles driven, could it increase with robotaxis

Perhaps, but when robotaxis are a thing then robobuses will be too, which can drive vehicle-miles down even as passenger-miles go up.


Don't believe the hype.

If you think I am wrong, then it would be helpful if you explained what you think the truth is.

Self driving cars and rental instead of ownership is at least 15 to 20 years out.

Self driving is big. Like digital photography replacing film, once people see the value they'll switch to it seemingly overnight instead of decades. (Long drives go from painful to trivial.)

Rental is overrated. When I need to drive, there better be a car in my driveway with my gear in it already. Rental may work for urban, but not suburban/rural.


Much longer for something that is safe outside the So-Cal weather environment.

> No it's about money and who gets it.

You’re overlooking many points.

Firstly, it’s not just a question of management vs labour. Capital needs to be compensated, or no-one will provide it.

Secondly, not all labour is equal. With increasing automation, some labour will become more productive, and more highly compensated. Other labour will become obsolete. The total size of labour compensation could go either way.

The size of the cake is not fixed. Greater efficiencies could lead to greater margins, greater sales and more for some, or more for all. Or it could simply lead to the same product being delivered more cheaply (and at this point, the world needs more efficient transportation, it doesn’t need even more cars).

No-one, not management, not the investors, not the labour force is entitled to a particular stake in the future by virtue of the status quo. If personal automobiles were magicked out of existence by some revolutionary new device, I’d say good riddance.


There are so many parts involved with a traditional engine and transmission. Living in Michigan, there are lots of companies building these individual parts. I know a guy who works at a place that builds springs for transmissions (https://www.pjws.com/our-products/)

Valvetrain parts, pistons, rings, crankshafts, starters, heads, oil pumps, exhaust manifolds, mufflers, fuel injectors, sensors...none of this stuff is needed on an electric car.

Hearing UAW members talk about the strike and concessions, they often say things like "they need to guarantee our jobs"...they know electric is coming.

At the extreme you have factory workers who are just in denial. "How can electricity have more power than gas?" You can show them a video of a Tesla P100 racing a <insert_fast_car> and they will tell you to your face that it's fake and they don't believe it.


Apparently the auto manufacturers are doing their own designs, and at first glance, it would appear that they need some of the same metalworking skills as ICE engines. Although in setting up new lines, they are probably much more automated. https://www.thedrive.com/tech/17505/the-secrets-of-electric-...

The UAW has had job guarantees and “job banks” as a part of their contract negotiations for decades, it’s not new at all.

Not disagreeing that electric cars concern them, but asking for job guarantees is not proof of it.


“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” — Upton Sinclair.

It isn't just happening in the US, manufacturing of cars is going to be hard hit in other countries. EU manufacturers aren't exactly tripping over themselves to go EV, VW claims it is but looking at its schedule and its still damn slow.

they have to answer to their unions who have board seats and the know that EVs will gut jobs. it will clobber more that just the manufacture of the cars and those jobs but also all the the third party parts suppliers will take a huge hit as the majority of their stocked parts are related to petrol engines and transmissions which have quite a few wear parts.


> VW claims it is but looking at its schedule and its still damn slow.

Is it? How many EV models will be available from Volkswagen next year?


While I'm ignorant, why can't they just make other parts? If you have a lathe and a machine shop, you can make other pieces of metal instead of the pieces of metal you currently make.

I've often heard a similar sentiment: "Why can't we just get everything 3-d printed?" The reason is that the specialized techniques often have cost and performance advantages, especially at higher production volumes, and can make use of materials that are better suited to the needs of the design.

For instance, you could conceivably machine a spring from a piece of solid metal, but it would be quite expensive and wouldn't function very well as a spring.

Despite general purpose programmable manufacturing technology, the majority of stuff made today avoids those techniques and is made by molding, casting, punching, forming, extruding, and so forth. I'm looking around me in my little office, and I don't think I see anything with a machined part in it.


That sentiment underplays the general knowledge (more important) as well as generalized tools that even specialized shops have. It's not like pivoting is easy, it never is. I just don't think every shop has to vanish versus pivoting and finding another lane that fits the new demand. A change in the market landscape doesn't need to spell the end of all shops as we know it.

Why can't a software company just make other software? Why did WordPerfect go out of business when they could have just made games, and OS, or a web browser?

Pretty sure the devs there did just go to other companies and make other software.

I suspect many of WordPerfect's employees did, in fact, go on to work as programmers writing other software.

None of those people are demanding an industry guarantee their jobs. This is a valid question when the burden is being placed on the car companies to give them work, it’s fair to ask why they can’t find work regardless if they are skilled workers.

It's not easy to change directions. You may enjoy reading Andy Grove's writing about strategic inflection points, basically a description of what had to happen at Intel for them to transition from the memory market that they were struggling in to the microprocessor market.

WordPerfect didn't actually go out of business. They just lost most market share and were acquired cheaply by Corel.

Most probably because the shop invested heavily in specialized machinery and tooling and processes and know-how to optimize production of some niche products with relatively stable demand, until now?

> At the extreme you have factory workers who are just in denial. "How can electricity have more power than gas?"

This sounds more like mythology than reality. Can you show me some concrete examples of this to back your claim?


[flagged]


Industries shift, new jobs appear. It happens. It's normal. Socially engineering on the assumption "the end of work is near" has proven disastrous.

> A new New Deal is in order.

Maaayyyyybe, but if it is, it won't become obvious until we've gone through a period of economic devastation similar to that of the Great Depression.


> social welfare work

Why require it to be work? Giving out a UBI would be more productive than inventing filler work.


Training people to expect sustenance for nothing is a disaster in the making.

>Social welfare work is about the only job left for the masses once automation is doing enough.

I was thinking residential-scale agriculture but for the most part I agree with your conclusions. This doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. If all that's left to do is pick our own veggies from the fields, then we've won the game. Probably we can offset the use of environmentally toxic substances with all the extra labor we'll have.

End stage capitalism may start to look a lot like communism in certain aspects.


In the 70s, there was a widely promoted theory that Detroit had invented carburetors that would make cars get 100 MPG, but they were suppressed by some Big Oil - Big Auto conspiracy. (It was partly promoted by people selling aftermarket carburetors that claimed to, but never did, improve mileage. Some of them used magnets to straighten out the fuel molecules, or something.)

But here you can see actual evidence of a similar phenomenon. Slowing down emissions reductions for short-term incentives.

Ouch, my poor planet.


I'm skeptical that the labor differential is as big as this article implies frankly. This strike is pretty straightforward in cause, GM wants to pay less, and wants their employees to cover more of their healthcare costs, the Union isnt okay with this.

Working in an auto plant is hard, backbreaking work that will leave you physically broken by retirement - and while the transition to electric cars may slightly reduce the amount of labor needed, it won't change how hard or backbreaking the work is.


>Working in an auto plant is hard, backbreaking work that will leave you physically broken by retirement

Maybe 80 years ago. These fellas workin the forges and lifting those blocks certainly went home more sore than someone operating a pneumatic driver all day. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bT6txm4RpA

There is so many ergonomic and Health/Safety stuff now.

Maybe it's hyperbole, but I wouldn't call auto assembly factory work 'backbreaking' by any stretch.


there is more that goes into cars than just vehicle assembly, for example, stamping and casting plants (and yes, GM still stamps and casts it's own body components) - its still highly repetitive motions - so while its better now, its still not an easy job, and will wear your body out.

maybe you should do more than watch a youtube clip. Maybe talk to or g-d forbid, read the interviews with the striking workers who do this labor for hours on hours on their feet.

> Working in an auto plant is hard, backbreaking work that will leave you physically broken by retirement

Is it? I've watched a lot of modern car assembly line videos and it doesn't seem to be hard or backbreaking at all. Boring and tedious? Sure, here's one for GM's best selling vehicle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Nr3I-Fddv8

At no point do you see anyone lift something heavy without the assistance of overhead cranes.


Yes, it is hard work.

That's a promotional video showing you what the most automated parts look like when automation goes perfectly. Not everything is so automated, and everything doesn't always go perfectly.


I'm not saying that backbreaking work doesn't exist within automotive manufacturing, but that categorizing the entire workforce as engaging in such work is clearly a gross exaggeration the way modern manufacturing is done.

Sure, backbreaking work exists within the industry, but you can also tell from how some people are dressed (just street clothes with no safety gear) and by how fast the line moves that there's a lot of jobs that are no more physically demanding than some office work or fast food work.

E.g. it's someone's job to sit in a new car and make sure all the buttons and interface elements work, or to visually inspect the paint job and flag blemishes for fixing further down the line etc.


Exactly, it also doesn't cover stuff like, the stamping plants and other stuff - there is more that goes into cars than just vehicle assembly.

As opposed to mining or ground work (navying)

> and wants their employees to cover more of their healthcare costs

Yes, this is important. Expect to see benefit reductions result in more strikes.


Healthcare is so stupidly broken in the U.S.

When will companies start to lobby for single payer in the face of predatory industries cutting into their compensation packages?


I was watching this Youtube video of Audi electric motor production. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zttC2x9nMEw Pretty crazy how much of the motor construction can be automated. There is just no way around it. Union or not, a lot of jobs will disappear. If GM and Ford don't do it then one of the hundred electric car companies around the world will progress in that direction.

Looks like they focused on cutting out labor costs, and not efficiency. I sure hope it was slowed down by factor of at lest 4 for the Video. Look up Chinese electric motor production lines on YT for comparison.

The tasks the humans are doing seem somewhat arbitrary. e.g. we see both robots and humans inserting and tightening bolts. I wonder why humans are involved in those steps.

Something about ensuring the right pressure / tightness presumably. There are machines that do really sensitive tightening on the market today, but only relatively recently, so the poor human probably has a job only thanks to some ROI analysis that concluded waiting a few years to buy a used machine was more profitable.

Wow this factory seems highly ... underutilized to me. Is it normal for so much to stand still all the time? I love how detailed this vid is, though.

As a society we need to make sure we are taking care of people when their industry is destroyed. The whole “learn 2 code” thing that was directed toward coal workers was exactly the wrong thing to do. If we want those coal plants to shut down we should have offered to pay off the workers until they reached retirement age. If you “take away” someone’s job for the sake of progress, then you’ll make enemies of progress and leave people behind and cause generations of anything ranging from hatred to apathy to loathing.

Here in this case I don’t think it’s quite the same, but this sort of thing is NOT going to go away, and we need to figure it out. Just retraining of “find another job” isn’t good enough.


As I have said in a number of these types of threads, saying we will pay people off / implement UBI as a solution to reduced participation in the labor force dramatically underestimates the complexity of the problems of automation / globalization / de-industrialization. Most people want to work; they derive self-esteem from their labor and for being a provider; and status is awarded by society depending on the type of job you work and your position in an entity (eg CEO, foreman, etc). Being unemployed / on benefits in America is strongly looked down on and stigmatized. People don't want "hand outs" or "charity", they want to do something to generate value. While I agree that we will ultimately have to pursue some sort of UBI or payoff solution, implementing it requires a complete cultural shift in the way we think about work which will likely be a difficult uphill battle. People go all in on retraining (even though it obviously can't work for everyone) because retraining fits well into American culture without controversy.

> People don't want "hand outs" or "charity", they want to do something to generate value

Agreed that it will be a cultural shift: there is a divide between meaning and economics.

People need meaning in life, but meaningful work and economic value aren't always the same.

Raising children or providing caregiving to the elderly can be very meaningful and happens to pay poorly. Building community is incredibly meaningful, and is usually volunteer work right now.

> People go all in on retraining (even though it obviously can't work for everyone)

I've heard that federal retraining programs have a success rate (defined as difference between placebo of nothing) of 0-15%. The current government solution to displaced workers is in practice is getting on disability.


Without all the hoops to jump through and prove disability or attend useless classes, people would largely find productive things to do. Sure it might disrupt other businesses, but if I had all the free time in the world and enough money, I'd find something to do. Maybe I'd start my own small farm, or sell prepared meals, or sharpen knives professionally, or run a political campaign, or volunteer for my favorite charity. You know, the kinds of stuff well off rich kids do.

Why is everyone so convinced people need to be told what to do to stay busy and engaged in the world?


I think you'll have a much harder time convincing women to not base sexual selection, at least in part, on resource gathering. That's pretty ingrained, and not just culture.

Not sure I follow, what does this have to do with meaning and work?

And even in a post-scarcity society, some things (like attention and social status) will always be valuable.


The whole discussion is built on a fantasy socialist utopia where the robots do all the work and we just issue everyone a paycheck to not work. Socialists have been singing this song since the beginning of socialism. It will never work because it doesn't match with human nature. Some kind of work must be found, and people will demand differential outcomes based on that work. People will destroy the robots before they let this socialist u/dys-topia come to fruition.

Well people will always "work", but I think the nature of what we consider "work" and "outcomes" might be different.

In our current scenario "work" is generate economic value, and "outcome" is dollars.

In another scenario "work" could be stories / media, and "outcomes" could be attention.

In another, "work" is playing video games, "outcome" is level.

In all these scenarios you have people feeling the dopamine and at some level deriving satisfaction. It seems a bit dystopian (and anti-social) even to me, but if we're just talking about "human limitations on society" then I don't see why it couldn't be the case.

If we really lived in a post-scarcity world like The Culture, I'd imagine we'd have to evolve how we think about "work" and "outcome" in the same way that most of us no longer "work" for the glory of god for an "outcome" in the afterlife.


>post-scarcity world

Well, we don't live in a fictional world. We live in a real world.


Then men will continue trying, as they have since time immemorial.

Exactly. A cultural change is big, but this is even bigger than culture, it's hard wired in our genes since before humans even became a species. So there will never be a magical fairy land where people just accept equal economic outcomes gifted to us by the robots. So we have to start there and figure out a different solution, the suggested solution is a nonstarter.

There is unlimited meaningful work available that doesn't generate much real profit. You can easily perform music on the street which others enjoy but you won't make a lot of money. You can easily learn crafts to create things for your friends and family that they will appreciate but not pay for. You can easily get in to competitive sport without having to be part of the very top % who get paid for it.

We just need to realise that life happyness and meaningful work doesn't mean generating profits for some ceo.


I agree with you. I also feel the same way about people studying a "worthless" degree at a university. I think it should be much more heavily encouraged to let us develop deeper thinkers, artists, and others. We should learn to celebrate that not everything needs to be economically/financially driven.

> We just need to realise that life happyness and meaningful work doesn't mean generating profits for some ceo.

I believe that's GP's point in a nutshell. The thing is for the USA "just need to realize" is a major cultural shift. Not to say it's insurmountable by any means, but making people just realize something is very tricky IMO.


> I think it should be much more heavily encouraged to let us develop deeper thinkers, artists, and others.

Totally agree. I think the combination of emphasizing on STEM for all, along with smaller colleges facing shrinking enrollments, will result in losses to society that won't be obvious/measurable.

Look at the list of notable Hampshire College alumni: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hampshire_College

They range from Ken Burns, to one of the founders of Stonyfield Yogurt, to a Debian contributor, along with many other musicians and other creators.

We need to keep this kind of educational freedom alive.


People realize it, just not he old ones with the money.

This reminds me of Scott's post over at Slate Star Codex about Moloch [0]. The issue here isn't so much about _realizing_ the futility in pegging one's happiness to one's profitability. The issue is that for any one person to forgo this standard (s)he would be required to give up the status conferred on being a profit-generating American. This is against his/her interest. Thus, most Americans would rather work harder and be more productive/profitable and maintain their status, than attempt to achieve a more authentic happiness, and risk being perceived as a failure by others. To actually alter this standard would require changing the cultural norms around status and profitability either from the top-down, or from outside entirely.

[0] https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/07/30/meditations-on-moloch/


That's a fairly privileged take on it.

Most Americans don't continue to work for status—they continue to work to eat.


> Most Americans don't continue to work for status—they continue to work to eat.

I was speaking with regards to American society under UBI, not the current day.


Teaching in particular comes to mind as something that quite a lot of people might be more interested in if it didn't mean living off low teacher salaries.

It kind of frustrates me that I keep seeing UBI being described as a sort of unemployment assistance. Unless you drop the "U", a UBI is something EVERYONE receives- the separation between givers/takers would not be obvious, especially if the unemployment rate remains low. And I think the unemployment rate would remain low because workers would be willing to accept lower pay if it is bolstered by a UBI. A UBI that is aggressive enough would actually create jobs by lowering the cost of labor in this manner.

The thing that prevents people from having jobs isn't a lack of demand for labor- it's the unwillingness of companies to pay for a worker's full cost of living. A UBI could correct for that.


Absolutely. But we can't look at workers in a dying industry like coal mining and say "Hey, your industry is dead. Time to re-train. Hop to it!"

The society that benefited from having these workers should give them time, money and resources to retrain. Some of these people have their identity wrapped up in their job (as you allude to), so the psychological jump may be the most difficult of all.

Maybe we should have insurance for large industries that are essential to society (I can't see how that could go wrong!) ;)


I would add that while people may take pride in work, that doesn't mean they'll work for pride alone.

Most people want to work

You grossly underestimate how many people would be content watching cheap entertainment, copulating without concern for consequences, and otherwise enjoying a life of mundane leisure.

The US poverty line is 80th percentile of world income. That’s pretty comfortable for most.


> People don't want "hand outs" or "charity", they want to do something to generate value. While I agree that we will ultimately have to pursue some sort of UBI or payoff solution, implementing it requires a complete cultural shift in the way we think about work which will likely be a difficult uphill battle.

"Generating value" is such a capitalist fake idea though.

With UBI, people could potentially pursue whatever fulfills their soul, whether or not it creates economic value for others.

But the capitalist notion of "handouts" being personal failure and "generating value" as the meaning of life is so ingrained in American culture that I don't know how we'll ever move beyond it.


By overcompensating people for under-valued work, is how we did it in the Great Depression.

I don’t think people have a right to a job. But I do think that we as a society have a responsibility for baseline care of everyone. When we can’t depend on the profits of individual’s labor to support them for life any more - which will increasingly be the case according to the current trajectory - something else must be done. This goes beyond the very real issues of wealth disparity and to a much more fundamental problem that comes with automation at these levels.

We have a responsibility as a society to ensure that a framework exists (social safety nets, effective public policy) to allow someone to work towards finding purpose without starving or going homeless. If someone wants to cheat and call that a job guarantee, I’m fine with that. And in the long run, it’s cheaper than the alternative. It’s not just the moral thing to do, it’s compassionate and economically efficient.

I agree with everything except it being cheating.

That's the government providing baseline competition (and non broken-window public works) to serve as something for private entities to beat.


I meant cheating in the sense of what you call it (which isn’t important).

> I don’t think people have a right to a job.

Pragmatic considerations may override your personal beliefs in this matter. American culture strongly ties self-worth to productivity. Take away folks' ability to meaningfully contribute to society, and they will cease to see themselves as a part of that society. On the other hand, we have a strong cultural identity surrounding gun ownership, and we're seeing rapid polarization in politics. So what's the natural consequence when your populace is bored, disenfranchised and heavily armed? Sounds like a powderkeg to me


>I do think that we as a society have a responsibility for baseline care of everyone.

If you give people a floor like that, you have to keep them doped up enough to be content with it. Or engineer a more complacent human.


That’s like the opposite point of a baseline of care. You don’t give everyone enough to be content by default, but enough to get by and have a chance at earning more.

Bringing this point back closer to home: I've been a "software professional" of one shape or another for over 20 years now. In my case, that's come with a never-ending need to constantly retool: new languages, new SDKs, new device types, new APIs, etc., etc. I'm sure this sounds familiar. There are a LOT of jobs out there that don't have any continuing education requirement, or where the idea of learning some new computer interface for doing the same work you were doing before adds a lot of friction.

I enjoy the constant learning curve, but not everybody does. Professions that used to last a lifetime, don't any more, but we aren't given those expectations at the beginning of our journeys. Additionally, even though I enjoy the act of learning I'm starting to notice that it takes a little bit more effort year by year to learn the new tricks. And yet our earning potential (which directly drives a wide range of personal and family decisions) is dependent on staying on the treadmill.

I can see the day, eventually, where I'm not as fast a learner as the latest round of college graduates and where whatever wisdom I may have gained isn't of any value or relevance. I hope I am wrong about that.


> In my case, that's come with a never-ending need to constantly retool: new languages, new SDKs, new device types, new APIs, etc., etc.

I think over time those things are not as significant as the changes in disciplines (titles?) or verticals. E.g. Changing from an embedded SE to front end UX is more difficult than the languages or tools involved.

Edit: is it harder to retrain from front end to embedded? I've traveled the ≈embedded to ≈ux road (via ≈applications). From ≈employee land to ≈owner land.


True, and (so far for me, anyway) it's usually been a slow-motion transition so there's been enough time to get ahead of the wave. Or at least keep up with it...as long as you're paying attention.

Computer Science at the end of the day is just applied math. The majority of the algorithms and data structures used today in software engineering were invented more than 50+ years ago.

The language or framework you use really shouldn’t matter all that much. That’s just a matter of taking some time to acquaint yourself with the vernacular. But fundamentally, the maths stays the same.


The vast majority of real world programming isn't math or algorithms. It's knowing that your framework has all of these algorithms built in already and knowing how to utilise them instead of rebuilding everything from scratch.

I think the way we take care of people is by providing many diverse training paths and transparency. Not just college age programs but lifelong learning where it’s possible to learn to code or weld or teach or whatever. Our libraries and community colleges should include more low cost certification and structured learning programs where people can explore interests.

I think this is very different from the high cost 4-year undergrad or masters programs that are expensive and take a lot of time. A UAW worker will have a hard time, I think, getting a degree but should have an easy time taking a few 1-4 week programs at night or from home to pick up useful skills.

I’m not sure what other program will really work unless UBI gets here real soon (I don’t think it will). Programs where GM has to pay workers who don’t work will just kill GM. I suppose it will be ok for a few years, but once GM dies then no one will be able to pay.


If people were willing to retrain, your concept might work.

But in all the cases I’ve seen so far, most of these people built their whole identities around being a coal miner or an automobile assembly line person. That’s the only thing they know how to do, and the only thing they are willing to do. Nothing less than the exact same thing will suffice.

In the case of widespread intransigence, I don’t see how you can solve this problem. Those people are going to be out of a job, in a career that doesn’t exist any more, having wrapped their entire concept of existence around something that simply no longer exists.

Yes, I agree that we as a society need to take care of them, otherwise we as a society will be paying a much higher price due to the problems they will cause.

We recognize part of this issue when it comes to soldiers who have come back home from war and are now trying to live during peacetime.

We need to come up with better solutions for people who have been obsoleted by the March of technology.


If people aren’t able to change and retrain, I’m not sure what will help them. I’m sure some people are locked in. I’m from a part of the country where people are pretty transient and it’s common to meet screeners who started at 50 or even people at 60 who started doing medical transcription or telework bank support and stuff. I meet tons of people who rebooted and I’ve been meeting them for 50 years or so. And it’s not like I seek them out.

This might also be an example where we have to teach and support and encourage resiliency early in life. I’m sure there are some people who lock their life around their job, but that’s not healthy. Especially if it’s literally a shitty and unhealthy job like coal mining.


don’t forget active denigration of anything but so-called “real jobs.” though i suppose denial and anger are the first two stages of grief

What skills are people going to learn in a week that employers aren't already willing to provide training for?

Are things so broken on the employer side that they won't take a 1 week risk on a new hire?


Having worked as a low level manager at places that are "metrics driven", what I have seen is that teams are given average metrics for the team to hit that are legitimately roughly between the output of a senior and junior engineer. What happens next is that when anyone below this average, i.e. all the juniors, it would show up on a graph and I would be tasked with "fixing" their stats to be above average. Rinse and repeat this cycle a few times and suddenly were not hiring any juniors or the job postings say "Junior" but describe a senior.

This is for software engineering which is a in demand field, I can't imagine how bad it would be for a field where there was a glut of people trying to apply


Yes. Employers regularly turn down applicants for lack of minor courses. Knowing how to weld means nothing to HR box tickers. An afternoon at joes upstairs welding school: tick.

I saw a kid not get a job because she hadnt ever used a fax machine.


I have a feeling that welding in particular is relatively resistant to meaningless certifications.

But it is a trade that was once taught by employers. They would teach the type/style/quality of welding they needed for the job.

What do you think they do with people that walk in the door with meaningless certifications?

They let them walk in the door in the first place?

I don’t think that a single week of training will prepare someone for a new job. I was thinking that it would be useful to check interest before spending lots of time in a longer program.

That being said it’s weird how many companies don’t pay for training, even simple stuff like LinkedIn Education and Coursera. So it would be nice to have more of these, especially curated, by a more independent source like a library or community college so it wasn’t tied to jobs.

There are also some great week or less trainings that can help improve performance. It’s surprising how many people can’t use Microsoft Office. I recently got to help people use Word and OneDrive and it was neat seeing how much work sucked before they figured out how to save files and edit files. This is someone that is simple to digital natives but a little bit of training can help extend careers.


Until almost the singularity, humans have a lot to offer the economy. Effectively giving up on a whole group of people being productive isn't the right answer at all.

The plasticity of humans in the face of adversity and changing times is a fundamental part of humanity.

From entire Nations migrating across the world in search of a new Homeland in ancient times (e.g. Helvetii) to the mass migration of people in modern times (Irish potato famine and mass emigration), to entire industries being automated many many times. e.g. the etymological origin of sabotage is from labor disputes over automation. Similarly luddites engaged in sabotage in the 1800s. And many industries have either been virtually automated (farming) or made obsolete (blacksmiths), resulting in dramatic reductions in labor demand in those areas.

In any of these cases, humans persevered and ultimately found new purposes.

And while automation is only going to increase at an exponential rate and displacement similarly so, given that there is still so much productive potential left in humans, it would be a folly to simply give up on a group of people and just give them UBI.

I'm not saying UBI isn't part of the solution, but the solution also has to involve utilizing the productive capacity of humanity. Bc we have too many big problems to solve to switch an ever growing percentage of our population over to only be consumers (and not producers). They will be an ever growing tax on the rest of the population the will prevent us from putting as much investment into R&D and problem solving.


Your campaign has the full support of the buggy drivers union, tube TV repairmen, and video store employees union.

> buggy drivers union

I read this as "buggy device drivers union" and had a sudden moment of clarity.


We should have begun building carbon extraction and deep burial facilities where they mined for coal.

That would have replaced blue collar jobs with blue collar jobs.

We need a carbon tax and federal funding to build these facilities.

Carbon extraction paired with more nuclear is what we need to invest in.


This is a really good point. Not sure I'm in favor of UBI when there is so much work we could be doing to fix the mess we've made.

Putting entire communities or indeed entire regions on welfare for the rest of their life smacks of unintended consequences later on.

It's already happened. Disability insurance is the de facto implementation of this.

It leads to judges corrupting their own judgement to allow workers who probably aren't disabled to get onto the disability roles, it's a ratchet where once on permanent disability, an employee can no longer legally get a job again, it's almost certainly a downsizing in wages and quality of life expectations, and it leads to depression, higher suicide rates, and high rates of opioid abuse.


You want to offer incentives to people to go into fields that aren’t needed?

It's hard to do when the people who would be recipients of such help are philosophically opposed to the virtue of such help.

"Learn 2 code" was attempted because offering food stamps and Section 8 housing in coal country gets you immediately shut down. Those people, generally, don't want to perceive themselves as a burden on society.


The irony, of course, is that keeping the coal business going is a much higher burden on society in the long run.

I disagree. It's the responsibility of each worker to maintain the skills they need to be valuable in the modern economy.

Our government should help the unemployed, but paying them off "until they reached retirement age" means that the people who are still employed are paying for them to do nothing.


> means that the people who are still employed are paying for them to do nothing.

That's literally the point. The cost to society of having a large, disgruntled, restless, unemployed population is high. If this population decides to revolt, the cost could be catastrophically high.

The goal is to pay this population less than the total dollar value of the expected damage, but still enough to stave off the most expensive / disasterous outcomes.

If you prefer, employable people like living in a world where they're employable. If the unemployable decide to revolt, that world could be threatened. It may hurt your sensibilities, but paying them to do nothing could still be the least expensive option.


If you take away people’s ability to provide for themselves and their families you’re bound to make enemies and that’s due to hurting people. It says a lot about what one calls progress

I would suggest helping those people move on to something else that enables them to care for their families. It’ll make change far more palatable and is better for people


What would be concrete actions that enable someone in their late forties or early fifties to find a new job when the whole industry they've worked in so far basically disappears? Say someone working at a coal plant, or someone assembling ICEs? Who will hire them?

If they don't find anything related, tangential etc, nobody. That's the reality we are facing off.

In Spain several coal mines shut off. The initial idea was to just retire this people. In some cases they made them hop trough some recolocation programs.

IMO retiring people is just cheaper. The administrative overhead of managing this people is not worth the cost.


For a while call centers were popping up in the wake of factory shutdowns.

There are programs for this. I know people who have gone through them. I think the issue is they need to be funded. I’d defer to the experts on this.

Sounds like what Andrew Yang has been saying over and over. I wish the main candidates would steal from his ideas.

> The whole “learn 2 code” thing that was directed toward coal workers was exactly the wrong thing to do.

Can somebody go into depth on this? Everyday I interact with people who have jobs that suck way more than coding and pay way less.

Why wouldn't people want to work 40 hours remotely with full benefits making decent wages?


Any career change is non-trivial for a mid-career worker and it's probably unrealistic that a majority of blue-collar workers would be able to transition into software jobs.

"Learn to code" is great advice in general and can change the lives of certain individuals but it's not a winning strategy for shifting a mid-career workforce from one career to another, at scale.


> Any career change is non-trivial for a mid-career worker and it's probably unrealistic that a majority of blue-collar workers would be able to transition into software jobs.

Unrealistic in what sense? That most people are unable to learn managing state and code flow?

I never hear anybody say "it is unrealistic for workers to learn Spanish/Russian/Mandarin/Japanese", yet I really feel basic programming is even easier to learn than a spoken language.


I used to think that until I tried teaching people programming a few times, it's hard work, and a lot of people don't find it enjoyable. Additionally I heard people who do well in code school have prior programming experience as well, so it becomes more about selection and refining skills than actually making new programmers.

I don't think the "hard work" excuse works when you are talking about people who used to work in coal mines and have a family to support.

I think it's more likely that the basic math (algebra, geometry, etc) is missing when you look at men who started working in the mines before they finish high school. Without the math foundation, it's not "hard work", but a weak foundation which just causes frustration.

That, and a 58 year old guy learning to code will soon have to compete against a 20-something with far more education + computer + social media experience, especially since coding can be done overseas.


I think it’s even more basic than that. It’s basic logic skills. Boolean logic. I mean these are often people who blindly believe politicians they like are truthful, and ones they don’t like can’t be truthful. They seem to have no ability to examine facts and draw conclusions consistently.

Oh and age by itself has nothing to do with it. There are old people who could pick it up because they have the right fundamentals. Sure there are some challenges that come with age, but let’s not sweep all old people into the category of “cannot enter a programming career.”

I’m not saying that’s what you were doing. I think you were talking about age as a further factor compounding the difficulty on top of already lacking basic related skills.


Sorry I was unclear, I meant it was hard for me. And maybe part of it is that I'm not great at teaching.

I mainly taught a handful of college educated people who studied things like earth sciences, arts, and ocean science, but struggle to understand a for loop or a function call.

And now I understand how it can be un-fun to struggle, especially if you don't intrinsically enjoy writing scripts and mucking around the terminal.


> I think it's more likely that the basic math (algebra, geometry, etc)

I am a senior full stack developer and typically in the top 10% of the developers in my org wherever I've gone past 5 years.

I do 0 algebra or geometry. I call APIs, I put stuff in databases. I store state.

I really don't think it's "math"y at all. I transform data, I use libraries. I can't think of any algebraic examples of anything I've done in the past 5 years, let alone geometry.


> I do 0 algebra or geometry. I call APIs, I put stuff in databases. I store state.

That's not something to be happy about, that's something to be terrified of. If nothing the average coder does requires any particular specialized skills beyond gluing together libraries built by experts, what do you think will happen when, like the coal miners, some technological or societal change comes along that reduces the need for average coders?

Demand for coders isn't infinite.


It's unrealistic for middle age blue collar workers in America to learn Spanish/Russian/Mandarin/Japanese, assuming that they have no prior experience or exposure to these languages. Learning a natural language is a lot harder than learning a programming language.

The tone of the comments here at HackerNews are basically:

middle age blue collar workers can't learn a natural language or a programming language

I really have to ask, what makes us "programmers" so elite? I find it hard to believe that if your average person spent 90 months learning programming that they couldn't scrape by as a mid-level web developers. I have developers in my org who go weeks without committing and management seems to have no problem with that. If that's the quality accepted, why can't that be taught in 90 days?


Because most people on this forum live in a bubble when it comes to computer literacy and the average population is really, really bad at it, you won't get them into coding when they're already failing at tasks you'd need for a basic white-collar job.

Telling blue-collar workers to learn to code is in their analogy like telling them to be rocket-scientists. If they could, they probably wouldn't be blue-collar in the first place.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21037674


As a bit of a corollary, there are things that blue-collar workers take as absolutely basic "common knowledge" that would not be at all intuitive to people in the tech scene.

It's all about what you've been exposed to.


> for a basic white-collar job.

What are some basic white-collar jobs other than "go to meetings" and "Excel"?


There are plenty of people that would rather work with their hands than work with their minds. My brother included - he owns a successful blue-collar business (selling accessories he installs on construction trucks), but no amount of handholding or sitting down with him has been successful at weaning himself off of his paper bookkeeping system.

He spends hours every year at tax time, carefully collating his paper records onto a paper ledger that he shares with his accountant. If he'd enter the data into even the most basic of bookkeeping systems or even an Excel spreadsheet, tax time would take him a few minutes (and he wouldn't be paying his accountant so much to handle the paper). And he'd have a better handle on monthly expenses, revenue, etc. his system works for him, it's just labor intensive.

But he still makes a good living at what he does, he just prefers to do it with a welder while climbing on a truck. Even if he were offered free coding classes, he wouldn't take it -- he can't understand how I can possibly sit in front of a computer all day long, stuck in an office.


Spoken like a "Them", and not a "us".

I've been on both coasts. I've been in big cities. The prosperity is there. The hope is there. The schooling and resources are there.

My family came from the Appalachians. Hill country. they live off the land, cause the only money is from tourists. They used to work in the mines, but 'them environmentalists' ruined their livelihood and ended their bodily suffering so their kids could do better. But in doing so, the coastal elites destined those cities, those families to poverty.

But this poverty is working in restaurants, working menial service jobs that pay $8/hr, no benefits, and no vacation. And remember that in the USA, your property tax is linked to school funds. Sure the feds pitch in a bit, but not that much.

So you get: bad education, bad jobs, no upward mobility, low/no healthcare. You get poverty equal to what we'd call 'Third World'.

So when I see a bunch of coastal elites say blasely, "Why cant the blue collar workers just learn programming and be rich?" It's about as tone deaf as Marie Antionette saying 'Why can't they just eat cake?'

They don't have the prior education to learn programming. They don't have the free time due to working 50-60 hour weeks. Or they don't have the ability to afford computers or the know-how to use free and open source software effectively to learn.

We need socialism, especially when policies end up destroying counties, towns, and cities founded in old paradigms we now kill for being bad. We can end dirty jobs - but we should never end the people. But that's what we're doing.


> So you get: bad education, bad jobs, no upward mobility, low/no healthcare. You get poverty equal to what we'd call 'Third World'.

This is often the situation faced by the poor and working classes on the coasts, also. Even if they have different beliefs from you on, i.e. social issues, on economic fairness there is a lot of agreement.

> We need socialism, especially when policies end up destroying counties, towns, and cities founded in old paradigms we now kill for being bad. We can end dirty jobs - but we should never end the people. But that's what we're doing.

The fleeting, once in a generation chance to turn the country in the direction you propose (cleaner jobs, more support for people and communities) begins in the upcoming primary election. Arguably, how people vote in places like Appalachia and the Midwest will decide if we enter your hopeful future, or continue down the current path toward the greater concentration of wealth in fewer hands.


A scenario would be something like you and your entire family live somewhere, and you make a good income that allows you to have a decent life, and now that income stream is gone and you’re expected to retrain after who knows how long to “learn 2 code” and then somehow get another high-paying job. What go back to college? A coding boot camp? Uproot you’re family to move to San Francisco and compete with 20 year old kids who have been writing code for years? Obviously some people could do that, but it’s incredibly tone deaf when someone seriously suggests that some coal worker learn to code. They might not even get it or literally be able to do that job. And while I think we should shut down every coal plant, from their perspective it’s the government coming in and destroying their way of life and then not even bothering to help, while those rich liberals keep getting rich and fly around in private jets. I got my haircut the other week and a lady was chatting with me about how she quit her job at a warehouse. While she was great at her job, she said the management let people do a crappy job and it made her angry. Recently that company changed management and asked her for seasonal help and knew she was a good worker. She told me she was thinking about it, and they were offering her the same rate she previously had. You know what never occurred to her? (Her words) it never occurred to her that she could negotiate a better pay rate. So had I not said anything, this lady may have never in her life considered asking for more money. My point isn’t that I’m a savior or something, it’s that when you come back and say “you don’t have to leave, work remote” you’re not even speaking the same language.

I actually co-founded a non-profit to address this to the extent that I can with entreprenuership training in the Appalachian region. I think building up the area and creating successful businesses where people live is the way to go.

I hope that what I said here makes sense. It’s based on my own work and experience,

Thank you


I agree that it's an unreasonable expectation for the average West Virginia former coal miner late in life to "Learn 2 Code" in San Francisco. But the guy that sits next to me in my webdev job did exactly that (family of 6, middle-aged, moved from working in "business" in Texas, went to a coding bootcamp for 3 months, we hired him, now he's the hardest working programmer in the office). I'm not inclined to feel sorry for the guy who can't put in the same effort.

> from their perspective it’s the government coming in and destroying their way of life and then not even bothering to help

It's not our jobs as taxpayers to maintain coal miners' "way of life". Coal mining was a massive improvement to the world in the mid 1800s between whale blubber and refined petroleum, but the world doesn't owe coal miners anything more than a paycheck on the open market, where coal is a commodity and has to compete against fracking (cheaper) and solar and wind (far cleaner and create more jobs). They have cashed 200 years of paychecks and chose to send their young boys into the same coal mines rather than invest in a better life for their kids.

But I also don't look at this in a vacuum. As far as I know, coal mining companies don't offer great pensions for their mine workers. No state in the US has a decent job/vocational retraining and placement system. The coal mining states don't vote politically for good welfare programs that would allow what you claim to want (retirement at their current standard of living). If coal miners wanted a retraining system, they have the ability to vote for political leaders who could do that -- but there is no political will. They could start their own companies or non-profits (like you), but I don't hear about them (doesn't necessarily mean they don't exist). The guys that made billions in coal aren't investing in the same regions that have historically been single-industry areas.

And when it comes to coal, I would argue that - (1) it was largely beat by innovation and fracking before the EPA / federal government / renewables started reducing coal jobs. The largest coal mine in the world is in Australia finished in ~2008 and idled because it was no longer cost effective to run the mine at those current coal prices. - (2) it has massive negative externalities to the entire air-breathing world just to keep a few thousand coal miner jobs[1]. Coal miners know this acutely, but they continue to work in the industry (to the extent that it's possible).

I think it's important to help others, but self-agency has to play a role. Your anecdote about the chat lady shows that she had enough agency to quit her job willfully (I've worked at jobs long past when I had decided that management) and that she didn't bother to go to read a book or internet article about how to move up in the workplace shows a great example of the possibility of agency, but the unwillingness to execute.

I think this kind of complacency is why we are losing jobs to other countries. The Netflix documentary "American Factory" perfectly describes the mismatched expectations of American union workers in 2020 thinking they have the same bargaining power as in 1960 and international companies who know they the Chinese workers doing the "996" work ethic is a far better value than the American who clocks out after a very safe 40 hours a week and demands much higher for producing the same exact product.

When it comes to the entire US, I think we should adopt a more comprehensive employment-and-reemployment program, more like Germany's. But we like to pride ourselves on "being free" and not accepting government handouts or entitlements, so we reap what we sow.

> Coal-mining employment increased rapidly in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and peaked in 1923 at 798,000. Since then, the number of miners has fallen considerably since, due to mechanization. By 2015 it had fallen below 70,000.[1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_coal_mining_in_the_...


> It's not our jobs as taxpayers to maintain coal miners' "way of life".

When you legislate the job away for the benefit of society you have an obligation.


Something like Venture for America?

First time hearing about it. But we also target more than just students/recent graduates. I also don’t think they have a presence in our region, but I could be wrong.

There’s an entire learning curve before the learning curve we normally think of. Basic computer literacy, basic literacy even, communication skills, people skills, planning skills. And this isn’t even getting to things like typing or right clicking. Yes some computer scientists get by without typing skills but I think you’ll find they have basic literacy and analytic skills at least.


>We made sacrifices, froze our pensions, halved our pay and gave up benefits to save GM, the automotive industry, and the U.S. economy.

These people think they saved the U.S economy? What are they smoking. They still us the government 11.3 billion dollars from the government bailing them out.[1]

>GM also chose to rip away our health care coverage in the dead of night, effective immediately and without warning.

This is a crucial topic that must be addressed. Should companies be responsible for employee health care? I do not know the answer, but that seems to be the trend.( Cut full time workers, hire part time works to avoid having to pay for healthcare.) [1](https://projects.propublica.org/bailout/entities/233-general...)


> These people think they saved the U.S economy? What are they smoking

That's like saying the poor bastard that ended up in Normandy during WWII didn't help win the war.

Obviously they didn't do it single-handedly, but they did make sacrifices that kept the automakers from going completely under. The auto industry might not be very important to people on the coasts, but it's a big deal in Michigan.

The people made real concessions and now that GM is posting record profits, they don't see why they should be conceding further. And they have a union behind them. So they are raising a fuss. Because they can.


Yeah, once again it feels weird in my mind that the shareholder-class needs defending, but in GM's particular case, they went bankrupt. The UAW didn't save that company, they're gone.

The UAW definitely made sacrifices to put new GM on solid footing. But my opinion is that the tough truth is that I don't think you can readily expect things to go back to GM 1.0, ever.

It's just tough to assess how much GM genuinely acting on what it feels are existential threats. I will readily admit, I'm sympathetic to the company making hard to swallow decisions in its long term interests.

I'm just thinking, if GM fails again, that's going to do zero good for the UAW, and I really feel like the UAW isn't taking that seriously enough.


One person’s right to keep a job is not greater than humanity’s right to reasonable progress.

It’s cases like these that give unions a bad name.


Even coming from a place of no empathy for displaced workers lives, if we hang these people out to dry we will pay the price down the line.

If america had invested in a social safety net for the past 30-40 years, we might be in a different place. People would be ok with change because they'd know that society was going to have their back while they find a new career.


I don’t understand the comment “if American had invested in a social safety net”. Half of govt expenditures are for the social safety net.

Would be more accurate to say “if America had expanded the social safety net”.


I suppose so. I don't know how much the US spends, or how that compares to other countries, but I do know that from where I'm standing (Canada) it sure does not look like much of a safety net. e.g. gap in employment + health crisis = homeless? yikes!

"if American had invested in an effective social safety net”

And benefits of the social safety net overwhelmingly go to people who complain about its existence.

Let's not hang them out to dry. But let's make the changes needed so we aren't hiring more 20 year olds into that skillset and perpetuating this endlessly.

> if we hang these people out to dry we will pay the price down the line.

If we continue promoting industries that cause the global climate to worsen more rapidly, we're going to pay a MUCH bigger price down the line.

Taking jobs from folks who work in such an industry is a price worth paying, considering the alternative.


> Taking jobs from folks who work in such an industry is a price worth paying, considering the alternative.

The options are not fire them or keep screwing the planet. There's a third option: fire them but don't HANG THEM OUT TO DRY. Provide a social safety net - retraining, early retirement, health care, etc. This is the whole idea behind the "green new deal"... catch the people who would otherwise be ground up by the transition away from fossil fuels.


We could have a social safety net, but if the reporting and polls are to be believed, many of those in these collapsing industries have tended to vote for those trying really hard to dismantle what social safety nets we have. Let alone implement new ones. I imagine that is because candidates promised to save their jobs. But no one thought to ask, “what happens if they don’t?”

So do we get mad at the people who believed the lies and got swindled, or the people who told the lies and got rich?

It isn’t like governments haven’t been trying. Certain groups prefer “job creation” over “government programs” and then get angry when their industry collapses.

America has an education problem, and we need more people taking microeconomics in high school.


> Taking jobs from folks who work in such an industry is a price worth paying, considering the alternative.

I don't think that's worked out very well so far. America is polarized on economic lines, and as long as some people's interests are unaligned with the environment / global needs, then this will continue.

The way you actually remove these jobs for good is to change the incentives for these workers so that they benefit from the new order.

This is why I think elements of the Green New Deal are a good idea: because it says that these folks have an even better future with green jobs than the present.


When shipping firms moved to shipping containers mid 20th century, the productivity gains were split between corporations and the union to buy out longshoreman so there was a graceful transition out for these folks who were no longer needed. (Check out the book “The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger - Second Edition”, which goes into some detail about this)

It’s not having systems in place like this that give our society a bad name. The US is one of the richest country in the world, no lies needed to say we can’t afford it (we can afford it) or don’t have the legal framework in place to institute it.


Our lack of a system to prioritize incumbents also gives us our good name, and the wealth you mention. We can absolutely take better care of people out of work, but "change requires the consent of everyone affected" is not the path.

That would be labeled socialism. Seemingly all it takes to defeat a proposal in US politics.

I assume more success will be had as suffering reaches a tipping point. Change happens slowly, and then all of a sudden. I’d just like people to be able to avoid the interim suffering, but empathy seems to be in short supply compared to capital.

Transitioning to electric mobility is necessary, but if you’re treating workers inhumanly (possibly contributing to deaths of despair in middle America), what is the point of progress? We can treat citizens humanely and deliver on the progress we desperately need, I have no doubt about this.


There are no purely capitalist or purely socialist societies, everything is a mix, even the US. The trick is finding the right balance between incentive and fairness.

I'd argue that the US needs some more fairness at this point in history given the income inequality increases since the 60s (gini coefficient), but without removing the incentives which drive the economy.


I see very few “drivers of economy”. This site is a testament to the concentration of wealth and high paying work in very few places. I say the US needs a governmental works program for literally every locality. Something to drive infrastructure through the last mile everywhere. Everyone having decent (doesn’t have to be “great”) pay would curb many societal ills.

One option is remote work for governmental programs. It may even need to include a counter propaganda system similar in numbers to what other governments are employing to prop up internet trolls.


The word socialism has lost the sting. Considering one of the top presidential candidates has been running in the platform for decades. And the DSA has made large gains in liberal cities.

Simply calling something socialism isn’t the scarlet letter it used to be.


The more that capitalist greedheads label anything that involves being nice to people instead of seeing them as perfect libertarian spheres who act only in their own absolutely rational financial self interests as “socialism”, the more people who give even half a shit about their fellow humans start to think “socialism” must be pretty good.

You would think, but not quite. Blows my mind how many of those same people are living off of or approve of social security just in my own social circles.

I don't know why you've been downvoted. I've also watched this change unfold in big cities on the East and West Coast, most strongly among younger voters, since Bernie's candidacy in the 2016 election.

Yep it’s frustrating to be downvoted for simply pointing out the political elephant in the room.

Not sure why socialism has such a bad rap. The opposite is asocialism (a society based on "avoiding social interaction; inconsiderate of or hostile to others."), which can't be good for any society.

Socialism has a bad rap because it comes with a monetary cost. The powers that influence and control legislature today are foremost interested in personal profits - policies that improve society but cost money to do are uninteresting to such parties because, by the nature of them controlling most of the money, most of the funding for such programs would have to be taken from them.

Its financially beneficial to use corporate control of the media to influence and propagandize culture to be antagonistic towards policies that would help the majority but would cost the rulers. Having a protracted half century long war against a nation self-proclaimed to be socialistic was the perfect scapegoat to justify their actions to moderates and rally a base against the ideal for purely selfish motives.


It’s also a false dichotomy. Government has never considered its income when figuring its expenses. That’s just a rhetorical trick politicians use to say they don’t want to do something that’s otherwise popular.

The Cold War is definitely why the S word is so reviled.


One reason is that a lot of European countries have been moving away from socialism and freeing up markets due to their recognition of how stagnant their economies become in the 1970s.

Socialism sounds great if you make the mistake of assuming there are no downsides.


how, exactly, is this a part of "humanit's right to reasonable progress" whatever that is supposed to mean. And for the record, the article is wrong, the reason this is an issue, now, is that GM (and Ford, and Chevy) forced its workers to take paycuts and other slashed benefits as part of the bailout. GM then plowed the profits it has reaped after stabilization into stock buybacks, rather then actually do right by the people who build their product. A fact that goes unmentioned by this flight-of-fancy masquerading as "news".

Would you be willing to say the same thing were it your head on the proverbial chopping block? Would you be willing to lose your career, your only source of income and potentially more as a consequence, such as your home?

Are you willing to right now, make the same sacrifice in the name of progress for humanity?


There has been plenty of advance warning that electric vehicles would overtake combustion engine vehicles in the near future. It has also been published that electric vehicles are simpler and require fewer parts and workers.

Also, the rise of robotics in factories has been visible and known for years.

These all add up to one thing: workers who don't plan ahead will lose their jobs. The farrier eventually lost his job when horses were replaced with cars. Would you argue that we should still have people making and attaching horseshoes in cities where nobody is riding horses?

[edit] But to answer your question, I would not be in this situation because I pay attention and learn new things to stay relevant. Come one, we're mostly software developers here: we're very familiar with having to learn new things to stay relevant (have jobs, get paid, eat). While the auto worker may possibly be less technical and perhaps less educated, they are not stupid. This argument that their jobs should be protected is just laziness (or they are being (mis)led and manipulated by some party with an agenda).


I've completely changed careers before when the jobs dried up. I'm completely confident in my ability to do so again.

Specialization is for insects.


With how many plans GM has been closing, the UAW picked a really awkward time to strike.

Username checks out.

This is probably tone deaf, but instead of giving the auto workers more money or open more factories, what if they gave them stock grants? If you gave them stock, they workers wouldn't want to open factories that would cause GM to lose money. It would keep the worker and the management incentives aligned.

Even given stock, the workers would prefer unprofitable factories because the stock would be a smaller portion of their compensation compared to lost wages.

The problem with stock compensation is that a worker’s incentives aren’t that of an owner. Let’s say that you give them stock, they hold the stock, and the company hits hard times. Now they’ve lost both their job and their savings. That’s bad. Let’s say that you give them 5% of their compensation in stock. They would keep wanting to make unprofitable factories because their stock compensation is minimal. Let’s say 80% of their compensation is stock. They’ll need to sell it to cover living expenses and so you’ve just given them cash with extra steps.

The ownership mentality only works if you’re dealing with rich people (like a CEO) that can defer realizing their compensation and where you’re willing to grossly overpay them.


The UAW's trust did own half of GM in 2009, then proceeded to sell almost all of it and lost their board seat.

Turns out a company with a lot of overpaid employees and out of date products is a lousy investment.


I thought it was common in the auto industry to have profit sharing as part of compensation. Not exactly stock, but similar.

Not sure if you're being clever or just defined socialism by accident.

Why is it that anytime a discussion about massive companies paying workers more comes up, that somehow somebody thinks this is socialism. Employees deserve to be fairly compensated.

Nobody "deserves" anything. The market is not just for products.

He's saying that by getting stock grants the workers own the means to production (=socialism, sort of)

Probably because "employees deserve to be fairly compensated" is a concept from communism (not socialism, but Americans get the two confused all the time) as soon as you divorce "fairly" from "what the employer and employee agree to in a free labor market."

That's not a bad thing, but it's how the definitions and philosophies flow.


The capitalists have a way better marketing arm than the communists to, which contributes to the argument

It's not clear that electric cars will take less labor to build. Tesla's experience is that their cars take far more labor to build than Ford or Toyota or VW needs to build a car.[1] Even the battery pack operation is surprisingly labor-intensive.

Automobile engine building, on the other hand, has been mostly automated since the 1950s.

[11 https://www.autonews.com/article/20170611/OEM01/170619951/te...


I used to work at Ford Plant and provide data for something called the Harbour report which is about manufacturing productivity. Engine and transmission had about 10 hours of direct labor per car, and final assembly was roughly 18 hours. In the transition to electric cars, one could expect a 30% haircut across the board including engineering. Tesla probably isn’t that efficient because the automation isn’t yet reliable.

I’d have to ask someone, but I’d bet Tesla is running like 30% off standard. It takes 180 days for workers to work-harden, and years to get the automation optimized. Robots are cheap and easy to buy, but tooling at the end of the robot to do something like install a seat takes a long time to design and make.


So, in other words, classic car manufacturers have a 70 year head-start in automation?

An EV has far fewer parts than an ICE-vehicle, if not now, then when their production reaches the same level of automation, they'll definitely be less manual labor-intense than ICEs.


That's because they are just starting out, and are still designing a lot of things from scratch.

Musk had to import two gigantic aluminium presses to stamp the car bodies, and Tesla was suffering a lot of ill fitting body panels initially. It's amazing what they've accomplished so quickly, but it's still early days.

Building these at the scale of GM, I can definitely imagine putting an electric one together with less work than a gasoline car with an automatic transmission.


Related: “Autoworker union anxiety about EV-related (and smaller, more fuel-efficient car-related) job loss has been a thing for the better part of a decade... but it's been widely ignored, probably because it is so politically awkward ”

https://mobile.twitter.com/Tweetermeyer/status/1177562016539...


It's ironic they mention Germany because Germany's system has very strong unions, with labor representation on their boards, but as they said, the pivot is happening there and there isn't the same anxiety there apparently. It's not like working together isn't possible with people not losing their jobs.

For whatever reason unions in Europe seem much more on board with “what’s good for the company” versus “what good for the union”. Apparently union reps sit on the board which I’m sure helps.

I'm skeptical of several of the claims in this. Is 125 less parts "far fewer"? Have they really already automated electric car assembly better than gasoline vehicles, even though we've been doing that all my life? Are they really striking because they fear being replaced by robots, or is it for higher wages?

History is full of labor transitions. Nobody makes wagon wheels anymore. Noboby cuts pins from wire. Certainly the job opportunities in auto manufacturing are waning, but new jobs are popping up in battery tech, solar, etc. Change is never easy.


The industrial revolution of the past century featured mass riots which killed people. In response the government created entirely new and untested social programs like universal high school and labor union-friendly laws.

So yes, change is never easy, and this next revolution is projected to be faster and larger in scope. One could expect similar social unrest and new laws.


125 parts per car. It's a macro issue not a micro one. If you're making thousands of cars that's a lot of parts.

Then eventually when you no longer need the Combustion Engine and Transmission, the two most complicated parts in a car. It's now 1000's of parts per car no longer needed.


China has over ten different companies making EVs under $14,000.

If EVs were more like commodity electronics products and less niche, if there were broad competition, things could change faster than anyone expects.

There are a lot of entrenched stakeholders in the US though. UAW, dealerships, policy will control the outcome more than technology for a while.

https://wattev2buy.com/china-ev-price-list-rank-chinese-elec...


While this is technically true, many of the EVs sold at that price in China (especially at the lower end) more closely resemble fully encased modern golf carts then the actual "Electric Cars" many would expect. On top of this, very, very poor quality production and low quality/longevity of some Chinese EV batteries has meant that, even still "You get what you pay for."

It was this poor level of quality that made the Chinese government try to entice competition within the space by pulling back EV subsidies.

Links that are somewhat related: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-26/china-sca... https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-26/china-sca...


Dealerships may have some pull for now, but they're part of the problem: artificial, parasitic friction. In a free market you could buy a car at Costco or the Internet instead of paying those clowns to haggle and cheat you. Part of Tesla's success is disrupting that mess.

unions stifle innovation and prevent advancements in technology. They keep factories full of multiple workers doing the job of one person.

The taxicab unions wanted to keep a medallion system in place and have pushed Uber and Lyft out of many cities, which will result in higher fares and less efficiency with the routes.

It reminds me of the record industry, trying to prevent things like Napster and the digital music revolution, because they didn't want to switch over from physical media.


The US auto industry is on two non sustainable paths. The first is internal combustion engines. The second is building fewer but more expensive cars.

The second part is difficult because pretty much all cars last longer than they used to. People will grumble about plastic body panels and cheap interiors but overall the average car simply lasts longer than they would in the heyday of the Big 3. Even with a growing population, better built cars are creating less demand. There are other factors, such as ride sharing, remote work, and online socializing, but none of them point to the solution being to build more cars. Perhaps making less expensive entry level cars would get some non-owners to take the plunge but the durability of existing cars makes buying a new entry level model less desirable.

Related to that, reliability is way up. Back in the 1980’s it wasn’t unusual at all to have your car breakdown every year or so and leave you stranded on the side of the road.

Nowadays I’ll go months before seeing someone stranded on the side of the road.

It’s actually quite amazing.


The average age is up to 11.8 years for the 278 million car, SUVs and light trucks in the US. The market shift to SUVs was also a shift to more durable vehicles, as was the shift away from US cars to foreign cars. As more and more stringent government regulations make new vehicles less desirable and more expensive, drivers will maintain and retain their existing vehicles until we look like Havana. https://www.cnet.com/roadshow/news/average-vehicle-age-incre...

On a personal note, I will not buy another gas car. My wife drove a Model X the other day (hates it). Now looking at an iPace. I will keep my Boxster until I can buy the same thing with an electric motor. Need a car for my daughter soon and only looking at crash test ratings + EV. Gas is dead if you are middle class. I feel the infection point will be when you can get an EV for 20K. Next year, solar and power walls are planned (tried this year but just not enough sun, but so close).

From an auto worker standpoint the writing is on the wall. EVs have less parts, less complexity and that means less people and more robots. We as a nation, heck as a planet, need to think about how we are going to live when the manual labor need drops year over year. This is going to hurt China the most I think. I know at my last employer we started with production lines in China, but with in 5 years we moved to Malaysia due to lower cost and the fact that we figured out how to make the assembly less complex and needed less manual labor.


The death of gas vehicles has been greatly exaggerated.

*The death of gas vehicles TODAY has been greatly exaggerated. Their upcoming doom, and expiry notice - has not.

Related previous discussion: "Chevy Volt discontinued: Chevrolet's last Volt rolls off the assembly line"

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19236245

Sounds like many HN users liked the Volt. Thread also has some insights into the political nature of the Volt's disappearance.


Saying that "none of this is anyone’s fault" and blaming this on new technology is entirely disingenuous.

This is 100% GM's fault because they learned nothing after the government bailed them out in 2009. They continued to scrimp on labor and build quality, and that resulted in horrible cars that no one wants. And their response? Scrimp even more on labor.

EVs make up a very small slice of the new car market and virtually none of the truck market. What we're witnessing is a form of kabuki theater, where it looks like GM's hands are tied and the only path forward is to build cars entirely in China. Mind you, this is at the same time that most foreign owned companies build and assemble their cars in domestic US facilities.


EV is a small part of the market today. But it's growing fast. As someone who owns an electric car, my next car will definitely be one and I wouldn't buy anything else.

These union deals last 4 years. So the manufacturers have to think about labor and planning long term.


Being optimistic, EVs will never have more than a 30% market share because they're incompatible with a large portion of people's lifestyles. They will find an audience with people exclusively commute and have the facilities to charge at home. At the moment, there's some cachet to having a Tesla but the reality of owning one is represented in the deprecation rate.

The energy density of battery technology will never reach that of petroleum. Just bolting on bigger and bigger batteries to try to overcome that has its own engineering, safety and environmental problems.


> The energy density of battery technology will never reach that of petroleum.

Not anytime soon at least. But that's besides the point. They don't have to do that, they just have to be good enough.


For people who can use an EV, and for people who are willing to accept that a single vehicle can't do everything.

Most people don't want to keep multiple vehicles to cover all their bases. Just look at the number of pickup trucks sold in the US. How many of those people are hauling stuff or using it for work? While there are landscapers, tradesmen and laborers who do that, the vast majority of them are essentially commuter cars. People often get them, among other reasons, because they might come in handy if they need to move stuff. These are the same people who will never accept an EV because it doesn't have the overall utility of their other vehicle.


This is why people like Peter Thiel have compounds on island nations like New Zealand. Economists say we’re in the midst of a long and painful transition between the old manufacturing economy and... something. The question is, are we going to inch closer to an ideal socialist utopia where everyone has more or less everything because production is so cheap (like in Star Trek), or towards a capitalist dystopia where the Thiels of the world hoard everything in a progressively smaller elite fraction of the population.

I’d be very interested to see what China does. 1+ billion people. Do they leave them without jobs? Legally mandate manufacturing to include vast human employment? 100s of millions of people without a purpose will not end well. Just look at the Middle East. People will fight hardest when the stakes are so low. We’ve already got Trump in the US, BJ in the U.K. What will we get next as human labor becomes less and less necessary?


Article is dumb enough to barely qualify as clickbait.

GM (and almost everyone else) has structural overcapacity and fixed-cost issues that would be challenging to deal with, even if the market for electric cars went to zero this evening.

Losing money is losing money, and you can go bankrupt just as easily (even if you're losing less money per unit) making electric as you can making ICE vehicles.


Yeah, uh ctrl-f "buybacks" as in, stock buybacks. This has very little to do with electric cars, but I'm not sure you're going to get that from MarketWatch

The reduction in parts and need for workers on EV’s is nothing compared to when Bus2Bus transition (without stops) will come.

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