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Are jobs obsolete? (cnn.com)
160 points by mcantelon on Mar 18, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 137 comments



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_End_of_Work

The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era is a non-fiction book by American economist Jeremy Rifkin, published in 1995 by Putnam Publishing Group.[1]

In 1995, Rifkin contended that worldwide unemployment would increase as information technology eliminates tens of millions of jobs in the manufacturing, agricultural and service sectors. He traced the devastating impact of automation on blue-collar, retail and wholesale employees. While a small elite of corporate managers and knowledge workers reap the benefits of the high-tech world economy, the American middle class continues to shrink and the workplace becomes ever more stressful.

As the market economy and public sector decline, Rifkin predicted the growth of a third sector—voluntary and community-based service organizations—that will create new jobs with government support to rebuild decaying neighborhoods and provide social services. To finance this enterprise, he advocated scaling down the military budget, enacting a value added tax on nonessential goods and services and redirecting federal and state funds to provide a "social wage" in lieu of welfare payments to third-sector workers.

He was mostly laughed at.


It's not so impossible to believe.

The objection I often hear (and I recall that this is PG's stance as well) is that as old jobs disappear new ones will take their place. For example, as the article mentioned, the former toll booth operator could now repair the automated toll booth system.

So far this general idea has been true. Before computers existed as we know them, "computers" were people who did lengthy computations for a living, often for scientists. Once electronic computers arrived these people seemingly found new jobs and survived.

I'm not sure if this will continue to be the case. We may be reaching a discontinuous point on the economic timeline. If robotic and computer systems are developed that can effectively do the jobs of most humans for less than minimum wage, there won't be enough work for people to make a good living.

The key difference is the following: in the past, technology has only disrupted specific segments of the economy, allowing humans to find work other places where they could still add value. Now, technology has the potential to disrupt the majority of the economy. There won't be any work to do.

There will still be pockets where humans can add value, but there will be so much competition for this work by all the unemployed that the wages will be driven down to nil.

If this situation occurs, the Government will have to find a way to distribute resources directly to the masses lest every sitting politician be voted out of office. In fact, all the rhetoric right now about creating jobs is exactly that. Politicians are promising that they'll find a way to distribute resources to the unemployed.


I agree.

In the Star Trek economy (afaik), the inwention of the replicator was key to the end of money and the end of a scarcity based economy.

Well, we already have a replicator for much of the economy

    $ cp
And it looks as though soon we'll have some very advanced robots that will be able to automate most mundane jobs.

So maybe this is good and we can all become Platos, relaxing, philosophizing, self-actualizing at the top of Maslow's pyramid. If so, it should be reasonable to convince everyone to go the Star Trek way and jettison money.

What will be dangerous, is dangerous, is the transition periods like now, where jobs that are lost, never come back, not just because they have been automated away, but also because the owners would rather pay more for automation and less human involvement because they find humans to be a big pain. At that point (which is sort of like now) it is hard to convince others that it is reasonable to distribute resources to the masses.

I would certainly like to see a single payer, universal health care system implemented that separates health care from monolithic employers. That, and I'd love to see actual real encouragement and incentivization of small business entrepreneurship.

Remove the barriers that big companies have on us. Make it easy and rewarding for people to create their own jobs, form their own companies, on a semi-permanent or even ad-hoc way.

Oh well, pie in the sky.


You make a good point about the transition period.

I'm a fan of Kurzweil and am convinced that many of his predictions will come true. However, he paints a rosy picture of the future and glosses over any potential conflict in the transition between between now and when he predicts that humans will merge with machines, which he pegs at 2099.

There is definitely going to be conflict as we move to a post-scarcity world.


Oh, but there already is conflict. While information basically got out of scarcity, the copyright overlords are still clinging to their old ways.


I would certainly like to see a single payer, universal health care system implemented that separates health care from monolithic employers. That, and I'd love to see actual real encouragement and incentivization of small business entrepreneurship.

Yes! Society as the kernel/API, entrepreneurs as userland tools / third-party services, with free reins to innovate and build on top of the base.

I'm neither right- or left-wing. I'm up-wing. I want the best of all alternatives. Too bad that the mainstream is stuck in the XOR mentality...


Make it easy and rewarding for people to create their own jobs, form their own companies, on a semi-permanent or even ad-hoc way.

This is Hacker News at Y-Combinator. The whole idea is there's nothing stopping you. Open a browser & text editor and write your own paycheck.

Advocate compulsory redistribution, however, and you build those barriers yourself.


>> We may be reaching a discontinuous point on the economic timeline.

I tend to agree. Up until about a year ago I was working as a cinema projectionist for a very successful UK cinema chain. It was a decent job, right up until the point where the company announced a plan to completely replace all 35mm projectors with new digital machines. Now, up until this point we had maybe 3 Digital projectors already installed and we had become quite fond of them, they had a lot of problems and were much less reliable than the 35mm machines but hey, progress is progress.

The real problem was that the company intended to make every single one of us redundant in the same move, as they had some crack-pot idea that the digital projectors would "practically run themselve" (which we knew from experience would never work). This is when I realised that the old myth of "as old jobs disappear new ones will take their place" wasn't true. The company had no intention of generating new work, each cinema site would simply shift the work of running the new projection suite onto the existing (overworked and underpaid) management staff, and the work of maintaining the macines would shift to the existing (overworked and underpaid) technical crew, who were already zipping up and down the country 364 days per year.

The company could have generated some new work to replace the jobs that were lost, but ultimately they don't _want_ to do that. It's much more in the companys interests to jettison as much of their workforce as possible. Fortunately for myself, I had already decided to go back to school and get a degree in software development. Better to be at the devils right hand than in his path. :)

It's not technology that's really killing the labour-force, it's companies who jump at the opportunity to get rid of thousands of employees and essentially delete their productivity from the economy.


Nonsense. Companies can want to eliminate jobs till the cows come home and write it on their Santa wishlist - whether they actually can eliminate jobs is determined mostly by technology.

In your example, either the company bought new, more technologically advanced digital projectors that actually do need much less supervision and maintenance, or their plan simply failed and they had to re-hire people to run and repair the projectors after they had some expensive downtime and/or management and technical staff burnt out or quit.


>"This is when I realised that the old myth of "as old jobs disappear new ones will take their place" wasn't true. The company had no intention of generating new work"

The jobs are very unlikely to be created at the point of elimination. The theory is that the jobs will be created somewhere else. And remember, somewhere else is now global.


Also, no one says the job will be at a comparable skill-level. The jobs that are often created are much more technologically sophisticated so that those who lose them have no where to go while those well off merely get more employment options. My genuine concern is that the jobs that can provide people with just a decent lifestyle are beyond the mental talents of many people.


Social welfare/workfare for mentally talentless. Is there anything morally objectionable to paying a living wage for menial. There will always be plenty of low value work to to (cleaning, beautifying, entertaining) Involuntary unemployment would not exist if wages were higher. And if machines are doing so much for us, we can afford to "overpay "


Before this thread descends to saying the 'The Matrix' is inevitable.

If the levels automation rise to crazy levels, and there are cheaper and greener sources to energy to drive them. Then Food, Clothing and Shelter won't be much of a problem. We will get those three things without much effort. In other words, you can survive without doing anything.

But you will still pay for Opera, a concert, you will pay to visit a art gallery. You will still pay for quality entertainment. You will continue to pay for a costly vacation in a foreign country. You will pay to find out the deepest secrets of the universe and traveling to get there. Somebody might invent an organic fruit which might taste nothing like before, and you might have to pay just to taste it. There might be narcotic drugs that take you heaven without killing you, and you might pay for it etc etc. .Our goals as a society will be different. But we will still have to work to meet them.

There will be reasons for humans to exist, but those will be very different reasons.


We don't have to speculate. There are plenty of people who have solved all of their survival needs, yet continue to fill their days with enthusiasm and activity. I don't see a Branson or a Sivers resting on their laurels just because they don't have to work for a living.


> For example, as the article mentioned, the former toll booth operator could now repair the automated toll booth system.

If the toll collector had the skills, or the ability or inclination to acquire the skills to do something like fixing automated toll booth systems, they probably wouldn't have taken a job as a toll collector.


And perhaps this is stating the obvious - but one ex-toll collector could efficiently repair and maintain 10, 50 or 100 toll machines.

Just like those self-scanner checkouts at the supermarket, where you've got one guy supervising five or ten checkouts, where previously he would have had five or ten colleagues working.


Or you can open 50 checkout lanes and generate the same profit on the same staff a manual checkout, and have happier customers who have more time to exercise and increase caloric needs and thus buy more food, or have more time to earn money to spend on fancier food...


In theory, gains in productivity from computerized resources would replace the need for human work. (Voicemail and word processors made secretaries obsolete in many organizations, for instance). But in practice, work has simply grown more complex and more voluminous to accommodate the productivity gains.

Consider the humble spreadsheet, arguably the most powerful business innovation of the last 50 years. Now that people can calculate complex models in hours, not weeks, have the fields of corporate finance and forecasting gone away? Hardly. If anything, more work gets packed into each day to fill the vacuum left by not having to crunch numbers on paper for days on end. And the level of sophistication going into deal analysis has increased, allowing people to spend more time planning and less time bean-counting.

Sure, some jobs have been in outright decline since the rise of technology. Secretaries, human computers (sorry, Frank Herbert!), many factory workers, and so forth. But the net amount of work to be done hasn't decreased. If anything, it's increased dramatically. It's just shifted to the knowledge-worker side. And knowledge workers' workloads have skyrocketed. All of this technology has actually made us busier and more productive, because it has allowed us to do more each day.

The theory that technology replaces the need for X or Y work is based on the flawed assumption that the total need for X or Y work remains static over time. In the knowledge worker's domain, it does not. It turns out that meeting the need for X and Y actually increases the need for, or at least the expectation of, more X and Y. In this sense, I tend to agree with PG's argument (and the arguments of those like him).


Consider 2 variables: Productivity is the "quantity" of "stuff" produced by man-hour (on average). Wealth is the "quantity" of stuff consumed by man-day (on average). So, on average,

  hours-of-work-per-day = wealth ÷ productivity 
The question is, can wealth absorb all the productivity gains? If so, no problem. If not, then mechanically, there will be less and less hours worked per day, on average. In a world where we all want a "full time" job, that means unemployment.

Looking at the current trends, I'd say wealth absorbs only a (big) fraction of the productivity gains. Which means unemployment.


I agree with this. We have been able to absorb displaced workers because the economy had been growing at a rate higher than natural growth (population/inflation). But the us economy has matured, it is no longer growing dramatically as it once was. While some technological advancements can create new markets and growth for the economy; Many technologies are designed to address inefficiencies in the market or business processes which will ultimately result in a net decrease in employment.

Also, technology is also a poor business decision if it costs more than existing methods taking into account increases in productivity.


Notice the current USA administration's insistence on population reduction. No need to address the unemployed if they don't come into existence.


Peak Labor. Anyone that's ever argued this in the past 200 years has been called a luddite. Yet, in the past 40 years as computers have automated more work, both labor and white collar, it's become clear that the productivity gains are only making it into the pockets of the 20% or so that own investments.


That's exactly right. Recently Foxconn in China has started to replace some of its workers with automation. Think about that: when even low paid work in China can't beat automation, you have a problem. There used to be a place for unskilled/semi-skilled labor: factory work, travel agents, insurance sales people. It's what created the middle class. And it's gone. Now you have the owners of the travel web site making a fortune and the rest struggling to find a way to contribute.

It seems we have passed the tipping point for unskilled/blue collar and a good portion of white-collar labor. The future doesn't need the bottom 90% at all.


If unskilled labor is no longer needed for factory work it becomes available again for other low cost service work. A century ago lots of families employed a nanny, a cook, a cleaning lady and a gardener. Perhaps we will return to that time.


There are some services with unlimited demand, like healthcare.

My guess is that the demand will switch to other services as well, like the nannies you mentioned and better education and other wealthy-person services: personal trainers, nutrition, leisure, party/wedding planners, clothing advisors, gourmet cooking. There will also be a lot of services needed for the elderly.

Of course, competition will be cut-throat, but those jobs that cannot be made more efficient or paralellized (those with a high amount of in-person involvement) will sustain the new middle class.


Roomba, self-cleaning ovens, ... do I need to go on?

Yes, people can move to service work but there's not much demand for it. I live near Monaco and the people I know who could easily afford such domestic help tend to get by with less than you would expect.

Besides, do we want it to be 10% has the other 90% working for them doing cleaning and cooking?


The productivity gains also make it to everyone. That's why you are able to buy a computer for so cheap these days. A PC used to cost more than 10 000 dollars in the 80s. There's no such thing as productivity gains being valuable only to investors. It's a win-win for both investors and consumers. It's no zero-sum game.


Can you eat a computer? Will it treat your hernia? No. You need a job that gives you money for those things, and not everyone can hack it as a programmer.


What you have to realize is that, while 30 years ago only the rich could afford computers, now the poor can afford the exact same one.

In fact, the field has leveled so much, that the rich can't get more bang for their buck. I spent $2,500 on a maxed out MBA, but my super rich friend can't spend $25,000 or $250,000 to get something better. Same goes for iPads, iPods, iPhones, anything in technology.

Another example is Gmail. It's free, and arguably it's the best there is. Rich businessman are stuck in email for most of the day, but they can't do better what I get for free in Gmail. (In fact, they're probably using suckier corporate email.)

It's not food, it's not medicine, but this phenomenon is still pretty notable if you ask me.


I am using computers as an example of how productivity gains benefit everyone. I was replying to the claim that productivity gains only enrich the investors, which is patently false. I was not talking about jobs at all. My point is that the whole planet (as a whole) is getting richer, whether you realize it or not.


PCs dropping from $10000 to $300 are not representative of almost anything about the last 30 years. Holding up PC prices or CPU speeds as an example of general economics is particularly contrived.


He did not say that the drop in the price of PCs was representative. He (successfully, I think) provided an example showing that a gain to productivity benefited everyone, not just the holders of investments.

What is an example of an industry where gains to productivity don't benefit everyone? Gains to productivity in farming enable the price of food to drop. Gains to productivity in housing enable the price of housing to drop. How does it only benefit the rich?

Even if the price does not drop directly as a first-order effect (such as if the company whose productivity is boosted keeps the difference as a profit), it will eventually through market pressure; a new price equilibrium will be established. In perfectly competitive market (such as food) a competitor will use the productivity boost to lower costs and undercut the first. The resulting competition will lower the market place. Productivity gains lower prices (real prices), benefiting everyone.


I'm trying to be careful not to argue that "gains to productivity don't benefit everyone". My personal feeling is that probably sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't, but I haven't researched it enough to back that up.

Mainly I think discussions of any squishy data set carry a lot more weight once we throw out some outliers and general purpose computers are a definite outlier.

Food production in the US is one of the most heavily subsidized (i.e., artificially manipulated) sections of the economy.


Okay. Suppose I am a secretary, but my job has now been automated out of existence by Microsoft Excel. I have a $300 computer to browse Hacker News with, but no job. How did I benefit?

Unless I have steadier access to food, shelter, healthcare, and a safe society, I don't think it should count as a productivity gain or increase in standard of living.


Hmmm, You tie money with a definition of a modern 'job'.

The way I see people used eat, get cured of disease and live how we live today. Without the traditional definition of a job as we know today.

People will have to continue to work to make a living. But it may not necessarily be a job meant in the sense of working for large corporate etc.


[deleted]


The problem is, people have limits to the amount of immaterial and material products they can consume (limited time, space). So eventually so much stuff is being produced, mostly automatically, that nobody can consume it any more.

The only solution would be to start increasing the quality of the immaterial and material products, putting more and more human effort to designing each one, but I think pretty much the opposite has been happening.

To me this seems like a natural consequence of a market-based economy, which will by default try to minimize costs and labor until they approach zero. So eventually we'll have robots that build more robots and produce everything we need, while the majority of human kind is unemployed.

Not that I'm an expert on economics, just trying to think about it logically.


IT itself is susceptible to the danger of shrinking given 2 things:

- The rise of *aaS

- The mindset of maximizing profits and and minimize expense

Some of us have said a few times in the past: building software is expensive.

Some of us have also said a few times in the past that: good programmers are expensive.

Put two together and you get a recipe as to why more companies shy away from custom-development and prefer to build IT based on OOB + small tweaks.

I've been seeing a growing demand of Microsoft Office 365 + Sharepoint Online + Dynamics CRM Online as opposed to in-house installation or using Basecamp.NEXT + Backpack (yes, SP Online is equal to Basecamp.NEXT + Backpack). Some companies don't necessarily put top premium for nice UI or super simple easy and friendly software.

Open Source software is also impacted with the rise of the cloud: in certain area of software, if the cost of the commercial offering is less than installing+maintaining Open Source software, then that particular area of software for Open Source probably will die eventually (e.g.: Open Source bug tracking and project management software => Is it more expensive to install+maintain Trac vs paying GitHub/FogCreek/Atlassian to host everything?)

We might be slowly eating ourselves as well (in the context of IT). Whether we can produce something new, innovative, and exciting, faster than we can eat is yet to be seen.

PS: There are industries with unique requirements and regulations, these industries might pay for expensive custom software until one day a new software will arise and effectively kill customization in the said industry.


Some companies don't necessarily put top premium for nice UI or super simple easy and friendly software.

Aren't these companies more vulnerable to disruption? If there productivity is very low, and they don't provide digital solutions. This means they can't go bankrupt by competitive and high-tech competition (like Netflix did)

The question is "when they will go away?" It's very likely when the cost of implementing the technology is cheaper than hiring many workers.


I'm referring to the many productivity cloud solutions out there vs Sharepoint. Not "old vs new" digital distributions etc, but instead between big and established company like Microsoft who can still able to execute (ignore Bing and WinMo/Tablet/Phone) vs the so-called nimble and agile smaller companies.

When comparing Basecamp vs SharePoint Online, there are people who don't care of the warm fuzzy feeling of Basecamp.NEXT "paper" UI and would probably go with SharePoint Online due to Microsoft brand.


If productivity rises to an absurd degree, I think it makes sense to start having a citizen's wage / minimum guaranteed income: http://www.xamuel.com/ten-reasons-for-guaranteed-minimum-inc...

Sure, a lot of people might just become layabouts doing nothing. But are they really doing much right now, by enduring crappy jobs that add marginal value?

Other people might unlock vast reservoirs of creativity which would bring great positive externalities to society, if they didn't have to spend their productive hours on such a trite problem as survival.


My country, Uruguay, implemented something like that ("Plan de emergencia"). And I don't like the results.

The problem is not that they're "doing nothing", it's that they're actively increasing their burden to the working society by having an unsustainable amount of children.

They're also REJECTING job offers (80% of those getting the emergency wage). And many of those job offers were for a good wage by local standards.

(spanish links)

http://elobservador.com.uy/noticia/214462/el-80-de-la-poblac...

http://www.mides.gub.uy/mides/text.jsp?contentid=14247&s...

It may sound fascist, but I'd like people to be able to support themselves before having children.

The idea of a citizen's wage sounds nice in theory, but implementation opens a big can of worms.


Easy fix (logically, that is. Politically, nothing is easy). Have a US style "earned income tax credit" or "civilian conservation corps" where for folks get paid to work, and the government creates (productive, civil engineering and janitorial type) work if there is not enough private sector work,


Yes, I know it's a political problem not a logical one :( .

There's plenty of work available, on the second link above, Alberto Iglesias, the president of the Farmer's federation acknowledged that (losing the wage if you get employed) makes it very difficult to get labor to harvest fruit and vegetables. "Crews have been decimated at an alarming rate""

There's also a labor shortage for construction work, at wages above the country's mean, and higher than the "Plan de emergencia" wage, but of course, you don't have to work for that one, so that's the one people choose.

It also goes agains the link the parent posted, which was what I was partly refuting:

"a regular “paycheck” just for being alive, a paycheck sufficient to support basic human needs, with no means-test nor any rules on how it could be used"


Yeah, a completely free payout open to all is unsustainable unless the robots and natural resources are so abundant no one has to work unless they are ambitious for a vocation; otherwise you get the market for lemons where raising wages just encourages more people to leave higher paying jobs, productivity and taxes until the welfare scheme goes bankrupt.


The USPS may not be an ideal case study, since it is the only entity that is required to pre-fund 75 years worth of health benefits to employees.

http://about.usps.com/news/national-releases/2011/pr11_102.h...

"Without enactment of legislation by the end of this month, the Postal Service faces default, as funds will be insufficient to make a congressionally mandated $5.5 billion payment to pre-fund retiree health benefits, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe told a Senate committee today."

This was a manufactured crisis, passed by a lame duck Republican congress in 2006. See Title VIII - Postal Service Retirement and Health Benefits Funding in the following link:

http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h109-6407

Yes - E-mail has made an impact on the USPS' bottom line, but it's because of POLITICS that the USPS is in such bad shape.


Specially considering that the average volume/weight/cost by package must have increased tenfold because of e-commerce.


Jobs aren't obsolete. There are plenty of jobs. Part time, low wage, no benefits jobs. Careers? Full time, living wage that can support a family, full benefits packages? Those are becoming obsolete, and fast.

Screw any politician who crows about "creating jobs". I would support one who can create careers. Won't happen.


> Jobs aren't obsolete. There are plenty of jobs. Part time, low wage, no benefits jobs.

The 600,000 the article mentioned were mostly of this type, I presume (not the part time maybe, but the other two).

E.g. Secretarial/bureaucracy type jobs which rarely pay more then $15/hour, and usually ~$10/hour, are quickly being replaced with computers.

> Careers? Full time, living wage that can support a family, full benefits packages? Those are becoming obsolete, and fast.

I wouldn't say obsolete. I doubt they're growing at the same rate of the population, but there are still many fields where building a career is a reasonable venture.


I love how the media overreacts to everything. Here's a pretty obvious maxim: nothing is as good as it seems at its best, and nothing is as bad as it seems at its worst. To wit: the recession and slow recovery of the last couple of years are just that, a recession and slow recovery--they aren't a harbinger to the end of capitalism or conventional labor or employment. The jobs are already coming back.

Psychologically, people seem to have a basic need to do something productive with at least a good chunk of their time, and jobs do fulfill this important need. The jobs might become more abstract and more indirectly removed from everyday necessities, and hours might even drop, but I don't think they'd go away.


    To wit: the recession and slow recovery of the last 
    couple of years are just that, a recession and slow 
    recovery--they aren't a harbinger to the end of   
    capitalism or conventional labor or employment.
The recession and slow recovery are what we make of them. The future is not already determined. There may or may not be the end of capitalism, but that doesn't say anything about whether that's a goal we should pursue.

Even though Rushkoff believes that automation is killing jobs, he doesn't believe that the alternative he proposes is inevitable. He just invites us to consider it.


It is more a problem of motivation. Since we have not yet stopped universal entropy to guarantee our unending existance forever, we still have progress to be made.

Too bad we have probably billions of human beings not contributing towards that progress.

We need people motivated to enter the sciences and engineering disciplines to make the future happen. We will probably see our means of survival fully automated in our lifetimes, and besides the imminent highly coupled crisis of global warming / overpopulation / resource depletion this century, we will probably emerge from it in a state where no person born will ever need to toil to survive to the next day.

We might even get to the point where people don't die, or aren't bound to biological form.

But we are too busy complaining about celebrities on TV and our neighbors to have a collective motivation towards progress. The greatest problem to solve in the 21st century is one of motivating people to tackle hard problems to progress the whole of humanity, en masse.


I accept that humanities continuation as a species depends on science/tech, there has to be more to it. Living longer and expanding further should be the how, not the why.

Unifying people into action is historically only possible by getting them to engage in shared values and beliefs. We need culture, politics, philosophy and, dare I say it, religion to motivate people into tackling these problems. Promoting science beyond these seems unlikely to result in the kind of Utopian vision you are talking about.

Also, is toiling always such a bad thing? Hard work can be rewarding too.


In Europe, some people are thinking of replacing welfare by a certain ammount of money being payed to everyone, without condition, everymonth. Could be solution, even if you have to work out the details of such a scheme. What makes this different from any system we have today is, that people not working are most likely not stigmatised anymore. Currently you have condition attached to recieving money from the state, so as soon as you can get away from these conditions you will. Meaning you need a job , a.k.a. employment. The result is, that everybody without a job has nothing to offer to an emplyeer. Hence, the stigma that he's worthless. But he isn't, maybe he only has talents nobody is willing to pay enough to make a living these days. If this really is a solution or how we can get there, well no idea. But we should think about it. As soon as there's enough for everyone, why not letting everyone participate on it. And when you look at the conditions you have to get your money when you ARE employed, well I'm not sure you're better of than without a job, from a self-respect point of view I mean.


Not many have mentioned policy here, just automation.

How are we to create sustainable jobs if we keep taxing, regulating, etc... such that we increase the requirement for marginal productivity of labor in order to turn a profit?

Basically, on-the-job training and low skills employment could be made more profitable by making it so that there is some room left for the free market. If they have lower non-employment costs, then they will be able to hire less productive people. This drives demand for employment, and thus, wages.

But I'm not suggesting that this will ever happen. ;) Some people in power pay lip service to the free market while attacking it, and others aren't shy about attacking it. We create "make work" jobs that come at the cost of companies and individuals. If it didn't come at the cost of companies and individuals their costs would be lower. If enough wiggle room was given, on-the-jobs training would be possible, and low-skills labor more profitable.

As of April, the US will have the highest corporate tax rate in the world. This approach doesn't seem to be solving the inequality of wealth problem, and it doesn't look like it's giving people a way to earn their living.


I've never understood taxing of income, except that for the point of a taxing bureau it's a very convenient spot to impose taxes.

Namely, taxing reduces whatever that is taxed. Taxing work makes work less desirable, and sometimes not worth to be done at all. Taxes should target things that are unnecessary or harming.

Thus, income shouldn't be taxed at all. Conversely, consumption should be taxed with a VAT roughly equal to the lost income tax. Food could certainly be taxed less than cars but the general rule should be that you're taxed for consuming. Because income wouldn't be taxed, people's purchasing power would increase but taxing the consumption would make them think twice where they spend their money. Consider that this is the opposite of the current situation: people are all pre-taxed (=license to consume) and items and products are so cheap they can get spent money on and ultimately discarded without anyone blinking an eye.


The counter argument is that taxing spending adversely impacts the poor. They have to spend a higher proportion of their income. The richer you are the more of your income you're likely to save/invest. It's hard to progressively tax consumption.


we are taxed at consumption as well, I'm assuming you mean you want even higher sales tax than we currently have but no income tax? I have felt that the current sales tax of up to 10% in some places is already fairly high as is


10%? Wow! Here in Ireland income tax is 20% on the first €32,000 and 40% above that. VAT (sales tax) is at 23%.


Ireland's quite weird in terms of tax policy internationally. We have supposedly low rates of income tax, high sales taxes and low corporate tax. Ireland also has more deductible than I've seen in the UK. I went looking for things I could use to reduce my tax bill (there's loads in Ireland), but there appeared to be no comparable tax reliefs available for me in the UK :(.


At those rates, income tax would also be higher than in the U.S., at least for most people


In Sweden income tax can be over 60% and VAT 25%.


In some places its lower, some places higher, I presume, but I've never heard as high as 23%, I think people here wouldn't stand for that, I presume there are much better social services in Ireland, which would be the benefit of higher taxation


Whether a human being or a machine is doing a task, value is being created; the overall economy isn't worse off.

The issue is value capture -- who derives the benefit of this value creation, and how?

If a human being does a job, they're compensated through wages. Machines have owners, which earn income in exchange for the productive output of their machines.

There are a lot of ways to earn income besides having a job. The sooner people realize this, the sooner we'll get beyond this absurd "job creation" mentality around which so much of modern politics revolves.


Jaron Lanier, recently pointed out, we no longer need to make stuff in order to make money. We can instead exchange information-based products.

The article doesn't mention Lanier's extensive writing on what he calls Digital Maoism: the notion that collectives always solve problems better than individuals, who should give their digital content away for free. If there were some way of monetizing this digital content that did not benefit only a few well-positioned social networking hubs and that did not require draconian intellectual property legislation (which mainly benefits a few monopolists), then there might be some hope.


Yeah was getting into the article until near the end when it started to feel like a not-so-subtle defense of "intellectual property", i.e., "if only we could better monetize our digital creations Utopia would be within reach".

I honestly feel that the way our government is run by lawyers (who seem to actually believe in this silly idea of an IP-based economy) is the reason so much manufacturing has fled the country. Americans today just don't know the value of mining, manufacturing, and agriculture. Germany and Switzerland didn't make this mistake. They love and value manufacturing and look where their economies are.

(And by the way kids, get off my lawn :-)


Captain Jean-Luc Picard states in the film Star Trek: First Contact that "The economics of the future is somewhat different. You see, money doesn't exist in the 24th century. The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity."

Disclaimer: Copied from the comments on the original article.


Generally, one ought to start thinking about this instead of the "End of jobs". Jobs are an industrial-era economic construction, work is something we always had and will probably always have, even as an evolutionary relic.


Somewhere out there there's a social model that makes a lot more sense and just works, but we can't fathom it right now because we are so busy worrying about competing over pieces on the ground.


As a software engineer, I would love to see all the tedious tasks people do all day replaced by technology. If having money is the only way to stay alive and I had a job, I would even pay higher taxes, just to let people do more of what they might love more (and what in the long run would benefit society in other ways). -- I guess, that this opinion is diametrical to current ideology.


The word you want in that last sentence is "diametrical", or perhaps "antipodal".


English is not my native tongue, so thanks for the suggestion. (Now that you mention it, I found both words in the dictionary.)


I presume you meant "pieces of the ground".

If my assumption is correct, let me reply- land has real value. This is for two reasons.

First, everybody occupies space. We all live somewhere; space is valuable because we all have to occupy it, the same way that food is valuable because we all have to eat.

Second, all wealth originates from two sources; human labor/effort, and natural resources. Natural resources are harvested from land.

Thus, the competition over plots of land will go away only if land becomes so plentiful (or humans become so scarce) its value is unimportant, AND resources become so plentiful their value is also nominal. An example is air; it has little value, even though we all have to breathe, because there is so much of it.


pieces on the ground? Care to give an example of this?


or maybe it's a gallicism and he means "coins on the ground"?


Charlie Stross brought this idea up on his blog recently; what does a post work-for-pay world look like? What would you do if you had a home, food, and health care as a basic right?

Could we even get there with our current basic cultural value being that if you don't work, you have no value?


Large numbers of people have home, food and health care as a basic right (e.g. all inhabitants of the UK and also I assume many other countries).

I think the major problems are:

- People like nicer food/nicer homes. Some (most?) of this is social signalling, some not. Some of the signalling issues could perhaps be addressed by raising the level of the basic provision, I'm unsure. (Basically, there will always be scarcity of some things and they can be used for signalling).

- Advanced human interaction/daily interest. For many/most people, working from home is in some ways less satisfying than working in an office environment (it may be better in other ways). I mean lack of social interaction in etc. Similarly full time mothers/fathers bemoan the lack of grown up contact/use of their higher mental faculties etc.

Lots of the issues are fixable with culture changes, but I suspect we'd need to be closer to full abundance before we could make much progress there.


Yes we could: replace 'work' with 'contribute' and it makes a lot of sense. I wouldn't believe in the mid- and long-term viability of a society that supports its members without requiring them to participate in its existence, development and improvement. Without some form of obligation, it would stagnate into a world of (so to speak) couch potatoes too easily.

If I had a home, food and health care as a basic right, what I would do? Raise my child with undivided attention, care and love. Try to make his environment a happy, safe and stimulating place. The kind of stuff that modern society apparently considers optional, or not valuable at all.


The last paragraph suggests a new organisation for a company: one where people can job share high value jobs, in return for an average salary.

Here's an example. Let's say I am capable of earning $160,000 a year, if I work 5 days a week in a role that is optimally suited to my skills. The problem is that this role leaves me with little time for my family (or other projects) and an excess of money. What I really want is to work 2 days a week for a salary of $64,000.

The above is hard to do in the current employment system. The closest options seem to be:

1) Take part time work. Typically part time work pays a much lower hourly rate, so to get my $64,000, I'm having to work 5 days/week. No gain, only pain.

2) Go into contracting. Fine for a single person, but too unstable with dependents.

3) Work for some number of years, then quit for a number of years. Demolishes the CV, making it hard to return to work, and leads to an unbalanced all or nothing relationship with the family.

4) Doesn't seem to exist.

Option 4) might be a company that specialises in allowing high value people to work limited hours, at what they do best. It would require a new way of organising things.

a) Systems to eliminate the "fixed cost" of employing someone, allowing many people to be employed in place of one, at the same cost.

b) Systems to allow multiple people to efficiently time share on a task.

c) Systems to allow people to rapidly pick up where they left off on a task.

d) Systems to allow a person to remain up to speed on a discipline, even with restricted working hours (ie. reducing the fixed cost to the employee).

It would be interesting to see how such a company would go competing against traditional a company of full-time employees. Assuming the negatives a)-d), above, could be solved, the benefits would be:

i) A fresh, productive, low stress, "burn out free" workforce.

ii) With some flexability of hours by healthy workers, the elimination of holes in the workforce, due sickness or unexpected events.

iii) The ability to very rapidly bring extra resources to bear (eg. some people work 4 days/week) under special circumstances.

iv) A larger employment pool, by including people who would would normally be precluded from full-time work. (How to make the model work well while not eliminating those who want a full-time job.)

Points a)-d) would seem to be fodder for a start-up, which would dog food its own system. The selling point could a competitive advantage, delivered by points i)-iv).

EDIT: formatting + spelling


The problem with your proposal is that employee time does not scale down linearly. There is a certain fixed amount of time needed for each employee to do training and administration, whether that employee works part time or full time. Let's say that takes 2 hours per week. If you drop from 40 hours per week to 16 then your actual productive time is only 37% as much. Plus there is additional fixed overhead for HR, computing resources, software licenses, personal equipment, etc.

Also consider that adding more people to a team increases communication overhead, regardless of whether they are part time or full time: n*(n-1)/2. So there's a further loss of efficiency with replacing a small number of full time workers with a larger number of part time workers.


I agree, its simply not possible to do this effectively in many situations, you can't just plug in a bunch of people for 2 days a week and expect to get the same output as the equivalent number of hours worked from a team of full-timers. I think companies could potentially adjust to this long-term, but projects and tasks have to become much more modular. With most companies I've worked with, their code base simply isn't set up for this sort of thing, theres often a lot of wasted time because of lack of documentation, refactoring that never was done, etc to where its often very hard to feel like you're working at maximum efficiency so IMO it would be hard to work in this sort of environment just 2 days a week, however on smaller scale projects, where its just one dev working on a new project, I think it would be more possible.


And those are precisely the problems that the proposed start-up would have to solve: how to reduce the fixed cost of an employee to as close to zero as possible!

I think the problems are solvable and what's more, I think that whoever cracks the problem will be able to deliver a sustainable competitive advantage, and that is worth money.


I'm sure this is possible. The fixed costs are lower than people think. Though you cheated a bit because you scaled down salary but not medical benefits (although for your hypothetical $160k example it's not a huge difference).


Contribute is right. People might talk about how many people experienced (listened,read,saw) their work this year, which is already happening, only people worry endlessly about how they will get paid today, and tomorrow they might just worry about how they will get seen.


In 1900s, with Nietzsche, we killed God but at least people had distractions of "work".

But in 2000s, we are slowly killing work itself and replacing it with automaton.

Without a world with religion or necessary work, I wonder, what is there for (majority of) humans to "cling to"? Without distractions, won't their "freedom" drive them insane? Without God and profession, what would give meaning to their life?


The State and war. Then once we abolish those we will have reached communist nirvana.


Drugs. C.f., Brave New World.


I get into friendly arguments with family and friends on the conservative and liberal side of things over this. While I believe that paying taxes partially to support people who can't work or can't get jobs is simply part of the cost of living in a (reasonable) civil society, I also believe that there has to be a strong incentive built into the system.

I believe that able bodied people and their families who don't have means of earning money should be supported in clean and safe tent cities and incentivized to put effort into accepting and working with training programs and education. Incentives might be things like cable TV, etc. in their housing.

No one should starve to death or go hungry in our country. People who simply don't want to work or accept training and education should get fewer perks in life, but should still have enough to be happy if that is the lifestyle they want.

All children should have good educational opportunities, including free meals at school if they need them.


The idea of this has been around for a LONG time and is not a new one. I think the term for this type of society is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utopian_socialism or a socialist utopia.

New jobs always pop up though. The problem with this logic is that because all of today's jobs will likely be automated in the future you think everyone will be unemployed, but in reality you just can't fathom what the jobs of the future will look like. Can you imagine trying to describe to someone that lives in 1900 your job description? You write code for a living? You're a computer scientist? Wtf is that? They pay you to just sit there all day and press buttons?


Let us put it this way. As automation increases and there are cheaper and greener ways to harness and use energy. What we are likely to see is change of goals in life.

We may no longer strive for food, clothing and shelter. Many things may come automatically. But we will have to still work to make a living for many things like medicine, travel, vacations etc but the basic stuff may all come at cheaper prices.

There will still be 'rich' and 'poor' people. People will pay for greater things. The poor will no longer strive for basic survival, but they will have to strive for luxury.

The whole point is the definition of poverty and luxury will change. And we are likely to have better standards of living at the lowest levels.


Funny that you include medicine in the list of luxury things you have to work for. In a large part of the world that's the one thing you don't have to work for.


I think this is just hysterical nonsense. Remember, it used to be not that long ago that 95% of the labor force worked on farms, and still famine was a regular occurrence. Now only 1 or 2 percent work on the farms.

I can't imagine people running out of productive things to do. After all, can making movies be automated? How about becoming a professional dancer or athlete? Writing books? Building a custom car? Making art of any sort? Elder care (a booming business as baby boomers age)? Research? Tutoring?

There have never been greater opportunities for productive work than now.


Largely due to globalization, nearly half of Americans are poor or low income.

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/census-shows-1-2-people-103940...

There is, of course, no shortage of productive work, but getting paid for that productive work is another matter.


This is just based on changing definitions of "poor" and "low-income". Wages are still around all-time highs for every quintile.


I'm talking about real wages: the ability to buy food, transportation, and shelter. A few decades ago a lot more people could do this without requiring both spouses work and take on significant debt.


The abstraction of "jobs" from "the things we do to survive" is interesting. The only things we "need" to do are reproduce, and find food and shelter towards that end. It's crazy that we have blown past the struggle for survival so far it's almost been forgotten, like the binary code under our lovely Ruby scripts.

But we still feel the flutter of our primal fears for survival, even in the abstraction, and fight to the death over increasingly excessive piles of wealth, as if we might not "survive". And because we do that, in the global picture not everyone DOES survive. If you are convinced you do not have enough to survive, it's very hard to share.

Even worse, as our personal bar of "survival" continues to rise in this abstract world, our frantic and instinctual struggle to "survive" is apparently driving us towards an incredibly sad and ironic demise - if you believe the headlines about nuclear war and global warming.

I agree with the article's idea that as technology takes care of more and more basic needs we should move to "information-based products" to keep ourselves busy and satisfied. We have to. All the world's billions can't have two cars in the garage, but they can all have giant digital art and music collections. (I guess we could do more recreation/sporting too, that's not a finite resource.)

But it's another level of abstraction. How far can we get from our concrete instincts for food and babies and still find sufficient meaning and purpose?


But we still feel the flutter of our primal fears for survival, even in the abstraction, and fight to the death over increasingly excessive piles of wealth, as if we might not "survive". And because we do that, in the global picture not everyone DOES survive. If you are convinced you do not have enough to survive, it's very hard to share.

Are you familiar with the 8 Circuit Model of Consciousness? Sounds like you're describing a negatively imprinted first circuit (or "bio-survival anxiety").

http://theuniverseas.com/bio-survival


I think you need to take a closer look at poverty in your country, dude. Maybe you're abstracted away from it, but it's not a fairy tale.


"Jobs, as such, are a relatively new concept. People may have always worked, but until the advent of the corporation in the early Renaissance, most people just worked for themselves."

I feel kinda stupid for saying this but I always thought people stopped producing their own "stuff" when we really got the hang of money. In other words, thanks to money, I can do one thing all day (and maybe get really good at it!) instead of doing all the little separate things I need to do to survive. And then I can exchange the fruits of that one thing for all the other stuff I might need or want.

I appreciate this more now since I started learning how to write code. By my second or third go at a script, I figure out how to factor out common functions and reuse them. Good thing these lines of code aren't laborers because what I'm essentially doing is firing all of them and replacing them with a workhorse (a function or a subroutine) which will do all the work for me, multiple times.

I guess I'm sort of brainwashed into thinking the efficiency gained by factoring my code is more important than the livelihood of all those little redundant lines I figured out a way to delete. But what this guy's saying sounds too politically charged for me to be fully persuaded by it. I'm like 88% persuaded by it but there's the nagging 12% saying, "He's got an agenda, Jimmy. Don't listen to him!"


This isn't true at all. Working "for" someone else goes back to the earliest governments and religions. Corporations only took off much later, after the end of mercantilism.


Oh, alright. So, he's talking about "being employed by some organization", rather than just "having a job" in general. The article definitely makes more sense now.

I guess, maybe naively, I don't care as much about the arrangement between employer and employee as I do about the apparent dark side of rapid efficiency gains through specialization. I wanted him to say, "Hey, look, specialization is awesome until we're so efficient we don't need all the humans we're giving birth to!" But I'm slightly disappointed because I think I just read something about how evil and oppressive corporations are.


Acualy in that period a lot of people owed their living to their feudal overlord and some where efectivly owned by the landowners.


I'm sure someone else picked up on this...

"New technologies are wreaking havoc on employment figures -- from EZpasses ousting toll collectors to Google-controlled self-driving automobiles rendering taxicab drivers obsolete."

I wasn't aware that "Google-controlled self-driving automobiles" was rendering taxicab drivers obsolete any time in the near future... call me a luddite, but we've probably got several decades of legal and social hurdles before that even approaches being a reality.


Or that toll booth collectors were a vast segment of our economy... These sort of articles by this sort of author indicate, if anything, that our economy is robust enough to produce such inane nonsense.


"That's because, on a very fundamental level, we have pretty much everything we need."

Really? We found a way to cure cancer and power our economy with clean energy?


We have enough to live as well as we've ever lived, which is pretty well.

There'll always be something more. Some day, when a sizable portion of humanity lives to 115, we'll consider the genetic limit of 115 year life spans to be as important as cancer is today.


If we assume that old jobs lost to automation and efficiency are simply replaced with new jobs, then how can we measure we are actually producing something of relevance and actual utility with the new jobs?

For example, farming is pretty vital as work per se and it used to cover the majority of people. But these days, if a percentage of people can do the farming for everyone then what would constitute equally meaningful jobs for the rest of the 99%? We basically need food, clothes, housing, and heating. Then there are things that we "need" (but can do without) such as electricity, plumbing, running water, etc. Some people would become artisans to produce specialized goods or merchants to trade those goods. These are pretty quickly and efficiently implemented with the current efficiency and if that was all, we'd probably have employed few percent of the work force. What's there left to do that would genuinely cover the rest 90% of the work force?


This was discussed before at

http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2970007


Yes, we are using less USPS for sending payments and letters. That is only one aspect of USPS. People are shipping way more stuff than they do using USPS. A lot of stuff that is bought in websites like eBay and amazon goes through USPS. eCommerce is growing year over year, which means growth for USPS.

IMHO, USPS is more important now than ever.


“There is enough food produced to provide everyone in the world with 2,720 kilocalories per person per day”…except that’s not how ecology works. When a species is given a food surplus, its population grows, not the quality of life of its individuals. If you give your surplus food to an area that supports 5,000 starving people, then you have only ensured that 6,000 of them will be around in the next generation to starve even more severely.

“Might the spirit of enterprise we currently associate with ‘career’ be shifted to something entirely more collaborative, purposeful, and even meaningful?” I’d like to think so. We are just as much competitive creatures as collaborative ones, though, so in a world where needs are fulfilled regardless of whether you do anything, I fear people will have little incentive or inspiration to create.


   If you give your surplus food to an area that supports 5,000
   starving people, then you have only ensured that 6,000 of 
   them will be around in the next generation to starve even 
   more severely.
Not sure how well that applies to human societies. Poorer countries tend to have a higher population growth because poor people have children so that they can put them into labor. In developed societies, the general quality of life is increasing while population growth is decreasing, something that contradicts your assumption.

   so in a world where needs are fulfilled regardless of 
   whether you do anything, I fear people will have little  
   incentive or inspiration to create
That's a typical libertarian argument that borders on sadism (is producing great creations more important than living comfortably?). It can also be easily dismissed: Money is not the only incentive for producing art or science. In fact it's far from the most important incentive. Are you saying that important scientists or artists have produced their works merely in order to fulfill material needs?

I wish I didn't have to care about making enough money to survive so that I would have time to pursue my lofty research ideas.


I am a fungus.


Can the same argument not be used for the industrial revolution? The job of the specialists was replaced by technology. The job of the orchestra in theaters was replaced by audio recording/playback technology. And the list goes on. Now it is no different, more automation.

The real problem is that we keep reproducing uncontrolably. The religiously crazed keep pushing having tons of kids with NO WAY TO SUPPORT THEM. Furthermore, better medicine means more kids are surviving, so that means population keeps growing. However with a growing population there is less and less opportunity for each member to contribute to society. It's a cycle. We need controlled population growth globally and an incredible education system. There is simply no other way to go.


   The real problem is that we keep reproducing 
   uncontrolably. The religiously crazed keep pushing having 
   tons of kids with NO WAY TO SUPPORT THEM.
That's only the main issue if you're wearing Reddit atheist goggles. Population growth is steadily decreasing in developed countries. On the other hand, automation is becoming increasingly a problem and is partly responsible for the increasing economic inequality we are facing - people with access to the means of production have a lesser need for human labor, resulting in the disempowerment of the middle class.


Perhaps I also have Reddit atheist goggles on, but if the religiously crazed have more children on average than the secular, at some point the number of the former will outnumber the number of the latter.

And then, presumably, every near-democracy travels back in time one hundred years.


Not really because many atheists grew up in religious families.


You know, I keep hearing this meme about the evil robot taking away our jobs... how does this compare with the actual competition from overseas cheap labor?

As I understand it, isn't it a lot cheaper to hire a bunch of third-world workers than to build out automated factories?


For one thing, population growth in industrialized countries is already at or below replacement levels. The problem is solving itself. It turns out economic development is the solution.

For another thing, population doesn't matter much anyway because the demand for most occupations probably grows linearly with population regardless of technology. You don't need linearly as many engineers, but you do need linearly as many doctors, policemen, firemen, cleaners, repairmen, prostitutes, soldiers, nurses, dentists, veterinarians, barbers, yoga instructors, and dog groomers.


Spot on. In the short term there's multiple factors, but population is a big 800 lb gorilla few in political leadership will ever touch.


Humans are going to mate regardless of religion. The only way to control population growth is to stop increasing food production. We cannot make more people if there is nothing for them to be made of.


The evidence flatly contradicts this. Give people contraception and reasonable financial security and the reproduction rate drops like a rock. You can argue about the why, but the what is at this point undeniable. There is no need to go around starving people to "control" the population. This suggestion is no longer a fashionably cynical stance to take in the face of hard reality, it's just evil.

We are not reproducing uncontrollably. This memeset needs to take a good long look around, and then die itself, before it gets enough power to do something truly unfortunate... and entirely unnecessary.


…No. The evidence strongly supports this.

It’s a fundamental principle of ecology that an increase in food production causes an increase in population. But what may not be intuitive is that these two increases need not happen in the same place, and often do not.

Contraception is irrelevant. Our population is not growing as quickly in the developed world as it is elsewhere, but it is still assuredly growing. It always will grow, as long as we are human and there is enough food to allow it.

We produce enough food each year to feed every person on the planet. If we were to continue producing exactly as much food each year as we did the last year, then our population would, necessarily, cease to grow.

I am not trying to be “fashionably cynical”, nor cold-hearted. I don’t think we’re “reproducing uncontrollably”. I am advocating that some people must starve to death because it is more humane than the alternative of producing ever more people each generation to starve to death. Surely you can understand why I argue such a seemingly untenable position, even if you aren’t comfortable agreeing.


"It’s a fundamental principle of ecology that an increase in food production causes an increase in population."

"Fundamental principles" are still less fundamental than facts. The facts are clear. It is possible for large human populations to be both abundantly fed and reproduce at less than replacement rates, and the trend is strongly in the direction of sub-replacement growth. This is true of groups that comprise multiple billions of humans, and the connection between wealth and sub-replacement rates is pretty clear.

As I said, the why is still an interesting question.

You are simply wrong. There is no reason why we must starve anyone to death in the forseeable future.

You may note I'm not providing citations. This is because I would contend this is in the class of commonly known fact. We have periodic debates arising in the media about what to do about the fact that neither we nor many other countries can sustain our planned social spending in the face of ever-slowing reproduction rates. This is not stuff that has been hiding out on obscure corners of academic journals, it's on the evening news.

On a similar vein, this is why I don't spend much time listening to people moan about how uniquely evil humans are. Humans are the uniquely moral animal. It is in fact an ecological principle that species will reproduce to consume all available food, and it is a unique characteristic of humans that we can choose not to. (So I do understand how easy it is to make that mistake.) We are not unique in utilizing our ability to raze ecosystems, we are unique in our ability not to use abilities we have, and unique in trying to fix them up after we learn better. We are not unique in our capacity for violence, we are unique in our capacity for peace, and so on.


>> Our population is not growing as quickly in the developed world as it is elsewhere, but it is still assuredly growing. It always will grow, as long as we are human and there is enough food to allow it.

This is inaccurate. The population across significant swaths of the developed world are no longer increasing. Take Germany, Japan or Italy - all of whose populations are in fact decreasing - even after taking into account immigration statistics. If population migrations were static, this would also hold true across most of Western Europe.

>> I am advocating that some people must starve to death because it is more humane

I'm sure you regard yourself as a bold forward thinker. You're sadly mistaken.


Except that birth rates are not just not increasing in the developed world but are below the replacement rate for many countries, such as Japan and Russia.


Developed countries have in fact lower birth than death rates. In those countries, population is increasing only by immigration.

What stops population growth is political and economical stability, empowerment of women, and education. E.g. check this video http://vimeo.com/m/2905893 to see what research on the matter has to say.


Its getting harder to imagine us not eventually splitting into Eloi and Morlock.


>> 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.

Sounds like a campaign speech writer for Obama. Regardless any other analogies, everyone needs to pull their fair share unless they either already have (elderly or injured or medically incapable) or have enough wealth to hire those of us who are willing to pull our fair share.

In the latter case, workers don't need Union boss thugs to protect us from you; we just need your respect.


It's funny how the recipe to fix the economy, that our current leaders are pushing, is by trying to raise productivity and competitiveness, by giving corporations the flexibility to increase working hours without extra compensation for employees. Then raise the retirement age at 67 while unemployment in under 30s is in a peak. Yeah, all those counter-intuitive measures they keep preaching for on the media all the time.

Scarcity of a resource is the most profitable opportunity for those who own it. Scarcity of jobs is an opportunity for profit to some people.


A relevant short sci-fi novel about robotics, economic and societal change brought about from change in value of labor:

http://marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm


I love this novella. Also on Marshall Brain's site are a handful of essays/articles on this topic, e.g.: http://marshallbrain.com/robotic-freedom.htm

His suggestion is very simple: provide an annual stipend of about $25,000 to each citizen.


> The opposite, libertarian answer (and the way we seem to be going right now)

The US government is arguably going in the opposite direction of libertarianism.

http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/0...

> would be to let those who can't capitalize on the bounty simply suffer.

I think most people don't want to let the poor "simply suffer". Libertarians simply argue it shouldn't be government's role to help the poor.


He fails to note that wealth decays. It cannot be redistributed indefinitely. Those who create wealth must have enough incentive to keep doing so to support (voluntary or not) those who don't. Take away too much wealth from those who created it and they'll stop creating more, and what wealth there is will be consumed and/or squandered out of existence.

Note that, in the USA at least, federal government revenue never exceeds 20% of GDP. Try taking more, and GDP declines - to wit, producers slow or stop.


Yeah, I like this part:

"The communist answer to this question was just to distribute everything evenly. But that sapped motivation and never quite worked as advertised."

Wow. Understatement? Volumes of economic thought have been written about why communism doesn't work and he just kinda brushes it off like, "minor bug, nbd".


Soon followed by "We start by accepting that food and shelter are basic human rights."

Obviously he never grew a significant fraction of his own food, or built his own house. That I can do so by the proxy of writing software (to wit thinking real hard) does not devalue them to the point that those who don't/won't create food & shelter, or do something exchangeable therefor, can demand I provide them with such necessities. Advocates of this "jobs are optional" meme don't grasp, or won't admit, how little most people are willing to live on if they can get it for zero effort and can be entertained indefinitely ... funny, that sounds a lot like the "bread and circuses" stage of a civilization on the brink of collapse.

Make them "rights"? Obvious discussions of "you have no right to compel me to provide for you" aside... I've figured $10/day is a workable, albeit stark, minimum "living income" (see http://abuckaplate.blogspot.com for the mindset). Few indeed are incapable of earning $10/day and making that livable, save only for lack of will. There is no need to declare a "right to food & shelter" (manifested thru confiscation) when so little effort is needed.

But, as you note, he just tosses out the "human rights" premise as "nbd". Never mind the 100,000,000 dead from prior attempts at the memes he proposes as new.

When he grows half his own food, and builds his own home, and gives 90% of his income to the state (just write a check to the treasury, nobody's stopping him), then maybe he'll have standing. Methinks he won't hold those views if he lived them a while.


"And that's even after America disposes of thousands of tons of crop and dairy just to keep market prices high."

is this true ? is it legal..


I can't find a quick source for the disposal of crops but the US does heavily subsidize farmers to the tune of tens of billions per year.


No.




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