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All around the world, labour is losing out to capital (economist.com)
207 points by rndmize on Nov 4, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 280 comments

On the subject of robotics supplanting human toil, Ray Kurzweil recently said:

"In my view, it will lead to richer lives, and longer lives, but I would put an emphasis on the richer part. And I’m not just talking about financial riches. Life is getting [better] as we enrich our lives with technology. You can see that now—a kid in Africa with a smartphone has access to more information and human knowledge than the president of the United States did 15 years ago. People were lucky if they could get a book 100 years ago. We’re going to continue that expansion. Music is going to be richer. We’re going to have virtual reality experiences we can enjoy. All different forms of human expression, art, science, are going to become expanded, by expanding our intelligence." Source: http://www2.macleans.ca/2013/10/14/how-nanobots-will-help-th...

He's infinitely more intelligent than me, but I fail to comprehend how a world without human labour could possibly lead to a richer experience.

Kurzweil and other olds like him believe in the Star Trek future. They believe in a beautiful utopia future that is unlockable by abundance. That's why 3d printing and virtual reality are so exciting for them.

A meme back then was from Buckminster Fuller, renowned architect, thinking, and systems analyst--what they used to call hackers back then. Fuller made a proclamation that in the future we will reach a point in society where a person will only need to work 1 full work to generate enough value that lets them live for the rest of the year.

How crazy is that?

Well when you have replicators and automation to do all the work, you have more time to focus on other things.

For example say you want to be an artist. To do so you endeavor on the artist path, living the artist lifestyle. You don't work a 9 to 5 so that you can focus on your art, because of that you don't have a lot of money, and thus you live the hipster way. In the cheaper edges of a big city, you work entry level retail jobs, and you're constantly at the edge of failure.

Many of us like to create art, but because we don't want to live that kind of poor lifestyle we don't pursue what our passions are. We're misfit, square pegs in round holes of society.

You absolve people of toil and now you have no fear. Without fear you create more. When you try more you do more.

J. K. Rowling credits her completion of Harry Potter based on England's welfare system. They removed her anxiety and fear by helping her out when she had no job. Because of that she took the plunge to write Harry Potter.

Imagine if all 7 billion of us are free to try, really try, at art. Think of the industrial revolution. Think of the internet revolution. None of that will compare to the next wave and all that new activities will bring.

That's how the world is enriched by removing work.

Or, we can all end up reverting back to living in caves.

Who knows.

Interestingly, we seem to be preparing longer and longer for our careers. Perhaps we'll eventually work a handful of days in our lifetimes, but spend 30 years preparing for that moment.

That sounds like a great plot for a sci-fi movie. Not sure if it would be a utopia or dystopia though ...

Weirdtopia, obviously.

This idea is way older than Buckminster Fuller. A key aspect of the rise of socialist ideologies from the mid 1800's was the view that technology would eventually render poverty "obsolete" by making production so efficient that redistribution would leave everyone able to do largely what they want.

E.g. in the German Ideology (1845), Marx wrote: " In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. "

But this was not to my knowledge an idea that originated with Marx, but was a general driver behind a range of socialist and proto-socialist ideologies dating back to well before the term socialism came into use.

Though to Marx it was one of the reasons for why he saw the fall of capitalism as inevitable: It will, according to him, chase efficiencies due to competition to the point where it will eventually saturate markets at the same time as it seeks to minimize labour and minimize labour costs. Since capitalism is geared towards continuous expansion, he believed this would lead simultaneously to eventual increases in poverty and overproduction as society tries to reconcile a situation where labour becomes less and less necessary while capitalist companies depends on more and more spending.

So to Marx, the crisis of increasing economic output coupled with reduced need for labour is what eventually pushes society to a tipping point where Marx argued socialist revolutions becomes not only viable, but necessary (you'll note that noe of the countries where people tried to force through revolutions in the name of socialism have been anywhere near this level of development; starting with Lenin, a number of people went through any number of contortions to try to make excuses for how socialist revolutions would be viable in countries that did not meet the criteria set out by Marx, and every one of them have been proven wrong; though of course that does not prove Marx right), and that they will eventually happen with or without help.

Marx tacitly admitted that capitalism would be more efficient at growing manufacturing etc., for the very reason that capitalism diverts far fewer resources to welfare. And this is one of the reasons why a well developed capitalist society according to Marx is a pre-requisite for socialism.

What's funny to me is that if we're gonna go hunt down the source, we can even make Jesus a data point when he pointed out you treat each other with love and love will free us all.

As a 53 year old, I somewhat resented "other olds," because I mostly think Kurzweil is a huckster peddling nonsense. Then at the mention of Star Trek, I accepted that you were making an allusion to an original series episode, and all made sense.


Kudos! Michael J Pollard (who is 74 and still with us, was awesome in this episode).

"A Point of View: Should the baby boomers leave the stage?" -- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24765974

Oh, Owen, you'll always be the young and dashing Digg guy in my heart.

I'm about 40 lbs lighter and ran a half marathon this year. Less beer than in the digg days. But thanks!

>Well when you have replicators and automation to do all the work, you have more time to focus on other things.

The problem is, business models will probably bill you for time of use while you rent-out your replication.

Technology is great, but as long as their implementers seek profit over ideals, there's a pretty big obstacle to your utopia.

That's fine, though. Put down a basic income. People can live reasonably as they like, and then work on top of that because people get bored. Putting down a BI isn't going to stop people from having money; you're still going to have venture funding. Let someone take a risk on your idea. You deal with all the snafus and shenanigans of today, except neither of you are risking life itself. Worst case scenario, you live comfortably without having achieved anything.

Great exposition. I don't know if there is a growing number of "us" but I do know that the ideas of basic income, automated industry etc...are seeming to become more pervasive. Especially as we are actually seeing the automation of driving (see: Rio Tinto/Google) and other goods I hope the ideas will start permeating beyond technologists and singulitarians.

I see a basic income as basically a mechanism by which the elite pay off the rest to stop them rioting.

It's technically and physically possible once the energy problem is more behind us. But it would also require radical changes to the way financial assets are distributed and to the entire capitalist system itself. Otherwise 99% of that increase in productivity will go to less than a fraction of 1% and everyone else will live in slums.

I hear the sound of 7 billion people writing terrible fanfic, while breeding profligately, as the mounds of landfill grow higher, and finally global war breaks out from total boredom and frustration.

> while breeding profligately

Except, of course, that all our experience indicates that once education levels, healthcare and general prosperity increases, reproduction rates drop.

If anything, if this effect continues, we'll reach a point soon enough where a shrinking population starts to become one of the things for us to worry about. Some countries already do worry about aging populations partially as a result of this, and it already is a major aspect of immigration debates in many European countries.

That's partly because women have careers in developed countries, which they won't if there's no work.

Financial independence != careers

That's a pretty shitty future. It's also still definitely better than the current-day society you support.

Open your eyes and maybe you'll see why art can stop that.

Art is powerful, but it's not that powerful. War is in our blood. You're asking wild-born wolves to behave like domesticated dogs just because they have enough food. Heck, even domestic dogs can be pretty vicious.

Please stop with the animal metaphor.

Firstly, human beings are omnivores, not pure predators.

Second, human beings have been evolving under the selection pressures of hunter-gathering lifestyles, semi-nomadic pastoral, settled farming lifestyles, and urban lifestyles for thousands of years now. The new lifestyles have been bred into our genes.

Third, if we really had no potential to behave like civilized people whatsoever, we wouldn't even feel morally drawn to civilized behavior at all. If we really were pure predators, "wild-born wolves", we simply wouldn't like cooperative behaviors or institutions whatsoever. The fact that we feel one mode of behavior is more moral is actually an indication that we are capable of that behavior, provided we actually choose to discipline ourselves.

Now if you'll excuse me, speaking of wild-born wolves, I have to go listen to that metal song again. Seid ihr das Essen? Nein, wir sind der Jäger!

What we eat has nothing to do anymore with why we kill.

As a whole, we hunt species to extinction just because some old geezers believe a horn is an erectile dysfunction cure.

Yeah, we can invade countries to search for a magic cauldron retconned to mean an easter souvenir, but we can't protect our home planet from an ecological devastation that will surely affect the future generations because we are now adapted to urban lifestyles and everything else is somebody else problem.

Somehow Agent Smith was right with the virus classification.

In the future, we may simply not have a use for violent people anymore. War can be automated to some extent. Violence can be abstracted, so it is done via remote control. This is already happening. Humans may just become domesticated, like dogs. If we have relative peace for long enough, those who can't control their violent urges just won't fit into society any more.

However, that doesn't negate your point that we could end up ruining it all through war. The thing is, most people want to follow, and they aren't very choosy about who leads them. Leadership tends to attract the kind of people who enjoy power, and so, even if resources are abundant, there is always something to fight about.

The technology that could bring about a lasting peace wouldn't be robotics, it would be some social mechanism through which we could obtain wise leadership. Which is certainly possible. Information technology opens up the possibility of entirely new levels transparency and accountability. Alternatively, there is the possibility of extremely rigid population monitoring and control.

Frankly, I think the most likely possibility is that there will only be a very brief period of time (maybe 50 years) between the point where we can automate all manual tasks, and the point where we have AI or augmented human minds, that are (by definition) impossible for us to predict.

I need to ask, when did we start routinely describing positive-sum cooperative behavior as "domesticated", implying a crippling or emasculation of the species?

So far this war automation is the reason I believe governments will finally stop unlimited population growth.

A huge standing army will no longer be necessary. In fact, this is already slowly happening.

More food, more trade, and more cosmopolitanism have decreased per capita violence by an order of magnitude compared to hunter gatherer societies and the first agricultural civilizations.

Ahh, who doesn't love unrelated metaphors. You underestimated the power of neuroscience. All that rage and hate and bloodlust will be fixed with a small chip and a small tablet.

So we can play ever bloodier FPS games with ever increasingly real graphics.

Well... why not? If slaughtering your way through a horde of zombies is fun, and we can differentiate healthily between fantasy and reality, between zombies and real people, why the hell not?

Because someone thought of the children.

An interesting property of art is that is doesn't enforce anything. You have to be willing to accept its message. War is pretty much the exact opposite end of the same line of distributing power.

I've long since thought that the relation of peace to war is that of the absence and presence of violence. Whereas the relation of art to war is also one of opposition but along a different axis, that of creativity and destruction.

Looked at this way war has at least two 'opposites'. I put opposites in quotes because I think there are far fewer actual binary dichotomies than people make out.

While I'm on the topic. Same for love. They say the opposite of love is hate. But whereas love draws people together fear keeps keeps them apart so you could also say that fear is the opposite of love. Looked at in this way love has at least two 'opposites'.

I wonder how many other traditional binaries could be broken?

In fear people come together to unite. In Love people come together to form amazing communities. In brink of war people unite to protect.

You can apply anything with anything.

War is just another expression of art.

Things where all strategies are fair: war, love

Well spotted! :)

What is that expression? "All's fair in love and war"

Art certainly can't stop the proliferation of refuse in landfills around the world. That is very much an industrial problem.

So the entirety of English society helped pay to make Rowling incredibly wealthy. That seems like a pretty massive concentration of wealth for little benefit to society as a whole aside from some nice pablum to digest.

I remember in the USA when the Harry Potter books were starting to go mainstream (and the Christian Right were still trying to get the book banned because they promoted witchcraft). There was an short piece on an NPR program that talked about the phenomenon of kids lining up in droves outside bookshops for the launch of the books - this was way before Apple copied the idea :) I would say that the net gain to humanity in the long term, purely based in terms of kids literacy, was worth many, many times Rowling's personal fortune.

I don't know what she and her creations have since paid in taxes in the UK, but I'll wager a dollar that it exceeds the monetary cost to the country. Hell, compared to some uses of the tax payers money, I'd say that a lot of value was gained.

You're absolutely right. Rowling has explicitly stated in the past that she hasn't and won't use tax avoidance structures, so she will have paid 40% income tax on most of her income from the books.

Plenty of UK bands from the 60s to the 90s have mentioned unemployment benefits as being an important factor in allowing them to exist before they got famous.

No, the entirety of English society paid to keep Rowling barely fed and sheltered for a short time, during which she wrote the first Harry Potter book. Then all the people who like her books enough to pay for them made her incredibly wealthy.

The 'the entirety of English society' didn't do squad exept keeping her and her kids from becoming homeless and living on the street. She helped herself become incredibly wealthy. Do you think it's easy to find a pubisher? Try finding one when you're an unemployed, uneducated mum.

It is quite amusing to see attempts at discounting the welfare systems impact on her ability to attain her wealth, when she herself has frequently described it as important, and one of the reasons why she has happily continued to pay substantial amount of taxes on her earnings.

Noone is to my knowledge saying she did not also have a substantial impact on it herself - after all, we're not swimming in people who have achieved the same. But there can very well be more than one contributing factor.

To grasp onto your last statement: Try writing a book when you're an unemployed, uneducated mum if she did not have a working welfare system to "break my fall" as she herself put it.

It was her effort, but the welfare system made it possible for her to put in that effort.

EDIT: Though just for the record, as rich people go she is definitively one of the most sympathetic, not least for the way she has made it exceedingly clear that she believes it is fair for her to pay her taxes in the UK without complaint, given what she believes she owes to the system in the first place - and to the extent that she explicitly hit out at the conservatives for wanting to cut taxes for the rich.

Well sir, I totally agree with you. Thanks for the good conversation. (Speaking as someone who also owes a large part of my education to the welfare system of my country).

If rich people paid less tax they could spend more money, thereby paying more tax.

Oh, hey, it's the Anti-Fun Squad come to tell us that a good series of kids' books has no actual worth just because.

He's infinitely more intelligent than me, but I fail to comprehend how a world without human labour could possibly lead to a richer experience.

This isn't hard to answer. As a share of the U.S. economy, the entertainment sector (movies, TV, video games...) has grown consistently. Why? Because people are spending less money on almost everything else thanks to declining human labor input costs. Another big winner has been restaurants which are, on average, much more numerous and of dramatically higher quality and variety in your median metro area than they were 50 or 100 years ago. Air travel is also, of course, way up, as more people visit faraway places.

I don't see why we should mourn the decline in traditional "labor". Robots aren't going to be cooking anyone a six course meal or directing the next Star Wars movie any time soon.

Because traditional labor made up nearly all of the middle class jobs in 1967, when the US standard of living peaked.

What do you replace 100 million labor based jobs with? So far, spanning decades, there hasn't been a good answer to that question, and the middle class continues to erode year after year. So now here we sit with 14% U6 unemployment ('the new normal'), and a labor force participation rate that matches 35 or so years ago (before the full influx of women into the work force, so the current numbers are that much uglier).

I'll note that in the last several years, the radical majority of job creation has been both part-time and hospitality based (eg hotels and bars). Hospitality pays notoriously terrible wages for the average worker. That doesn't sound like a good future to me.

>So now here we sit with 14% U6 unemployment ('the new normal'), and a labor force participation rate that matches 35 or so years ag

The other important statistic you're missing is that corporate profits are way up, even better than pre 2008 levels in fact. The question is why, if the economy is so bad that employment is perpetually depressed, how are corporate profits so high? The answer is that production is in fact back to where it used to be. But through automation and piling more work onto fewer people, corporations are reaping ever bigger profits at the expense of the rest of the economy.

In fact, the problem we're seeing is a prelude to the very future folks like kurzweli talk about: a future where human labor is obsolete in favor of automation. It's not that the future is necessarily one of destitution for the vast majority of humanity, its one where current thoughts on how to best distribute wealth will have to change. These really are easy problems to solve: some form of basic income. The hard question is how do we get from where we are to there without a very nasty revolution. One good step would be to simply mandate a reduced work-week. Full time becomes say 30 hours rather than 40. These sorts of steps are going to become necessary to maintain social stability as these trends towards fewer and fewer jobs increase.

Corporate profits are only way up for international corporations. That is to say, the S&P 500 and similar.

And they're up so far, because many areas of the world such as the BRIC nations, have seen a boom the last decade while America has not seen a real improvement in its situation. We're taking on water, while nations like Brazil, India, Russia, Canada, Australia and China have seen impressive gains (some of the gains are immense, as in China).

One reason labor in the US isn't do well, while corporate profits are booming, is because America's most successful corporations make most of their profits outside the US now. Companies like Apple and Microsoft hugely tilt the profit numbers, while earning very large portions of their profits from the global economy.

Some examples: Exxon gets 45% of its sales overseas; GE 54%; Ford 51%; IBM 64%; Boeing 41%; Intel 85%; McDonalds 66%; Nike 50%; Dow Chemical 67%

Sorry to chime in. But I do want to remind everyone that Federal Reserve System and other major central banks did print money like crazy since financial crisis in 2007. Perhaps Zero Hedge is a place to get some sense in that part. Maybe I'm wrong, but finance world is definitely a fundamental aspect we have to take into account when we want to talk about the future. When we have A, we tend to think we can achieve some dream with just A, however, usually there are B/C/D.. needed to actually make that dream come true. And at that point A might be not even a crucial driver. Just my 2 cents.

In the 1950s the financial sector amounted to around 2.5% of GDP. It now amounts to more than 8%, and more than 30% of corporate profits. Anyone who is an apologist for such an increase needs to be able to convincingly argue that this increase has been instrumental in increasing the U.S. standard of living in spite of labor's receiving a decreasing share of gains. I for one think it's rather easy to imagine finance and the American standard of living getting along just fine with finance capturing a mere 2.5%.

The question is whether this shift is a symptom or a cause: perhaps it's a symptom of a property of progress, whereby labor is becoming decreasingly remunerative, thereby forcing the best and the brightest into finance. The more cynical (and thus, to my mind at least, more likely) explanation is the pervasive, and plainly visible, influence that the financial sector has exercised on policy makers for the past half century, eventually leading to Wall Street's pull turning into an ever strengthening positive feedback loop, whereby savvy Ivy League-ers feel decreasingly adequate if they're not taking in seven figures within a decade of graduation.

And so instead of inspiring and setting wonderful examples for everyone else, America's most charismatic are busy cutting deals with each other and exploiting private information asymmetries.

Agreed. But more jobs are coming back to the US thanks to the systematically destruction of the value of the dollar vs other currencies. It is becoming cheaper to produce in the US. More jobs, but not more 'real' wage that is. The Yuan has moved up 32% since it low (when it was 'pegged' to the US dollar). The Euro is 'strong' again against the dollar as well despite all their problems.

You're making a very good point, one which I've been making for a long time. Chiming in as a Norwegian, we actually have much higher levels of automation than the United States does. This is a necessity, since salaries here are so high. But we also have (1) higher salaries for lower-skilled jobs and (2) a very strong social safety net which ensures that you will live a decent life even if you get long-term illness or are rendered obsolete.

It is my hypothesis that the Scandinavian social welfare model is a prequel to the way things need to be in the even more automated future: High taxation of high incomes, and either a very strong welfare system or negative taxation for low incomes / citizen's wage paid out to everyone regardless of income.

...when the US standard of living peaked.

The US standard of living peaked back when the bottom 10% didn't have a flush toilet, houses were half the size they are today, amenities like air conditioning and washer/dryers were uncommon and entire families shared a single car. Many medical problems were simply incurable, and many of the technologies that make our lives happier (modern media, online dating, video games) simply didn't exist.

You clearly aren't using "standard of living" in the same way as the rest of us.

What? You are clearly in denial or living in a bubble: US Census report shows entrenched poverty and declining living standards

"The report provides a snapshot of a society in immense crisis. Poverty is at a near-generation high of 15 percent, close to the high point since the 1965 War on Poverty, the 15.2 percent rate reached in 1983. According to Tuesday’s report, 46.5 million Americans, including 9.5 million families, live in poverty.

Some 20.4 million people live on an income less than 50 percent of the official poverty line, 7.1 million of these being children under 18. More than 48 million remain without health insurance.

More than 31 percent of the population experienced some period of impoverishment during the years 2009-2011. Median household income, at $51,017, was slightly lower than in 2011, and down by 8.3 percent from 2007. The number of people 65 and older living in poverty increased from 3.6 million to 3.9 million between 2011 and 2012."


The poverty line is a moving goalpost. People below the 2013 poverty line have more goods and services than the middle class of the 60's and 70's. The mean American with $0-5000 in income consumes $22.7k/year. The mean American in 1967 produced about the same amount (and therefore consumed at most that much, since consumption=production-investment).



This data actually wildly overstates the real consumption of people in 1967, since CPI is a gross overestimate of inflation.

If you believe living standards are declining, please list the set of goods and services that people had more of in 1967 than today. If you are correct, it shouldn't be hard - the answer should be most goods and services.

"People below the 2013 poverty line have more goods and services than the middle class of the 60's and 70's"

I agree they do. However, lots of people no longer have just the dad working. Mum needs to work as well just to get by. And those goods are created oversees and bought for much lower prices. And -last but not least- all those goods are purchased using debt much more than in the 60's/70's.

I find it shocking the US now has more people on foodstamps than people in fulltime jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports there are 97,180,000 full time workers in the private sector. But there are 103.4 million people currently enrolled in any one of 15 subsidized federal food assistance programs. It saddens me to see this.

However, lots of people no longer have just the dad working. Mum needs to work as well just to get by.

Total hours worked/capita fluctuates and is down a little bit since 1970. There has been no upward trend. Mom works more but dad works less.





The poor specifically are huge beneficiaries of this trend, and work very little.


In any case, I'm glad we are in agreement that adventured is wrong and standard of living has gone up.

Thank you for the good conversation, insights and links. You show me "Mom works more but dad works less". It leads me to wonder if Mom works more because dad works less? Full time jobs and Obamacare insurance perhaps?

"Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that the ratio of part-time to full-time jobs has completely flipped this year from historical trends. Last year, six full-time jobs were created for every one part time job. This year, only one full-time job is being created for every four new part-time jobs."


It's hard to make sense of all the data...

in 1967, when the US standard of living peaked

What's your metric for this?

The people who make that claim usually base it on average hourly earnings rates, inflation-adjusted, for some class of (male) workers.

On the other hand, if you look at "median household income", that's grown a fair bit since 1967. We have more dual-income families today where instead of one high-earning male and a housewife we have a couple who on average work maybe a little less and gets paid a little less as individuals than that single-earner male did, but their combined income is higher than the single-earner salary of old.

(We also have smaller households today than in the past due to higher divorce rates. And a lot more salary taken in the form of "benefits" which makes comparison of the raw dollar rate misleading.)

And yet the smartphone I have in my pocket would be worth billions back then. Even the poor today are much richer in many ways than the richest people alive in 1967.

Yes, but one cannot eat a smartpone. Poor families care more about things like healthy food, groceries and fuel. The sad part of this 'New Normal' is things like smartphones and TV's becoming cheaper and things a family can't live without are becoming more expensive. (Although I have to hand it to the US, they can export their inflation because of the reserve currency status).

Food is a lot cheaper now than it was then. As is clothing, especially at Walmart. If you look through an old Sears catalog the worker-hours needed to buy pretty much everything people buy has declined - all the stuff is cheaper, not just electronics. (Ikea helps too!)

Buying a house might be more expensive, but the average house is so much bigger and better today that it's hard to do a direct comparison.

That could be the plot of a great time travel movie!

How about measuring in household income per hour worked?

> Robots aren't going to be cooking anyone a six course meal or directing the next Star Wars movie any time soon

Of course they won't be directing Star Wars - although a case might be made that that would be preferable - but I don't see any reason almost all cooking will not be done robotically 10 years from now. Hell, try and buy a non-sous-vide steak these days. That's a dramatic step towards automatic cooking right there.

I think the OP was referring to the chef's work in designing courses and menus more so than the manual labor of cooking.

That aspect of restaurants, of course, is a creative endeavor, as is directing a film.

I would not be at all surprised if most of the creative work of filmmaking isn't automated eventually, once you can generate photorealistic virtual actors and sets, and algorithmically generate plots, camera work, dialogue etc. As formulaic as popular movies tend to be nowadays, would anyone notice the difference? Just imagine having the same server cluster somewhere crank out the movie, its sequels, and the video games from the same models. Digital actors never get old, never get arrested, and never need to get paid.

Also there's no reason at all menus and courses can't be automated as well. Everything from the design of the menus to the design of the building, to its construction, and staffing, everything but the eating can be automated somehow. I think people are going to come to a shocking, ego-blowing realization that, yes, creative work can and will be automated as well.

Well, we've already had glimpses of this, with varying degrees of disruptions. CGI generated still pictures don't seem to have any real success except in some very niche communities. Video games are certainly successful with it although still dominated by human level design. Partially generated photo effects and CGI are enormously popular, but suffer much blow back and derision from many.

Yes, but how can these be automated?

Current AI algorithms are limited in the sense that they appeal to the common denominator. These algorithms can only observe and measure what humans like and iterate from there. Current AI algorithms couldn't have invented Jazz.

Also, digital actors may never get old, but most people don't want to fuck digital actors. And have you noticed that for some actors, getting old is part of their charm?

And most importantly, algorithmically generating plots is an AI-hard problem - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AI-complete - given our current status quo of machines that can't even understand what we are telling them, well, good luck with that.

I think you're over complicating the problem. Simply put all the recipes and all the movie plots ever published in a database and randomly generate combinations. This is effectively what most "new" food and movies are nowadays.

Yes, but you are oversimplifying it.

We eat mostly the same food recipes, but there is a lot of variation in how that food tastes, depending on who makes it, not to mention the mistakes happening in the preparation process. That's also why you can't find in a restaurant the familiar taste of the home-cooked meals that your mom or grandma used to cook while you were a child. Can you automate a fast-food chain, like a McDonalds? Of course, but that's not food.

Plus, one of the reasons for why many of us like to try out restaurants is to get some variety and even though the database of all known food recipes is limited, the combinations possible for sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and umami, as received by our tastes buds in various proportions is infinite. Therefore even though we have plenty of food recipes already, there's always room for more.

Your impression that movie plots can be generated with random combinations stems from the recent wave of Hollywood movies filled with special effects and dumb plots. I personally like movies with special effects and dumb plots. It's mindless fun. But sooner or later I'll get tired of it, as will many people. Comedy and drama on the other hand need originality and while you can find traces of inspiration everywhere, every successful book or movie ever made also have original pieces in them.

You're also oversimplifying the technical challenges, as if random combinations of available plots is easy. It's not. This is not like playing chess. For this to work you need (1) a way to generate something coherent, because as much fun as it is to generate gibberish with Markov chains, the step from here to generating something meaningful is quite big and (2) a way to measure the fitness of a combination and drop the combinations that don't work. What are you going to do? Expose people posing as lab-rats to millions of combinations and measure their brain activity?

(yes, I'm the type of engineer that rains on people's dreams, by thinking of the technical challenges involved :-P)

IBM is working on a version of watson that is able to create create recipes. I believe they already have some success.


>>Comedy and drama on the other hand need originality

While i believe at some point computers will have those abilities, i believe that crowdsourcing(maybe with a better search engine based on natural language understanding) can go a long way for those tasks, especially joke generation.

>What are you going to do? Expose people posing as lab-rats to millions of combinations and measure their brain activity?

Basically, yes.

Imagine there are no more theaters, because they're huge, expensive money-pits and everyone watches movies on a device anyway. Because everything is distributed on the net, and the net is everywhere people can be exposed to any number of ideas, concepts, and prompts throughout their day. Gestural devices have become, if not ubiquitous, then quite common. Every phone and multimedia device has a camera on it which can read your emotions by measuring your skin's electrical charge or by measuring the subtle shift in your pulse. Everything watches you, notes you. Huge masses of correlated data about you, your friends, your likes and dislikes, even your emotional state over time and space, are being gathered from any number of companies and state agencies. There are attempts to virtually model your behavior and expectations in any number of locations, and these models are constantly refined over time until they begin to become predictive. Most of this already exists in some form or another, if only as prototypes.

So that part at I think is plausible. Or at least concievable. We've been building a vast and intricate Skinner Box out of the internet for years, it just hasn't become that obvious yet. Wait until the real quasi-transhuman augmented reality BS starts to get pushed. Wait until your appliances have their own social media accounts and actually have conversations with your friends. Or until you can have a digital analogue of yourself inserted as a background character into a film and follow it around like a Sim. Or pay to have yourself inserted into an Alternate Reality game, the plot of which is essentially generated on the fly. It just takes a couple of generations for this sort of fine-grain observation and feedback loop to become conditioned as being acceptable and commonplace. It may require redefining terms. I'm reminded of what the Architect said in the Matrix -- that there were "levels of survival" the Machines were willing to accept. What passes as a "blockbuster" or even a "movie" in the future may not bear any resemblance to what we know.

A system more complex than the algorithms currently available will doubtless be necessary, and maybe some fields like comedy will prove elusive, but the addition of the vast amount of data available through the internet and a global, always-on surveillance system may make machine learning more feasible. Your example of McDonald's is apt. They could make better food by hiring more competent cooks, using better equipment, and serving a better menu. But, they nonetheless make an insane amount of money paying people almost nothing to put garbage into styrofoam boxes, and that's only until they can make even more money replacing the people with garbage-into-styrofoam-boxes-putting robots. Quality isn't paramount when your market is billions of consumers who have the attention span of gnats. They can be taught to eat shit and like it on a massive scale, that's already been proven.

That's quite a bit if hand waving!

Yep. That's armchair futurism for you.

It depends if you are talking about the latest Iron Man or "La Strada" from Fellini. Simple plots sometimes rest on very subtle cues.

Which makes more money? That's the one i'm talking about. My point is that the only difference between replacing the physical labor of the auto factory worker and the intellectual labor of the programmer, designer or artist is just a matter of complexity. Yes, it may be a difficult, apparently "hard AI" problem, but so was textile manufacturing in a way until the Jacquard Loom came about. If one doesn't need human labor to build a car, or weave complex patterns into a rug, one may not need human labor to make a movie, write a book, or compose a song. It doesn't have to be genius, when most commercial art is merely sufficient anyway.

If chefs just have to design a menu once and then have robots actually cook it, the number of chefs in employment is going to fall pretty dramatically: I'd estimate 30-fold at least.

In a restaurant kitchen, generally only one or maybe two people are actually involved in designing the menu, out of a significantly larger number who do the preparation. And unless you're running a very unusual, top-end restaurant, that's a matter of a couple of months' work every year, at absolute maximum - closer to a couple of weeks a year for most normal restaurants, I believe.

Of course, some cooking tasks are going to be harder than others. I wouldn't want to bet on a top-flight pastry chef getting replaced any time soon, for example. But creeping automation in the kitchen is definitely a possibility: sous-vide techniques can already make things like preparing a hollandaise considerably quicker and simpler, for example. And baristas are staring down the barrel of robot barista workers right now.

That's a design task, not labor per se.

> Hell, try and buy a non-sous-vide steak these days.

Obviously you do not live in the UK, where finding places that serves steak that has not been chargrilled to to the point where it tastes of lighter fluid and coal is an extreme sport (it is getting slightly better, but you can go into almost any low end steak house in the US and find steaks that are better than most high end UK restaurants still; the UK is the only place in the world where I've had to explain to a waiter what "rare" meant)

Six-course meal? No. Are there fully automated kebab stands and such? Already.

Robotics, technology, etc. sure haven't led to more jobs in America the last 50 years. I'd be hard pressed to name a large country (a nation with a sizable pool of labor) in which it has. The American standard of living has fallen by half during that time.

And while seemingly most Americans think China is the big job stealer, manufacturing wise, the reality is huge productivity gains have killed off far more manufacturing jobs than China has taken.

Kurzeil is guilty of a science fiction style utopian dream in this case, in my opinion. He's of a generation that thought the future would sparkle. The future that has come to pass - so far - has been far off course from that expectation. I think he's placing far too much hope on technology unto itself.

I regard technology as a neutral player on the field; and in the right situation, it can provide a huge multiplier. Political issues are far more important than technology - if you have an environment that is hostile to innovation, science, starting businesses, manufacturing, employment, capital formation and savings, etc then no amount of technology will save you ultimately from erosion.

There's a joke in Zimbabwe, that goes something like this: what did we have before candle light? Electric light. Political situations can neutralize all potential technological benefits, leading to stagnation or worse. I think that effect is at least somewhat to blame for the problems America has seen in standards of living, despite the dramatic leap in technology.

Robotics, technology, etc. sure haven't led to more jobs in America the last 50 years. I'd be hard pressed to name a large country (a nation with a sizable pool of labor) in which it has. The American standard of living has fallen by half during that time.

I'm sorry, are you seriously arguing that the American median standard of living was better in 1963? I could spend 20 minutes or so going statistic by statistic, but more or less everything has improved dramatically since then, most especially for the lower 20% or so of the income scale.

The American standard of living was drastically better in the mid 1960s in fact.

It took one worker in the household to pay the bills; now, two people work and can't make ends meet. Mortgages were 15 years, not 30. The savings rate was extremely higher; now the savings rate is negative. America had little debt, and consumers had little debt. College education could be paid for with a part time job; now we're sitting on $1.2 or so trillion in debt on that end alone.

The minimum wage was equivalent to over $40,000 in 1967. Now a decent job pays that.

Using nearly any measurement, even the bogus CPI from the Feds, you find that wages peaked in about the late 1960s to 1970. And meanwhile, we've had to accumulate vast amounts of debt just to maintain these levels, so in real terms the standard of living has plunged.

In the 1960s, America had roughly half of all global manufacturing to itself. A lot of that was due to our manufacturing base surviving WW2 fully intact. However, we saw the benefit of that, and it showed up in the form of jobs and wages.

Now, welfare program dependency is at all time highs. Poverty rates are at multi-decade highs. The split between the rich and the poor is up dramatically, as workers drown, good jobs disappear and the rich shift capital to avoid the devaluation of the dollar. The % of the population dependent on food stamps is off the charts. The labor force participation rate is at multi-decade lows. The Federal Government is running a 3/4 trillion dollar deficit, propping up millions of jobs. Interest on all of our debt is as low as it can possibly go, and won't stay this cheap, that includes student loans, consumer debt, mortgage debt, corporate debt. Add it all up, and there has been an extraordinary real erosion of the standard of living over four decades.

It took one worker in the household to pay the bills...

While the "other worker" sat around and had her nails done? No. There's a reason women joined the work force en masse, and it was because the money they could make and the satisfaction they could attain in the work force was worth more to them than whatever value they produced scrubbing floors and steaming vegetables. Was that a mistake? I don't think any of the working women I know would say so. Why leave money and fulfilling work on the table?

This nostalgia is absurd. Look around. Go ahead and even ignore whatever revolutionary device you're using to browse HN. Ignore whether you're black or Hispanic or Asian. Ignore your extra eight years or so of life expectancy. How much of the modern world simply disappears if you remove what wasn't available in 1963? And if debt is the catastrophe waiting to happen that you seem to believe that it is, you will be comforted by the fact that Americans have decreased their indebtedness by over a trillion dollars since 2008.

>There's a reason women joined the work force en masse, and it was because the money they could make and the satisfaction they could attain in the work force was worth more to them than whatever value they produced scrubbing floors and steaming vegetables.

I'm usually not one to demand a citation in casual online conversations, but this is just screaming out for one. Did women really join the workforce en mass for "meaningful work", or was it out of economic necessity. I can imagine the majority of jobs available to women in that time weren't exactly what anyone today would call "fulfilling". Nor would I consider a survey of your female colleagues who themselves are likely well educated professionals, and thus a non-representative bunch, as a useful statistic. No, it is very much not obvious that women joined the workforce because working is more fulfilling than "scrubbing floors" (aka watching your children grow up).

If staying at home to watch the kids and scrub floors was so much more satisfying than a "real job", why didn't more men stay home in the 1950's and send their wives to work? It wasn't possible? But the '50's were the height of American economic achievement, no?

The trend is clear: As more satisfying and economically rewarding career options became available to women, more women educated themselves for those careers and took them. A young middle class girl today doesn't take $40,000 in college loans to become an accountant because she's desperately in need.

Wow that's terrible. Stay at home Mom's don't just "watch the kids and scrub floors". There is an incredible amount of work and responsibility that comes from maintaining a home and raising children. To be dismissive of the work that they do because you have a naive understanding of it is simply being shallow and unkind.

I'm not trying to be dismissive. I'm saying that objectively, most men and many women free to do either choose to work instead of practice full-time homemaking. Others in this thread are arguing that the 1950's was an economic golden era because of course women would rather be homemaking, but that the modern cruel world has forced them out of the home and into the piecework shop.

That just defies economic reality: As you say, there is a lot of value produced in keeping a home and raising kids. A job has to return a solid amount of income to make up the difference, and yet women continue to go to college at a rate outpacing men, and before the recent recession, they were on a pace to have more jobs than men. There's no economic gun to their head: In fact, as the economy got worse, women chose to stay home at a greater rate.

"If staying at home to watch the kids and scrub floors was so much more satisfying than a "real job", why didn't more men stay home in the 1950's and send their wives to work?"

Um... because women didn't have the same opportunities then so the household would make less money, and it was considered really bad for the man to be a stay-at-home "bum"?

But this whole argument is about how great the quality of life was in the 1950's. Women not having the same preferred economic opportunities as men sounds like a pretty damning quality of life indicator to me.

Staying at home with the kids sounds like the preferred economic opportunity to me but I'm a white male so what do I know.

Again, how much of that is economic necessity, social norms, expectations, etc etc. There are so many reasons that could explain the trend of higher female employment over the last 50 years that simply assuming that they all just wanted to work is absurd.

It is very important to be able to leave, to be able to provide for yourself and your loved ones if a relationship goes bad.

Working for the purpose of satisfaction is high up on Maslow's hierarchy. The point is, a household could live comfortably on one income, including buying a house, college, etc, and anything more than that was gravy. Now many households have two incomes and struggle to make ends meet.

This is so wrong it is ridiculous. Take this example. In 1959 it took one month of an average income to buy a Sears washer dryer. In 2012, it took less than 4 days average income to buy a far, far better washer dryer. http://www.aei-ideas.org/2012/12/appliance-shopping-1959-vs-...

Sure, now look at buying a house and you will come to the exact opposite conclusion.

Yes! This is the point that always seems to be missed when we talk about abundance economics. There are some goods that aren't abundant - housing is one of them. If we can't find a solution to long commutes to work / restaurants / theatre / the beach etc then housing Ina good area will remain a scarce good. It will take a bigger and bigger slice of our income, because we are competing with other people, and the abundance of other products, freeing up that money to be spent on housing. If you want to live in the middle of nowhere, you can buy a house very cheaply - they don't cost very much to build these days (thanks abundance!) but if you want to live on the river front, or in the cafe district, well, be prepared to sink a large percentage of your income into your house.

Of course we may end up finding a solution to the constrained housing supply - maybe populations will decrease, or robotic cars will make commutes shorter / less painful, or maybe we will develop virtual living, with people hanging out / working in virtual reality, not real reality.

Housing isn't the only scarce good. Being able to go to a live performance of your favourite band, and indeed the host of things that you can't do today at any price are other examples. But housing is far and away the scarce good that has the largest impact on most of us, and that is only going to continue to grow in importance in the near term.

A quick google search suggests home ownership has increased, and people are buying much larger houses than before. So no, looking at buying a house gives the same conclusion.


You'll also find more households with two incomes. The quality-of-life arguments about the 50s and 60s are that a family with a single income from a blue-collar worker could afford a nice middle-class lifestyle, including buying a house.

See my links here. Hours worked per capita have not increased significantly (data moves around a lot, no real trend).


I understand where you're coming from, I'm not so sure though.

Everything that isn't housing, healthcare, or higher education is vastly cheaper today than it was before. Food especially.

The 1960s was also the same time that rivers were so polluted they were catching fire. That would never happen today- and that has a cost associated with it. Your food is significantly safer. So is your water. So is your air. So is the building you're reading this in.

There is vastly less crime. This has been expensive- we've locked a lot of people up to get there, and paid lots of money to police. The mafia is basically gone, and modern criminal organizations are pretty limited in scope north of the border. There are still bad places in the US, but there are awfully few no-go zones.

Media is better now. It's cheaper, it's broader, it's better, it's more democratic. This is true both for news and entertainment.

The national debt is a bullshit non-problem.

The per capita homicide rate is 30% higher today than it was in 1950. What do you mean when you say there is "vastly less crime"?

Per capita homicide rate is around the same today as it was in '67, the GP's reference year.

modern criminal organizations are pretty limited in scope north of the border

So all those illegal drugs just magically appear from nowhere?

There are still bad places in the US, but there are awfully few no-go zones

How many major cities in the US have you been in? How many of them have no-go zones? How many compared to 1950?

> The national debt is a bullshit non-problem.

Can you elaborate? I ask because debt (along with domestic snooping) is at the top of my voting criteria right now -- city, state and national.

The nation owes debt in USD, but controls the supply of USD and can always print more. This causes inflation as a side effect, which is not a problem, or you would have noticed it.

I don't see why you should care about city debt either, unless you live somewhere near bankrupt. Interest rates are incredibly low meaning there is no better time to be in debt, and you probably have some crumbling public infrastructure in the area.

The flipside of that if course is if the rest of the world finally gets its act together and starts to trade oil in some other currency, the US implodes overnight. You're in a powerful position right now, but it is more precarious than you think.

Paul Krugman would disagree with the odds of an "overnight implosion": http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/22/godwin-and-the-g...

Krugman's solution to every problem is to print more money. He's a one-trick pony.

> The national debt is a bullshit non-problem.

i don't disagree with you, but i'd love to hear why you think that.

What about the standard of living for women, whose wages were legally a fraction of men's wages? The ostracism women had for being single? Even being pregnant in public was a taboo. Medicine wasn't available to everyone, and things like pain management had yet to really hit its stride. Social issues like wife-beating were verboten to discuss, and there was little in the way of escape for the victims. Workplace OH&S laws made factories and similar much safer. Vehicles are safer, and accidents less life-destroying. The fear of MAD is gone. There is no conscription - soldiers in today's wars are volunteers. There's a much wider variety of food available. The same is true of music. Travel is far easier. Even shopping is easier - wider choices, easier to carry stuff home. Then there's the internet, for pity's sake.

Life now ain't perfect, but it sure as shit is better overall than it was in the 60s.

The minimum wage was equivalent to over $40,000 in 1967.

No. Real GDP/capita was about $20k back then - the average person produced about half of what you claim was the minimum wage.


In the 1960s, America had roughly half of all global manufacturing to itself. A lot of that was due to our manufacturing base surviving WW2 fully intact. However, we saw the benefit of that, and it showed up in the form of jobs and wages.

And today we produce 2.5x more than we did back then. Manufacturing has not declined, it's merely become more efficient.


> It took one worker in the household to pay the bills; now, two people work and can't make ends meet.

People forget this, mainly because they want to, but also because their TVs say we're living in the golden age.

People also lived much more pragmatically. They had smaller houses, only one family car, and rarely went out to eat. If people made the same choices today, one income would suffice. Most families don't like living in 1400sqft houses with no cable, and no a/c. Most parents don't like spending 12hours a day cooking food from scratch while providing childcare.

Well, you have to forgive them - the TVs in the 60s were crappy little things, black and white as often as not, whereas today they're giant affairs full of colour and motion, and you can't get a B&W one. You could tick off a checkbox saying "Has TV?", but that's missing part of what standard of living is about.

From the excellent UR essay [1]:

  Okay, let's apply a gross reality check. You're an alien.  You're
  observing Earth with an infinitely powerful telescope from Alpha
  Centauri.  You have a simple question.  Since 1950, has human
  civilization - or American civilization, which amounts to pretty much
  the same these days - advanced or declined?

  Apparently the easiest way for Sam Altman to answer the question is to
  trade it for a different one.  He is not alone in this.  He asks:
  since 1950, has human technology advanced or declined?  Clearly, the
  alien, you, I, and Sam Altman all have the same answer to this

  Any question with an obvious answer is a stupid question.  "Is an iPad
  more advanced than a Smith-Corona?" is a stupid question.  Who asks
  stupid questions?  Obviously, blithering idiots.

  But we can compose an interesting question by factoring out the stupid
  question.  Which world would Sam Altman rather live in?  2013, with
  iPads and teh Internet?  Or 1950 - with iPads and teh Internet?

  In a sense, this 1950 is just as real as the "real" 1950.  Neither
  exists.  Sam Altman cannot pack his bags and move to either the real
  1950 or my imaginary super-1950.  Both exist only as thought
  experiments.  It is not hard to construct or define the super-1950,
  though - one run of a time machine, with a printout of Wikipedia,
  would be pretty much all the real 1950 needed.  Send the technology
  back to 1945, and you'll have iPads by '55 at the latest.  Those guys
  got things done.

  The interesting (and scary) question this thought-experiment asks is
  whether, aside from technical progress, human civilization has
  advanced or declined since 1950.  In actual reality, this too is a
  stupid question.  The answer is no less obvious - I assert.
[1] http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com.au/2013/03/sam-...

There are at least two massive fallacies embedded in this quote (and afaict in the larger essay, though I did not read the whole thing):

- Due to better modern reporting (and the 24h news cycle), despite generally lower rates of crimes and various other bad stuff, we feel like their rates are higher now, so we get all nostalgic for the 1950s.

- More importantly, 1950 was a good time for certain kinds of people and not so much for others. Within the US, internet or no, 1950 is not a great time to travel to if you are LGBT, disabled, female, non-Christian, or ill with any of a variety of chronic conditions, and it's especially shitty if you are black (or, to a lesser extent, of another minority). Outside the US, Europe and Japan were still basically starving from post-war deprivation, the Soviet bloc was hitting the worst parts of Stalinism, China was approaching something like a thousand-year low in terms of civilisation, and most of the rest of the world were moribund colonies of the dying European empires.

If you're a middle-class able-bodied white straight Christian (preferably Protestant) man in the US, though, sure, 1950 sounds super.

So what you're saying is that most people who valorize the 1950's are assuming they'll be Don Draper and not some nameless black daughter with no economic or educational prospects whose dad was just lynched?

I think the people who valorize the 60's should actually listen to Don Draper. From some 5'th season episode, roughly paraphrased (working from memory):

Roger Sterling: "Buying a Jaguar is how you know you've arrived."

Don Draper: "I grew up on a farm. Indoor plumbing is how I know I've arrived."

despite generally lower rates of crimes and various other bad stuff

You have to be careful with statistics. One of the thought experiments posed later in that same Moldbug post is this: how much of the Earth's inhabited area is safe for a person to wander about at night, alone? And how much was in 1950? His conclusion is that much more of the Earth's inhabited area (in particular, large parts of many cities--Detroit is his example) is unsafe now vs. in 1950. Crime rate statistics don't usually get broken down to that level of detail, so you might not see the pattern there. (Although in other posts Moldbug also quotes the statistic that the crime rate in Britain today is something like 50 times higher than it was in the Victorian era.)

Personally, I like to think of real facts, not thought experiments. In terms of global poverty, disease, hunger, active wars, inequality, the year 2012 is the best year recorded in human history [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]

What happens with the US (and the UK) is a global redistribution of wealth. The US economy is basically stagnating, but developing countries are booming.

[1] http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPOVCALNET/Resources/Gl...

[2] http://cid.bcrp.gob.pe/biblio/Papers/NBER/2009/Octubre/w1543...

[3] http://www.bp.com/content/dam/bp/pdf/statistical-review/stat...

[4] http://www.unaids.org/en/media/unaids/contentassets/document...

[5] http://www.who.int/malaria/world_malaria_report_2011/WMR2011...

[6] http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@epidemiologysurvei...

Although in other posts Moldbug also quotes the statistic that the crime rate in Britain today is something like 50 times higher than it was in the Victorian era

And yet just before the Victorian era, crime was so bad that people were sent to literally the other side of the earth for crimes as minor as stealing a pair of scissors.

It would also suggest that the murder rate would have been ridiculously low - in modern times, it's 1.2/100k. In 1831, the start of the era, that would mean that the UK had a mere 3 murders of its 13 million people for the entire year. Difficult to believe. In 1900, the end of the era, it would still be less than 10 for the 30-odd million. According to this article [1], homicide rates weren't too far from what they are today, neatly bracketing the modern rate (which has the advantage of better reporting; historical homicides were likely higher)

A 50-fold reduction in crime is astounding, enough so that it sounds like baloney. Particularly for a country famous for shipping its criminals around the world during the 'low crime' period.

[1] http://www.historytoday.com/clive-emsley/victorian-crime

It would also suggest that the murder rate would have been ridiculously low - in modern times, it's 1.2/100k. In 1831, the start of the era, that would mean that the UK had a mere 3 murders of its 13 million people for the entire year. Difficult to believe.

Difficult indeed. Wouldn't 1.2 per 100k translate to 156 when scaled to 13 million?

The claim was that the crime rate was 50 times lower than today. 156/50 ~= 3.

The crime rate, not the murder rate. Murder is only one crime.

How is "the crime rate" calculated?

Um, the number of crimes in a given time period divided by the population?

So a murder is rated the same as stealing a penny candy?

If you're just calculating the overall crime rate, yes. If you want to calculate the murder rate, the penny candy stealing rate, and other rates of individual crimes separately, of course you can do that too. (Though you might find it difficult to find numbers for penny candy stealing.)

crime was so bad that people were sent to literally the other side of the earth for crimes as minor as stealing a pair of scissors.

You're confusing the crime rate with how crimes are punished. The fact that punishments were severe for what we today consider minor crimes was a major part of the reason why crime rates were so low.

It would also suggest that the murder rate would have been ridiculously low

Murder is only one crime; the factor of 50 is aggregated over all crimes.

Firstly, there isn't "a crime rate". You can't aggregate "a crime rate" across all crimes. Different crimes have different rates - you can't fold a murder into a rape into an assault into a burglary into a failure to pay a debt. If you think that there is "a crime rate aggregated over all crimes", then there's some fundamental things you don't know about criminology.

The thing about murder is that it's fairly unambiguous and usually recorded. Just about every other crime has interpretations and wild variations in recording - it's hard to compare across similar culture countries, let alone across time, without voicing an armload of caveats.

One example is comparing the assault rates in Australia versus that in the US. Australia has a much higher assault rate... until you look at the details. An assault in Australia carries several charges, the most severe of which sticks, but each of those charges makes it into the total stats. In the US, the stats are only published on aggravated assaults - those with a weapon or serious bodily harm. Two guys having a fistfight outside a bar will add to the Australian stats, but not the US stats. It's the same story with the same country across time - not to mention wildly different reporting rates, especially when you're considering a period where modern policing was still in its infancy. Murder is one of the most consistently defined and reportable crimes, hence why I used it.

was a major part of the reason why crime rates were so low.

That is very much putting the cart before the horse. Victorian England was rife with theft, unsurprising for a place with plenty of poverty and no welfare. I'd buy a 50-times increase in drug crime, because that's a crime now more than it was then. I wouldn't buy a 50-times increase in debtors crimes, because debtors prisons are no longer a thing and bankruptcy is no longer a crime. It's just hard for anyone with any familiarity with Victorian England to see it as 50 times safer than modern day England - this was a tumultuous time, with the industrial revolution obsoleting jobs left, right, and center. There was huge amounts of poverty, and there was legal reform at the time because the rise in petty crime against harsh penalties meant that there was a lot of dissatisfaction from the disproportionate response at the bench. There were huge problems with alcoholism (gin being very cheap) amongst the urban poor causing fights.

So, in context, is it safer to walk around Victorian England than modern-day? Well, the assault rate would have to be astonishingly low, because theft certainly wasn't, and we've already seen that murder was equal to or greater than today's rate.

Do you have a link to Moldbug's comment where he discusses this 50-fold decrease? I tried to find it as I wanted to see how it was sourced, but there's a lot of waffle - the front page is only two posts (and one announcement) that total 20k words. I have no idea where in the archives it might be.

> Firstly, there isn't "a crime rate".

Yes, there is. There are purposes for which it may not be the most important metric, but it certainly exists.

> You can't aggregate "a crime rate" across all crimes.

Sure you can. And if you can measure the rates for individual crimes, its trivial to then aggregate them across crimes. Whether that's useful depends on the purpose you are applying it to, but it certain can be done.

> Different crimes have different rates - you can't fold a murder into a rape into an assault into a burglary into a failure to pay a debt.

you certainly can fold the rates of instances of a specific subtypes of the event "crime" into a general rate of occurrence of the whole class, though, to be fair, failure to pay a debt is generally not a crime, its a tort, and so it would be invalid to include it a measure of crime.

> The thing about murder is that it's fairly unambiguous and usually recorded.

Its fairly unambiguous -- assuming that there is not a missing body situation -- that someone has died. It is less unambiguous that they died through homicide, and even less unambiguous still that the homicide was criminal homicide, and even less unambiguous yet that the specific subtype of criminal homicide was murder.

> In the US, the stats are only published on aggravated assaults - those with a weapon or serious bodily harm.

This is true of the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports (and publications based on those reports), but not BJS's National Crime Victimization Survey (and publications based on that survey.)

Yes, there is. There are purposes for which it may not be the most important metric, but it certainly exists.

Can you please furnish a link where someone describes 'the crime rate', actually giving a number? Preferably from an LEO website and not a sensationalist newspaper. I've not seen a 'the crime rate' number before, and I'd like to see how its presented.

[ambiguity of murder]

Which is why I said 'fairly' unambiguous - and it's one of the least ambiguous crimes, especially when comparing across time, countries, or culture.

Do you have a link to Moldbug's comment where he discusses this 50-fold decrease?

Increase, not decrease. He mentions it in a number of posts, but this one has a link to the statistics:


The statistics link he gives, unfortunately, appears to be broken:


Found the updated link to the UK Statistics:


Crime statistics are on p. 14.

'Indictable offense' is a particular kind of crime, and one that changes over time as laws change and reporting improves. It even says that improved reporting is responsible for part of the effect in the first dot-point after the graph. The graph itself is explicitly titled "known to police" because of exactly this issue. To take that graph and claim a 50-fold difference in actual crime is extremely disingenuous.

Moldbug is saying that the Victorians nearly abolished crime and that the modern UK government can't - so is the solution the same as in Victorian times: just don't record so much of it?

Edit: Thanks for providing the links

'Indictable offense' is a particular kind of crime, and one that changes over time as laws change and reporting improves.

Yes, but the change can be in both directions. Improved reporting means more offenses get recorded; but changes in how society perceives crime means things that used to be indictable offenses (such as stealing a pair of scissors) no longer are--either the laws are taken off the books entirely, or they are no longer enforced because people don't think it's "fair" to convict someone of a crime if all they did was steal a pair of scissors. These two effects work in opposite directions.

It even says that improved reporting is responsible for part of the effect in the first dot-point after the graph.

But it doesn't say how much, because it can't; there's no way to know. And it does not say what difference changes in the laws and in society's perception of crime made, or whether that difference was, as I suggested above, in the opposite direction.

is the solution the same as in Victorian times: just don't record so much of it?

I think the solution Moldbug is implicitly suggesting is to make it clear to everyone that if you commit a crime, you will be caught and you will be punished; in other words, he is saying the problem today is with society's attitude towards crime.

It wasn't even until the 1970's that it was considered illegal in most states to rape your own wife.

This is just a more clever way to project the same nostalgia as adventured's comments. What evidence do we have that 1950's America was a font of innovation and civilization that 2013 cannot match? "Civilization" is an odd term for a place with millions living under legalized segregation, and an entire half of the population largely consigned to domestic labor.

Not to mention, much of the prosperity of the '50's was a "fringe benefit" of most of the rest of the industrialized world blowing itself up for the second time in 30 years.

And of course there's survivorship bias: No one remembers all the terrible inventions of the '50's. (Had they come up with Smell-O-Vision yet?) All we remember is the transistor radio and the hydrogen bomb. Look back on the 2010's in 60 years and you'll see all sorts of amazing stuff that made its mark on the future, I'm sure.

It's not about nostalgia.

It's: what do you get for your labor, what can it buy and for how much, what kind of savings do you have, how hard do both parents have to work to make ends meet, what does an education cost and what income can you get for it, how many jobs are available?

Simple questions that can be easily answered with real data that was available in 1970 and today.

I started to make a list of all the things you can get in 2013 that you couldn't get at any price in 1970 (notable ones included Gleevac and a Blu-ray set of the Godfather trilogy) but I am just going to give up. If you think you'd be happier living as the median American in 1970 than as the median American in 2013, especially in the Socratic satisfaction sense of knowing the experiences of both, I just can't imagine how to convince you otherwise.

With respect, I think you're coming at this from the wrong angle. In my opinion, availability of blurays, or whatever, has no correlation whatsoever with the general health and happiness of a society. In fact, the essay I linked specifically seeks to factor that out, on the presumption - that I share - that it is basically irrelevant. Are you a miserable, miserable man today because you can't get 2025's GreenRay UHD or super-ultra-holo-3d or the iPad 20 or whatever? Would any of those things make you a long-term happier person? Of course not. Technological knick-knacks do not bring long-term life satisfaction. Convenience does not equal happiness. You will not die with a smile on your lips because you own a retina display.

I'd advise you to read the essay I linked. It might change your thinking on a few things.

If I get a certain variety of leukemia, and I'm in a society which hasn't discovered Gleevac yet, I will probably die. That's a pretty awful consequence. Not getting to see the Godfather movies in glorious 1080p is perhaps a lesser tragedy, but all these little things add up. Sure, there are all sorts of "holistic" measurements of society's overall happiness, but I'll come back to the Socratic question: Would you really be happier in 1970, knowing what you're missing from 2013? And again, we're assuming straight up that you're not in some woefully underprivileged demographic that would be seriously screwed by having to live under 1970's mores.

Can we please stop using "happiness" as some kind of value. It is such a loaded and slippery term. Happiness is a fluid and multi-dinensional state of being. It doesn't quantify well.

You make a fair point, but look at housing prices.

"Send the technology back to 1945, and you'll have iPads by '55 at the latest."

Complete horseshit.

In your phone you have a million times the computing power these guys used to launch rockets into space. You use it to launch birds at pigs.

Not a downvoter, but your observation is (a) false, and (b) irrelevant, if it were true.

To fill in the gap in what I wrote: Even if the physics and the roadmap were known, the infrastructure and background engineering expertise needed to go from vacuum tubes to fabs making cheap ICs at nanoscale in volume would take longer than a decade to build.

Moore's law has been in operation since about 1958. That's 36 density doublings, at one per 18 months. You don't get 36 doublings in 10 years, because that would be one doubling every 3 months.

The only reason I bothered to comment is that I tire of the outlandish claims and "everything you know is wrong" posturing of UR. It was really only worth the original two-word rebuttal.

You're talking about people who went from a standing start (almost) to nuclear weapons and satellites in orbit in a similar timescale.

Do you really think that people have become that much stupider? Moore's Law has been going for decades. Multiple Nobel prizes have been awarded for discoveries that made its continued existence possible. The fact that you don't understand the accomplishment does not make it less significant.

I am typing on a small device whose internal electronics exceed in complexity all electronic devices that existed in 1940. Combined. Yet this is a commodity item.

Stop and think about that. And then you might recognize the absurdity of claiming that a few tips and a can do attitude would have created the results of decades of modern technological progress in 10 years.

Just to add to your point, think about how these electronics are actually designed and developed. You need lots of CAD and CAM to get working chips out the door, and you don't get those without already having working chips. Essentially you need earlier iterations of electronics to even build the next iteration. A single iPad isn't going to help much, unless it's loaded with schematics and data for entire generations of electronics leading up to it.

I agree. It would certainly take decades for them to master the technology. It might even take them 50 years. A lot of the knowledge required is implicit in the industry taken as a whole. Put me in the stone age with a manual for making bronze. I would be proud of myself If I managed to forge something useful inside of a lifetimes work. Where does the ore come from? How do I extract it? Precisely how do I get the fire hot enough? Similarly, if I knew how to create a warp drive, there is absolutely no guarantee that I could actually build one with current day tech. It might take a decade just to produce one of the required components.

Ask the same question to a university professor teaching students for 30 years. You may be surprised by their answer.

A funny thing: a decade ago, people said technology was wasted beating Bowser in Mario.


I concur with this point of view. I very much doubt most smartphones are used to access the wealth of knowledge on the Internetz. They are used to play games. Source: my time on the NYC subway system.

> I'm sorry, are you seriously arguing that the American median standard of living was better in 1963?

Perhaps he was referring to the difference in purchasing power, which was most definitely greater back then. There were no iPads, but lots more people were getting by comfortably.

Real US median household income hasn't budged much since the mid 60s ($35-40k, inflation adjusted), and I think that's on the back of more hours worked, lower job security, etc.

Health is better, and people are better educated, but it's just not paying off for the average household.

Most countries don't have this problem though.

> The American standard of living has fallen by half during that time.

By what measure?

I can give you lots of measures.

1) The cost of a home compared to incomes, along with mortgage durations. In the late 1960s, the average house cost about $18k to $20k, and the average income was around $9k (2.x ratio). Today that's about $220k and $50k income (4.x to 1 ratio).

2) The savings rate. In real terms it's negative.

3) Debt accumulation across the board, from personal to government (the people have to pay for that one way or another too).

4) Minimum wage and average incomes. I don't regard the CPI as a very legitimate measure given what they don't include, but even using that average incomes for the middle class haven't moved in 40 years (and that's the best case scenario). If you price wages in oil or gold or silver or the Swiss Franc, they're drastically lower. Meanwhile the cost of being in the middle class has gone way up.

5) Unemployment rate. From 1950 to 1970, it averaged about 5% give or take, with a floor of 2.9% in 1953, and 3.5% in 1969). The closest equivalent measurement to that is the U6 today, which stands at near 14%.


6) Cost of education to just join the middle class. It's in the stratosphere.

7) The average cost of a new car in the late 1960s was about $3,000; against an income of $9k (3 to 1 ratio). Today the average cost of a new car is $31,000, against an income of $50,000.


You gave a lot of proxy measures, but none measures standard of living.

For (1) to make sense we would have to look at the ration of rents to incomes. Otherwise, the relation is obscured by the huge impact of falling real interest rates. (Falling real interest rates is probably a good thing!)

2 and 3 don't have a direct bearing on standard of living. Lower real interest rates play a role as well.

For 4 you have to differentiate between the average among all Americans and the average fate of each individual American. They are different because of an influx of new Americans.

I agree about 5.

For 6, education was never as cheap as today, thanks to the internet. What went up is the price of the piece of paper that certifies you went to a specific university.

For 7, we have much better cars. You can buy a used car that's much better than what was available in the 60s for a similar fraction of income as back then. (And again, lower real interest rates play some role.)

> Falling real interest rates is probably a good thing!

I would argue that is only true in an environment with negative real savings rates which are in my opinion not a good thing. It used to be that 'savings' accounts actually paid meaningful interest on savings.

High real interest rates means that capital is scarce. Lots of capital around is good for your standard of living: roads, factories, houses, trains, etc.

(Of course, low real interest rates mean that opportunities are scarce relative to capital.)

> High real interest rates means that capital is scarce.

That is an insightful observation, though I would argue that the scarcity of capital in a high-interest environment is an effect rather than a cause.

The root cause of our current low-interest rates is actually the Fed and their unlimited printing press creating an endless supply of US dollars via quantitative easing.

Honest Question: If real interest rates continue to remain low (indicating a scarcity of productive uses for capital) what happens over the medium/long-term?

> The root cause of our current low-interest rates is actually the Fed and their unlimited printing press creating an endless supply of US dollars via quantitative easing.

That is certainly true in the US. I wonder how the effects in the rest of the world come to pass. For example, running the printing presses in Zimbabwe didn't cause inflation in the rest of the world. On the other hand, the USD is the world's reserve currency.

The low interest rates on the USD seem to drive up the prices of productive uses of capital. Be it start ups, other stocks or real estate.

Unemployment rate is very difficult to compare across time. The unemployment rate in the 50s and 60s is unlikely to account for vast numbers of women who would be working today, for example. Employment statistics are very difficult to winnow down to a simple-yet-meaningful percentage number.

Another is that the term 'unemployed' can be readily redefined - here in Australia, one government managed to make good unemployment figures by redefining under-employed people so that they were out of the picture. They now counted towards the 'employed' numbers, even if they were literally only working a couple of hours a week.

"Robotics, technology, etc. sure haven't led to more jobs in America the last 50 years."

Well, the thing is: IT HAS.

Now more people work than ever. People continue working instead of retiring like they did in the past, and women work(almost doubling the jobs).

Also the population has grown, a lot. So yes, there are lots of more jobs.

This isn't related to robotics, tech, etc. This is related to precariousness.

Robotics, technology should make everybody work less and live in a better world. Capitalism won't make this happen.

That's very optimistic and idealistic but the harsh truth is we treat people as resources and if we replace them with cheaper robots that make the company richer but at the same time leaves that person unemployed.

This transfer of wealth that make the rich richer and the poor desperate for food on the table is not healthy for the political stability of the country.

If we leave this unchecked it's just a matter of time before we will see the masses declare a war on technology out of desperation.

He's infinitely more intelligent than me, but I fail to comprehend how a world without human labour could possibly lead to a richer experience.

My understanding is that humans are limited. For a robot to function, you need to build and maintain it (minimal maintenance). Humans requires lots of effort, though. They get sick, they have to go to work, they can't work long hours, they get tired, bored...

So then there is the question Marx posted a century and a half ago - what do capitalists do with the money they make? Only so much can be spent on mansions, and even that is an investment. They can bury some precious metals in the backyard if they want. But then the rest of it will all go to capital spending.

What is the result of capital spending? More commodities. But who will buy the commodities? Workers. But they can't afford them, they just lost a round in the capital/labor fight. So kick the can down the road, have the workers go into debt to buy the commodities. That works for a little while, but then the problem becomes worse and a bigger collapse will happen at the next crisis.

Despite just coming out of the "worst recession since the Great Depression", the Federal Reserve etc. did save the US economy for now. I'm of the belief that sooner or later the world economy is going to hit the skids and even Keynesian New Deal measures won't bring things out of it. Only time will tell of course.

That was also the Marx prediction, lets see if he was right..

Its not just economics, but also the human nature; we have to change the way we see and interact with the world, resources, other people..

The "Use everybody, everything, and profit whenever you see a chance" mantra is a social cancer, and will end badly for everybody.. even the ones running the show and laughing of everything

Marx predicted it long time ago.

"According to Marxist analysis, class conflict within capitalism arises due to intensifying contradictions between highly-productive mechanized and socialized production performed by the proletariat, and private ownership and private appropriation of the surplus product in the form of surplus value (profit) by a small minority of private owners called the bourgeoisie."


People can only buy so many things, particularly people who aren't rich. The more robots that make our things, the less labor is needed, and the less things we can buy.

As long as we're focused on individual consumers buying things for themselves, there will be fewer and fewer jobs available or needed to make those things. While it may happen elsewhere, I'm very pessimistic about anything like a basic income happening in America.

But without basic income or a job, there's no effective mechanism to distribute cash. You need a job to receive cash.

Yet there could be many jobs available if we shifted the focus of our consumption from individual needs, and put some of that focus into community needs. Large projects. Infrastructure improvement and operation. Solar power. Transportation.

Just get it into our mindset that we're building and operating big stuff. Because providing for our individual needs will not provide jobs for most of us.

You're describing a cultural and economic shift towards collectivism and away from individualism, which, to me, seems no more likely than basic income.

I think it may take decades for basic income in America to go from unthinkable, to radical, to controversial, to reasonable, to seemingly inevitable, to reality. But that's all the more reason to start talking about it now. Let's get the ball rolling!

Henry Ford Jr. asked Walter Reuther how he would get the robots to pay union dues. Reuther asked how Ford would get the robots to buy cars.

I just want to point out that Marxism was started as a response to the Industrial Revolution. [1]

If you guys think that machines are going to decrease our standard of living-- that the separation of (production value)/wages is going to cause poverty-- you have to prove to me that the same thing happened during the Industrial Revolution.

[1] Karl Marx: Communist as Religious Eschatologist

The same thing sort of did happen during the industrial revolution, but not really because of the machines, as Marx is careful to point out.

Regular economic history assumes that life before the industrial revolution must have been worse. Sure, people worked 11 hour days, had no weekends, but if it were that bad why did they go and work there in the first place? It must have been better.

Similar arguments today are made about sweatshops in 3rd world countries.

The answer is simply that they were kicked off their land via the enclosure movement and the game laws. So they were left with very little option. This was intentional.

What happened was laws changed to make their former lives impossible and unbearable. In Britain, new taxes sprang up on land which forced people into the cities.

That's a bit generous of a description of what happened.

Their were communally owned lands that peasants had access to. Landowners seized those lands, and the British crown was more than happy to back them up with mass violence.

With a certain reading of Marx you could make the argument that startups and the freelancer movement embody Marxist ideals.

Technology empowers and magnifies the productive ability of creators while decoupling their dependence on and/or displacing traditional economic structures (e.g. companies and markets). As an added bonus technology prices have historically fallen over time which further reduces the value of (demand for) capital.

These aspects enable individuals to minimise "Marxist alienation" by creating goods without needing (much) capital, owning the output of their labour, and increasing their share of the surplus value of their goods (PG's "100x multiplier").

Yep, in the '90s we called that "dot-communism".

> If you guys think that machines are going to decrease our standard of living-- that the separation of (production value)/wages is going to cause poverty

No we don't. We just have to show that the benefits only go to a select few, and the "workers" generally get screwed (as in paid a lot less than their value).

If you accept the above, then relative poverty is rather easy to show (99% vs top 1% etc)...

EDIT: To simplify my point, relative poverty has a massive effect on standard of living.

Workers are paid based on supply/demand of the value they can provide. If they were legally required to be paid based on their output, some people would make 10x as much as others for the same amount of time and education. It would basically just be based on luck, whoever could land the higher yield jobs. Does this seem more fair to you?

> It would basically just be based on luck, whoever could land the higher yield jobs.

The honest truth is that it's already mostly luck that determines who gets the big payouts and who doesn't. There are so many factors beyond your control that play into your success.

From that perspective, a society where we were up front about that fact would at least be "more fair" in the sense that it would reduce lauding some for their unearned success while disparaging others for their equally happenstance failures.

There's a lot of luck, and a lot of factors beyond your control that is true. But it's based on Market Forces which drives value rather than 100% random (or corrupt) forces.

However to say people should be payed based on the percent yield. Most people consider only physical value in looking at labor. I imagine you would believe that someone working for a corporation carving blocks into a statue should be payed a percentage of that sale of the statue.

Yet it's obvious that that line of thinking (physical value only) is incorrect. How much would you pay doctors? Doctors don't create anything, but they generate value by instructing surgeons, nurses, etc on what they should do. By physical value only, coal miners would make hundreds, doctors 0.

Okay, so we concede that intellectual value should be also considered in the percentage yield owed to an individual.

Then that brings us a really good CEO. Per product, a good CEO might only cost a fraction of a cent. You can calculate finding a number of sales of a product and dividing into it the CEOs billion $ salery. A bad CEO might make an OK on a failed product that costs the company 5 cents a product. This costs him billions of dollars of his own money. A really good CEO might one day decide to test a method of production, or a new mass production strategy that decreases cost of making each good by 10 cents. He is payed hundreds of Billions. You might agree that based on this, it would make sense to pay CEOs based on output, but once you realize that the good CEO and bad CEO are the often same person, and once you charge a person hundreds of billion of dollars for their 5 cent mistake, they would have make the risk needed to gain the the 10c discovery, you might begin to understand that CEOs simply cannot be payed based on this method of value.

Okay so we try the opposite approach. It's based on luck so we should pay everyone the same. No one would want to take on the stress for a low-power, high risk, boring job like supervising a reactor core. Especially since that job pays the same as a fun job like stopping crime, or something more interesting and easy to get into. There would be a constant problem of not enough people in some jobs and too many in others. Redistributing people would be completely random and people would be placed in to jobs they hate, and paid the same amount as people doing jobs they would love. So here, much more people are unhappy, and incompetence is all around. (Then some guy says he's going to fix it and everyone rallies around him and soon dictatorship).

I didn't say they had to paid based on output... my objection was the capitalist shouldn't be given ALL their surplus value.

Perhaps their surplus value should be shared amongst all of them? (Poor capitalist would lose out though... so that's a horrible idea, right?)

Most revolutions replicate what they rebel against. Marxism was just an extension of French Revolution logic (1789) and not surprisingly, has followed a similar path: executions, social engineering, fanatical militarism and finally internal turmoil brings it down.

You are making the classical mistake, equalizing Marxism to the political scene executed by the Soviet Union..

The marxism is much more sophisticated and deep; I think maybe trotsky could make a better socialism.. but even than probably away from the Marx vision

But you know, politicians will always think about their own selves in the end of the day, no matter what they say, as long people believe in them..

So, in the day we have real altruistic people on power, things might change for the better... Socialism requires a much more sophisticated politician type.

But let me make clear, that i dont defend pure left or pure right.. if nature teach us something is decentralization and and micro-management..

If a government has the tendency to concentrate power, its like a dead body to the crows... it will seduce only the people with fetish for power, and control over the lives and destinies of others..

Thats why the history of world politics has been a greek drama where the weak(and sadly the majority) always lose in the end

No you are making the classical mistake of thinking the combination of Marxism and human nature can play out any other way. The Sovs even knew this themselves, hence their trying to create New Soviet Man (and predictably failing).

Except, of course, for the fact that the attempt to create the New Capitalist Man has been every bit as much a failure, but we all pretend it's been a wild success because that's the ideology our rulers demand.

Your well made point, make a pretty depressing observation that we still live under the Positivism umbrella (adored and used by "our rulers") where role-models serve as "guide" to shape ordinary people by the owners of the institutions of power at their own will, so they can be easily manipulated.

Our society doesnt even get into the Nietzsche philosophical level were we are free of this State+Capital controlled lobotomization ideology where human beings are far away from their freedom and humanity.. which is our fuc$##%ng natural rights for start

Its sad that the people that has shaped the last century has listened more to Comte than Nietzsche..

Except the largest country (by population) in the world is a product of that line of thinking.. So where is the "internal turmoil brings it down" happening?

China is not communist though, it's state capitalism.

China is also not internally very harmonious, which is why the Chinese military is focused mostly inward rather than outward.

State capitalism... you really want to go down the rabbit hole of language semantics.

So it's capitalism where all the money goes to the state, which is the government, which is the people... which is exactly what "communism" is. If you think of a "commune" as a "corporation", then it's almost identical.

I'd be happy to see the arguement, that they are a pretty bad communist state, and they don't allocate their money too well, and they (like every other country) have problems with corruption. But "they are not communist" is just as valid as "the US is not a democracy" (Technically it's kind of true, but it isn't useful as a discussion point).

My point is, Communism is pretty much just as popular as democracy... so saying it's died, is just being ignorant.

> So it's capitalism where all the money goes to the state, which is the government, which is the people... which is exactly what "communism" is. If you think of a "commune" as a "corporation", then it's almost identical.

Not it's not.

It's called state capitalism because the state interferes directly on the market, instead of abolishing corporations and capital. It's a different kind of regime, that allows China to be inserted in a free market world without making the communist party lose control of the country.

So you have a new name for a communist country... That doesn't change the fact the old one exists still...

So I can say: America isn't a democracy, because it's an oligarchy. (This statement isn't true, but is equivalent to yours).

China achieves it's communism, through state capitalism... Or is that not a true scotsman... I mean communist?

Communism hasn't died, Chinese officials still study Marx and Mao, and it is well and truly part of the Chinese propaganda message. There is still a large picture of Mao hanging in Beijing, and the leaders constantly profess to be Marxists...

But of course, how could I think that communism is still alive!?

State corporatism.

This is going to get drastically worse, as capital becomes able to remove most human labor from the production equation using robotics in the next few decades.

I've yet to see a solution to the seemingly inevitable outcome of traditional human labor dropping to nearly zero value. And or why we'd want to prevent it from happening, given the upside to robotics.

The only way to stop (slow down?) the rise of robotics, is to place arbitrary restrictions on machines to hamper their value proposition. I expect politicians all over the world to begin attempting this before another decade goes by.

Will we see a dramatic increase in the formation of unions as a defensive response? Most likely.

Will we see a dramatic increase in the formation of unions as a defensive response? Most likely.

I'm struggling to follow how a union could help this situation. What would happen? Workers would go on strike if their firms use robots? Seems like that would just push the owner to accelerate robot orders. My guess is that unions are pretty useless in the face of automation. Does anyone know any precedents?

I agree in spirit though. What I think is likely is the rise of populism. I think the battle will have to be waged in the political arena.

I think we all know the precedent: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luddite

And yeah, if it gets really bad, violent protest is just a more extreme continuation of unions.

Not suggesting it would help, but rather that it's the expected response from labor. Organized labor means far greater political influence. Robots don't vote, yet. That greater political influence will be necessary to restrict robotics / slow down the process of innovation and productivity gains (and labor job destruction).

What about a tax on machines in combination with an unconditional basic income? Right now the worker is the loser in this game. Why not make him the winner? With technology he is no longer forced to do boring work. Machines can do it much better.

I would expect a tax on machines, absolutely. Many possibilities will be floated: such as taxes, limiting how many hours per day a machine can operate, limiting which hours of the day a machine can operate, projecting human costs onto the machines (cost of health insurance, sick leave, vacation time, etc).

Organized labor will pull for machines being restrained to as much of an equal footing with human labor as possible. Whether that will actually happen or not, impossible to guess. I do expect various cities, jurisdictions, countries, etc. will try implementing various schemes though.

It won't. Inject too much robotics and we will have no money to spend on their products. The wheel must keep spinning. If the human labor is replaced by robotics everywhere we, as humans, will have no earnings and without any income the market will freeze as demand will go down as well. All I can say, we're living interesting times.

If robots can replace all human jobs, then why does anyone need to work? Or why does money even make sense them. All people need is food, water, and shelter. If machines can provide all that, lacking a job doesn't matter.

Robots won't replace the human need to exploit finite resources and other people for personal gain. Which is why I think complete replacement of human labor by robots isn't likely to happen, even if it becomes technically possible -- because the entire reason for displacing human labor with automation is to remove the need to pay more people to do more work, entirely a capitalist means to a capitalist end that doesn't make sense if the rich don't keep getting richer, or if there's not an economy to take advantage of all the efficiency in all the automation.

That's just kind of silly. We have so much silly thinking in HN. So in this robot magic land people are just living with basic necessities and that's? Sounds like the robot utopia worked out great ...

Why does money make sense?

Do your magic robots work on perpetual motion? And the robot owners are going to provide all these necessities ? Why ?

Because a large part of life is competition for a mate. This tends to manifest itself in American culture as the pursuit of material wealth and social status through employment.

This is not about robotics, it's about cheap labour displacing expensive labour through outsourcing and companies capturing some of the vast difference in cost. Which also means it's temporary, since incomes (and thus costs) rise in the poorer countries, and any excess margin eventually will get competed away.

That said, since "temporary" here may well last several generations, there's plenty of societal upheaval ahead.

If labor costs (ie wages) get exceptionally low, it starts making sense to develop more labor-intensive technology. Consider how the industrial revolution started by replacing expensive weavers with cheap migrant workers using power looms.

There could just as easily be some sort of technology or industry that takes off tomorrow because it's more able to use this abundant supply of low-skilled workers we're worrying about.

Someone will still have money, and (I guess) a desire to spend it.

My own dystopian vision is of a world made almost entirely of services to those few with money - most of us will be/are selling nonessential services (entertainment, leisure, nonessential medical services & care, advertising, etc..). Most of government is probably in the "nonessential" category.

Some % of the workforce will still work on R&D and essential services of course. Having all the basics covered by a small percentage of the workforce doesn't mean the rest will have to work less.. on the contrary, the battle to divest people from their money will be fiercer than ever - more and better and more exotic services, more advertising, etc. It would be interesting to live in a post-scarcity society, but we're nowhere near there yet (and I'll be a bit Malthusian and say that we should curb the population growth a bit if we want to have what I consider to be a good standard of living in the future)

> The only way to stop (slow down?) the rise of robotics, is to place arbitrary restrictions on machines to hamper their value proposition. I expect politicians all over the world to begin attempting this before another decade goes by.

Depends a bit on how international competition between jurisdictions will play out.

Geolibertarianism would solve it pretty effectively, since it would allow the human to opt-out.

What I don't understand is why humans are so obsessed with labor. Robots are doing stuff for us, and some people are actually complaining about it. To me, this seems really sad. It's like they're saying "I'm so worthless, I can't even compete with a robot."

Maybe that's true for some people. If so, then the problem isn't robots, the problem is that there are people who are less useful than robots. For a human to survive in the era of intelligent machines, he/she needs to have unique skills that are not possessed by robots. If they don't have those skills, they need to find them.

For those in the tech industry, those skills are already there. It will be decades, or longer, until we can automate software/hardware engineers. Entrepreneurship is another unique skill that will be even harder to automate. I believe that once machines are capable of conceiving, starting, and operating businesses, they will no longer be called machines.

What we must never forget is that humans aren't intrinsically special. We just happen to be the most capable organisms on the planet right now. The current rate of technological progression suggests that this will eventually change. When it does, we'll need to adapt or we'll go extinct.

If we cannot adapt to this reality, we will simply end up serving as the spawning ground for a new species (biological or otherwise) that will make humans obsolete. If we survive, it will be as little but a historical curiosity.

To adapt, we cannot look at robotics and automation as an enemy. It IS the future - we need to accept it, exploit it, and ultimately incorporate it into ourselves.

>Robots are doing stuff for us, and some people are actually complaining about it. To me, this seems really sad. It's like they're saying "I'm so worthless, I can't even compete with a robot."

That's not what they're saying. The labor market isn't automatically going to expand to accommodate their need for employment. "Finding" new skills all too often means amassing a crippling amount of loan debt (in the US at least), to enter a job market which simply has no room, nor a desire to find room, for the population it put so much effort into letting go.

Humans may not be intrinsically special, but being biased towards human survival, as a human being, should not be difficult to understand.

Minimum guaranteed income can not get here soon enough.

Also known as Basic Income: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income

Charles Eisenstein makes the case for it in chapter 14 of Sacred Economics: http://sacred-economics.com/sacred-economics-chapter-14-the-...

Not exactly the same. Guaranteed minimum incomes are conditional: as you make more money, they phase out. This makes them significantly cheaper than basic incomes, which you get regardless of how much money you make. The former makes more sense on the face of it, but it exposes workers to very steep marginal tax rates when they're trying to move from the underclass to the middle class. Trap enough people in the underclass, and the apparent cheapness of the guaranteed minimum income no longer looks so cheap.

For what? Living deserves an income? Can I opt out?

It's only fair. Before the State, people were born into a homeland. Just by virtue of being born, you were entitled to a share of the natural resources around you. (Of course without a state, murder and such are allowed on a who-can-get-away-with-it basis. That's the downside.)

When the state stepped in and seized control of our homelands, and then said: "This person, with this piece of paper, now owns these resources", essentially creating out of thin air the concept of "wealth", they took upon themselves a moral responsibility to see to it that wealth was distributed in a way that everyone gets at least a living share.

The current system, where you are either born into a dynasty with resources, or you are for all intents and purposes enslaved to people who are (albeit with some small chance of moving between groups) fails at that promise, even though the poor largely fulfill their end of the bargain by making themselves available for labor. Many go without their basic needs taken care of. A basic income would fix that. The situation is absurd, and it's an utter waste of human capital to throw talented "low" class kids into the thresher.

I'm not actually sure that's how it worked, though I'm sure that's a common anarchist mythology. States arrived along with agriculture, but hunter-gatherers had very similar, and much smaller groups with their own structures of authority, control, and social norms. In-group and out-group dynamics were more prevalent as in-groups did not, by definition, exceed Dunbar's number. Things like in-group murder were undoubtedly discouraged and punished. And when resources grew thin, violence and warfare against other groups was prevalent.

Agriculture was generally borne of desperation and scarcity, and cultures that adopted agriculture also adopted government and notions of land ownership. It was still a pretty raw deal compared to being a hunter-gatherer though, especially since hunter-gatherers were still better at warfare than farmers so from time to time a group of hunter-gatherers might show up and take whatever they wanted from you.

But even among hunter-gatherers, there were no human rights. You had to work, you received your share, but only if the hunter-gatherers from around the way didn't run short on resources and showed up one day and killed all your men and captured all your women.

On the other hand, the neolithic revolution, the rise of agriculture, were responsible for accelerated human population growth, and with that, the rise of the city states (and later states) needed to deal with the resulting population densities. People in cities were more free to specialize, leading to art and technology advancements.

Welfare via the state is probably as old as Rome, and probably much older than that.

Deserving is a funny idea. I'm not talking about "does Paris Hilton deserve her money?" or even "does Bill Gates deserve his money?" which all too often devolve into personal attacks and minutiae and miss the broader systemic question.

When you implicitly demand that people work for money, you're making an intuitive error that brilliant economists, from Adam Smith to Karl Marx, have mistakenly stepped into many times: the idea that value comes from a day's work. That's the folk version of it, but in economic's early days it was professionally argued for enough to get its own name: the labor theory of value. There's a long history of debate around it, and even today there are highly sophisticated versions of it floating around that have added epicycles and epicycles of subtlety, but the long and short of it is that it's been proven wrong. Not from a normative point of view (which is impossible anyways, as that's just moralizing), but empirically speaking.

And the moral version of it doesn't make much sense either. I'd be the last to say that an investment banker doesn't work hard, but does he work harder than a single mother on food stamps holding down three part time jobs? Or, for that matter, do either of them work harder than a peasant in rural India?

Lots of things determine income. But by far the biggest is economic productivity, which is heavily correlated to capital intensity.

As a collective whole, we are far more productive now than we were a couple decades ago, let alone a couple centuries. For that we get far higher incomes for far less work. Does being born in a first world country in the 21st century deserve extra income? No, not really. Yet we live with it and don't beat ourselves over the head for it: we do it because we can. And even once developing countries have caught up with us, we'll still have to ask ourselves if we deserve greater income than our ancestors merely for coming after them.

Capital will continue to grow exponentially for the foreseeable future. It will not be long before the labor of maybe a billion people worldwide are able to provide a standard of living for everyone that's higher than people in first world countries get today.

Do the people who aren't part of that productive core "deserve" the money? I mean, maybe, maybe not, but does the answer to that question even matter? None of us really deserve what we have, so so long as we make a workable system where the incentives line up so that everyone can live rich lives with a base level of income, I'm all for it.

the idea that value comes from a day's work

Where did Adam Smith say this? From what I understand of Smith's position, it was that value comes from either use or trade: you produce something and either use it yourself, or trade it for something else. How long it took you to produce it is irrelevant to what you can use it or trade it for.

"The real price of every thing, what every thing really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it. What every thing is really worth to the man who has acquired it, and who wants to dispose of it or exchange it for something else, is the toil and trouble which it can save to himself, and which it can impose upon other people. What is bought with money or with goods is purchased by labour, as much as what we acquire by the toil of our own body. That money or those goods indeed save us this toil. They contain the value of a certain quantity of labour which we exchange for what is supposed at the time to contain the value of an equal quantity." (TWON, Bk. 1, ch. V, p. 30)

The full answer is a bit more complex than that: it's also true that Smith says contradictory things. I'm not enough of a Smith scholar to give a definitive answer, but it seems that Smith mostly purposed it for rhetorical effect, since it is so compelling on a folk level. Other classical economists like Ricardo bought into it much more heavily as an analytic tool.

Smith is saying that the value of something to you is the labor it saves you, and the cost of something to you is its opportunity cost: what you have to give up to get it. But the "labor theory of value" says that the cost of something to me should be determined by the labor it costs you, who are trying to sell it to me. That's not the same thing.

The statement that "They contain the value of a certain quantity of labour which we exchange for what is supposed at the time to contain the value of an equal quantity" is the closest Smith comes to saying something like the labor theory of value, but note that he says "supposed"--in other words, our intuitive sense is that, on average, equal amounts of labor should produce equal amounts of value. So he's still not saying the same thing as the labor theory of value says; he's talking about an effect of the free market, not how prices should be set in such a market. (And, as you note, the full answer is more complex: for one thing, we have to account for differences in productivity.)

If you have any quotes from other classical economists like Ricardo, I'd be interested to see them; my sense is that the labor theory of value is mainly due to later schools of economics, not classical economics.

Great comment, thanks.

Articles like this tend to get lost in our desire to fit the world into our favorite grand philosophyy (philosophical framework, ideology, metanarrative - take your pick.) Since these philosophies are so ambitious, they need to deal in very big concepts like imports or automation-technology. The counter points are equally abstract. Each comes with its own vocabulary like labour/capital (being used similarly here to the Marxist workers/means of production).

I don't have a general problem with big abstract theories. They can be useful. They can also be blinding. Worse, they can lodge themselves as a person's political identity. Realistically, they are very imperfect and we should probably use a bunch simultaneously to try an understand a trend like this one.

Here's an alternative vocabulary that IMO is relevant inasmuch as economic growth takes the form of of new technological product (smartphones, internet). Who/how many get to consume the new products. IE, airlines get invented. How many people get to use them? Personal vehicles proliferate. How many people get to own one.

From that perspective, a lot of recent growth is remarkably equitable. Cellular phones penetrated right down the worldwide income ladder. In 10-20 years they outpaced earlier technologies like cars & electricity. Now most of the world gets to use them. PCs, the internet & smartphones are available to most of the lower income people in above medium income countries. I would say that overall, the common person gets more access to new consumer technology than a decade ago.

Another framework I would like to see used would focus on freedom to make choices, specifically lifestyle choices. How many people choose to take a different job, change careers, work less, etc. I'm not sure how one would go about quantifying this.

I'm not saying this should be the primary method of looking at the economy. I am saying is that if using different frameworks leads you to different conclusions, be suspicious of all of them.

A thought that I am somewhat scared of is this: What does the non-techie person do when their job disappears as a result of an entire industry collapsing?

The collapse of an industry used to take decades but now can happen within a five-year timespan.

Frank Rieger and Constanze Kurz raised this point recently when they pointed out that self-driving cars will make hundreds of thousands of drivers unemployed within Germany alone[1].

What if, at some point, these people, justifiedly feeling thrown aside by technological progress, take to the proverbial pitchfork?

[1] http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=de&tl=en&u=ht...

Blinding irony being the "cool detachment to all theories guy" persona you project here being equally as abstact as those you observe.

That's a little hostile. What exactly is rubbing you the wrong way about my comment? Here's the jist of what I am trying to say.

(1) I don't know if people are better or worse off now than before. (2) I'm don't think we have a very good quantifiable way of deciding that argument. (3) Many arguments of intelligent people are trying to provide an answer to this question smells a lot like intelligent people trying to fit their world into their philosophical framework. (4) The answer to that question (or some aspects of the answer) may be subjective or at least a bad fit for the economic vocabulary we typically use to tackle it. IE, Has the value of a median family car gone up over the last 50 years because its objective quality has improved or has it gone down because the the people buying them grew up expecting to own one whereas their grandparents found themselves able to afford one, exceeding their expectations when growing up.

Any specific statement you find objectionable?

It seems silly to discuss changing shares of a whole output of a national economy devoted to labor rather than capital expenditures, without an even greater emphasis on increases in the overall national output. After all, I could just as well argue that all around the world, men are losing out to women, as more equality of rights is achieved. But what's really happening (thanks in no small part to steady economic growth all around the world) is that both men and women have more choices in lifestyle and family roles than ever before. Today's laborers are for the most part vastly better off than they were in the year of my birth, and they have every expectation of becoming still better off as the years go by, all around the world.

If, thanks to technology, 10% of people are able to produce all the goods, 90% won't get paid. With most people not having money, only 10% of goods will be needed from that point on. And thanks to the new technology, only 1% of people will be able to produce that. Which means only 1% will have money. Thus, less goods would be needed. And so on. The cycle ends when the last human being dies of hunger.


1. Ban the technology, Amish-style 2. Cut working hours 3. Introduce some new kind of re-distribution, such as basic income

We've already been through waves of technology even more dislocating than the one you describe.

If you told a farmer in 1813 that, in the future, less than 5% of the population would be needed to grow all the food, he would assume that the other 95% would be mostly unemployed and starving. But he would be wrong, for the same reason that you are wrong.

As long as there are unmet desires, there is necessarily more work to do. When increasing productivity frees up capital and labor, it gets applied to create entirely new industries. Just because you can't imagine what they might look like (any more than our 1813 farmer could imagine what many of us do for a living) doesn't make them any less likely.

It is a logical impossibility that technology throws the bulk of the population into poverty -- either they have access to all the cheap robotic goods, in which case they are not poor in any meaningful sense, or they don't have access to the cheap robotic goods, in which case the robots are not competing with them in their ability to sell to each other.

One problem is that work requires something to work on or with. For the most part, people don't really create out of nothing--they add to and build upon what already exists. They need land to farm, or materials to build with, or computers to work on. Even writers need languages to write in. As property becomes held more and more by fewer and fewer, and even intellectual property is becoming increasingly locked up there's less and less that is physically or intellectually available to build upon.

You are assuming that people are able to consume 10x more to keep economy going. I would say there's a limit to how much a person is capable to consume. If nothing else you have only 24hrs a day to engage in consuming.

The problem is that with the current tech anybody should be able to live a simple yet good life with her basic needs fulfilled. The requirement that all people work and the poverty of most of those who don't (for any reason) and even of a lot of those who do is needed for capitalism -- at least the kind which is practiced now. Implicit hypotheses are made: market value is fair by definition (and when there even when there is no market, we pretend implicitly otherwise by continuing to state the prices are fair by definition and driven by value), infinite growth is possible, the "unmet desires" of some should define the model of society for all, the virtually infinite wealth (=> power) of few poses no ethical power just because they typically "created" a superior amount of wealth for the public.

IMO, all those hypotheses are utter bullshit and are the sign of a crazy individualistic society, but I admit this is mainly a question of personal ethics and values.

The most important things are education, housing, food and health. There is no reason not to unconditionally provide that to everybody if we can afford it, and when I say "if we can afford it" I mean even if that implies e.g. cutting the number of iPad by a factor 100 and increasing the price of gasoline by a factor 3 or 10 or whatever. Obviously, the ruling class does not want that kind of thing to happen, because that would mean impairment of the capitalist ideology, the loss of a big part of their power (perceived and real), and worst of all the loss of a perceived "way of life".

> It is a logical impossibility that technology throws the bulk of the population into poverty -- either they have access to all the cheap robotic goods, in which case they are not poor in any meaningful sense, or they don't have access to the cheap robotic goods, in which case the robots are not competing with them in their ability to sell to each other.

Irrefutable arguments are suspicious, and this one is no exception; you are not going to produce e.g. drugs yourself when you can't afford to buy one at "market"^W arbitrary prices, and the same is true for lots of products of today life.

And even if you could, that also starts with the hypothesis that people should work (or have an enormous amount of capital, but I'm obviously not very worrying for those kind of people) to be allowed to live a mainstream life. This is a point of view, but when technology make the alternative possible, I see no reason you should be allowed to impose it on everybody, especially when in lots of case this is done by creating artificial scarcity even when this involve waste...

If the 10% believe the marginal product of the 90% is precisely 0, they will provide nothing to the 90%. They might as well wall themselves off from society and ignore them. It's as if the 10% simply don't exist and the land they live on is impassable mountain.

Then nothing prevents the 90% from forming their own economy.

What happened to the horse population once its marginal product became zero? They got turned into glue. Mostly, except for the lineages which could be retained for entertainment value.

I'm not at all saying that we'll see that happen: I'm speaking to the fact that people's marginal utility really can drop to zero. And although we might like to console ourselves with thoughts that everyone can end up a productive person with enough education and self effort, that's just a pleasant fairy tale. I've worked in service jobs before, and the people in the underclass there, though often genuinely nice people, aren't capable of being independently productive.

Why can't they just form their own economy? Well, they will. In many places you can see what happens when the bottom rung run things: think the favelas of Brazil. Some level of cohesion with the broader economy, where it provides goods that for whatever reason are suppressed by the State in governed areas, coupled with rule by brute violence.

If 10% wall themselves off, they'll need only 1% to feed them. So the 1% walls themselves off the remaining 9%. But then they'll need only 0.1%...

So what prevents the 9% from forming an economy amongst themselves? This problem seems self correcting. Or your theory is wrong.

9% percent face the same problem. They need only 0.9% to feed them. So they leave 8.1% alone and make for themselves. But then only 0.09% is needed to produce all the stuff. Etc.

That's not how it works.

In the real world, some of the 10% would be slackers, and some of the 90% would think up ways to enable the slackers in return for some of their income. They, in turn, would need to employ more of the 90% to satisfy demand. Indeed, whole new classes of "goods" would be defined, such that only members of the 90% would be qualified to provide them. Of course, the 10% would strive to automate these away, only to find new classes arising of slackers with new demands to be satisfied by new entrepreneurs among the 90%.

As a particularly lazy member of the 10%, that has been my experience. Long may it continue!

The 90% will get paid.

Likely paid in digital currency for performing manual labor or creative work inside Virtual Worlds.

That's the question. Suppose you are part of 10%. You are a person with money. You spend 10% of your income to satisfy all your needs. How are you going to spend remaining 90%? Keep in mind that your needs are already satisfied -- you have to spend on something that you won't consume.

But their needs are not already satisfied. Maybe their physiological and security needs, but what about their needs for belonging, esteem and self-actualization? The more likely scenario is they'll spend the remaining 90% trying to fulfill those needs through philanthropy.

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