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Are jobs obsolete? (cnn.com)
436 points by ekm2 on Sept 7, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 311 comments

The opposite, libertarian answer (and the way we seem to be going right now) would be to let those who can't capitalize on the bounty simply suffer. Cut social services along with their jobs, and hope they fade into the distance.

Reminds me of this quote from Jello Biafra:

Some day, even the experts will figure out, that crime is not caused by rap music...or even my music, but by a power structure of self-absorbed property owners so brain dead and stupid they won't even see that if you're too goddamn greedy to pay taxes for schools and services, they're not going to be any good any more! And that uneducated time bombs are a very poor investment as a future work force. And if you go on teaching people that life is cheap, and leave them to rot in ghettos and jails, they may one day feel justified in coming back to rob and kill you. Duh!

(Source: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Jello_Biafra)

Excellent quote. I cannot unfortunately pull up citations but there was this great New Yorker piece on the prison system which talked about how ever since privatization of prisons began, vocational rehabilitation programs were severely cut and with the vast increase in non-violent offenders being subject to terrible living conditions it is no surprise that recidivism is so high.

There is definitely something primal and emotional about a strong deterrent to crimes (violent or otherwise) but in the vast majority of cases, it is society and circumstance that turns people criminal, something that can be corrected in the long term with a healthier outlook on what it means to punish someone for a crime and reform the prison system.

We spend more per student than we ever have in history. Why wasn't the country in chaos when there weren't public schools at all?

Teaching the kids that they are owed something merely because they have less than someone else? Seems to justify theft to me.

Healthcare. It's a healthcare problem in education, healthcare costs are going up by 15% a year and that money isn't there. That's why you hear about teacher layoffs while your property taxes go up and think it's bullshit.

And hang out in a ghetto sometime if you want to see what's teaching kids that crime is ok.

Healthcare may explain why we can't spend yet more than the more-we've-ever-spent-before we're currently spending, but it can't explain why we spend so much more and seem to be getting less and less.

Really, very few of the problems we're facing can be explained by not spending enough; rather more can be explained by spending too much with no regard for what we get for our money, then letting people say "well, we just need more money to solve that problem".

If only we used an economic system whereby we actually accepted and utilized feedback about how our money was being spent, instead of spending our time demonizing the very idea that one should be permitted to examine the question of what one is getting for one's taxes, and simply being told to shut up and fork more over. Alas.

It precisely explains why we're spending more and more and getting less and less.

Compound 15% out over 15 years.

Educational reform is a broad subject and there's lots of room for experimentation. I'm fine with properly implemented charter schools, especially for the "thousand laboratories" effect. I don't think that chanting "markets" like a religious incantation is particularly effective. But most importantly, don't underestimate the effect of that healthcare cost.

As you commented to someone else in an earlier branch, carry that out a few steps; why might healthcare costs rise so much faster than any reasonable measure of the output which funds both education and healthcare?. I don't know the answer. I think the point is that "health care" cannot be pointed out as the root cause, much as "markets" cannot be pointed out as the only solution.

Healthcare can indeed be pointed to as the primary cause of cost inflation in education, because, well, it is.

Don't take my word for it. Go to your local town/city hall and pull the budgets for the last decade, then scan the line items. Unless your locality has something very different going on than everywhere else, you'll see huge increases in healthcare costs and cost-cutting relative to inflation everywhere else.

I think the point is that healthcare costs can't be the cause, because they are just a symptom of a broken healthcare market. The actual cost of medical supplies and doctor salaries isn't astronomical, but the price that employers and patients pay is. That disconnect, due to a lack of a sufficient combination of market forces and regulation, is what's bankrupting the country. Saying that healthcare costs are the problem is stopping short, and puts the attention where it can't actually fix things.

It precisely explains why we're spending more and more and getting less and less.


Healthcare costs are up for everyone, everywhere, in every industry. The same increases that education has to pay for, every other employer does as well.

If other industries are not spending 15% compounded, and delivering less, then why is it happening in education?

Except teachers unions negotiate their benefits and labor contracts, and they tend to be tilted towards the interests of those with more tenure, which is not really how private enterprise operates. Also, outsourcing allowed many companies to not face 15% increases overall in health care costs as they scaled back US jobs to counter.

Also, in many states teachers receive retiree health benefits, which were not funded by setting aside money during these teachers' working years- very few private industries still have these (extremely expensive, especially if you retire pre-65/Medicare) benefits, but education does and this stuff is going to be a budgetary minefield for the foreseeable future.

Healthcare costs have risen for decades for _all_ industries. Most of them have realized productivity gains and quality improvements. Education hasn't.

And the higher cost / pupil ratio in poorly performing urban districts is a pretty important counterfactual to the spending / quality correlation.

EDIT Downvoted, with someone making the same argument a moment after I did. At least the downvoter is _consistently_ childish.

Why wasn't the country in chaos when there weren't public schools at all?

Because education isn't a cure-all and isn't the only variable in the lives of the youth.

Teaching the kids that they are owed something merely because they have less than someone else?

I'm sorry, but where do you get this sentiment from the previous posts?

it exists in the shadowy echo of the intent. while it is completely correct for tjstankus to note that it is foolish in the extreme to _not_ invest in the future, the system must also correct for the greed of men: as you say rather more politely, education isn't a cure-all and isn't the only variable.

This conflict, between the desire for generosity and the _requirement_ that the system must also compel (or at least result in) responsible human beings is where the sentiment arises.

The question is over culture. Culture of giving and providing, culture of responsibility. Those that take without giving are found both in the rich and the poor.

WTF, kids are owed something. Kids are owed safety, education, food, shelter, and hope for the future. Kids, by definition of the term, cannot be held responsible for their current situation. If this isn't obvious - if it isn't an axiom from which all discussions of how we should structure our society derive, then we're all in pretty bad shape.

Totally agree. My kids have gone to the public high school and a large fraction (more than 20%) of the students there could be getting an education but they choose not to.

I don't know why this is, but I know of no counter argument that supports why an individual, who gets to school, has the books and supplies provided for them, and teachers willing to help them with any issues they are having, choose not to learn. These are not kids who just don't do homework, they do no work at all. They are disruptive in class, they harass other students outside of class, why? It is not because they 'lack jobs' (which they aren't helping by not applying themselves to learning), it is not because their home situation is untenable (they could be homeless for all I know but they are at school and have all of the equipment they need to participate there).

No amount of 'money' is going to change this population of non-students. Their burdened cost is higher as other students get less done because of their antics.

The problem is pretty simple to identify in my opinion. These people live in a culture of anti-education. This is going to take a lot of money to counter. The cheapest way to counter it is probably to simply pay students for good grades, starting as young as possible. Create an external motivation to learn and apply yourself where there otherwise would be none.

I don't think you can counter it with money at all. Even if you pay them for good grades they are just going to find a way to cheat so they can get the money without doing the work.

Maybe a better solution would be to turn the public schools in the worst failing districts into something like the twenty-first century version of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlisle_Indian_Industrial_Scho...] (without the physical abuse and with more than just training for lower level work).

I don't think you can dismiss money as incentive so easily. There is evidence that paying kids does in fact work (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1978758-1,0...). The point in starting the kids off as young as possible is that it will develop in them good habits. Not to mention the effect that an external incentive for kids in an entire region can have on the culture itself.

Poor black and hispanic kids are the same as everyone else in that they have no internal motivation to work hard at something unpleasant. The difference with white and asians is that they have the external incentive of a culture that supports working (reasonably) hard at school and becoming successful. Money is simply a hack to create this external incentive.

I guess I'm less willing to generalize than you are that the roots are an 'anti-education' culture. It hasn't been my experience that these 'slackers' (for lack of a better term) are disproportinally represented by any specifically identifiable group. They express a common 'you can't make me do this' kind of attitude but beyond that much of the correlation seems to fall off.

There is clearly a 'too cool for school' factor, but this could just be a rationalization. And there seems to be some correlation with family engagement as well. I really don't know what drives this attitude. My view of it externally is that there is no physical, mental, or equipment related barrier to their participation in the education process, they just don't. And what alarms me is that they seem to represent such a large fraction of the total population at the school.

I suppose we could come up with an experiment where we offered a cash incentive to some and none to a control group to see how it affected their participation. Something to put forward at the next PTA meeting.

At least some of the time that students don't care about learning is because teachers have failed to engage them. For example, most people have no idea why math might be interesting or fun, and the education system has for the most part only shown them ways it can be boring, difficult, and miserable. The same goes for literature! And history! And pretty much every elementary and high school class, actually. Some students are good at plowing through boring and difficult tasks, and some of those students are good at finding the secret fascinating concepts buried within those tasks ... but it's a lot to ask of people. Unfortunately, I don't have any idea how to inspire people en mass, but I'm pretty sure that the American public school system is not doing it, either.

Check my response to your sister comment: someone did actually do a controlled experiment. Engagement went up a great deal.

The anti-education culture definitely isn't isolated to minorities; it's spreading through the broader culture. Perhaps it was always there, its just recently it's becoming so not having a good education is a life sentence of menial dead end jobs so its getting more attention. Although I would disagree that it isn't disproportionately represented in minorities. Minorities experience it much more intensely because there aren't any competing ideals to help steer them in a positive direction.

Thanks for the link, I was also looking at some work that was recently published about measuring peoples ability to forego reward. There appears to be a genetic component.

This is a bit harsh I hope " its just recently it's becoming so not having a good education is a life sentence of menial dead end jobs" I certainly try to support programs that facilitate people furthering their education and 'catching up' as it were. I've heard great things about programs like Homeboy Industries [1] which try to give people a chance to take a different road.

[1] http://homeboy-industries.org/index.php/about-us

The fact that you are located in the Bay Area is why only 20% of the students are problematic in school. In the rural area I grew up in, it was more like 80% of the students.

This stems at least partly from a culture which disparages knowledge and education. And the people promoting that culture are often the very same people promoting a free market approach to education.

What would be the advantages and disadvantages of making school available to those who want it, and denying both school and welfare eligibility to those who don't?

(A GED could still "reverse" bad decisions from teenage years.)

People don't want to give up on these students, but it doesn't seem we have much to lose.

I spent my adolescent life in private, Catholic schools in Southern California in the 90's and 00's. The percentage of kids choosing not to get an education there was at least as high (obviously we're both speculating a bit here).

That wasn't really the problem. The problem is that they got away with it. Not only were a significant number of my peers doing everything in their power to avoid as much schooling as possible, they also intentionally did so in ways that would exact the lowest penalties on their GPAs, allowing them to repeat the cycle at one of America's "fine" universities.

As an aside, in India and Brazil and other countries that are likely going to eat our lunch in the coming decades, kids act out in exactly the same ways. They did when you were in school, too, Chuck. And in India, and in Brazil, and probably when you were in Primary/Elementary school here in America, the teachers are/were allowed to beat the shit out of the students for doing so. And they still did it. The problem isn't 15-year-olds not having a complete mastery of self-discipline. The problem is a total lack of accountability which spans our entire American/Western culture.

I'm actually baffled that any intelligent person gives any credence to undergraduate degrees from American universities at this point. Anyone who can manage to take out 50-200k in loans and is sufficiently advanced in the Art of Bullshit gets a college degree in the good ol' USA. Anyone. "Didn't study in high school?" asks Santa Clara. "SAT scores not so hot?" inquires UCLA. Just go to a JC/CC for a while, and make sure to come on back and pay us whenever you're ready. We'll wait.

I see you're a USC grad, yourself. I would tell you about all the people I know who went to USC, that while some are very hard working folks and doing interesting, good work with their lives, many others are spoiled rotten rich kids (the types whose adjusted SAT scores were whatever they got plus whatever Daddy donated) entitled to a 3 day school week and at least as many hours spent playing beer pong as reading, with an unalienable right to a cushy gig "working" for one of Daddy's friends whenever they manage to get through their 4/5/6 year communications or sociology degree. Or athletes—at least most of them have some appreciation for hard work and discipline—many of whom would be better suited literally anywhere on earth but an "institution of higher education." And of course there are the cute blonde girls who had their tits done at 17 and are looking to hook up with and milk a proposal out of one of the aforementioned. I would tell you, but I don't need to. All those people went to USC when you were there, too.

This is getting long. To sum up:

The following words will mark the headstone of the Great Champion America we all think we're a part of, but in reality hasn't existed in quite some time: "A better life for my children."

In the aftermath of World Wars I and II, since our emergence as (temporarily) the world's only military and economic superpower, and the eventual disappearance of the word "manufacturing" from that very same list, America has produced nothing quite so consequential as several generations of the most entitled, work-averse sons-of-bitches ever to walk the planet earth.

…so now we're fucked.

Here in the UK the yout' say they want "opportunity". Well Opportunity #1 is "education" and they ain't interested in that.

It's not entirely about raw spending. How about spending wisely? Right now there's a system in place that allows drunks who don't do their job to keep their seat warm while keeping out young innovators who are new to the scene. Does this seem right? Or a good system to entrust our kids and the future generation to?

I think what Jello implies is wrong. People have the inherent ability to do bad things and treat eachother differently, regardless of whatever property system you have in place.

Unemployment and undereducation will not be eliminated by the removal of private property.

You don't have to be a property owner to be a self-absorbed dick that doesn't care about other people. If people want to make sure everybody has a living stipend (which is the logical conclusion of the goal of zero unemployment), they can pass a law creating that while still maintaining a system of property owners and private property.

You're reading that way too literally. The point is that the property owners, those with wealth, are too greedy to allow their wealth to be taxed for social services such as better schools and an improved prison system. It is this greed that comes back to bite them when those kids rob and kill them.

those with wealth, are too greedy to allow their wealth to be taxed for social services such as better schools

My property tax bills beg to disagree with you. For the 16 years I've owned my house, I've watched the portion of my taxes that go to our schools go up far faster than the rate of inflation.

If there's a problem with education, it is absolutely NOT that there is insufficient money being invested into it. This should be so transparently obvious to all by now, that I assume anyone claiming otherwise has motives he's trying to hide.

I believe I have discussed education issues on here with you in the past. Suffice it to say, I believe you are sorely mistaken.

1. Proportions of taxes can shrink or grow at any rate independent of inflation. This doesn't say that the absolute value given to education per student (and that's the measure that matters) has or has not exceeded inflation.

2. Statistics saying that e.g. yy% of students do not benefit from reduced class sizes or increased educational spending, where yy is some large double-digit number, ignore the critical exceptions to those statistics. Public education must address the worst-case outcomes, not just the average case, or those (100-yy)% of dropouts will sink into ghettos and become a significant drain on society, when most of them have the potential to be net contributors.

3. As I'm sure I've said before, talk to a few overworked, stressed-out teachers after an arduous day of dealing with students threatening them with violence, administrators not supporting them with classroom materials (try teaching math without any textbooks), etc. It's like babysitting 250 erratic 4-year-olds a day without the right toys to pacify them, except those 4-year-olds can kill you.

While I'm sympathetic to the plight of teachers (my mother was a physics teacher, FWIW), I still can't shake the fact that education spending per student is higher in the US than in most of the rest of the world : http://mercatus.org/publication/k-12-spending-student-oecd

Something doesn't add up.

I think that looking at overall spending per-student as a metric for the quality of education is about the same as using lines-of-code as a metric for the quality of a developer.

Sure it's important, but it gives only a very small piece of the overall picture.

Perhaps the real metric should be spending per administrator.

Of course, the quote is not referring to any particular person.

The rest of your points are tangential to the quote, but I'll address them anyways.

Claiming lack of funds is not an issue is misguided. The problem with property-taxes-fund-education is that in poor areas, the funds derived from property taxes are much much lower than in a more well off area. These are the areas that require even greater investment to counter the negative culture living in low income areas create. Class sizes, after school activities, sports, tutoring, etc are all factors that effect the outcome of a student; all of which are directly related to available funds.

I could just as easily say those that claim funding isn't the problem with education also have motives they're trying to hide.

Actually, FWIW, urban low-income districts typically get more money per pupil than suburban ones. Why and where it goes is a much longer discussion than I have time to get into, but it's basically personnel and specialists.

I'm interested in reading more about it, if you know of links or sources off hand.

I don't actually, just from memory from my time in MA a few years ago, suburban districts would be in the 7-10k per pupil range while urban would be more like 10-14k.

That may be true, and I personally agree that property taxes shouldn't fund education in that manner.

However, that doesn't mean that the removal of private property will result in more education or more money for education. Jello's quote implies that the root cause of unemployment and undereducation is partly the system of private property. He is a self-professed anarchist, so I don't know why people are trying to convince me that I'm reading into his quote. He's incorrect about this, but people love "eat the rich" ideals too much to admit it.

I don't know anything about the author, so you're probably right about how he means the quote to be taken.

:) He's the lead singer of a famous punk band and also a niche celebrity for his public speaking, usually on topics ranging from social injustice, racism, religion, and anarchy.

> The problem with property-taxes-fund-education is that in poor areas, the funds derived from property taxes are much much lower than in a more well off area.

I don't know if you're old enough to remember busing [1]. I don't think you are, because if you were you'd know that your point isn't right.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desegregation_busing_in_the_Uni...

Your property tax bills are paying for healthcare cost increases.

I'd be willing to bet that there have been layoffs and/or a hiring freeze in your district as well, right? That money isn't going to education, it's going into healthcare costs.

We spend far more on schools and prisons than we ever have.

The quote, which is incredibly apt, does not blame crime on property law, but rather, short-sightedness and greed.

"power structure of self-absorbed property owners" implies that people who don't own property aren't self-absorbed, or that the power structure of property owners is responsible for greed, unemployment, and undereducation. Otherwise, why mention a power structure of property owners?

Mentioning the existence of a power structure of property owners does not automatically include all property owners.

Okay... then what does the power structure of private property have to do with it?

Unemployment is not necessitated by private property. Removing the power structure of property owners will not eliminate unemployment or cause people to become educated. This is what Jello implies, and it's naively incorrect.

Come on, Jello openly professes these politics/ideas, I am not reading anything into the quote that isn't there. He mentions power structure of property owners for a reason.

Replace "Property owners" with people of influence.


Public schools in the USA are paid for by property taxes.

Yes, but the property owners don't get to decide how much they're going to pay. The citizenry at large either votes directly on a school budget referendum, or votes for representatives to decide the same. Either way, the decision on school funding is made by a much broader set of people than the property owners.

Indeed, I own a cabin in upstate New York, but I am not a resident there, and thus am not allowed to vote there. I am entirely at the mercy of others as to how much I much pay for the school taxes there, as I do not have even a whisper of a voice.

That's not strictly true. In the 2 states I'm familiar with that have state income tax (New Jersey and Ohio), a HUGE proportion of the state budget goes to assistance for lower-income districts.

There's a difference between "rawr, property ownership makes people dicks" and "property owners are the ones encouraging and permitting dick behavior to happen".

Straw men are silly.

"property owners are the ones encouraging and permitting dick behavior to happen" implies that people who don't own property aren't permitting dick behavior to happen. They are. They can.


I'm missing the connection between your comment and the parent. But to answer your question:

In times of economic hardship, people have less to lose. If you've got everything you want, you don't want to rock the boat. If you're dissatisfied but are still able to make a decent existence (whatever that means) for you and your family, then you might want to rock the boat, but you're unlikely to take the risk. If you're already in a situation where you can't provide, then there is very little risk, so what the heck.

> The opposite, libertarian answer (and the way we seem to be going right now) would be to let those who can't capitalize on the bounty simply suffer. Cut social services along with their jobs, and hope they fade into the distance.

This is a gross mischaracterization of the libertarian answer. But it's easier to make powerful-sounding arguments when you first set up strawmen to burn.

I'm not sure the Post Office's problems are related to technology. Their union negotiated a "no layoff" provision in their contract just this year. Why would you agree to that as an employer? Then there is the problem of defined benefit pensions where you end up keeping people basically on staff long after they stop working for you. The Post Office needs to go bankrupt and clear these contracts out and move forward without a union ideally. They might need to wait for Obama to leave office before doing that.

As for jobs there's always work to be done. There's an infinite amount of work in fact. In a free market involuntary unemployment should be zero because someone would always be willing to pay something for a given amount of work. I have work I need done now that I just do not have time for. I also know finding someone to do that job for what I'm willing to pay is very hard since people seem to get by without working via means I do not fully understand. I'm at home today caring for my family who are basically all sick and I'm seeing a lot of men just wandering around doing nothing. I'm going to guess that the incentive to work is absent in their life for one reason or another.

Not sure libertarian means that you want people left out of the system and starving though. I am a libertarian and I've spent 90% of my time post college life running or helping to run a food pantry in my spare time. Seems silly to suggest that libertarians don't care about such things.

Every union "no layoff" provision I've ever seen was a case of the union choosing to forego contracted CoL raises and some various health benefits in exchange for keeping jobs. Typically it will be cost-neutral compared to layoffs and keeping benefits.

The employer wouldn't sign up to it if it was a pure money loser. They're not crazy :)

Also, Obama already suspended Saturday delivery. So not too sure what he has to do with a perceived unwillingness to shut down the post office. (He also cut taxes, stepped up immigration enforcement and didn't close gitmo).

Obama already suspended Saturday delivery.

There was apparently a rogue delivery person four days ago, joyriding in the mail truck and asking me to sign for a delivery.

Sorry, my fault. They're going to end it soon, according to Obama's postmaster general and the legislation to do so is being filed by a democratic senator. http://www.businessinsider.com/say-goodbye-to-saturday-mail-...

Point still stands that "fox news said this about obama" does not correlate at all to what he's thinking or even doing. In fact you can usually assume the opposite.

> They're going to end it soon.

That isn't exactly true. The Postmaster General has been trying to get Saturday delivery canceled for a while now, but congress has not been willing to let it happen.

I like Saturday delivery when my package doesn't arrive on Friday. Congress wants their mail. ;)

So, the original contention was that Socialistobama would never, ever, ever consider reduction of service.

The truth is that his appointee is actively pursuing it. Regardless of whether Congress (ironically, mostly rural district republicans in congress) are impeding him as usual.


That label and the level of discourse it represents are not welcome here. Be civil.

Sorry I don't think Obama is any more of a socialist than Bush. My only point was that he wouldn't like the idea of getting rid of the union contracts which bankruptcy would allow. A Republican president would likely welcome such a change.


They can always do the layoffs later, in the meantime they got more labor at a cheaper unit cost. It's typically a good deal, managers getting the advantage from a union sense of solidarity. If it was a really bad deal, you'd assume they wouldn't take it, right?

The only major risk is creating more pension liability by another year of service for some people, but if you're laying them off you have to pay that pension anyways, plus take a big short term hit paying out that much accumulated leave in one go.

>>I have work I need done now that I just do not have time for. I also know finding someone to do that job for what I'm willing to pay is very hard since people seem to get by without working via means I do not fully understand.<<

People don't just need any job they can get. They need a job that will pay bills for a reasonable amount of time in the future. They need to save money to live on during the next job search. Temporary low paid jobs just leave the employee stressed out and barely above water before they need to search again. I don't think many people enjoy looking for work.

This high granularity of employment sounds like a terrible inefficiency. There are jobs that need to be done, but can't be, because they don't justify a full-time or part-time employee. There are people that need to work, but can't because much of the work that needs to be done is in chunks too small to occupy their time.

Perhaps we need something like an exchange for labor, like a stock exchange meets a temp agency. We could then transition chronically unemployed but capable workers into these labor exchanges.

> Perhaps we need something like an exchange for labor, like a stock exchange meets a temp agency.

I think the problem here is that workers are even less fungible than corporate stocks. The process of separating out the chronically unemployed but capable from the chronically unemployed because of fundamental flaws is quite a job in and of itself.

Hello, I'm a freelancer. I'll do the job you want for 150% of my former salary, yet at a lower price that my boss sold it to you !

I wonder why everyone is not doing that... I cut the middle men, so that means I get to go to dinner with clients, I get to negotiate prices, I got to be friend with the CEO of the startup that employs me.

I always suspected that the salary of a commercial was a high price for a very comfortable job, and I can confirm it !

According to economics, companies exist when workers are able, together, to output more than the sum of their parts. More enough to compensate for the boss overhead, and then some. In fact, it's recommended to go indie if you're medium to strongly competent in a wide range of skills such as marketing, sales, programming and operations... But for most specialized workers, the company provides the collective which makes sure they can package their work together with others and sell it to the client as a final integrated product.

I agree that this is the ideal situation but I think the system has been perverted. A single developer alone will probably bring less money than if he was working in a company, but the money he earns personally increases.

I personally blame a whole generation of people coming out of management school thinking they deserved a higher salary than anyone else when in fact they were doing a job that was equally important (no more, no less) than any worker in the company.

Your work now consists of your former job and being a salesman. That explains why everyone's not doing it.

"Being a salesman" consists in being a nice human and a little bit of an actor. Any self-respecting roleplayer can be one.

It's also because most people just want the comfort and stability of a job.

Someone just submitted this link to Coffee & Power (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2971171). I haven't tried it, but this concept seems like a small but good start to solving the labor granularity problem.

Right, because looking for a job takes a lot of time. So the opportunity cost of taking a crappy job might prevent you from ever finding a good job.

If getting a job at wages you are willing to pay means that the person will still not be able to meet any of its monetary obligations it pretty much means that the person is , for all practical purposes, still unemployed. Why work for slave wages if the outcome is the same. Better stay home and not be taken advantage off. How do this people live with no income? Most likely family or government assistance.

Chicken and egg. If the workers can't pay rent the market will correct rent down. It's that it takes too long to correct and someone's bound to be evicted before that happens.

If the landlord can't afford mortgage, how they gonna lower the rent? Run that scenario forward a couple steps and you see the real looming problem.

Landlord is foreclosed, bank sells at a loss, new owner rents at a lower amount. Nobody said it would be pretty.

Ok, so we had a problem the size of a few paychecks, now it's the size of a piece of property. Hey, whatever, right?

But I said a couple steps, keep going, multiply that by a few hundred thousand or a couple million around the country. Can you think of any other problems that might result?

keeping over-priced goods at inflated price using whatever means will never work out in the long term. that applies to real-estate too, which (the real-estate industry) seems to have become the driving economic sector in many countries, which I find funny.

edit: and a note on why it's funny, the value of a property never changes, only the price.

From an individual perspective, you can make money trading real-estate just like trading stocks; from government's perspective, higher GDP is always good; from bank's perspective, as long as property value increases, they will make money from both interest and foreclosures; but from a society perspective, nothing of value was ever created in the process.

Most economists consider deflationary spiral to be a nightmare scenario. See: Great Depression and Japan's lost decade.

I have no good answer to turn the world into a harmless place, but at least part of the cause of Great Depression was measures to pull the economy out of the recession that preceded it.

Nobody is happy when economy stagnates, but keeping the economy going by inflating prices of goods has never worked out in the long term. At some point it will crash, and it will hurt more the higher you go.

> I'm not sure the Post Office's problems are related to technology.

Well, other than that whole "email" fad.

What the Post Office needs is an end to the legislation that has caused this mess. The Post Office is the only entity in the entire country that is mandated by public law to pay 100% towards the future cost of a potential retirees benefits. Not of current retires, not of the guy that will retire in a year, but of every single person that maybe someday, even if it's 30 years away, cold retire from the Post Office. This is the payment that they would default on.

Congress is building up the piggybank to be raided. Where would the USPS' retirement fund being parked? In the US Treasury of course.

The only government entity. Every private sector entity needs to fully fund their pension obligations.


If it's libertarian in control, Congress won't be there to fix the postal stamp price.

The Post Office is between a rock and a hard place. Congress prevents it from raising price and Congress wants it to massively fund future expenditure. The huge loss is artificial.

For the services it provides, USPS is damn efficient.

>Not sure libertarian means that you want people left out of the system and starving though. I am a libertarian and I've spent 90% of my time post college life running or helping to run a food pantry in my spare time. Seems silly to suggest that libertarians don't care about such things.

I think you're missing the point. It means you endorse a system where food pantrys are necessary because there's no way everyone 'makes it'. You're just on the right side of the food line.

Many of the problems with the post office are caused by congress. The set rules that handicap them and expect the post office to run profitably. For instance, if congress hadn't mandated overzealous pre-funding requirements the post office would be solvent.

So how much are you willing and able to pay for someone to take care of your sick relatives? I don't know about you, but often times there is a huge gap between need and demand caused by affordability. Maybe that's why those men are wandering around doing nothing, getting paid by people who have no need for them, instead of working for those who have a need but no funds to pay them.

Let me see if I understand this reasoning correctly. Old, fragile and stiff huge organizations like the Post Office cannot provide the numbers of jobs they used to. The economy is changing. Therefore -- some hand-waving here -- the very idea of jobs is out-of-date.


But it gets better. We should pay folks not to work. After all, there's no jobs for them, so why should we expect them to do things that are impossible?

This is very reminiscent to me of all the hare-brained articles about capitalism being dead that came out right around the banking crisis. Yes, things are way screwed up, but capitalism remains. You could make any kind of wide-spread social change you wanted and capitalism would still remain. People like to trade stuff.

The crazy thing here is, like most of this tripe, there's a nugget of something useful in there. We cannot predict how the labor force will evolve. To do so is folly. The answer to this is not to announce the death of jobs, it's to create systems where new job roles which are unforeseen by us are created. To promote flexible adaptation in our businesses and governments.

What's dead is our big boxes of generic labels to stick on things -- all those labels and boxes have been stretched so far they don't work any more. Trying to continue to create policies around those labels and boxes is idiotic. We all need to adapt -- not in a lets-bring-some-academics-on-tv-to-talk-about-the-knowledge-economy sense, but in a real, live policy sense. If your terms and generalizations are bad, your conclusions and policies will never work. I understand that's frustrating and that you are out of ideas -- but a mental model with a huge impedance mismatch the reason, not that we've suddenly been thrust into a 27th century scarcity-free economy.

Take a look at the comments on this thread. Everybody gets out their favorite political pinata and beats on it. Is this a very productive type of article for this site?

> We cannot predict how the labor force will evolve. To do so is folly. The answer to this is not to announce the death of jobs, it's to create systems where new job roles which are unforeseen by us are created. To promote flexible adaptation in our businesses and governments.

This is Hayek 101, and I agree with it strongly in terms of society being a 'complex system' that is difficult/impossible to do much about in a centrally controlled way.

Where I get off that train though is the idea that we should just dump the human leftovers of "creative destruction" (ok, that's not Hayek, but another Austrian, Schumpeter) into the garbage. No government support, no health care, no education, no nothing. They failed, they can go die in the streets, unless "private charities" happen to step in, but by all means let's not create a society-wide system to prop up the inevitable losers in a market-based system to minimum sustenance levels.

I much more strongly identify with Warren Buffet's way of thinking: by all means, get the government mostly out of the way and let markets do their work. But then step in and give people who didn't come out so well a helping hand to get back on their feet. That's not "central planning", that's a safety net.

> Take a look at the comments on this thread. Everybody gets out their favorite political pinata and beats on it. Is this a very productive type of article for this site?

Absolutely not, let's please flag it and ask the moderators to ban these kinds of articles, as they beget political discussions, where we go round and round and round: you can look up very similar sorts of discussions on usenet from the 1980ies if you do some poking.

Where I get off that train though is the idea that we should just dump the human leftovers of "creative destruction" (ok, that's not Hayek, but another Austrian, Schumpeter) into the garbage. No government support, no health care, no education, no nothing.

That isn't Hayek either, though. Some Hayekians, yes, but Hayek himself was in favor of safety nets, and even argued positively for them in a number of places. He grouped basic healthcare along with fire protection and a police service as the minimal services a state should provide, and also supported a subsistence-level guaranteed minimum income (as a direct transfer payment, rather than as some complex combination of food stamps, rent control, housing subsidy, unemployment insurance, etc., etc.). One of his arguments was that a background safety net promotes individual freedom by lessening tribalist instincts--- if there's no safety net, people will cling to things like their church or ethnic group for a safety net, out of fear of being left out in the cold.

Sure, good points, I was speaking of "that train" to mean the hard-core "no government" people.

davidw, I know you, of all people, disdain political articles. So I'm going to follow-up.

I think we all take these models too far -- including fans of Hayek. I wasn't saying that everybody should subscribe to some school of thought. All I was saying is that when politicians use the terms "jobs" and "education", they mean certain things. For "job" they mostly a 9-5 job paying taxes, perhaps with some kind of benefit package, usually with some larger-corporation. When they say "education" they mean some sort of accredited institution that produces degreed folks. Not always, but a lot of the time. We've created these complex, well-funded, intricate, and powerful systems around the "normal" usage of these concepts. With lots of vested interests. Not bad people, or any of that. Just big systems to understand what these words mean and control how we relate to them.

The problem is that a huge swath of people are finding places to create value that don't involve working 9-5 at the mill any more. And an even greater number of folks are getting educated in ways that didn't even exist ten years ago.

Yes, if you a want a social welfare net by all means advocate for one. All I'm saying is that when some guy gets on TV and says we need to spend more money on education in order to produce jobs for the 21st century? Those terms are so far out of whack with what's actually happening as to make the solution worse than the initial problem. Unless your mental model has some small degree of fidelity with reality, your conversations and solutions will never work.

So I think it's entirely possible to separate creating a model of how things actually work -- which may have parts from Hayek or anybody else -- and applying that model to political discussions to get what we'd all like in a society. I had no intention of taking the discussion towards Hayek and letting the sick and poor die in the streets. I'm just pleading with authors like this to at least pick up some ideas from some other folks and take a look to see if the models -- words and relationships -- you are using actually reflect what's happening. Model creation is different from model application. It has to be.

The current legislative system is doomed to always give us laws 10 years behind. Voters don't notice a problem until it has taken roots. We've only really had the internet for a bit over 10 years, and it was only the last few that all these things you're talking about starting to happen.

A system that produces 10 year behind laws is fine for an economy that grows over decades, but if there really is a "technological revolution" that can greatly boost economic growth so it doubles not in decades but in years, then the 10 year old laws will become untenable. Unfortunately, this'll have to happen before we even think about the possibility of changing how Presidents, Congresses and Parliaments work.

I worry though, the industrial revolution happened after political, cultural change. "Reinforcement of confidence in the rule of law, which followed establishment of the prototype of constitutional monarchy in Britain in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and the emergence of a stable financial market there based on the management of the national debt by the Bank of England, contributed to the capacity for, and interest in, private financial investment in industrial ventures." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Revolution

At the moment, just as then, the governing system is the biggest roadblock to societal growth. In 1688, the parliamentarians overthrew the king of england. Today, however, it'd be lucky if we had a single dictator we can overthrow which would solve all our problems. (Except for some of us from Egypt, etc.)

The irony of my point is... Since our political systems are so entrenched and unchangeable we're unlikely to ever see the sort of societal changes you speak of. The things that've started to happen, will stagnate and stop growing. Therefore, 10 year behind laws will continue to be sufficient for our needs.

I think we need a class in school called 'Identifying and Creating Value in the 21st Century (like your great great grandparents did)." Let's be honest, that's where the jobs are going to come from and where they are going to go.

The point of the class is to get people to go from "What do I want to be when I grow up" to thinking "How can I add value to some process that people will pay me for." This puts the responsibility for job creation on individuals, not governments, schools, societies, communities, or business.

It amazes and frustrates me to see people who think their craft is so special that they think they should be paid because they are a good designer, programmer, artist. No! You're not paid because you're good at it, you're paid because you create value. Being good at it is only a secondary consideration.

Some where along the line the wires got crossed and basically people became professional whatevers instead of value creators.

Here in India, when I went to school 10 years back there was a subject called 'SUPW' - which expands to "Socially useful productive work'.

They generally teach kids how to make some thing very simple which can actually be sell-able or used to solve a problem.

I and my other friends like 5 other kids had made some 5-6 door mats from cigarette packs alone. And then we were taught how to go and sell them. I remember we had made some thing like 200 rupees back then(A pretty a big amount for kids). There were many such small projects, Many had woven designer baskets. Or some kind of a trivial sofa using cardboard.

Unfortunately I heard, these days that subject is no longer being taught for more fancier things like karate, or learning parts of a computer.

In short, in school they taught us how to hack. Generate wealth.

We need to leave behind the concept of "value". Value was created by scarcity. But scarcity is decreasing and, in some cases, disappearing entirely.

If it costs me nothing to make a copy of something, then I have no incentive at all to pay money for it. It has no "value" to me. I can copy it instantly for free. And frankly, why should I pay money for it? Sure, someone had to do work to create it in the first place, but once it's created it takes on a life of its own.

And, often, the people doing the creating will do it whether I pay them or not. They do the creating because they want to. Musicians make music because they want to make music. As a programmer, many of the programs I write are ones I want to see exist. Were it not for the necessity of having money to survive, I would happily keep creating and giving away.

The necessity to make money to buy the goods and services I need to survive may be built into the current system. But as we automate more and more and produce a greater and greater surplus it's entirely possible that it could be removed from the system. It will take a change of culture, but there may come a point when we are efficient enough to produce everything we need simply by allowing people to pursue the creative endeavors that interest them and then sharing the results.

We don't have starfleet replication technology. But with digital media, 3d printers, and modern construction means we're pretty damned efficient.

You are using value in a nonstandard way. Value and price are only loosely coupled. I get enormous value from things that are free (Python, Firefox, etc).

Also, I pay for things I could have gotten for free all the time. Sometimes this is to reward or encourage the person providing it and then it is called a tip or gratuitity (or sometimes donation, though that evokes charity in my mind rather than voluntary payment for something provided). Sometimes it is because paying for it is just more convenient than going out of my way to get the free version.

[Edit: Slight rewording for clarity]

I believe I was using the definition of value gleaned from the post above which pretty strongly linked value with getting paid for your work. Call it what you will, my point is that the economy is focused on producing something that people will pay money for. But current models are based on scarcity, which may be becoming obsolete.

You're right that something can be free and abundant and still be of enormous value. I think my point is more that we should think about ways to restructure society around the sharing of valuable abundance.

"I believe I was using the definition of value gleaned from the post above which pretty strongly linked value with getting paid for your work. Call it what you will, my point is that the economy is focused on producing something that people will pay money for. But current models are based on scarcity, which may be becoming obsolete."

Scarcity is still there. You can copy adobe photoshop, but you wouldn't be able to build it from scratch in your basement. This is the scarcity: the intelligence, creativity, and man-hours it takes to build it.

You can copy it easily for free now, but the industry will eventually change. Internet is getting faster and faster and eventually (because of the people that feel they deserve software for free), we will only have software services.

I am a developer and I don't create software applications anymore..only services. It's funny because if this wasn't the case, people could buy my apps for a flat-fee. Now they need to pay me money every month to use it.

You may very well be right about the future.

You shouldn't try to get paid to do something that someone will do for free or cheap all day long. However, that doesn't mean you can't create value by being a musician, artist, programmer or designer. You just can't do it through the old way of scarcity. Maybe you give away the product, but the support or the t-shirt or whatever costs money.

What used to be the product and scarce is now free or almost free. New products and new forms of scarcity will pop up as people focus on creating value instead of being good at being professionals. The problem is that we've been framing our value creation in terms of "I do x" instead of "I do whatever it takes to create value. I do x, y, and z when it is needed"

You are voted down by the idiots who will wonder why they're broke one day (or not wonder cuz these smart alecs think they have it figured out). Like the post office their logic is flawed and one day when the RETIREMent they expected doesn't happen they'll whine and bitch.

Guess what. No retirement! Its a frigging ponzzi scheme! The fact that that isn't foremost on peoples mind as well as other corruptions is proof they're idiots!

>Yes, things are way screwed up, but capitalism remains

I'd say "lingers" is a better choice of words, here.

I think you're missing the overall stab. As you say "Trying to continue to create policies around those labels and boxes is idiotic"--because those labels and boxes are out of date.

Which is to say, 'job' might just be one of those labels.

This is _about_ redefining terms and generalizations.

But how are jobs out of date?

What we're going through is not substantially different from what happened during the industrial revolution, or the invention of the loom. We're talking about the complete obsolescence of an entire group of skilled tradespeople due to automation.

People will continue to work for other people, doing certain things - which is pretty much the definition of "job". In time - possibly not in time for this current generation of unemployed - society will find new jobs for people to do. But jobs they will be.

Alas the buggywhip-making laborers...

>We're talking about the complete obsolescence of an entire group of skilled tradespeople due to automation.

Coincident with a huge increase in unemployment and a saturation of educated workers without employment, this means a _broad swath_ of the workforce across many strata is simply _going unused._ This is unsurprisingly making us wonder if the concept of everyone having a job is going to die.

The continued existence of jobs wouldn't contravene the death of employment as a societal universal.

which is to say, I'm not saying that there won't be jobs, I'm saying that _what we're actually discussing_ is exactly the deconstruction you recommended.

Simple solution to all this. But like most GOOD solutions it isn't without pain. Create a state in the union with very little or no regulations to compete with china. Boom. Done. Like how Nevada has great gambling and built their economy around that and ton this day no state has anything like the las Vegas strip.

It won't happen. America will continue to sink against china et al counties with no regulation. I have no mercy.. Don't take my advice. Go out of business

There is NO solution without real pain/sacrifice..

It's a fact that computers/automation are going to continue to obsolete human jobs. Nothing short of a technological apocalypse is going to reverse that. And I agree that we shouldn't really lament the reality that a trucker who used to spend 50 hours a week vacuously staring at the highway no longer has to do that. But that's a triumph. One more human mind freed up for greater accomplishments.

That said, I'm dubious of his suggestion that we all turn to purely creative pursuits. At least, it will be a very, very long time before automation gets us to that point. I'm more interested in what we do in the meantime. What are we supposed to do with hordes of workers that are freed up in the coming decades as menial jobs disappear at an exceeding clip?

My guess is that this is a problem the labor markets will solve on their own. That is, the solution to a disappearing amount of work is that, on average, we all simply work less. Why pay 3/4 of the population to work 40 hours a week when we could pay all of them to work 30 (then 20, then 10)? Of course, we're going to need to reduce per employee costs/benefits to make this work, but that's a good idea no matter what. Making the employer responsible for health care and retirement caused more problems than it solved anyway.

Why pay 3/4 of the population to work 40 hours a week when we could pay all of them to work 30 (then 20, then 10)?

Because many types of work do not lend themselves to be broken up into pieces. Communication/coordination overhead can be quite large as any programmer will be able to attest to. Also, educating twice as many people costs at least twice as much.

But of course that's a very narrow view on the costs and benefits of having a lot of skilled and motivated people around. Available work is not a fixed size pie after all.

I totally agree with you that the disappearance of a huge number of menial jobs is potentially disruptive. It's actually quite amazing how many people still do jobs that anyone can easily pick up within a week. These people are just not used to learning no matter how much politicians beat the education drum. That doesn't mean they're dumb, lazy or uncreative but that by itself will not get them a new job I'm afraid.

> Why pay 3/4 of the population to work 40 hours a week when we could pay all of them to work 30 (then 20, then 10)?

Because corporations want to pay 60% of the population to work 50 hours a week on salary. This is why everyone should be hourly. That's the first step. Then, yeah sure, hourly with overtime pay for anyone working more than 30 hours a week.

The surplus labor army is useful for driving down the wages of the employed, to increase the profits of the employers. Why pay 3/4 of the population to work 40 hours a week when you can pay 3/4 of the population to work 40 hours for what they used to be paid for 39 hours, holding the threat of the competing jobless 1/4 against them? This is grossly simplified, of course, but why would any company try to optimize for the benefit of society over their own?

The problem with your theory is that wages have not decreased even as unemployment has skyrocketed.


Such fundamental social changes rarely happen smoothly and peacefully. The next 50 years should be interesting.

Without some regulation , why would the work week become shorter ? for many people , working a 40 hour work week barely covers their expenses. why would they want to work less ?

I've always thought that a 30 hr work week should be regulated, forcing employees to demand higher wages in order to survive, forcing employers to raise wages, and forcing CEOs to be paid less, thus reducing the income gap.

If that sort of thing was effective, income inequality would have dropped over the past 60 years as government regulations raised the minimum wage and shortened the work week. Instead, it dramatically increased.


The problem is that minimum wage has never overtaken inflation. So in fact the minimum wage has effectively fallen over the last 60 years. Plus, the gains in production due to automation has worked to concentrate wealth at the top. The point is we can't say regulation wouldn't be effective considering trends of income distribution.

I'm not 100% I agree with the grandparent, but how do you know that the income inequality would have been even worse without these regulations?

"Reducing the income gap" is not an inherently good thing. If it is, you should be thrilled with the current economy: incomes for the rich have fallen more on a percentage basis than for the poor and middle class.

Citation for this?

Without a union , workers has almost no power in today's market.

The 40 hour work week barely covers their expenses because time is an arbitrary metric being used to derive some sort of implicit value on labor. The unit of measure needs to change.

The 40 hour work week exists because Henry Ford found through studies that productivity increased when employees worked no more than 8 hours/day, 40 hours/week. That was assembly line work in the early 20th century, and since then, I'm not aware of any other studies done about worker productivity and the amount of time worked.

I'd suggest checking out Dan Pink's work, e.g. his A Whole New Mind book. I've admittedly not actually read it, but from interviews and occasional talks I've seen, it considers essentially the same thing: humans being replaced by automation, the need for a sea change to handle the shift, etc.

> Why pay 3/4 of the population to work 40 hours a week when we could pay all of them to work 30 (then 20, then 10)?

Because that's not how it works. Let's say a company has a full time programmer at 150K/year. They can probably hire 7 to 10 workers for that much, but why would they - they have a website to build, and these guys, even collectively, can't help.

This article skips discussing one reason why jobs are in a sense ends to themselves: the feeling of being useful. Retired people often complain that they don't know what to do with themselves after leaving the workforce, so they go do things like volunteering. A friend of mine recently took 2 months off between jobs and nearing the end of that time, she started becoming very depressed and realized it was because she wasn't contributing to society or to herself. I think most people work not only to pay the bills or to acquire luxury items, but to have a sense of self-worth.

There may be something to that, but it's hardly a universal feeling.

I was laid off a few years ago and I took as much time off between jobs as I could afford. I got a bunch of hiking, biking and camping in; read a bunch; and generally had an excellent time. I only felt depressed when my savings started to get low and I knew I'd have to get a job.

Some people connect their self worth to working, and they feel worthless when they're not working. Some people don't, and they don't have that problem.

It might not be "feeling useful" so much as the social stimulation. The days when I work from home and don't talk to anyone at the office are soul-crushingly lonely, sometimes, even if I'm very active over IM.

Very much agree its a social thing. "The West" looks down on people that don't work does they feel bad and usless. All these people that will not have to work for money anymore have more time and they should be encouraged do good things. Take care of your parents, look after there children, study a new field, go out and talk to people about politics ....

As time goes on, and technological abilities improve, more and more jobs will fall to "robots" or computerized replacements for real jobs. There will always be need for creative jobs, engineers, etc, but the non-skilled labor jobs will be less and less. I don't see how anyone could disagree that there is already a problem here, and in the future, there will be an even bigger problem. The only people able to get jobs will be educated/skilled. The lower class will grow lower and lower. Aside from that, in the "old days" women stayed at home and took care of the family. "Nowadays" women are going to work, and I think that is absolutely great! However, that is more people working, therefore less jobs available.

I'm sure we'll come up with a solution. Although I think the first step is admitting there is a problem. Innovation will come, it will just take time.

Imagine a self-sufficient world far more advanced than ours. Imagine a world that practically runs itself and leaves us to care for each other and blossom with nature. The only problem is, this imagination world would never be allowed by multinational corporations and big business. Wealth would be more evenly distributed, they can't have that.

'Aside from that, in the "old days" women stayed at home and took care of the family. "Nowadays" women are going to work, and I think that is absolutely great!'

Another way of looking at this is, "in the old days, a household could be supported by one parent's work and the other could raise children. Now, both have to work to pay the bills, and children get less time with parents and more time in institutions."

> Now, both have to work to pay the bills, and children get less time with parents and more time in institutions.

I guess I'm not the only one upset by this trend.

The question is, did the fact that women entered the work-force create the situation where one parent's work is no longer sufficient to maintain a household?

It will be interesting once there are no jobs for humans left because robots will be better at everything than humans. In theory, everybody could have a robot that provides them with everything they need.

Assuming that robots are free (gratis) but not free (libre), and that there's enough land for robots to farm, and enough water to irrigate it.

more people working doesn't necessarily mean less jobs available. more people working can mean more jobs / value creation opportunities which results in more jobs overall

Policy adjustments for maintaining capitalism in the post-employment era: provide a minimum guaranteed income to all citizens and abolish minimum wage. This was Milton Friedman's idea.

This would create a massive market for a standard "life package": a combination of food, shelter, and healthcare for one person with cost equal to the minimum income. We could even have cities organized around the concept. Then, people can go to work in creation spaces where they get micro-paid exactly what their contribution is worth. Getting $5 for a blog post I write sounds great if I enjoy doing it and am not hungry.

This is also Marshall Brain's idea:


IIRC, he advocates a 25k stipend for all americans, which incidentally, given ~300M people would cost 7.5 trillion. That's approximately double the entire federal budget for 2012. Factoring in state/local spending gets you to near 6 trillion. Given that fact and our current political climate, I don't think it's going out on a limb to say that it'll be a quite a while before adopt such a solution. ;)

Brain suggests lots of ways of raising the money (some rather implausible) here:


A guaranteed minimum income is not the same thing as a stipend. If the guaranteed minimum income is 25k, and your personal income is over 25k, the government doesn't owe you anything. You would owe the government something.

My introduction to Rushkoff was Cyberia [1].

He's much more temperate now than he was in Cyberia. He has a great point, though. Restated, it's as follows: If we have abundance, why are we working for more, instead of sending the abundance to those who need it?

He seems to fall down in the mechanisms of distribution though in this article and hand-wave through it.

[1] https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Cyberia_(book...

I very much like how you restated his point. I felt myself agreeing, nodding my head when he was following that thought, then I had the image of Rushkoff tripping and falling flat on his face once he tried to figure out how. I think it would've been a much stronger article had he ended with "I don't know how to make this happen, only that it needs to happen." As it stands, he's just suggesting a different job for these unemployed toll collectors to take up, as opposed to toll machine repair.

Except those people wouldn't be burdened by having a "job" because in Rushkoff's world "food and shelter are basic human rights."

That's where people will get tripped up; in our current economic system we don't believe such an idea is true.

Yeah, I like the premise of the article and feel that technological innovation does kill jobs (and it's not a bad thing).

That being said, I feel like I got a big build up to a solution and it's like "share and make things and distribute online" uhhhh ok? Etsy is the solution?

Provocative thinking though...

We like to believe that the appropriate response is to train humans for higher level work. Instead of collecting tolls, the trained worker will fix and program toll-collecting robots. But it never really works out that way, since not as many people are needed to make the robots as the robots replace.

And, more to the point, a toll collector isn't necessarily bright enough to be a toll robot technician. Sometimes progress flows the other way; now the supermarket checker doesn't have to calculate your bill anymore or even know how to make change, so he can be completely innumerate. But for the most part, we're replacing less skilled jobs with more skilled jobs. We have not enough engineers and too many workers without useful skills, or in many cases the ability to gain them.

> We have not enough engineers and too many workers without useful skills, or in many cases the ability to gain them.

Separation of concerns is our current solution to that problem.

In software development, for example, good developers are hard to find, so we split the job up to add a designer role into the mix. Still finding it hard to find good people, we're now seeing the UX role come in. By giving each person less to do, the knowledge required to the job is reduced. You don't have to be a genius to be a part of the team.

In agriculture, another industry I am close to, you have the same thing. One person drives the tractor, one person tends to the animals, one person repairs the equipment, etc. because it is hard to find a good farmhand that can do it all.

We will eventually see the same shift for robotics as they become more and more prevalent. You'll have one person to diagnose the problem, one person to replace the part, etc. as the labour needs dictate.

If you push separation of concerns far enough, you start finding roles that can be played by computers and robots rather than humans.

It's very interesting to think about cases where digital darlings have "killed jobs."

Before: Thousands of jobs all over the country working for the classified section of a newspaper. Marginally profitable business.

After: Craigslist destroys that whole market. Tons of jobs lost and the revenues shift to one company. Hugely profitable business, but probably a smaller total market than used to exist with just newspapers.

Should we feel bad about it? Hell no. Are we marginally worse off? Maybe?

I think part of what Rushkoff is saying is that the transition from classified ads to Craigslist should be a win for society without caveats.

People placing ads are better off -- they don't have to pay to place the ads, and their ads are more widely seen. People responding to ads are also better off -- they don't have to buy newspapers, and have much better search and scan capabilities, et cetera.

But thousands of people have lost their jobs in the newspaper industry, and thus are worse off. Yet the Craigslist transition has not taken anything away from society. Those that lost their jobs are not now contributing less to society -- their jobs would be glorified make-work in a post-Craigslist society. It should now be easier for society to feed, clothe, house & entertain these people than it was before, yet they are not getting fed, clothed, housed and entertained as well as they were before. It's also hard to argue that they do not deserve to be fed, clothed, housed and entertained.

It is a failure of capitalism. Markets are about the distribution of scarce goods, but do not work so well when the goods are not scarce. Capitalism is still better than every other system we're aware of, but I believe that there is a better system out there yet to be found, and Rushkoff is one of those helping to search for it.

>Those that lost their jobs are not now contributing less to society -- their jobs would be glorified make-work in a post-Craigslist society. It should now be easier for society to feed, clothe, house & entertain these people than it was before, yet they are not getting fed, clothed, housed and entertained as well as they were before. It's also hard to argue that they do not deserve to be fed, clothed, housed and entertained.

>It is a failure of capitalism.

I don't see how that can be considered a failure of capitalism. On the contrary, this is capitalism functioning the way it's supposed to function. These people aren't "not getting fed, clothed, housed and entertained" on a long-term basis. They need to find jobs doing something the rest of us are willing to pay for.

If there was no scarcity we wouldn't have a problem.

You're not considering the second order effects. Multiple competitors appear to compete with craigslist (either head to head or picking off the most attractive niches). Market grows, profits fall.

Are we better off? Just look at the service. Before we had tiny little text ads in the back pages of newspapers, now we have pictures, directions, the ability to search and sort, etc... clearly the service is better.

And I think once you take into account the second order effects, and the fact that there's significantly less friction around transactions, you end up with a larger total market, and probably close to a comparable number of jobs.

There's no way that there's a comparable level of jobs. You know how many people the newspaper industry used to employ nationwide? Craigslist had substantially less than 100 last I heard (maybe they've grown a bit), pushing a way larger volume of classifieds, without any expensive correspondents or any of that news crap.

As the original commentator stated, bringing their jobs back would be silly make-work now that they're obsolete, nobody's suggesting that. But it does present a problem.

Kijiji, AirBnB, Cars.com, etc. etc. See http://thegongshow.tumblr.com/post/345941486/the-spawn-of-cr...

I think you didn't grasp the phrase "second order effects."

There should really be a Godwin-like rule when it comes to accusing someone of not knowing how to read.

How many people does AirBnB employ, again? I've never even heard of Kijiji.

Add up all those companies and you're around the level of a single 100k city newspaper. Maybe 2-3 of them. Did you know that newspapers actually employ a lot of people who's whole job is to get stuff printed out on paper and delivered to everyone's door?

Again, nobody's arguing for going back to stupid inefficient gray-paper classifieds. They're just pointing out that efficiency has eliminated more jobs than it's created this time around (see also manufacturing), and there doesn't seem to be an obvious next step for those unemployed if they can't learn programming.

This can be taken to an extreme.

How many corporations make/made printing presses? How many corps make/made network devices, monitors, keyboards, mice, smartphones.

You can go third to fourth order all day long and you'll end up with the same statement:

The only thing that is constant is change. People have to be willing to change and willing to learn or they will be left behind.

As the friction of the transaction decreases, the "jobs" are the less the "classified owners/workers" and now people who can make their living buying/selling on the far-more-fluid craigslist.

Are we marginally worse off?

No. We now have access to cheaper and superior classified advertisements and the people who used to work at newspapers are now free to continue on to other jobs.

The revenue didn't shift to CL - for most categories CL is still free, the users of it are the ones who got to keep the money.

Exactly, and now those users are free to use that money to buy other goods or invest, creating more jobs to fill the vacuum left by newspaper layoffs.

Yeah, and Wikipedia destroyed the generalist encyclopaedia market. But it created some value for tons of people in the tech business: there's a whole stack of apps on your average smartphone which let you tap a button and get a definition from Wikipedia (or Wiktionary), which makes the phone more useful (and the connectivity packages offered by the telcos more valuable etc.)

Having a useful (for some value of useful) page rather than a spammy viagra-ad-laden page from some low-rent content farm for a few million common queries must make Google happy too.

Value can mean efficiency, and making the market for encyclopedias or classified ads more efficient opens up new opportunities and saves the users of the inefficient services money.

You're thinking of industries in terms of how many people each employ. If one tech paradigm changes one industry from employing 1 million people, to employing just 100,000, does that mean we are worse off? Not really, because when that happens there are usually more markets and businesses created adjacent to that industry.

The Internet did bring Craiglist, which did end up killing a major part of the newspaper industry. But does that mean we're worse off? No, because the Internet also brought us many other things. So it's good to look at the bigger picture, rather than how many people each industry employees over a period of time.

I think the issue is the pronounced effect of market disruption.

In your example, if an industry is disrupted to where it now employs 100K instead of 1M people, the problem that arises for the short term is up to 900K people will be without employment for some duration. Eventually new jobs will be created and we'll be back to relative equilibrium, but that takes time.

In an ideal situation, these dips could be more quickly counteracted, but realistically the market isn't so efficient in which that would ever be possible, so other systems need to exist to support individuals until the market reaches equilibrium again.

"We're living in an economy where productivity is no longer the goal, employment is."

This is more ground for the fact that we might not be in a bubble with major financial crash risk like the .com bubble. The fact is that engineers who are building and inventing new technologies are building a societal system (possibly unintentionally) that puts technology, rather than people, at the top of the game (especially in terms of efficiency & profitability).

While we may, as the tech industry, be relatively safe in the foreseeable future, this article really makes me question what we, as engineers, designers & general tech lovers, can invent/build that will allow future society to not only take advantage of our technologies (as end-users), but also allow individuals to make money in an increasingly digital and on-demand world.

Why is this being upvoted? This article begins with a questionable premise and then descends straight into misinformation.

The problems in the USPS did not begin with email. They began with a highly questionable requirement that the USPS fund a plan to fully cover the estimated future health care costs of all current employees. They are the only government institution required to do this, and it has crippled their ability to remain profitable:

* http://www.plansponsor.com/Post_Office_Says_PreFunding_Retir...

* Read First Few Pages Here -> http://www.uspsoig.gov/foia_files/RARC-WP-10-001.pdf

* http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/23/us/23postal.html

They have overpaid this fund by billions of dollars, but they are not able to use this money to address their current financial shortcomings.

Somehow the author of this piece is able to extrapolate from the fiscal problems of the USPS to the overall job market. The extrapolation is misguided at best.

There are so many things wrong in this article that I will not take the time to address them all. (Most of Europe was thriving in the Middle Ages? Really? The author needs to define the word thrive.) I just want to say that I find it interesting that there is so much hand-wringing in these comments about jobs being displaced by technology.

In economics, we like to call this creative destruction. Old jobs go away and new jobs take their place. This is a natural process, and their is nothing so magically different about the technological revolution that it will somehow "make jobs obsolete".

Just as The Luddites protested against the loss of jobs brought on by the technological progress of the Industrial Revolution, now some individuals protest against the loss of jobs brought on by the technological progress of the "Technological Revolution". Then, as now, it was all hand-wringing and nail-biting with no serious economic analysis.

The critics say this time is different, this time there will be no new jobs, and we should urge people to find something other to do than working. The critics are wrong. Don't worry people. Employment is here to stay.

Side Note: The author engages in some navel gazing when he says America has all that it needs. I'm not sure if the author has noticed it or not, but there is a such thing as globalization and the global needs for goods and services will increase as developing countries close the ground with developed nations.

This global recession is just another business cycle, eventually the world will have another upswing, and then we will revert to mean again. There is no magic here, just the march of time. I would not put too much stock into those who believe that a single recession merits the reevaluation of the entire modern economic system.

Edit: Trying to trim the size. Eventually, I will learn the art of not making posts into walls of text.

> The critics say this time is different, this time there will be no new jobs, and we should urge people to find something other to do than working. The critics are wrong. Don't worry people. Employment is here to stay.

I mean this is hand-waving as well. You havent actually provided any substantive counter-argument other than bring up the Luddites.

I think the basic argument that at some point, possibly already past, the productive activity required for basic human survival will be virtually entirely automated and require 0 human labor input. How do we allocate productive output in a society that requires no labor input? The notion of the "job" as described in the article may very well be obsolete.

I personally think the much bigger question is how do we allocate the profits.

As it could rapidly go very wrong with a miniscule few controlling the vast majority of the income. And a massive income gap developing.

Kinda like what's already happening...

That was a risk in the early 80s. It's pretty much an undisputed reality today.

There is this new economic system being proposed to address all these realities of the future with the advancement of automation: http://p2pfoundation.net/Panoply

> The problems in the USPS did not begin with email. They began with a highly questionable requirement that the USPS fund a plan to fully cover the estimated future health care costs of all current employees. They are the only government institution required to do this, and it has crippled their ability to remain profitable:

"fully cover estimated future costs" means that they're the only govt institution that isn't a timebomb of future obligations. When they can't keep up, we know that there's trouble down the line, which is far better than the status quo, which is to wait until all of the assets are gone, leaving nothing but obligations.

In other words

> They began with a highly questionable requirement

this isn't a questionable requirement, it's a sane one. The insanity is that it's unique instead of being universal.

> They have overpaid this fund by billions of dollars, but they are not able to use this money to address their current financial shortcomings.

Yes, current projections say that they're overpaid, but these projections have a way of going horribly wrong.

> "means that they're the only govt institution that isn't a timebomb of future obligations"

This was the spirit in which the requirement was enacted. I completely agree with the idea. My problem with this line of reasoning is this:

Why fund the estimated lifetime costs of health care that will not be provided for maybe 40 or so years into the future? Why not fund a moving window of ten or twenty years of obligations instead?

There is a huge opportunity cost associated with stashing such a large amount of money away for this purpose rather than using it for current operating expenses.

> "Yes, current projections say that they're overpaid, but these projections have a way of going horribly wrong."

Indeed, projecting costs for the next half-century is a dangerous thing to do. This is why I question the rationality of handicapping the USPS with the responsibility for funding far-future liabilities based on those projections.

Even if you ignore the opportunity costs of this fund, the inflexibility of the rule as well as the fact that it puts so much faith in projections makes it a highly suspect decision.

> This is why I question the rationality of handicapping the USPS with the responsibility for funding far-future liabilities based on those projections.

You're ignoring the fact that those liabilities are being incurred today. If you can't pay them with current revenues, how are you going to pay them with future revenues that also have to cover the liabilities that you're incurring when you're receiving said future revenues.

I'm sympathetic to the idea that there's no way to properly estimate the NPV of this sort of open-ended liability, but that's an argument for not incurring such a liability. It's not an argument for paying less than your best guess of said NPV.

> Even if you ignore the opportunity costs of this fund,

There is no "opportunity cost" in not paying NPV now.

Suppose that your landlord offered to let you pay each month's rent starting 1 year from now and over the 10 succeeding years. How much should you set aside? The only answer that keeps you solvent is to set aside the NPV of the payment stream for each month's rent payments each and every month.

Do the arithmetic. After each month, you've got a new liability that you're going to owe after you stop receiving any corresponding benefit. At the end of year N+1, you're making payments on N years worth of rent (capped at 10) and those payments will continue for 10 years after you stop renting. (Yes, they'll decrease over time, but since you won't be getting the benefit of whatever you were renting, it's unclear why you're happy paying for it with "new money" that you probably need for replacement digs.)

> Why fund the estimated lifetime costs of health care that will not be provided for maybe 40 or so years into the future? Why not fund a moving window of ten or twenty years of obligations instead?

Because it has incurred those obligations and nothing that happens in the next 10-20 years will make those obligations go away. However, 10-20 years from now, it won't have today's revenue to cover those obligations. In addition, ten years from now it will be incurring additional obligations.

Those obligations have a net present value. If you don't fund them now, you have to fund the remainder later out of future revenues while you're also trying to fund at least part of the obligations that you're incurring then.

Let's assume steady state. If you always fund the net present value of 10-20 years of the obligatations that you incurred in the past and present, you'll eventually end up funding the equivalent of the obligations that you're incurring, but you're behind by the amount that you didn't fund during the ramp. You have to make that up in addition to the equivalent of just funding NPV of what you're incurring.

Do the arithmetic over time - funding the total net present value of future obligations is only sustainable way to handle said obligations.

A pension promise is not like a mortgage - it's just a debt with no collateral; there's no equity to sell if you can't make the payments.

The General's office's report said that the projections would have been accurate but for the USPS earning a higher than expected amount of interest on their assets. To recalibrate based on this windfall seems foolish to me.

If you take the view as I do that an institution ought to make choices that will keep it around for hundreds of years, spending money conservatively enough to afford promises made to one's employees becomes a wise choice instead of a suspect decision.

That said, I do agree with the General that the USPS is unnecessarily entangled with the US government, and would be able to adequately fund its defined-benefit obligations without legislation (as private companies do), and also regulate overpayments and underpayments better without relying on the GAO or Congress.

Did you read past the introduction? It's being upvoted because it's provocative, it's by Rushkoff, and there is a certain unease about the future that this piece speaks to in a hopeful tone.

It's not a protest against technological change at all. It's someone trying to alert others to possibilities that technological change might have for the human condition, if some lateral movement could be accomplished.

Technological progress, creative destruction and the business cycle are all fine and well, but the transition states (Great Depression, WWI & II, Third World Debt Crisis--take you pick) are not particularly kind to all concerned. There's no rational reason to expect the future to be any kinder, breezy appeals to conventional wisdom notwithstanding.

I think that the title was just to grab your attention. I don't agree with everything in the article, especially the idealization of the Middle (or 'Dark') Ages, but the idea that what kind of work people will do 30-50 years from now, I think will be as great of a shift as from the farm to the factory, or the factory to the office (though probably not as big of a shift as the agricultural revolution!)

I think that the author is making a case that more people will work for themselves since the Renaissance, and perhaps from home since the Industrial Revolution began.

In Rushkoff's defense, he's distinguishing between work and jobs.

Rushkoff writes: "What we lack is not employment, but a way of fairly distributing the bounty we have generated through our technologies, and a way of creating meaning in a world that has already produced far too much stuff."

To wit, the discovered it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. With the lofty assumption the idle will, lacking want, pursue productive meaningful occupation, he fails to observe London-like riots are the more likely outcome.

I think that his argument is flawed, but there's some merit to the idea that what a job means will, should and has shifted.

>he fails to observe London-like riots are the more likely outcome

You're suggesting that the London riots, where income distribution and control of wealth and political process is nearly as skewed as in the US, with all the attendant social ills, where civil rights are an even bigger joke than in America, is the result of social democracy run amok? Do you know what social democracy is?

I don't disagree that many people will not pursue productive work if they're free from want. In fact I suspect most won't. But I fail to see why that makes a difference.

I think the core problem is whether technology will make most people obsolete and, if that happens, what we should do with all the people. What do you do with people who really will not and can not ever contribute back to society what they take from it? We had less of a problem with letting them starve back when there really was work for everyone to do, but that might not be the case for much longer, if indeed it is now.

"I don't disagree that many people will not pursue productive work if they're free from want. In fact I suspect most won't. But I fail to see why that makes a difference."

The problem is that most of the idle people will have an unsustainable amount of children.

I've sometimes thought that only people demonstrably able to support their children should be helped to do so.

I'm not extremist enough to suggest outright prohibition, China-style, but some kind of discouragement and maybe social stigma, plus education (would it be "indoctrination"?).

"The problem is that most of the idle people will have an unsustainable amount of children."


Could you elaborate? We have a welfare system in Uruguay, and it is an observable fact that people on welfare have more children than people not on welfare.

Whether that is caused by welfare, idleness or other factors should be subject to studies, but that's what I'm talking about.

Just saw this now. Poor people, I think have more children, with or without welfare -- it's not because of welfare that they do -- how much welfare in Africa?

>>I think that the title was just to grab your attention.

Unsupported inaccurate inflammatory content titles are called link bait/spam.

Well, like The New York Post. What do you expect from CNN!?!

In defense of the article's author, it may sound like blasphemy but he brings up some very good points about job creation.

The problems with the USPS might not have begun with email, but email will probably be what kills it (and the fax machine is doing a pretty good job as well).

Automation is a reality we are going to have to face. At some point, it is going to kill almost every manual labor job in the world, probably within our lifetime (IMHO). What do we do with "unskilled" labor then? As I see it, I think living will probably be more or less "free" in the future. When automation is so great that it can rely only on the earth's basic resources and natural energies, food, utilities, and basic housing will probably be affordable enough for anyone, if not outright free.

> Does anyone here not remember the Industrial Revolution? The creation of the automobile? The switch to trains for long-distance travel? The usage of water or wind to turn mills to make bread? Pick something! This is the progress of civilization.

Civilisation is not axiomatically good. This is one of my favourite critiques of civilisation: http://ranprieur.com/essays/beyondciv.html

If you enjoyed reading that, then perhaps you would enjoy reading a book that has come to occupy a treasured space on my shelf:


The authors provide an overview of world history through the lens of technological advancement. The chapter on physics is a bit rough, but other than that I think that the book is quite solid. It should be required reading for anyone that wants to have a good overview of the march of human civilization.

Edit: By the way, I did not downvote you, but the likely reason for the downvote is that the individual that you link to does not seem to have the necessary qualifications to provide a strong critique of civilization.

Remember, just because someone writes about a topic does not mean that they are an authority on this topic.

I disagree.

Your belief that "new jobs take their place" will only remains true so long as increases in demand can keep pace with productivity: Sure, there's more demand out there in the developing world, but demand is finite in a way that productivity increases are not.

If we're not turning that particular corner today, we will someday; and from that point forth, there will be an inexorable decline in employment.

What happens then?

I think there is some inductive logic in here; assuming the future will look like the past simply because previous futures have looked like previous pasts is not entirely reliable.

It's safe to assume that things will generally regress to their mean, but they often don't - stock market movements are way more volatile than they should be, for example.

It's possible that technology will advance far enough to perform all of the mundane but necessary work, leaving us to do something else with our time.

I'm not sure when that will happen or how it will be received, but it would be cool to not have to do things you didn't love just to stay alive.

So far as I know, the Google Car has not displaced any taxi drivers yet, though the author of the post puts it in the same sentence as EZ Pass.

No mercy. Let em go out of business. It is a corrupt monopoly. Try to start a competing taxi business. (or tow business) and you'll see you do NOT live in a free market. Again. No mercy. After decades they'll be getting theirs.. (yes I tried once upon a time)

What happened?

They are the only government institution required to do this, and it has crippled their ability to remain profitable

The post office may be the only government institution required to do this, but every private institution is required to do it.


Since the post office is supposed to be more or less independent of the government (i.e., profitable all by itself, rather than govt. subsidized), it's quite reasonable to demand that it be subject to the same pension regulations as the private sector.

The problem the USPS is having is not about prefunding pensions and pension plans. Their problem is that they are required to fund future employee health care benefits. No other company in America - public or private - is required to do this.

This is a side note, but... By the way, I am actually a frequent reader of your blog, and I really miss your posts on economics. Link for the curious:


Good stuff!

After googling this, you appear to be correct. However, the problem is not that the USPS is required to do this - the problem is that everyone else is not.

There is absolutely no reason to treat pension and non-pension obligations differently, and the fact that we treat the USPS differently than everyone else is not an argument to let the USPS off the hook. Instead, we should force both the public and private sector to properly fun their post employment obligations.

As for the blog, I'm building a startup, and haven't had time to post. I'm planning a post on color measurement soon, however.

Let em go out of business. Back when I was jobless they never would have gave me a second look even though I could have ( and still can) streamline their business..

No mercy for stupidity, inefficiency and incompetence..

Most people work to get money to spend on stuff people are making.

Full employment 40+ hours a week is obsolete. Consumerism is obsolete. We should all be working 10hrs/week or less and have/consume 1/10 to 1/4 of what we have/consume today.

That's not gonna happen easily, but it's gonna happen. Perhaps not in my lifetime.

I'm making guess that space exploitation will not ramp up in time, it might though.

Are you suggesting that 3/4th - 9/10th of spending is on luxury goods?

It really depends on what you consider a luxury good. For example, some amount of housing is a "necessity", some amount is "nice to have", and some is "luxury", but I doubt people agree on the boundaries. The bar of what people consider a necessity seems to rise with income, so people recategorize what they would've once seen as luxury as non-luxury.

I was recently adding up what it would take to live in a cheap-ish place like Pittsburgh: 1) frugally; and 2) modestly but comfortably; and the numbers are absurdly low if you really stick to necessities. YMMV elsewhere.

Yes. My very average house today is a huge luxury compared to the very average house my grandparents bought in the 60s.

I have a cable bill, an iPhone bill, an internet bill, a netflix bill, and too many various SaaS subscriptions. My grandparents had none of those.

I also have a much higher power bill to pay for all my consumer electronics and air conditioning, a higher health insurance bill to pay for drastically better health care, an extra car insurance policy.

That's in addition to all the extra stuff I have lying around. 2 cars, not one, both of which are vastly superior and more expensive than what my grandparents had. Superior home appliances. And 1 metric tonne of electronics.

I have so much more material wealth than all but the very richest did just 50 years ago. How could I complain that I'm not better off?

Job availability and wages also decrease when you do that.

Not luxury goods, consumption goods. And not just spending but production.

Yes, a house bigger than you need, a new car (let alone a new luxury car) every 3 years, driving that car to work, alone, from the suburbs, bottled water shipped from Fiji, non-locally grown food, $70 sneakers (shipped across the globe btw), $5 coffee, almost all non-free entertainment, almost anything labeled as a consumer good.

Anything that's not healthcare, shelter, education, water/food is suspect.

Thanks for sharing! Great article, reminded me of a great speech I read recently that Paul Graham gave in 2005:


The jist is the same as Rushkoff's, and Lanier's conclusion-- that people perform better when they do something they care about enough to do it for free. The paradox with the digital age is that consumers have grown accustomed to not paying for digital goods -- and artists have grown accustomed to settling for any attention they can get, which means marketing gimmicks, and settling for the lowest common denominator far too often for authors of original content. Lanier covers this well, for sure:


At first I thought this was going to be a conservative 'the modern world is killing everything good', but I was pleased to the argument come down to "computers are killing jobs, and this is a good thing".

Though I don't believe it's accurate to say that Europe thrived under the feudal system. Many people did the same meaningless jobs all the time. The author also claims that the Industrial Age & Corporations were some massive scam to get the rich more.

The thriving middle age Europe stuff is really misinformed. Almost all the people at that time worked in agriculture, and most of them (this varied by place, but in general) worked for somebody else: The landlord. They were usually free to organize the work, but a percentage of the produce was for the lord. And the land was his, not theirs.

Oh fuck all of you capitalist scum. I really hate how much of this community is based on this really fucked up reappropriation of the hacker ethos into some sort of pro-capitalist thing.

Capitalism is an inherently authoritarian economic system. (http://theanarchistlibrary.org/HTML/The_Anarchist_FAQ_Editor...) And don't give me this bullshit about communism being authoritarian and then pointing to the USSR - the USSR had nothing to do with communism, and communism is not the only alternative to capitalism nor are they even the opposite of each other.

Britain, the Low Countries, France and the German States all went through this process in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Historians call it pauperization. The only good solution seems to be keeping people from starving to death (the above named societies often did not, incidentally) and wait for/encourage the economy to find a way to suck up the surplus labor.

Too bad what he suggests requires skills that most people don't have, at least not yet. To achieve this utopic vision we need to drastically change our education from being job-driven towards being production-driven (e.g. teaching more practical programming to younger audiences, encouraging self-motivated thinking rather than homework burn-out). This is not an easy task.

I like his vision but I fail to see how it can work out. The reality is that people are lazy. While making stuff because you want to is awesome, most people would rather sit on the couch and consume. Its because they have to feed themselves and buy nice TVs that they go to work in the morning.

This was such an intriguing article until he posited that our citizens who formerly worked in manufacturing could replace their aspirations of long-term employment in a stable economy with some generic digital goods production that was never elaborated on in the article. I have to assume he meant they should all make doll clothes in Second Life.

Yeah he lost me there as well. Some of these people being displaced I feel probably won't have the motivation to be independent and produce said digital goods. That's why they are being displaced in the first place because they don't have new skills and their old skills are no longer needed.

Pulling out a specific nit:

"America is productive enough that it could probably shelter, feed, educate, and even provide health care for its entire population with just a fraction of us actually working."

And from an old college textbook on the definition of economics - Economics is the study of how society manages its scarce resources.

Here it the hard nut in the thesis, what mechanism, process, or theory, could manage determining who works and who doesn't in a society?

We currently have a system where the wealthiest tax payers pay a grossly disproportionate share of the total tax receipts. Some fraction of those receipts are used to fund the lives of the least wealthy individuals. It doesn't seem to work as well as we would like.

Consider a more communist flavored theory, if Bob's education, skills, and work ethic allow him to generate gross domestic product which would support 5 average citizens. Do we make Bob and his four comrades equal consumers of the GDP that Bob has generated? Would Bob continue to produce at that rate?

Enlightened self interest is a powerful thing. But taking away the 'fruits of one's labor' to redistribute it amongst the less fortunate doesn't motivate the high performers or the low performers to higher economic output.

I am always interested in systems which might replace capitalism as an organizing principle. But until we have such a system we won't be able to manage the disparity of productivity in a socially acceptable way.

A major nitpick as a middle American a disproportionate percentage of MY salary is used to support the poor relative to rich people. The vast majority of wealth redistribution in this country is though SS which the wealthy get to opt out from. When you consider that I pay more in SS as a percentage of my income than Warren Buffet's entire tax bill there is something wrong with this picture. (In theory I might see some of that money back but even I nothing changes and I live to see 120 I would still be far worse off with SS than without.)

PS: Some people think of corporate taxes as double taxation on the wealthy but nothing in the US tax code says you need to invest in US companies and if you actually look at taxes paid by large companies it's vary low relative to the stated tax rate.

I'm surprised noone commented on the "as a percentage of my income" bait. So I'll bite :)

It is in no way obvious or written in stone that what matters are "percent of income". For many centuries, per capita tax was the norm. Indeed, you could argue that what matters is the actual, absolute amount taken from an individual, by threat of force, and not some abstract proxy metric. There, arguably, Buffet delivers more than you?

The amount delivered without the threat of force (charity) is yet another thing.

For several thousand years people where taxed by land owned which was effectively an income tax. It was hard to guess how much income someone had because they could always hide some of the harvest but if you farmed 10 acres or 10,000 you still paid at the same rate.

> a disproportionate percentage of MY salary is used to support the poor relative to rich people.

The operative word there is "salary". Buffet had such a low (as a %) tax bill because most of his income isn't salary but cap gains.

Let's raise cap gains tax to 50% you say? Sounds great until you sell your house in a few years.

There is a huge difference between taxing cap gains at 15% vs 50%. IMO, treat it as any other income source if I am going to work and pay ~40+% of my income in taxes why on earth should I pay MORE so people making 100 times what I do get a discount.

However, I also pay a higher percentage though many other regressive taxes. Consider, I own a reasonably nice car and pay taxes on it, but if I make ten times as much I don't suddenly buy a car that costs ten times as much.

> IMO, treat it as any other income source

You mean treat it like salary? It wouldn't matter. People with that much cap gains would leave investments where they are and take out low-interest loans against it. That's what they do today. Actually, lots of middle class people do (or have done) the same thing with HELOCs. Rather than selling their house for a profit (and paying cap gains), buying a cheaper house, and using the profit to upgrade the cheaper house, they took out a loan against their equity.

> why on earth should I pay MORE so people making 100 times what I do get a discount.

You imply a causal relationship where none exists.

Capital gains taxes are not paid on the sale of one's residence if another home is bought with the proceeds.

Mr. Rushkoff wants to "organize society around employment", but he ought to reflect that it's going to be organized around _something_. There is going to be a distribution of power, it's an inevitable feature of society. Do we wanted organized around what each of us can do for the benefit of others, as measured freely by those others? Or do we want it organized around what everyone else thinks of us? I can do a lot more about my worries about getting a job than I can about worries about the opinion of my local commissar.

Next on CNN:

Food: Why you probably don't need it

Exercise: Less of it could mean more healthcare jobs

Transportation: Could rising oil prices make it impossible to go anywhere?

Safety: Could banning non-Christians from entering the country make us safer?

9/11: What about the bright side?

Culture: Is Lil Wayne the music genius of the decade?

Right on about food. Isn't that another fear, global food scarcities, green revolution not keeping up, fields poisoned by industrial fertilizers... Let's get used to having less, unless we get back on the farm.

If we go all the way to a technological singularity in which not even "knowledge workers" are needed... we'll need a new way to distribute wealth.

Between 1960 and 2009, employment in IT in the US rose by a factor of 1.6, while the population grew by a factor of 1.7


and many women entered the workforce, so the labor pool expanded by more than 1.7.

Don't have much mercy when I read these kinds of stories. I went to a job interview back in 2000 for a 28,000 a year job. Knew 6 computer languages and significantly more than the interviewee and all this colleges employees. (in my opinion) this was a small college in Michigan. They never called me back. A few weeks later I started a small company. Today I make upwards of 250k a year. No college education. They (college people) can all go starving on the street like they would have left me and my two new born twins. No help from the "establishment" for me no matter how smart I was. Let em all lose their jib and starve.. Let em be in college debt. I smirk at the barrages who would have let me go homeless every time I read stories like this.

No quarter wad given to me. Now that theyre expected to oroduce. Now thier college means diddle it is my turn to watch from the sidelines.

I know that if I don't make money MYSELF nobody ----especially "college" people will help..

Posted from an iPad I never would have had if I let the establishment guide my life..

"I am afraid to even ask this, but since when is unemployment really a problem? ... on a very fundamental level, we have pretty much everything we need. America is productive enough that it could probably shelter, feed, educate, and even provide health care for its entire population with just a fraction of us actually working."

This belies a gross misunderstanding of how national socio-economies work.

Yes, we could. One of my blogs is "A Buck A Plate" http://abuckaplate.blogspot.com featuring sufficient meals for $1/person/meal. A favorite study is "tiny homes" http://tinyhouseblog.com where nice cozy accomodations can be had for $10,000/person. Beyond that, I've figured one "could probably shelter, feed, educate and even provide health care for its entire population" for just $10/day.

Are you ready to live on $10/day? is anybody?

Long story short, it would take about $1T/yr to pay everyone in the USA a "living income" of a paltry $10/day. Note that current federal revenue is about $2T ($4.5T including state revenues), with federal spending about twice that.

Of a culture where the vast majority decide to vote themselves monies from the treasury, John Adams wrote "The idle, the vicious, the intemperate, would rush into the utmost extravagance of debauchery, sell and spend all their share, and then demand a new division of those who purchased from them. The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence."

Enjoying the comforts of a culture wallowing in the height of luxury, Rushkoff opines in effect that the source of that comfort be eliminated on the absurd theory that enough will be produced when there is no carrot nor stick incentiveizing people to work.

No, Mr. Rushkoff, people need not work when confiscating the hard-earned wealth of others is enough. Problem is, those who produce will not be appreciated, but reviled, and their incentive to produce taken away. Despite the symbolic official $1 salary of its CEO, Apple was driven by _profit_, and its products available only to those who in turn sought _profit_ in other endeavors. Take away the profit motive by confiscating incomes to supply the idle, and few of the idle will use the opportunity for lofty endeavors; nay, most will cultivate dissatisfaction and demand more be confiscated for their gain.

As an ancient writer opined, "if any would not work, neither should he eat."

Metapoint: Headlines phrased as a question are almost always best answered "no."

Try it!

Actually, I'm writing an article about it: "Are headlines phrased as questions always best answered 'No'?"

If only you'd said "usually"...

So let's start picking apart this article. And the other article that talks about the end of capitalism. And then the next 50, 100, 1000 articles that prey on our confused notion that capitalism is the end-game for eternity.

Watch as self-driving vehicles takeover all modes of goods transport. And robotics and information systems remove 90% of the health care workforce. And construction. And education. Keep telling yourself that your vision of capitalism is exact and free from evolution.

Eventually, a grounded theory that revolutionizes capitalism will emerge. Do we know what the evolution will be or how it will work? I certainly don't. But I do believe in evolution and evolution in markets.

Defending capitalism like it dragged you out of a flaming building is self-serving, not logical. Capitalism is an ideology. It can and will change, with or without consent.

There’s a really good book on this topic called Creating You & Co.[1] that is all about how it’s not jobs that are important—that’s an overspecialization—but work. And work can be done in any number of ways: automation, out-sourcing, crowd-sourcing, etc. The book is quite old so it only really talks about alternative human-based work delivery but it’s still arguing for a new worldview on work and employment that is well ahead of its time.

I have to remind myself every time I watch the news—particularly those interviews with “experts”—that job losses aren’t quite the gloomy picture they seem to be. And the solution isn’t necessarily to manufacture more positions for people.

1: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Creating-You-Co-Learn-Career/dp/0738...

There is a nugget of useful discussion in there, in that corporations aren't as necessary as they used to be. Better communication technology lowers coordination costs and we don't need big organization and bureaucracy to get big things done anymore.

But the whole "technology is destroying jobs" meme is just horseshit. What's destroying jobs in the US is lack of demand. Other counties (no, not all of them, but many) are doing just fine, thank you, despite technology.

I wonder if this kind of thing is a result of the high and accelerating pace of technological change we're experiencing. We expect change to be so fast that we don't even try to predict the future based on the past and present, we just throw our hands up and declare everything to be a fundamental paradigm shift, rather than a cyclical or temporary phenomenon.

You're right: Technology doesn't kill jobs.

It kills demand.

Who wants to send paper mail, or a landline phone, or to take out traditional classified ads? The alternatives are too appealing and the demand for the old versions is never coming back.

Technology kills demand for a particular procedure or function, this dampens aggregate demand which in turn eliminates the need for the function or procedure provider in the form of a job

Ugh. No. The financial crisis killed demand.

The financial crisis did not make people buy mobile phones instead of landlines, Hulu and Netflix instead of cable TV, or Craigslist instead of local newspaper ads, or ebooks instead of paper books. It might have accelerated the shift, because the new technology was cheaper, but people naturally gravitate to the better product.

These technologies split, reorganized, transferred, concentrated or decentralized demand. Call it what you will, but people want the new stuff over the old stuff. And if they want it, they'll buy it.

Why did the horse and buggy go away? Lack of demand, I'd say.

Great! All we have to do is convince poor people to be happy living at a subsistence level, and convince rich people to be happy supporting them!

Seriously, I agree with his point that, say, building bridges in order to create jobs is backwards. But his plan seems to require changing basic human motivations.

Well, you can avoid changing basic human motivations by using an alternative solution.

Jay Gould is attributed to have said "I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half. "

The current version is more akin to hiring half the working class to guard the other imprisoned half. It's more sustainable that way.


I don't think anyone would want to pay for the art I can make. I don't want to pay for anyone else's either. Given how much music piracy there is, and the vast skill disparity between casual amateurs and dedicated professionals, and the near-zero cost of replicating the bits composed by someone better than me or any of my immediate peers, I can't believe the author thinks that trading bits is a possible outcome. Why would I want my dad to educate me when I could watch OpenCourseware? Why would I want my friend's painting when I could get something much better over deviantArt? Why would I bother getting recipes from my mom if I can get them from a 4 star Michelin chef instead?

You might not want your friend's art, but there's plenty of excellent art not on DeviantArt. Especially if you custom made: Kickstart and other escrow services can fund stuff that doesn't exist yet (and therefore can't be pirated).

Similar to what's done with TV shows (a pilot is made, then if there's interest by any network, they fund the rest of the season), but with artists directly proposing their 'pilots' (a first chapter of a book, a trailer of a movie, a single song) directly to the audience and letting them fund the rest.

So if you're willing to grant the point that not everyone is going to be capable of creating good art, then what do the non-producers do? Just sit back and consume? The problem is that we use productive output as a heuristic for determining how much stuff to give back to a given member of society. If the standard changes from "making widgets" to "making art," most people are still going to starve.

To answer all your why's: sentimentalism, that's why. Learning or receiving from people you know is often more valuable, imho.


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