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Is work necessary? (preposterousuniverse.com)
106 points by bendmorris 1001 days ago | hide | past | web | 169 comments | favorite



This could be describing the Philippines. A large number of people don't work because they don't really have to. OFW remittances send enough money back in some cases that the local economy makes it seem pointless to work (unskilled workers here might make $3 - $4 per day.) In other cases, the family has built a compound and everyone can live super cheap there. Maybe there is enough money flowing into the family that nobody has to work.

I see a lot of drinking, fiesta's and festivals here. Given the idle time, it seems that most don't pursue education or other things which could further them. I suppose many of these people would choose to go to school if they could afford to do so.

This may be a decent end goal, but I can't help but think there is always something that someone could be doing to make money. There is always more that needs to be done. I can see the "suck" all around us. Things which could be improved.

If we were to ever be able to get large numbers of people off this planet then there will always be much more things for people to do. We could explore further and expand outward.

For the foreseeable future. If you are in the U.S. you either work or you collect food stamps which barely cover you. It would be great for one person to support 10K, but for now, the less fortunate have to ask from people who are far less able to provide (family who is getting by, but not doing great otherwise.)


The Philippines did not come to mind when I read the article. What I took from the article was that the human race can invent a system that would provide for their basic needs so that humans don't have to worry about it and they can spend their time on their hobbies.

(I'm from the Philippines.)


It seems to me like there are still lots of problems to solve. Many STEM jobs still go unfilled even though they tend to pay more. If you want to build the next Android or iPhone, you need large teams of people, for instance. Some people will choose tennis while others choose medical research? I don't think anyone has mentioned the fact that there aren't enough hours in the day for people who do research or creative work.

Personally, I image that if we could put 7 billion people to work on the more important problems, we'd still need a lot more fall short on resources.


Yeah but to fill the STEM jobs you need educated people to do so. To get educated people you need to make the process of education far less expensive and risky for the individual, only then you will get more people through the STEM education.

I'm kind of old (35) and a CS student, I started fairly late in my 39ies. But I only was able to do so because I payed a high price for that. Nearly everybody else at my age has a family with kids, many of them even have bought their first house. Not me, I'm studying, I'm one of the very fiew 35 years old students at the university.

And yes there are legitimate reasons why I couldn't start to study earlier (which I won't get into right now). What I want to say is that education is _very_ expensive for the student, even if here in Sweden I don't even have to pay for the university myself. Many people who would be able to learn and do the STEM jobs can't because they're stuck in survival mode earning a living at a job which doesn't help humanity, instead it is only there to keep someone ocupied.


How are trends like online learning and online work afect the situation there? surely you can make reasonable money using those.


The Philippines does have a large presence on Odesk, Elance and similar services. I hear often from people that they are interested in giving in a try.

Only the relatively well off have a computer and internet connection in the home. In the Philippines, even the increased electrical usage from a computer could be a significant cost. Cheap tablets and smart phones bring more computers into homes, but those are limited for doing work and you still don't have an internet connection.

The relatively well off increasingly have more options as well. Wages are creeping up. Entry level call center work can pay nearly half the minimum wage in the U.S. Again, this is in a country for an unskilled laborer might work for a few dollars a day for an 8 - 10 hour day. So, the world opens up even more for the middle class while the poor get left behind (sound familiar?)

I don't know how much these sorts of services could help the poor anyways. Imagine having to rely on someone to do work for you who is constantly having a difficult time paying bills and has little money to deal with problems in general. Maybe a low end co-working space could help out with this. There are internet cafes all over the place for around 30 cents an hour, but that's really expensive for internet.


I find it interesting that though the use of machines and the like we are rapidly approaching what occurred in ancient cultures through the use of slaves, which is many having a great deal of time to devote to leisure.

What do we do we currently do with leisure? Watch TV unwind... but assuming you didn't need to unwind from work (because there was none) what would you be doing? Personally I would be studying random topics (sculpture, latin and dance), working on my own projects (software and community) and generally improving myself and hopefully society.

I would imagine that the absence of work would be a net gain for society as people could devote their time to helping others or doing something for pure merit.

Interestingly enough that's what the ancients did. The ancient greek word for leisure "schole" means learning or self improvement.


Yup, slavery was quite useful in advancing the human race for a while there. We don't like it today for moral reasons, but Leibniz would not have discovered calculus if he spent every day in a field somewhere, and it was slavery that bought him the time to do it.


What ? Leibniz lived in Germany and France, and I think there was no slavery (as in ownership of human beings; sure there were servants and nobility and so on, but no actual slavery) in there at the time ... Would you elaborate how "it was slavery that bought him the time to do it" ?


For the purposes of brevity I'm grouping slavery, peasants, servants, indentured servants, etc into the same group. They all serve to buy leisure time at the expense of the sweat of other people.


Hah, funny. You can say the same thing about capitalism. It boosted the productivity and the technical capabilities of the human race tremendously (although at a pretty high cost).


Yes. And its our collective fault. Capitalism and democracy are arguably the best collective system for living together that humanity has implemented. On a theoretical level, this is wholly up for debate, but in a practical sense, I believe this to be true. This has directly led to consumerism, the rise of the individual, and specialization. Follow that path, and you need to work. Or at least the typical person does. The dream of many is that work == something they want to do (so much so that it hardly feels like work in the strictest form), but I put forth that inevitably, as a person changes, they find it difficult to step away from their area of expertise (gained from years of specialization) and inevitably, for most, it truly becomes work.

Disclaimer: this is a first world question (and answer)


Since this is an opinion piece, I'll give mine on the same topic:

We don't need more jobs or a re-imagining of the meaning of life, we need less people. We're pushing into the golden age of mechanization, automation and robotics and instead of being able to celebrate we have to wonder what everyone is going to do with themselves and invent assistant-inspector-inspector jobs. We're continuing to over fish, over build, over pollute, under service people at the doctors office, and under deliver on educational goals. We've just got too many people plain and simple if you ask me. Every major solution is aimed at trying to figure out how we're going to live together as a society of 10 Billion, IMHO we should be figuring out how to reduce the numbers and figuring out how to live together as much less.

I don't have a good answer and I don't think anyone on this planet has more of a right to live or have kids than anyone else. And this isn't some immigration rant. This planet has too many people on it.


People have been worrying about mass starvation due to overcopulation since the Victorian age (I believe it was a big motivation for the missionary movement).


That's truly interesting but food productions is really only one tiny part of the problem, and we also already kind of have mass starvation. I mean not in the developed world, but there are plenty of children that die either of plain outright starvation or of having extremely weak immune systems due to malnourishment. I'd imagine that the number of children that die every year from malnourishment in 2013 would be a pretty staggering figure in 1850.


China's one child policy comes to mind. You could approach this in the west without force by tying tax thresholds to number of children.


I don't like this idea for two reasons: first, tax incentives for having children help to make sure the children are taken care of - socio-economic status is negatively correlated with number of children, and lots of kids are born into big families that can't afford to take care of them properly. Giving these families additional money seems like enabling them, but the kid didn't do anything and deserves to have a reasonable standard of living.

Second, financial penalties for having children give the wealthy more freedom to reproduce. And couldn't tax penalties be considered a form of government force? Not that we don't already use incentives and penalties to shape behavior.

Education, access to birth control, and improving the standard of living of the poor all seem to result in lower birth rates with no force necessary.


Implying western countries produce too many children relative to the death rate. Overpopulation is far more prevalent in the underdeveloped countries. If their standard of living improves, with enhanced education (contraceptive) the populations are estimated to balance out to that of Western countries.

Western countries have to worry far more about immigration than birth rate control.


"We're continuing to over fish, over build, over pollute,"

ok...

"under service people at the doctors office, and under deliver on educational goals"

Hold on - these two do not fit with the previous three. Neither is about too many people but rather about not enough percentage of skilled doctors/teachers.


I disagree, I think it becomes massively harder to scale these services with the kind of population growth we're experiencing and I think that humans living in denser and denser cities leads to poorer living conditions in general across the income spectrum. Just because you feel better off than your neighbor doesn't mean you're not actually worse off than your parents.

Granted we have a longer life and health expectancy and demand more of our educational system than ever before. I just feel, and again this is all opinion related conjecture, that we've pushed past the point of diminishing returns in scaling these types of resources.


Unfortunately the answer for this is for every country in the world to go through the phases of economic development until they have a vibrant middle class. The only humane cure for overpopulation is economic wealth. Middle class people have fewer children.


Hans Rosling says the answer is to reduce child mortality https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYpX4l2UeZg

"Year by year child mortality fell in almost all countries and as child mortality fell women chose to have fiewer and fiewer babies, and that enabled them to invest more time and resources in each child."



Based on communities with multi-generational welfarism, I'd suggest that idleness comes with pretty serious social problems. Employment imposes minimum pro-social requirements on the employee.


Growing up near a major U.S. city with a very high percentage of multi-generational welfare recipients. The rampant idleness is one of the visible signs that actually makes me feel really upset. Driving to meetings and seeing a couple dozen very healthy guys in the middle of any given workday hanging around and harassing people because they're bored or, drinking themselves into a stupor just to kill another day where they do nothing and nothing happens, is a very serious problem. The parts of town where this happens are inevitably high crime, run down and dangerous.

None of these people have to work as all of their basic needs are met. Any extra money they come across (usually by panhandling) doesn't get reported and is almost always used for either bullshit like "bling", drugs/booze or gambling.

Very few have more than a cursory education and most dropped out of school as soon as they could stop getting truancy officers to stop sending them back. There's simply no reason to learn anything. Interacting with these folks is difficult even on basic conversational levels.

There's an old saying, "the devil makes use of idle hands" and it has a lot of wisdom in it on many levels.

I'm a very big proponent of large government work programs. Every one of these guys who I see every day would be better off earning their way by fixing up infrastructure in the U.S. or doing migrant farm work or something marginally productive for society. But instead they drag down entire sections of cities into such a state that even driving through their areas is a test of patience and risking your own safety.


It's important to note that the "couple dozen very healthy guys in the middle of any given workday" that you are seeing are almost certainly not receiving welfare in the form of cash payments - (cash payments are generally how welfare is defined in the US). Since the 1996 welfare reform act, people who receive welfare benefits (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) need to be either working or in a job training program or they will lose benefits after a maximum of two years.

Welfare reform addresses the problem that you describe, but the work requirements also create other social problems. For instance, single mothers who might previously have been able to stay home with young children now need to work long hours at low-wage jobs.

It's also important to realize that there are other factors besides the welfare trap that keep otherwise healthy men unemployed. As you pointed out, one is a lack of education that may only qualify them for low-skilled jobs. Also consider that if you've been to prison it's incredibly difficult to get a job at all.

Also remember that when you're driving through these neighborhoods you're not seeing the people who are working.

When discussing how the unemployed "drag down entire sections of cities", you should consider the causative arrow. Are these neighborhoods in trouble because of unemployment and idleness or do the chronically unemployed happen to congregate in these neighborhoods? Consider the effects of decades of disinvestment in minority neighborhoods and of white flight. Banks spent decades refusing to provide mortgages and small business loans in minority neighborhoods ("redlining"). Desegregation busing and the movement of minorities into traditionally-white working and middle class neighborhoods often triggered wholesale abandonment of the inner cities by these white families. When middle class white families abandoned the public school systems after desegregation policies were implemented, many inner city school systems ended up as warehouses for the poorest, least prepared students, greatly degrading the systems' capabilities to provide an education. Similarly, when middle class white families moved out of inner city neighborhoods these neighborhoods decayed.

Systemic poverty and unemployment are complex problems with many causes and cannot be blamed entirely on some culture of idleness.


I just finished reading _Life at the Bottom_ by Theodore Dalrymple. He's a medical doctor in England who works with the lower class (mainly those on the dole). Overall, those on the dole have little incentive to improve their lot in life yet have a large sense of entitlement. And those very few that strive to improve themselves are punished for it (not by being thrown in jail or losing their benefits outright, but mainly through inattention or indifference by the government).

And this is England, you know, land of free education and health care.


England has fee-paying (higher) education and is moving towards privatisation of the NHS. North of the border is where you find the "free" (i.e. tuition paid by the scottish government) tuition and healthcare.


By the English taxpayer. Carrying Scotland (the Barnett Formula) is why England is having to scrimp and save.


I grew up pretty poor, at one stage my family was homeless for a few months -- I've eaten out of food pantries and soup kitchens and grew up knowing where all the major food manufacturers had day-old surplus stores, I've exhausted lots of electrons on that story here on HN. I have unbelievable levels of sympathy for the working poor and for making sure that food and housing are affordable and that work is available to anybody who needs it and that it's decent honest work with proper benefits, child care and all that.

I want to make an important note that I'm consciously not attributing any specific race or ethnic group to this issue as over the years I've seen the same thing cuts across all of those kinds of barriers. I've seen just as many idle groups of white men just the same as black. I'm also specifically not talking about people with very severe mental health or physical issues that prevent them from working. I don't think we as a society do enough to help these people live stable, reasonable lives and I think we do a disservice grouping them in with able-bodied people simply based on income metrics. I'm specifically talking about otherwise healthy able-bodied people only.

Despite being poor (or perhaps we were poor due to), my parents owned a small business that I grew up with. Because of the nature of the business, employee pay was generally not great, and was staffed at first by refugees and then later almost entirely by ex-cons - most of whom had past issues with homelessness, drug addiction and the like.

I grew up in that kind of environment and knew hundreds of these guys over the years and saw exactly how they became successful and what choices they made that caused them to fail and go back to being homeless or in prison.

Millions of man hours have been spent looking at "this problem" insisting that it's complex, and difficult and such and such. It all boils down to the question "how do you motivate people who aren't working, to get to work in an economy where plenty jobs are available?"

I think "the problem" that everybody's tried to solve is the wrong problem to solve. I think we've made it very complicated because we're uncomfortable with the harsh reality. Most of these same idle people would do unbelievable amounts of work if it meant the alternative was starving to death. But it's impolite and immoral and makes us very uncomfortable having people starving to death so we assure them some kind of food access and then kill endless supplies of ink and electrons figuring out how to get them productive once this is solved. The simple fact is people aren't motivated to work once their bellies are full and with all that spare time on their hands they'll find something, probably not socially beneficial, to fill it with.

So I'm going to say something that's very unpopular and is going to upset loads of people here who've never had to face these issues directly:

The idleness and urban blight is just a common symptom of what I think is fairly simple problem that's been solved successfully in the last few decades by gentrification of urban cores. More than welfare reform, or other grand social experiments, cleaning up broken parts of town has done more to solve these problems then just about anything else.

Inside of cities, blighted areas are cleaned up, policed and developed. Concentrations of idle hands have no choice but to get out and dilute.

Not a single person my parents ever hired lived in a concentrated urban center, they all lived outside of those areas. Far enough away that the broken self-organized support systems that keep groups of young, otherwise healthy men, milling about together doing nothing much are inconvenient to get to. The concentrations of able-bodies supporting each other is "the problem". Dilution where they are 1 in a group of tens of thousands of productive people and away from their broken support system provides them with motivation to work...or go hungry.

There were two outcomes 100% of the time.

1) These guys would enjoy the improved standard of living that good wages and a good job provided (increasing every year with seniority) and they'd knuckle down and work their tails off. Often outgrowing the level of work my parent's business could provide and eventually moving on to senior positions with bigger companies. A few of them starting their own businesses. My parents get many very moving Christmas cards every year.

2) They'd get troubled by the lack of the kind of support system they remembered, because working through life on your own is hard. And they'd "go back to the city to visit my cousin" one weekend and end up fired a few weeks later for coming to work high, or drunk or they'd simply stop coming to work at all and we'd find out that they'd moved back to the urban core or got themselves arrested in a PCP induced assault or some such. Making it on their own was a stress they couldn't handle and the psychological crutch they received from being in their comfort zone was preferable for them even if it wasn't as comfortable.

Gentrification removes #2 as an option as that comfortable support system is shattered and spread all over creation.

The culture of poverty is very real and it's paradoxically very self-reinforcing. I've also spilled lots of electrons on HN discussing what it's like to be poor, and the vicious cycle that's much easier to stay trapped in than to get out of. But it's not theory for me, I got out of being poor, and I watched dozens of other people who worked for my parents escape it as well and watched dozens more fail to escape it. There are surprising support systems that exist and can only really be felt and understood when you are poor.

But the nature of these systems is not to support somebody up and out, they work more like a fragile and very sticky web, they need each person to continue to contribute to that support system, the same one which ultimately traps them there. Breaking the web is a forcing function that forces people to tap into the normal, upwardly moving parts of the economy and society and it's the only thing I've ever seen that has any kind of success rate at all.


What you're describing here is a problem of culture and a problem of incentives. You're defaulting to a pretty extreme solution - isolate from their culture and threaten with starvation. It seems likely that there could be more humane solutions if only it were politically palatable to address the underlying issues.


I actually believe that not all cultures are equally valid. There really are dysfunctional ways that humans congregate.


Your lack of support system theory would also explain why immigrates are usually more hard working and successful. They have no one to depend on so they have work hard or go hungry/deported. Lots of motivation there.

Same for people who leave small towns to go strike big on a big city.


This post is interesting on multiple levels. I'm an upper middle class white male, who has been a homeless drug addict living on welfare. Things are rarely as simple as you make it out to be, though yes there are systemic problems that the current thinking doesn't seem to address nor fix. The thing is, the people you are talking about may have different priorities and choices in life to yourself.. Is that inherently a bad thing? I don't think so, and so I attempt to avoid generalising when it comes to this. A huge "work for the dole" plan rarely has the outcome that you'd logically assume it would. These are differences on a sub culture level. It's a huge topic and one that sociologists actively study because of that.


I disagree to some point. I think it's a very simple problem that we've made very complex; work or starve to death.

This makes us, a modern civilized, post-enlightenment civilization very queasy, but people will do unbelievable amounts of very terrible work to make sure they have a full belly and mediocre shelter from the elements.

> the people you are talking about may have different priorities and choices in life to yourself.. Is that inherently a bad thing? I don't think so, and so I attempt to avoid generalising when it comes to this.

I agree, but not all prioritizations are beneficial ones. They don't have to be mine, but I do wish that everybody's personal prioritizations led them to be at lest economically self-sufficient if not beneficial for society.

I think you nailed it on the head though. I have some very dear friends from when I grew up poor that are still poor...and the reason for it is inevitably the life choices they've made that have kept them in that state -- because they've prioritized and made important things that don't help them get out of it.

(kudos on getting out of the bad state you were in, I'd love to know more of your story)


Well it's still pretty complicated, because there's no option to go out and hunt for a living. You can't earn food without participating in society, which is a very complicated system of rules that few of us have any influence over (but a small minority have large influence over). Changing those rules to make them more in line with the idea "work or starve" would not be simple. (What about tax? Farming subsidies? What if someone gets a monopoly on the cheapest staple food in an area? What about genetically modified crop patents?)

Also, if it became common to motivate people through starvation, life would quickly become quite terrible. (Just look at the things that used to happen during the industrial revolution. Dangerous child labour, terrible working conditions, lives and limbs sacrificed in the name of progress.)

I'm glad we have idle people who don't want to work, because that way the guys in charge have to make sure that working is at least better than not working. In the not too distant future there won't be jobs for unremarkable people, and I don't really want them to starve.


Funny, based on your first sentence, we actually agree! It is a simple problem, made complex by what we've "Built" around it... I just wish I had a good answer to it all :(

I'm writing a book on my life at the moment, my email is in my profile if you'd like some more info :)


What is going to happen when "one of these guys" refuses to sign up for your large government work program? Is the government going to enslave them in order to keep them from being idle? Is this going to be voluntary?

Think about Fuller's quote - we have people making tools for inspectors to inspect people. What do you suppose is going to be the overhead for your massive make-work program? And what is going to be the environmental cost of this program? Who absorbs the externalities as the government tears up the environment in the name of employment? In other words, quis custodiet custodies?


> What is going to happen when "one of these guys" refuses to sign up for your large government work program? Is the government going to enslave them in order to keep them from being idle? Is this going to be voluntary?

To answer your question with a harsh bit of reality. I frankly don't care what happens to them.

Work or starve to death (I know: this is an impolite notion in modern society). Most people will figure this out and turn the choice into work or go to prison for a minor offense and get three square meals for a while. But that's a different problem. The vast majority will (and has in the past) took to the work instead. And there's a virtually unlimited supply in simply maintaining the existing infrastructure without building anything new at all.

Given a choice of my tax dollars feeding, housing and clothing idle healthy hands, or putting those hands to use, I'd gladly pay more tax dollars for a nicer civilization to live in.


Such a system seems so open to abuse. Render people unemployed and then force them to work jobs that you no longer recruit for.


if he refuses to work, he will stop getting money/benefits from the state. If he commits crimes to get money, he will be put in jail. After third crime he will get life sentence and he will not inconvinience society any more. Putting people in jail is expensive but I think society can afford it. Not much different from what we have know.

Busywork can be totally environmenrally friendly. For example, manually sorting recycle and compost comes to mind.


What if he refuses to work because he has a totally valid reason to do so, which was not contemplated by the "all-knowing" State?

I see that all the time with unemployment benefits, particularly now that they're increasing the amount of busywork necessary to receive them.

"Oh, taking care of your neighbors' daughter while they work is not a valid reason in form A45-3, so you're cut off unless you come to some useless training course"


Taking care of their neighbors' daughter is not a valid reason not to work. That person had a choice, and made the wrong decision. Just like the person who's daughter it actually is made the choice to go to work instead of stay and watch their daughter.

You'll find a great many of the "valid" reasons for not working usually come down to very basic life choices of work or do something that's not work.

That being said, I think the state needs to provide basic work support services like childcare, medical care, birth control education and workplace regulation around sick days, parental leave etc. so most of those failed choices go away.


That raises a few questions. One is that such line of reasoning is inherently authoritarian. What makes you more competent to make that decision over the other person? If it's based on democratic consensus, should we be vote on a Official List of Allowed Activities? To drive the point home, how much do you want to bet that you'd be allowed to be a "coder" in a time when the average person had never seen a computer? Hell, forget coder: what kind of job is "startup founder"? Most of them fail anyway! I say you get a real job.

Secondly, is the trust in the bureaucratic machine. Anyone who spent at least a few years in East Berlin before the unification can probably tell you a few good stories about that. Like the postmaster who delivered a few tons of copper during the post office renovations, who then had "delivering tons of copper" assigned as a mandatory job goal for the next three years, until he sorted it out.

Related reading: http://www.econlib.org/library/Essays/hykKnw1.html


There's an unlimited supply of very necessary busywork in infrastructure maintenance that's not currently happening right now at both the U.S. Federal and State level. Nothing new needs to be built, just bridges painted, roads resurfaced, water systems cleaned out etc.


There will always be people without ambition, without dreams, without a wish to do more, be more. In our current society these are precisely the under-employed people that you describe. Everyone with a bit of self-motivation is off at the office earning a living.

Have you ever tried taking a really long vacation? Really long as in 6 months or more? Once you get to the end of the first few months, you start getting bored. You start looking for things to do, and as you don't have loads of money to spend (after all you're not working) you're looking for something not too expensive.

One of the great things about today's society is that doing something creative is actually quite cheap - you could take up patchwork quilting for the price of a $100 sewing machine and some material. You could take up drawing for the price of some paper and paints, or an iPad. Your could take up music for about $100 to by a cheap instrument and some sheet music. Or cooking (accepting that you're already going to have to spend money for food to live, cooking is a very cheap hobby), or writing a book, or making a video game, or pretty much every single Y-Combinator start-up ever... because you know what, pg's view that you don't need a lot of money for a start-up these days is also true for doing things that aren't aimed at making money.

Over the last 10 years of my career, I've built some really cool technology that I have been quite proud of. I have done this as a salaried employee working for various companies. Not one of the products on which I have worked on for those 10 years has made it to market. I've learned a lot personally, and it's quite agreeable work, but I don't get as much out of it as I would if I was working on a product of my own choosing. Yet society somehow finds a way to pay me a 6-figure salary for doing effectively nothing. If I'm not going to do anything useful for society, it would be far more rational to work on nothing useful that at least interests me, no?


How do you know it isn't the idleness that is the problem, but instead the environment that they have grown up with? Stressed and overworked parents with low incomes that don't foster curiosity and pursuit of beneficial hobbies, etc. These issues are pretty complex.


Of course it's not the idleness per se that's the problem, and what's left? Nature/nurture, so I think you're right. For example, if I were to enter "idleness" I don't think I'd be buying "bling" nor beat on people. For me idleness is awesome, it makes me creative.


I completely agree. One might even argue that idleness would also give well-meaning people the free time necessary to work on effort-intensive community projects that might help mitigate the problems the comment above mine was concerned about in the first place! But humans are tricky creatures, and I can see how it might turn out poorly. I think community interaction, events, and promotion of constructive activities (opt-in and minimal government interference, of course, we still want to maintain freedom of ideas) would be a very important part of any pro-idleness society.


Idleness is the symptom. You're absolutely correct that their environment is the problem. Shatter than environment and make it unavailable (I wrote about this at length elsewhere in this thread) and the symptom will go away.


I think these social problem comes from idleness without opportunity. Also they are placed low in society in terms of possessions so feel an underclass. If these people cant afford to follow their interests or even travel across town because they don't have bus fare yes it's going to create problems.

But what if all people have a similar base and while being on welfare have a reasonable level of disposable income to pursue hobbies? I don't know the answer but I suspect there would be a big outlook difference of US welfare recipients vs. Kuwait where welfare recipients have disposable income.

Further it's easy to say there will be people causing social issues. This will always exist to a degree. We have to consider if this would be relatively better or worse for society, not just would there be problems.


> I don't know the answer but I suspect there would be a big outlook difference of US welfare recipients vs. Kuwait where welfare recipients have disposable income.

I'm not familiar with the Kuwaiti experience, could you elaborate?

> We have to consider if this would be relatively better or worse for society, not just would there be problems.

Agreed; though I'm wary of making big, breaking changes to a complex, evolved system. Previous attempts to cut over to radically different socioeconomic architectures in production have tended to end poorly.


I'm not familiar with the Kuwaiti experience, could you elaborate?

Kuwait has enough oil money to give their people free health care, free education, housing subsidies, and food subsidies. On top of that, they have guaranteed employment so ~96% of their citizens work for the state. Oh, and there's no income tax.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspon...


You seem to have no idea how little to no money welfare actually provides to the poor in this country. People with your type of thinking have won the political debate over the last 30 years but things are not improving and people like you keep making the same uninformed arguments.


I don't want to disagree with you, but I suspect there's more to this than just idle time. For example, there are plenty of retirement communities where idle time is the norm, and the social problems of poor urban American neighborhoods aren't really found there.


Good counterexample; though those in retirement homes are generally not from multi-generational welfare backgrounds. I'm not sure if I'm undermining my own argument here.


I'm simply spouting my random opinion here, but my guess is that the communities you point to suffer from non-ideal cultural-behavioral traditions that are passed down and ingrained into each new generation. If one is raised in a family/community where money is always an issue/stress point, parents are overworked, alcohol and shallow-content media are the main forms of entertainment, little encouragement for hobbies is provided, etc, then the odds are stacked against pursuing what many people might consider an intellectually-engaging or constructive lifestyle.


There might be other levers that can be used to encourage pro-social behavior than the current one, of chaining those not on welfare to the struggle for their existence. In my own view, financial autonomy is a basic right. We should seek out other, more dignified ways to discourage people from hanging out on street corners harassing people.


What did you have in mind?


I'm not sure. Perhaps people who are ticketed for anti-social behavior or who are picked up by the criminal justice system would need to do community service or face a gradual escalation of penalties -- not be able to own a credit card, hold a driver's license, etc.


I don't see how there is any relationship at all between current implementations of welfare and a putative work-free society given that welfare is associated with low social position and limited access to resources for self betterment.


So you consider it to be a cultural artefact?

What about antisocial behaviour by those who've inherited high status?


I think that is absolutely cultural too. I have lived in both environments. High status people or those born to riches are by no means universally antisocially behaved.

I don't disagree that such people exist. Nor do I disagree that multigenerational, anti-social welfare recipients exist.

Both groups exist I cultures where superficial media success and the acquisition of money are held up as the meaning of life.

For the welfare recipients, this kind of meaning is perceived as impossibly out of reach, and so people are resentful and adopt a 'take what you can from the system' mentality.

For some of the high status people, meaning is also unattainable since they already have what other people seem to value, so society doesn't value their actual contribution.

In cultures where the 'rich' have a sense of responsibility, there is much less of the bad behavior you describe.


You mean spoilt kids behaving badly? You can be given material needs without having to work but you will still need to work hard to become a dancer, ride a skateboard, play the piano etc. Maybe the root problem leading to antisocial behaviour isn't financial but a lack of cultural values?


Assuming you're referring to the US (which you may not be), how is this "multi-generational welfarism" viable when benefits are restricted to a five-year lifetime cap after 1996? In addition, there is a work requirement while receiving welfare (welfare-to-work).

Food stamps do not have such a limitation, but would hardly be able to support the long term lifestyle you describe.


I'm Australian. My understanding is that the effects of the Clinton reforms are somewhat disputed. I don't like the idea of time-limiting welfare based on arbitrary cap. It's a case of "fixing" the metric, not the problem.


I fear a world where people don't need to aspire to something to better their lives (ie studying, learning a skill or educating oneself) wouldn't be a very nice world to live in at all. If we didn't need to work, what reason would there to learn to read? If we were rewarded with land, shelter, food and comfort for doing nothing, what would the incentive for those who will inevitably be responsible for keeping everything together?

Plants don't grow without care and attention, electricity isn't as simple as sticking two wires into a powerpoint or setting up solar panels, if nobody worked, nobody would study and if nobody studied there would be no people left in the world.

Money, sad to say motivates people, it motivates the disadvantaged to strive for more, it motivates the rogue developer with a wife and kids to attempt to build the next big thing knowing the reward will be a comfortable life where the family doesn't need to worry about money.

Perhaps there is a better way, removing class barriers, maybe there is no such thing as lower class, you are either middle or upper class. A system where even a school janitor has an opportunity to do something more and earn a decent living.

We can only dream, but I doubt for a very long time will there be a shake up to the class wars and pay discrepancies amongst professions.


> Plants don't grow without care and attention, electricity isn't as simple as sticking two wires into a powerpoint or setting up solar panels, if nobody worked, nobody would study and if nobody studied there would be no people left in the world.

People would do these things out of curiosity, or because they want to see what happens. The need to know, learn, understand, and create wouldn't go away. Intrinsic motivation wouldn't go away. Indeed, I can imagine these becoming stronger if one could devote most of his waking hours to learning about the variety of topics that interest him.


Boredom is a powerful motivator too.

A couple months of laying around doing nothing will drive most people crazy and they'll begin asking themselves what they want their life to be about.

And even if they don't contribute anything, should all people be required to useful to others or can't some just choose to be left alone if they are self sufficient?

In a world of scarcity I can see the argument of forcing people to contribute if they want to take back but what about a world of abundance? You and I are breathing abundant air, for free, and nobody is getting angry right? What if other resources like electricity were as abundant as Tesla once dreamed?

I'm not saying I'm right or wrong. These are just thoughts worth consideration.


>Boredom is a powerful motivator too.

>A couple months of laying around doing nothing will drive most people crazy

I think on HN we frequently assume that "most people" are like us, but HN is such an unrepresentative sample of the world that this is dangerous, especially here. You and I and other knowledge workers would probably get bored and want to do something useful to find purpose. But there are many people today who work at unskilled jobs because they have to put food on the table. They don't derive their sense of purpose from it. It's very difficult to predict what these people would do if they suddenly had no financial necessity to work. There are listless unemployed people living off of various forms of government assistance today, and this would make it possible for many more to join them.


So why does poetry exist and what are hobbies?


Money can still be an incentive in a world with guaranteed basic income if that income only covers the minimal cost of living. People would still choose to work if it was the only way to have disposable income for entertainment, hobbies, having the nicest toys or the fastest car, etc.


Its cultural. Some cultures value family time over toys - they may want the minimum effort job to optimize for face time with those they love.

They would likely give up working altogether if it were possible. Not judging; its a life choice.

I'm thinking that minimum-effort workers are fine to drop from the employment pool.


Fuller is half-right. The true business of people should be to discover skills which enrich others. In some cases, this is manual labor, but as our society makes that less and less necessary, we are able to spend more effort on creative and intellectual pursuits. Now, the problem with Fuller's concept is that 'creative and intellectual' pursuits are intensely introspective and rather qualitative.

One could say, 'well I am ENTITLED to money because I spent a lot of EFFORT reading and analyzing the entire opus of English literature from 1200-1400.' But whom did that enrich? Why should we reward such behavior if it is solipsistic?

On the other hand, if someone said, analyze the entire opus of English literature from 1200-1400 so that someday we can assist Shakespearean actors in their dramaturgy - and I'm willing to pay you X dollars for it... Now that's creating value for SOMEONE ELSE. It's not an entitlement, you have contributed to society in a way that is demonstrable, as proven by the exchange of resources for your effort.

Work is necessary insomuch as it takes effort for one to provide 'other people' with goods and services that these 'other people' value. Now, what constitutes work will be dramatically different and undergo tectonic change - playing video games, for example, as an alpha tester, can be work (and hard work, too) - as can being a world-travelling dance teacher - or being a football player (these are professional jobs that would not have existed 200 years ago)- or who knows what in the future.

Unfortunately the idea of doing work has been corrupted by a narrow-minded view of capitalism (agents on both the right and the left are guilty of this) and wages, have been caught up with cost of living and thus a sense of entitlement. Certainly, there are people who we should contribute to help out for no reason other than compassion (a quadruplegic multiple gunshot victim I delivered food to comes to mind) but we should think hard about what the mechanisms for doing this are, and who gets to decide how much.

But the idea of abolishing all work forever is a dangerous one.


Fuller is arguing otherwise here. He says we need to get away from the idea that we have to do something to deserve to make a living. Your whole comment is premised on that idea. Whether it not you're right, you haven't engaged with what Fuller said. The closest you come is making the unsubstantiated statement that getting rid of work is a dangerous idea. Dangerous for whom? Other than, you know, powerful people who depend on an endless supply of cheap labor, and politicians who rely on an exhausted, frightened, ADD electorate.


> Other than, you know, powerful people who depend on an endless supply of cheap labor, and politicians who rely on an exhausted, frightened, ADD electorate.

This is the thing I could not understand when reading Marx, the idea that there would come a time "of plenty" when no-one will have to work anymore and we'll all be free to pursue our intellectual pursuits and such.

Supposing that this utopian feature is attainable (which I highly doubt), then who would fix the broken stuff? Because stuff will break. Who will create new stuff? Because, as crazy as it sounds, there's no unlimited supply of "stuff". The only two connected answers that I can think of is that we'll do indeed manage to attain the singularity (which I highly doubt is possible) and second (and as important) is that we'll "convince" the machines to work for us. And there was a third way that was already tried, trying to create a "new man". The Soviets failed miserably at it.


Sorry, I was going to mention that it was dangerous for the ayn-rand types who see that it is individual value that ought to be the highest objective for society, but I decided that that was too politically-baitey.

Moreover, to address your comment: that the 'labor is cheap' has to do with a lot of things, why don't people simply negotiate for higher wages and refuse to do the work otherwise? That it's so difficult to live on a low wage has to do with the political infrastructure throwing money at the financial sector for decades, and not to do with any form of natural exchange per se.


>why don't people simply negotiate for higher wages and refuse to do the work otherwise?

Because union membership has been outlawed or seriously frowned upon in many professions. Most other people seem to think unionism is somehow destructive and end up only looking out for themselves, not realising they have been divided and conquered. Obviously, your experiences with this may differ.


I don't think most people in the US think unionism is destructive, but most people in the US believe that unions (as given legal protections, etc.) have become political entities (versus economic entities) that look out for the union and not for the worker. I believe this is not far from the truth - have you seen what the headquarters of the AFL-CIO (2 blocks from the capitol) looks like? It's really quite shameful.


> why don't people simply negotiate for higher wages and refuse to do the work otherwise? That it's so difficult to live on a low wage has to do with the political infrastructure throwing money at the financial sector for decades, and not to do with any form of natural exchange per se.

Be that as it may, what can we do about it? As an average voter, what policy can I advocate that might make a practical difference?

(The only way forward I can see is a succession of working hours limits, like the EU's current 40-hours/week working time directive. In a decade maybe we can bring that down to 35, then in another decade 30, and so on. That's a politically acceptable approach, at least in some countries, that would improve human quality of life, though there are obvious downsides)


forget policy. Do what's right - pay your workers fair wages, talk about it, and spread the word. This is far more than what most policy wonks themselves do. Eg: http://www.propublica.org/article/nation-institute-to-pay-in...


> Work is necessary insomuch as it takes effort for one to provide 'other people' with goods and services that these 'other people' value.

This kind of reminds me of basic research, people are asking "Why do we spend so much money on CERN?", "Why do we spend so much money on NASA?", etc. not everybody sees and understands the value but it is still emensly desirable that someone does it.


but WE do spend money on CERN, which means that someone values it. However, it is incredibly likely that in the case of CERN, it is a politically connected elite that is making those choices on behalf of us. In the case of something like CERN, the end result is arguably benign, but consider, what else might we be spending our money on? Might it be cheaper to make the same discoveries that CERN makes 50 years from now instead, with better and more efficient underlying technologies? What are the consequences of giving politically connected people disproportionate purchasing power?


My best mate was a QA for a very well known Australian game company (since folded). That's not just "work", that is torture and slave labour. *shudder

/offtopic


Some work is neccessary, labour not so. (absolutely speaking)

In our current society basically everyone has to work to earn money, to then buy such products on a more-or-less free market. We are able to produce more and more goods with ever less work. That's great on the surface, but wrecks the system, because:

- Experience shows we can't really split the remaining work evenly, so some people work a lot, and some are unemployed. But people can only really participate in the economy if they do labour (and get money). It sucks for them to be unemployed, but they also fall away as consumers, which hurts the whole economy. - Stuff only ever get's done when labour is applied. (If I could produce and sell something with no human work, everybody else would do the same, and it would have no value. So, in the equilibrium that's not going to happen.) In a sense, labour is the secret engine of the economy. At the same time, you're trying to reduce the amount of labour needed, because it's expensive and cuts into your profits. All kinds of instabilities arise from this contradiction.

In the end, we'll probably have to transition away from capitalism to something better suited to our modern realities of production, whatever that will be. An unconditional basic income would be a first step in this direction - acknowledging the fact that we need less and less work, but we still need to feed the same number of people.


Bill Joy's essay "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us" [1] is a good read for anyone working through what such a society would be like and what it means for our race. I think it comes down to the philosophical question of what man's purpose is.

[1] http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy.html


Work is necessary to get a whole lot of stuff that needs to be done done. That does not mean that we should not have a basic income, reverse income tax, or generous welfare system with few strings attached.

However, it is annoying that proponents of basic income tax act as if the only reason for opposing basic income as a policy, is the idea that "work is necessary". The three policies I described are actually very similar, (well basic income is really a subset of negative income tax) but to choose between them is a subtle issue. Unfortunately the people who tend to get attached to political movements (or wannabe political movements) are rarely subtle. They prefer easy to identify bad guys, like people who believe in work as an ethical principal.


"It amounts to saying that we should have fairly high taxes, and redistribute most of the money as a minimal income to every person."

Yes, but before that we would need to have as low taxes as possible in order to stimulate the innovation needed.


Yes. Like in the nordic countries , which are pretty good at innovation. Or in israel where taxes are high but venture capital investments per capita are the highest in the world.


They would be even more innovative with lower taxes and more market incentives to make technological advancements.


It's a nice opinion based on no data.


Do you agree that the market advances technology?


I would like to see some figures correlating taxation to innovation.


A human being daily needs something like 2000 kcal food-sourced energy, a slate of vital nutrients, 250 square feet of personal living space, some average BTUs of heating/cooling, a gallon of clean water, and a share of infrastructure to produce/acquire/deliver this. (YMMV; point of context made; details left as exercise for reader.) We can view this baseline as the objective essence of "value": one needs the aggregate of these points to sustain life for one day, anything less begins the descent into death. We can also view anything substantially beyond standard deviations of this as unnecessary (albeit desirable). SOMEBODY has to produce this, be it basic sustenance farming or creation & maintenance of high-tech high-productivity machinery; this work is necessary.

The objective value of this baseline is the true "poverty line": if you try to exist on less than this, you're gonna die; if you can acquire substantially more than this, you can start indulging in relative luxuries. For sake of simple argument (detailed accuracy left to reader), we'll use the official USA poverty line as the currency equivalent of this objective value of what it takes to keep a median human alive under normal conditions: about US$30 per day.

So...to keep one person alive & stable one day requires $30/day of work. This is invariant. If someone's work produces $30 of value (exchangeably equivalent to those enumerated basic daily needs), one person maintains sustainable life another day; if the worker "gives" that to someone else, keeping none for himself, he is literally giving his life to the other. If his work produces $60 of value, he can sustain himself for two days (work one, idle the second), sustain himself for one day and spend the remainder on comforts & luxuries, or give $30 to another and keep both sustained for a day. Technology makes it easier for one to earn more with the same expenditure of effort.

The consternation about "is work necessary?" stems from who gets to decide how the extra earnings are distributed.

If you retain your extra earnings, you are saving for future idleness (vacation, retirement) or statistical fluctuations (temporary increased cost of acquiring necessities).

If you spend your extra earnings on comforts & luxuries, you are giving others the opportunity to work for their daily basic needs thru means other than direct acquisition (building cars, writing software, acting theatrically, etc. instead of sustenance farming, hewing trees, carrying water, etc).

If you give away your extra earnings strictly voluntarily (no coercion), you are charitable (sacrificing idleness, preparedness, or comfort/luxuries for others).

If you give away your extra earnings under coercion (if you don't consent it will be taken from you, or worse), someone else is making the decision for you regarding how your extra earnings should be distributed - and this, quite understandably, produces enormous consternation.

(If your baseline earnings (the $30/day) are taken under coercion, your continued existence is threatened and the issue becomes a matter of self-defense - a separate topic to discuss.)

Is work necessary? Yes, insofar as someone has to expend effort which can be converted into providence of basic needs. If someone can work earning $300/day, then he can take the next nine days off, purchase comforts/luxuries which pay enough to sustain nine other people another day, or sustain nine other people another day without obligating the benefit of creating comforts/luxuries. This thread addresses this last point: given no obligation to produce something exchangeable for basic needs, will a populace on the whole produce more* value or less? and does the populace at large have the "right" to compel individuals to give up their extra earnings without compensation, or does the individual have an absolute "right" to keep his earnings and distribute them as he sees fit?


Excellent analysis from first principles. However, this is an extremely simple model. In reality, human ability is roughly distributed normally about a mean. Technological progress began automating work starting at the very left tail, and worked its way along to the right. This progress has shown no signs of slowing down.

How do you imagine a society will look, when only those with abilities four standard deviations from the mean can compete in the labor market? This is known as "winner-take-all", or the superstar effect.

By your example, the majority of mankind will be at the whims of an extremely tiny elite, due to their lack of marketable skills.

What happened to horses after the onset of the automobile?


I agree with you in general, but sometimes automating simple tasks like vision are coordination are much more complicated than a automating a complex cognitive task .

Hell we had tools doing part or whole medical diagnosis and treatment recommendations for a long time ago, some more accurate than the average doc.


are you talking about a world in which robots perform surgery better than surgeons?


A world where Watson 5.0 is hooked up to an SRI trauma pod? No, he isn't talking about that, but it's not exactly implausible.

What he is taking about is when anything short of surgery or other expert creative work is automated. Which is likely to happen even sooner.


Why not ?

It's already possible to do surgery without cuts in some cases , using an ultrasound beam to kill cells you want to kill[1]. The doctor just needs to choose which area needs this, using an MRI machine that looks into the body in real time.

They claim remarkable results , and very fast procedure time, and immediate release to home after surgery.

And one could imagine software optimized to choosing which cells to kill, So this work could be fully automated.

[1]https://www.solveforx.com/moonshots/yoav-medan-ultrasound-su...


Probably not. Surgeon is a highly skilled occupation. He's referring to a world where only Surgeons (and equally skilled people) can get any money at all.


But that's a fallacious idea. If only surgeons and equally skilled people get any money, where is that money coming from?


Excellent question. Capitalism is a model to allocate scarce resources where they are most productive. Take scarcity out of the equation and suddenly Capitalism makes a lot less sense.

What comes afterwards? I have no idea. Everytime one imagines a post-scarcity world under our current model, questions like yours arise; a symptom that at some point in the future, we'll need to invent and transition to a new society model. It's pretty obvious it's not the current model, it's entirely non-obvious which model will it be.


Capitalism is not a model to allocate scarce resources, although there is good reason to believe it is more efficient than socialism. It is a system to allocate rivalrous resources in a system that uses a minimum of political involvement. Why is an economic allocation preferable to a political allocation? Because in order to use your economic power, you have to give it away (or at least, offer to give it away). This is not true for political allocation: cronies enrich each other often without giving away anything; popularity can snowball as people join bandwagons... So political allocation is a more dangerous system for creating haves- and have-nots, widening the gap between the chosen and the left behind, than economic allocation.


There is and always will be scarcity, whether it is in gold, helium, cars, rockets, airplanes, ships, real estate, the time of skilled labor, new ideas, or thoughtful conversations. The market is a tool for allocating resources efficiently, and a non-functioning or non-existent market will cause waste, and eventually (create or) exacerbate scarcity.


The super-efficient robot factories owned by the few super-elites who had the skills or wealth to acquire them.


It is nonsense to base the argument on a Dollar-equivalent. If someone were to invent a machine that produced food requiring 10% of current work for any given amount of food, the Dollar-equiv necessary to survive would drop. Therefore technological advances lower the baseline of how much work is necessary to survive. Obviously this has happened between the middle ages and now, therefore back then hunger crises did occur and now they don't (speaking of western industrialized nations of course).

Also I don't see why you are feeling at leisure to hijack this to push a libertarian agenda (taxe == coercion).


What's the value of a dollar? What is the value of basic human needs? At the moment under the circumstances I live in, and trying to keep the discussion simple and plain (yes, there are complexities - establish the baseline & ground rules and proceed to fine details on your own), for sake of argument I'll accept the USA legal poverty line (which any guaranteed basic income would match) as equalling basic human income need (despite it being 20x world median income, adjust figures as you see fit) and ignoring inflation for the moment, we get about $30/day. Fixing the dollar to 1/30th of what basic normal daily needs costs seems sensible; a machine reducing those costs by 10% would indeed play havoc with the vast relativities of currency economics, but for sake of discussion let's just say whatever it takes to meet basic daily needs, that cost is pegged at $30 (or vice versa).

Yes, it's hard to discuss this as all the factors are so danged squishy. I'm trying to get a handle on them (hence my above post, which was mostly me just ruminating out loud). The real value of anything, insofar as outside human existence nothing has value, is based on the basic needs for sustaining daily existence - a value which I'm enumerating as "$30".

As for hijacking, methinks this is a quite sensible response to an article suggesting most people shouldn't work because the highly productive few should just carry the weight of everyone's needs without compensation.

As for "taxes == coercion", I mean that in the most objective way. Taxes are, in fact, paid under coercion: if you don't pay, you'll be made to suffer. You may pay those taxes with the gladdest heart and complete consent to the system it enables, but the coercion is still there.


You talk a lot about taking the individual worker's earnings, and not a single word about the people who actually "earn" a lot more than those workers.

Most of the surplus value created by workers already ends up in other hands. The question is whether it's going to the right hands.


>> Most of the surplus value created by workers already ends up in other hands. The question is whether it's going to the right hands.

Nope, the question is: "Is anyone allowed to take someone else's stuff without his consent?", and the obvious answer is a resounding: "No".

Next, for various woeful reasons, you might be inclined to ask a follow-up question: "Not even if he's rich?!", and the obvious answer to that is: "No, not even if he's rich. You've got your property, he's got his, and that's it."


Your obvious answer follows from a specious argument. You assert the notion of "property" as if it were a clear and well understood absolute. However, that is far from the truth.

For example, almost all land has been taken by force at some point in its history. I own a house, but the land it was built on is almost certainly stolen property (by your "obvious" notions of property).

For another example, when I get paid, some of that money gets paid as taxes. That's not something I agreed on, by your ideals, I should be able to opt out. But, my property only exists because of the work of the government to protect it, and that work came with an implicit reciprocal agreement that it would remain as part of my country. The land I own is, in a sense, also owned by my country. By removing my land from my country I would be breaking the implicit agreements formed when it was first entered into the land registry. The same goes for other things besides land, in particular, the companies I work for are registered and protected by my country. Corporations are abstract concepts, they can only exist by being built on a complex shared legal framework. Again, if you own or want to start a company you might want to opt out, but everything that got you to the stage of being able to opt out is built on implicit social agreements between you and your nation.

When I earn money, I do not create value in a vacuum. Everything I do relies on the wider society. I'm not just talking about the obvious things like roads and the police. Social structure itself is vital to enable my ability to earn money. I thrive because I live in a relatively peaceful society with a shared language I can communicate in, with shared cultural norms that make life comfortable. Those things are shared property, belonging to society a whole, for which we all owe a debt and a reward.

The very notion of money itself is a social construct. The faces on your money belong to your government leaders. Money only has value because we all agree that it has value. Otherwise it is just a high score in a very boring game. In a sense, all money belongs to all of society. Everyone owes a debt to everyone else for the simple fact that we don't have to barter. You might think this sounds ridiculous, but this idea of ownership exists and is prevalent. Governments print and destroy money, they manage circulation, they control inflation. In a general sense, the currency belongs to the government. In an even deeper sense, a large part of what people spend their money on is related to social structure. People buy material things for the social status imbued in them and they consume entertainment that relies on a shared cultural understanding. Every movie you watch has been informed by hundreds of years of theatrical and cinematic progress that is owned by no-one and everyone.

You can't have an absolute fair notion of property. It doesn't exist. Every piece of land has been stolen at least once. Everything else was created through some level of coercion. The distribution of wealth has never been fair. It wasn't fair when I was born, and so the requirement for me to earn a living (because I was not born rich) is an unfair coercion. Also, it wouldn't even be possible to be fair if we started fresh on a new planet. Absolute fairness requires isolation from all implicit social contracts, which is impossible for humans to do.

Most importantly, absolute fairness based around the single ideal that no-one can take someone else's property would be an awful and inhumane way to run a society. The people who have more property then others have a way of convincing themselves that they deserve it. Which is an argument that can be used to justify all manner of horrors. On the other hand, if we put aside ideals and look at what practically makes a better society, under any reasonable set of measures, reducing income disparity is a good thing.

Society is a set of implicit and explicit rules that form a game. Money and status are like scores of the game. If wealth accumulates too much in one person, that does not mean that this person deserves to live like a king while others needlessly starve. It means the rules of the game are exploitable and need to be adjusted. Not everyone is a master strategist, not everyone has the abilities to get rich. In the future, most people won't even be able to get a job. Those people don't deserve to suffer just for being normal humans. The people who can do useful work (and I include myself in here) don't especially deserve to be saved from suffering just by virtue of having been born with unusual skills.

Society can easily reward those who work hard and have valuable skills to contribute. These people can be made very comfortable. Society can also look after those people who do not have the skills to become wealthy, who are not suitable for positions of power. There is enough to go round. There will be even more in the future. It's possible for us to have a peaceful, low-crime, happy, healthy society where those who earn a lot have to put up with sharing some of it as the cost to them for living in such a great country. Or, we can ruin ourselves over an impractical ideal of property that, at root, is like a child clinging to a toy and shouting "mine".


>> For example, almost all land has been taken by force at some point in its history. I own a house, but the land it was built on is almost certainly stolen property (by your "obvious" notions of property).

Alright. Does that mean that when you buy an iPhone, it's not actually your property? Don't make things too complicated. Sure, if someone acquires "property" through dishonest/coercive means, it's not actually his property - it's the victim's. As a prime example, every single tax dollar the US government has, is not actually its property - it's the people's.

>> For another example, when I get paid, some of that money gets paid as taxes. That's not something I agreed on, by your ideals, I should be able to opt out.

Yes. But paying taxes is clearly not voluntary, and therefore, taxation is immoral. Governments are based on taxation, and therefore governments are immoral. It's very simple.

>> But, my property only exists because of the work of the government to protect it

Nope, you have your property as long as someone else doesn't interfere with your exclusive control over it. You're free to defend your property if the need arises. Government is not necessary for that. Besides, even with governments, robberies happen. It's not like they give a fuck.

>> By removing my land from my country I would be breaking the implicit agreements formed when it was first entered into the land registry.

Don't you think this is a bit far-fetched? You can't "remove land" from your country. You talk about implicit agreements but does it make sense to consider them binding when it's unclear they're even there in the first place?

>> The same goes for other things besides land, in particular, the companies I work for are registered and protected by my country.

You keep listing things that are "protected" by your country, but are they really, and in what circumstances and to whose benefit? Couldn't property rights be protected by: 1) private individuals, 2) private security services, 3) private, objective third-party organizations?

Why yes, yes they could.

>> Corporations are abstract concepts, they can only exist by being built on a complex shared legal framework.

As if a "complex" legal framework was necessary, or even a good thing? For example, why is Dodd-Frank thousands of pages long? Are "corporations" necessary? -How about you just do business as your self? -Want to separate your personal property from your company's property? -Why? What are you up to? -Or are you afraid of patent trolls and the like? It's a dysfunctional justice system that makes patent trolling even possible!

>> Again, if you own or want to start a company you might want to opt out, but everything that got you to the stage of being able to opt out is built on implicit social agreements between you and your nation.

Oh come on. The Social Contract rears its ugly head. Of course, this is where you were headed all along. But think about it for a moment. Does it make any sense to think we're all under a binding contract that we were never even told about, let alone asked to agree to? If you think it does, then you'll need to start paying taxes to me, based on your "implicit agreement" to the AnonCowherd -contract, which stipulates that 25% of all of your income ever belongs to me.

>> When I earn money, I do not create value in a vacuum. Everything I do relies on the wider society. I'm not just talking about the obvious things like roads and the police.

Ah yes. As if nothing useful could/did ever exist without governments.

>> Social structure itself is vital to enable my ability to earn money. I thrive because I live in a relatively peaceful society with a shared language I can communicate in, with shared cultural norms that make life comfortable. Those things are shared property, belonging to society a whole, for which we all owe a debt and a reward.

What's next? Praise the government for giving you two feet, two hands, and opposable thumbs? It's only right that you be a tax-slave for all your adult life, because the oh-so-lovely government has given you air to breathe, and land to walk on!

>> The very notion of money itself is a social construct. The faces on your money belong to your government leaders. Money only has value because we all agree that it has value.

Money is a means of exchange. Nothing more, nothing less. It's pretty fucking useful because it lets us trade at a higher level than direct barter, and that's precisely why it even exists in the first place, and why it's never going anywhere.

>> In a sense, all money belongs to all of society. Everyone owes a debt to everyone else for the simple fact that we don't have to barter. You might think this sounds ridiculous, but this idea of ownership exists and is prevalent. Governments print and destroy money, they manage circulation, they control inflation. In a general sense, the currency belongs to the government.

Wow. Even more of the same. "All hail the government, for blessing us with all that we have!!"

Do you not see you're going way overboard with this? Of course, this kind of thinking is what you need to cling to, to avoid having to face reality.

>> You can't have an absolute fair notion of property. It doesn't exist. Every piece of land has been stolen at least once.

Related: http://mises.org/rothbard/ethics/nine.asp

>> Everything else was created through some level of coercion.

Everything, huh? :p

>> The distribution of wealth has never been fair. It wasn't fair when I was born, and so the requirement for me to earn a living (because I was not born rich) is an unfair coercion.

No, that's an accident of birth. Or is it "unfair coercion" on your part, for example, that you have functioning legs and someone else doesn't?

>>Absolute fairness requires isolation from all implicit social contracts, which is impossible for humans to do.

Who decides what's "fair"? What does "fair" mean?

>> Most importantly, absolute fairness based around the single ideal that no-one can take someone else's property would be an awful and inhumane way to run a society.

Oh? How come?

>> The people who have more property then others have a way of convincing themselves that they deserve it.

What if they've earned all their wealth through saving, producing, and voluntary exchanges?

>> Which is an argument that can be used to justify all manner of horrors. On the other hand, if we put aside ideals and look at what practically makes a better society, under any reasonable set of measures, reducing income disparity is a good thing.

How about reducing handicap disparity too? Since handicapped people can't be made un-handicapped, and they're at an obvious unfair(!) disadvantage compared to us, we need to make more people handicapped to reduce the disparity!

So let's start chopping people's legs off to make our society more fair! -Sound like a good idea?

>> Society is a set of implicit and explicit rules that form a game. Money and status are like scores of the game. If wealth accumulates too much in one person, that does not mean that this person deserves to live like a king while others needlessly starve.

More of the same. You've got two themes here: 1) "Praise the government for giving us all that we have!" and 2) "It's unfair that rich people are rich, and their money should be given to us (=me)".

>> It means the rules of the game are exploitable and need to be adjusted.

Exploitable, you say? Kind of like how Wall Street gambles like crazy, keeps any profits, and has us pay for any losses?

>> Not everyone is a master strategist, not everyone has the abilities to get rich. In the future, most people won't even be able to get a job.

Why?

>> Those people don't deserve to suffer just for being normal humans. The people who can do useful work (and I include myself in here) don't especially deserve to be saved from suffering just by virtue of having been born with unusual skills.

Rright. And all those handicapped people are needlessly suffering from us not being handicapped! We need to make ourselves handicapped to reduce the disparity! Stop the evil oppression of being able to walk!!

>> Society can easily reward those who work hard and have valuable skills to contribute. These people can be made very comfortable.

Oh? And how does "Society" reward them? -You know, all money has to come from somewhere. If society wants to reward someone with money, society first has to acquire that money through one of these means: 1) confiscation, 2) printing, 3) borrowing. The first is clearly immoral, the second causes inflation and robs people of their purchasing power, and the third is limited by interest payments and trust, as the Western world is about to find out. Those three are inter-related too, of course, and together form a feedback loop of a society turning into shit.

>> Society can also look after those people who do not have the skills to become wealthy, who are not suitable for positions of power.

With whose money? Someone has to work to produce the money given to the "needy", right?

>> There is enough to go round.

Really? How do you know?

>> It's possible for us to have a peaceful, low-crime, happy, healthy society where those who earn a lot have to put up with sharing some of it

Putting up "sharing", huh? :P Well, that sure sounds nicer than putting up with "having your property forcefully confiscated".

>> Or, we can ruin ourselves over an impractical ideal of property that, at root, is like a child clinging to a toy and shouting "mine".

Well then, I guess I can just come over and take everything you have in your possession. I'm sure you wouldn't object to that like some kind of selfish little brat, right?


How did he get rich? By way of exploitation, there's no other way. Is it okay to steal from a profiteer? Of course it is, there's nothing wrong with confiscating stolen property.


No other way? Is YC only about creative exploitation, the bounty of which may be stolen from? Are you implying YC is a crime syndicate?

Some people CAN (and do) produce substantially more value than others. If someone's effort somehow creates enough value which can be readily converted to basic sustenance for a thousand other people, should the thousand others just confiscate that value? or should they recognize that he's rich of his own volition, his bounty is his, and if they want it they should produce enough value on their own to exchange fairly for it?

I reject the notion that wealth = theft. I work with wealthy people who clearly earned it, working hard & clever to produce more value than most people do.


>> How did he get rich? By way of exploitation, there's no other way.

Can you really not see how ridiculous that idea is? You're saying that it's simply impossible for anyone to get rich by producing value to other people? -Steve Jobs, hello?


Who do professional football players or rock superstars exploit?


Quite an elaborate rationalization for simple whining about taxes.


Yes. How dare anyone want to keep their property! Shame on them!


I cannot believe that you are defending the most vulnerable minority (the individual), what an outrage!


You make the assumptions that people capture the full value of their work absent and that value is only ever created through human effort. Neither assumption is correct.


I wish more people understood this, instead of being easily influenced by sales and money.


I'm pretty sure everyone is easily influenced by sales and money; that's the point.


> 250 square feet of personal living space

Well, it seems I am descending into death and so are some millions of Hong Kong residents. More seriously, I think that figure should be a lot lower.


Fine, tweak it as appropriate. Opinions of details of "normal basic minimum" needs vary greatly, which is a major problem with coming to consensus - another reason to stick with the "individual rights" model.


You presuppose the concept of individual earnings determined by market value, and argue as though only the distribution of earnings is a point of debate.


how did you decide staying alive was the baseline, and not more than that?


Because staying alive is the level you inarguably, absolutely cannot go below. It's a rock-solid place to start your argument from, and build upwards.


How long are supposed to live? It's cheaper to die when you are 30. What about human contact- doesn't it seem like someone living in a 250 sq foot cell who never met another person is worse off than someone who dies at 25 but had great friends and a great education? What about psychological health?


If you target a caloric deficit that will ever so slowly add up and catch up to you at 25-30, at which point you die of starvation- that's going to be a negligible difference, probably even in the rounding error.


doesn't it seem like someone living in a 250 sq foot cell who never met another person is worse off...

He wasn't talking about what made for a worthwhile life. He was talking about what is required to sustain life. You can't worry about quality of life until you have taken care of sustaining life


i think thats my point- that thats not true


What does quality of life mean if you're dead?

Anyway, forget about total cost. It takes a certain minimum amount of resources per day to stay alive, whether you intend to live to 25 or 125. Do you disagree?


in response to your latest comment, since i cant respond to it directly- even if it costs the same per day to live to 85 as it does to 25, you could decide that instead of living those last 10 years, you spend that money during your first 75


Yes. I understand. It is not a complicated argument you are trying to make. The thing is your parent was attempting to establish an INARGUABLE BASELINE below which you CANNOT GO. Not "should not". Not "oh you'll have worse quality of life if you go below" and "oh but wouldn't you be happier if you went above". CANNOT GO BELOW.

The purpose of this baseline being, to establish that there is SOME AMOUNT OF RESOURCES that MUST be consumed to sustain life. And, as we know, SOME EFFORT must be expended to secure these resources thus NON-ZERO EFFORT is required to sustain EACH human life. That was the point.

So I fail to see what your quality of life discussion has to do with anything.


im saying that staying alive might not be the objective baseline its claimed to be. why would it be more important to keep miserable people alive a long time than happy people alive shorter?


And I'm saying how long you are alive has nothing to do with how much it costs to keep you alive for one day.

Unless you are arguing the ideal lifespan is less than one day.


Because luxury is something we will never have enough of.

Might also be due, to the fact that unless it is met, theoretically we cannot "not work" just yet.

I would also speculate on why $30 a day. This evaluation is based on the costs of utility services, while those are hugely related to the overall average salaries rather than the cost of material [1]. I.e., the price of utility may and will significantly change, based on overall situation in the country.

[1] - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_pricing


Is work necessary? Yes, insofar as someone has to expend effort which can be converted into providence of basic needs.

Ok, fine, so long as someone else expends that effort, not me.

  -- people everywhere


Ugh, HN really has become reddit. Half-baked ramblings about socialist utopias powered by machines. I mean come on...


Yeah it's a lot of nonsense. There are some singularity believers, that's for sure.


Actually, most of the answers are ranging from far-right (work or degenerate!) to extreme libertarianism (individuals must compete!), and that complete lack of basic humanity from HNers really is saddening.


> complete lack of basic humanity from HNers

Does that actually mean anything? Or is it just another way of expressing vague, general disapproval?


The machines of the future will convert energy into wealth. They will do this by performing a large number of automated tasks for us. We will not have to work - it will be redundant to work.


Consider what the world, sorry universe will be when anything you can conceive of is a function of energy vs time.

Set a self-replicating constructor going. All it has to do is harvest sunlight to produce more solar cells to capture more energy until it has a sufficient supply to expediently build that new house you ordered.


"It amounts to saying that we should have fairly high taxes, and redistribute most of the money as a minimal income to every person."

It is called disguised communism. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

The redistributors redistribute to their friends and family first, then on their party, and then the rest so now you have people living really well, most people living bad, like today, but with no connection between generating wealth and being rewarded by it at all.

Don't let me wrong, this works, for a while. Until you get to consume all the savings of the productive society. And nobody wants to work anymore. Then societies collapse(Venezuela has 40% inflation per month now, Cuba, URSS)

Some of my family members come from communist countries. I don't want some political commissar to decide who deserve what and who doesn't.

I believe in distributed power, not centralized authority. Technology is making distributed power efficient again, with computers in every pocket and inexpensive 3d printers, laser cutters and CNC mills. Ironically we are supporting too centralized, too big to fail business.


The idea in theory is great, but we are generations away from getting there. Right now, the idea of having really high taxes for those who own/control technology to pay a minimum living wage for those who can't work would stop all forward progress from here on out. Case in point - Elon Musk. Musk nearly went bankrupt in 2008 trying to make Tesla and SpaceX succeed. If he had been taxed at any higher a rate, both companies would have failed. Musk is arguably a once in a generation entrepreneur. I'd hate to be waiting another 20 years for electric cars and private rockets to come around.


But, on the other hand, there might be dozens of Elon Musks each generation if people didn't have to worry about their children falling into poverty because the idea they quit their job and spent their savings trying to execute didn't take off.

Or, imagine during that crucial make or break period, being able to go cut the founder of the electric car company you're working at a little slack with payroll because you already had a check coming in each month that covered your rent and data plan.


Your first comment is a fair point, although the article is about not having to work and taking from those who are rich to pay for it, not providing a safety net so entrepreneurs could try risky thing.

To your second point, I'm not convinced that would happen...even if it did, labor is a fairly small portion of an auto company's costs (I think at one point I saw around 20%).


> If he had been taxed at any higher a rate, both companies would have failed.

I don't follow. Taxation applies to personal income and corporate profit.

A company on the margin of bankruptcy isn't making profit, so they're not 'losing' money in tax.


He used his Paypal money to fund Tesla and SpaceX. If those earnings had been taxed higher, no Tesla and SpaceX.


> The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living

This made me think of a world like Neal Stephenson's Anathem, where a portion of the population chooses to separate themselves and focus purely on education. Their lifestyles are essentially monastic/akin to $30 per day. Part of me wishes an option like that were more prevalent/acceptable in our society.


I think "work" is necessary, at least the connotation that implies one has to strive for more or give up something in exchange for a tangible reward. However, work just for the sake of working is unnecessary and detrimental to the person that must endure it.


This article makes some good points.

In my opinion, it isnt just that a lot of jobs today dont contribute anything to society, they actively work to its detriment by wasting precious resources and contributing to serious problems like climate change and pollution.


Yes, work is necessary. Even before money was invented, our ancestors still needed to work for their basic needs. They had to harvest or hunt for food, build their houses and sew their clothing. All of that is work.


I think you may be missing the point. Pretty much all developed countries produce an abundance of these things, and more to the point have automated a lot of it. A lot of jobs that used to be done by many people can now be done by a few.


It would kinda suck to end up as one of the poor schlubs who has to be one of the "few" who works while everybody else kicks back and screws around all day.


I would think in a future where work is optional, the goal would be to create a system where choosing to work would still provide you with additional privilege (via more money)... the difference would be at the bottom end of the scale, creating a society where unemployment is a feasible lifestyle if all you really want in a material sense is basic needs (food, shelter, clothes) plus healthcare.

Feasibility of that system is another question altogether. I'm just saying I think in an ideal world, there would still be motivation to contribute to society (in a capitalist sense); it just wouldn't be a hard requirement for maintaining your dignity.


I think many people in this thread have a very self-informed and naive view of what a society made up of people with unlimited free time would do with that time -- it wouldn't be self-actualizing.

I know where this idea comes from, I think it's very tempting as well. I was fascinated with the society described in the Culture books. But the harsh reality is that most people would not go in the direction that's hoped.


I know this thread is a day old, which in Internet time is ancient history, but in case you see this:

You seem to be making the basic assumption that "self-actualizing" should be the goal of all human beings, rather than something more general like "being satisfied with one's life." It's possible that you believe the former is a prerequisite for the latter, and I can't refute or confirm that hypothesis.

Personally, my goal for the lives of citizens living in a work-optional utopia would be something along the lines of Sen's capability approach to welfare economics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capability_approach). As long as everyone has the opportunity to be the kind of person they want to be, and as long as they don't negatively affect the freedom and welfare of others (e.g. you can't aspire to be a car thief or serial killer), then however they choose to live is fine with me, self-actualized or not.


Ha! I just checked down here to see if there were any more replies.

I'm basing the self-actualizing notion on the several posts in the last couple weeks I've seen here and the comments that followed. There's some kind of pervasive view here that if people just didn't have to struggle for the basic act of living, the world would be full of self-actualized people filling the world with the products of their new hobbies.

I agree with you that your outcome would be fine by me with the same caveat

> as long as they don't negatively affect the freedom and welfare of others

The problem we see today is that for people who've managed to figure out how to get their most basic needs taken care of for them, is that they don't subscribe to the need not to negatively affect the freedom and welfare of others.

My theory is that it's out of boredom and a lack of things to keep them otherwise occupied -- 'idle hands makes for the Devil's work' and all that.

Regardless, what lots of people want to be, is not an isolated island of self-fulfillment, but one that's fulfilled through interaction with other people -- even if that interaction is a negative one. However, parsing positive from negative interactions on a universal level is near impossible. One person's negative interaction, may be another person's deepest wish.


Well, in the future I'm thinking about, even the few would have very little to do operating the machinery that performs all of these tasks automatically.

When given a choice between being one of the many and being one of the few, I usually choose the few.


Is it different to ending up as one of the "many" who work, while the few kick back and screw around all day?


Yes. Because being one of the few layabouts on either end of the bell curve is a blessing, while being one of the few who works for everybody else is easily viewed as a punishment.


So it's ok to be poor and stresses as long as everyone else is?


We aren't our ancestors, and this is an unprecedented time in human history as we transition to the age of automation. Work has always been necessary thus far, that's going to change soon.


it's already unnecessary. Look at how many people are employed in the service or entertainment industry. We have people who can earn a living travelling around the world teaching obscure dance styles. This is not 'work' in the way that you mean, but it is definitely 'work' in the economic sense; it is one person engaging in a trade of their skills for another person's money. What automation will do is to free up individuals to do these sorts of exchange which would have been impossible with a less efficient use of resources; what economics does is makes sure as many people as possible are doing this 'new work' not just for S&G, but also in the service of others.


I agree in a sense, but so far that kind of work is a small minority of the work work you know I'm talking about. Eventually I'd expect to see most work people do be this kind of art/cultural entertainment work rather than work work. Manual labor is dying and not being replaced and most such laborers couldn't feed themselves on any other skills they have.


The title is misleading I think. Fuller does not really question the necessity of work. He questions the ideas of "earning a living" and "work as a justification to exist".


It's nice to see an article title which violates Betteridge's law.


The fact that a very large percentage of jobs are unnecessary and were created simply because we felt like everyone should work for a living needs to be accepted before we can experiment with economic models such as Unconditional Basic Income.




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