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The great reversal in the demand for skill and cognitive tasks (2013) [pdf] (ubc.ca)
82 points by tacon on Apr 11, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 90 comments

It turns out that when you optimize for a specific statistic ("college graduates!") irrespective of market forces, the market becomes distorted. This happened in housing, and now education. Subsidized student loans (and other programs) optimize for education at any cost, so the costs of education are not weighed by students proportionately to the benefits. This is an accounting identity.

Once it was assumed that increased productivity would benefit the whole community, hence the expectation that productivity would lead to higher wages and/or reduced working hours.

But that hasn't happened:

In the American version of Capitalism, any benefits from increased productivity flow direct to the super rich, leaving the poor and middle-class worse off.

Meanwhile, the European semi-socialist model is also rapidly being subverted by the American model.

That's the view from the US and Europe, but the lives (or at least the incomes and energy consumption) of the poor in developing economies are improving.

Perhaps the benefits of increased productivity in the developed world are simply being counter balanced by increased global competition and an equalization of lifestyles.

>increased productivity

Isn't part of the problem that many university degrees don't really provide any such "productivity" increases? Things like communications, postmodern art history and gender studies, while possibly contributing to the intellectual development of students (assuming students don't just spend the whole course drinking), don't really increase students' ability to do or produce anything that other people value enough to pay for.

University probably doesn't. Technology sure does.

I suspect you are using a definition for "capitalism" that's based on something other than having private ownership of capital.

The super-rich seem much more concerned about the lives of the poor than the poor for each other.

Are you sure about that? I've seen exactly the opposite, that the richer you are (typically), the less empathy you express. Bill Gates being a notable counterexample.

Below a certain threshold, poverty is very damaging on a person, but nonetheless, I've seen many instances of poor people sharing what little they have.

This is all anecdotal of course, but there are studies showing an inverse correlation of wealth to empathy.

Go to a place where there is real poverty and it still holds(like india). White rich people tend to care a lot about every one. I am not white.

Fair enough, they're too busy being poor to care about anyne else.

standing ovation

However, it's not actually that fair enough. Some of the most generous spirited people I know are "poor".

It's really weird seeing people talk about 'poor' people when you have friends/family in third world countries. I also have friends in both tails of the distribution and my statement definitely holds.

No this is decidedly NOT anti-poor on my part. I definitely have a bleeding heart it was just a casual remark.

Enact a 20-hour work week. Our machines are powerful enough now that we should be able to devote our lives to human dignity, not work. Technology will only turn our world into a Dickensian hellhole if we let it.

> Enact a 20-hour work week

"Enact" implies the government restricting everyone to working 20 hours per week. That's a violation of our freedom to work as many hours as we want.

I do support you in that all of people shouldn't have to work in order to meet the basic needs of life today (food, housing, and connectivity). Agricultural and industrial efficiency and automization has advanced to a point where we can provide these basic needs to 90% of the populace with only 10% of people maintaining/operating these machines.

A lot of people will continue to work 50 or 60 hours, because a lot of humans are naturally inclined to work. They derive pleasure and satisfaction from it. I would myself personally continue working, perhaps even harder than I do now, but would direct my efforts towards things that I enjoy more, and that are potentially more impactful, meaningful, and beneficial to society. Ensuring that everyone's basic needs are met would give people great personal freedom to pursue what they want.

How would we implement this? One possible way is basic income -- although it might be beneficial to incentivize productive and meaningful use of freedom that basic income gives people. We don't want a country where 50% of the population spends time watching soap operas, and eating junk food.

Just some of my thoughts...

Maybe, in the same way that industrial safety regulations violate our freedom to work in whatever environment we want.

Working without safety regulation is harmful. Working 21 hours is not.

Depends on what union you work for ...

But heck, even pilots can work a 40 hour week (of actual flight time). I am not sure if there is even a hypothetical union that would limit work time to such a degree (<30 hours).

My straw man is burning.

Industrial safety regulations impose restrictions on how you may treat others, not on how you may treat yourself.

Those regulations coerce employers into treating their employees well (which is not bad[1]). If you were to privately, in a manner that did not put others at risk, conduct an experiment in your backyard that violated those very safety regulations, I doubt you would get in trouble for it.

[1] It's not as bad a thing for government to regulate how individuals treat each other, as it would be if it regulated (passed laws around) how an individual treated himself/herself.

I just can't get behind basic income. It makes sense from a very self-motivated individual's point of view (which many/most on HN are) but if you look at the majority of the country in my opinion most people are not driven this way.

I really feel like we would end up with a country where the majority just live on basic income and do nothing. At least now they must contribute to society on a basic level to earn an income, even if it is unsatisfactory (welfare and social programs aside).

I think the problem is that what we have now is much worse. Today we pay people to not work, as in quite literally by earning less you can take home more. Plus, if you don't work, then you can do all sorts of other productive (cost reducing) things with your time, and you also don't carry all the associated non-deductible costs of working.

The slope of progressive taxes and regressive subsidies is bewilderingly high. Particularly if you have higher health care expenses or anything which might be considered a disability, the first $90k of gross earnings for a family of 4 is almost entirely going to the State & Fed.*

As more people "catch on" to the math we see more people dropping out of the labor pool. The story in the media is it's because people have given up on finding work. But I think a significant portion of it is because it's simply not worth working. Not everyone has figured out yet how much the Fed will pay you to not work, but when you do the math I think every middle-class worker should be very angry about it.

Now I'm not sure we want to have a system where everyone is paid exactly the same amount no matter what, but I'm pretty sure that a system which pays less as you pay more taxes is broken.

* If you take the total market value of all subsidies available to a family of 4 earning nothing, and add in the all-inclusive taxes paid as a result of a family of 4 earning $90k (at about which point subsidies have gone to zero), together those numbers will add to about $90k.

If we get more technical, the numbers are actually shifted up by about $30k, because of the standard exemption and child tax credits, the first $30k of income doesn't count. So really it's $30k - $120k where you're effectively working for the Fed.

> I really feel like we would end up with a country where the majority just live on basic income and do nothing.

The people who end up on "basic income" would do something they like to do; but that something is nothing of value to the economic elite of the world. In that sense, they do "nothing".

but that something is nothing of value to the economic elite of the world

It has absolutely nothing to do with any "elite". It has to do with being economically visible.

If the government pays 300M citizens each $25k annually, that's $7.5T that has to come from somewhere.

If you play videogames all day, or turn your back yard into a decorative garden, or anything else you don't get paid for, then you are not contributing to that $7.5T.

Which can kinda be a problem if too many people do that and there's nowhere for it to come from.

From [1], we already allocate roughly $6k per person per year in the US, enough to fork over $25k/year to the poorest 20%. (This doesn't account for the potential savings of reduced crime (prisons are expensive!), improved health/nutrition, reduced administrative overhead of replacing all welfare systems with a single basic income, etc.)

Also: not all value is neatly captured on a W-2 form. If turning my backyard into a decorative garden allows me to set a higher sale price for my home later, I've contributed. If I buy groceries so that I can play videogames all day without falling over from hunger, I've contributed. (If I can pay in cash instead of food stamps because I collect a basic income, even better: there's less bureaucracy on the way to collecting tax on my purchases from the grocery store.)

[2] notwithstanding, people who contribute literally nothing to the economy are extremely rare.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_United_States_federal_bud...

[2]: http://www.becomingminimalist.com/the-man-who-quit-money-an-...

If you hand out money to everyone, wouldn't prices just go up?

Only if you printed money to hand it out. If redistributive, no.

That 7.5T in payouts doesn't just disappear from the economy. Most people will put almost all of that payment right back into the economic equation through consumerism. In most models the basic income would be pretty close to the cost of living, and (this is strongly speculative) savings would drop to near-zero if people are less concerned about where their next paycheck is coming from.

A huge proportion of the welfare will is spent right away on consumption of necessities (food, rent) which goes right back into the economy. Specifically, it becomes revenue for business owners.

> Which can kinda be a problem if too many people do that and there's nowhere for it to come from.

This is how the majority understand the macro economics: an extension of bartering system. But a sovereign currency regime does not need to worry about it. What constrains an economy are real resources, but not financial resources. Sovereign debt = public assets. For more, check "Modern Monetary Theory".

That is, printing more money is the way? Quantitative easing, as they now call it.

I also heard throwing money from helicopters is beneficial, too.

Well, thats what mainstream (neo Keynsians) have advised and has not worked. Quantitaive easing just shuffles financial assets.

What is needed, is a fiscal policy--and this leads to basic income, basic employment. The only constraints are "real" resources.

The funny thing is that I mentioned throwing money off helicopters ironically, but probably it was lost for the downvoters.

I suspect this was Poe's law in action; some of the current fiscal policies are so contrived that it's hard to tell theonion-style sarcasm from the real thing.

This is something I cannot figure out, people do not get bored after a while of doing nothing ?

There is a large difference between doing nothing, and doing nothing of value to society.

For example, I love to learn. I could spend ages reading books and learning as much as possible for my meager brain to understand about physics and it would be very fulfilling.

But unless I apply that knowledge, it really wasn't of much value to anyone (even myself, depending on how you look at it).

So why do I deserve to take advantage of all society would provide with basic income (food, shelter, safety, etc..) if I provided nothing in return?

Ok, I see, but after you spend 5 years of your life learning you will be able to do a lot of thing.

Now, why should you start doing something different from learning ?

Maybe because if you do something productive you will product value that will let you to live in a better house, or to learn more...

The point is not to let everybody doing nothing of productive, the point is to give to everybody the choice, between doing nothing of productive now vs. bringing values to the society...

I have been surprised over and over again at the powerful force that is doing "just enough" to get by. So many people are affected by it. It's really quite impressive.

You know those bars you go to? Restaurants? Theatres? The list goes on. No one would work at those shitty jobs any more. Because 25k is comfortable - why would I work at a shitty job for another few thousand?

You definitely get a point.

However, in my opinion, the point is that nobody should work at such "shitty jobs", who enjoy being a waiter, will be one in some high end restaurant where he will compensate in an extremely honest way.

The introduction of basic income will need a complete mental switch.

We can dream about robot that serve us, or we can start to realize that the quicker way would be to change mentality and stop to need somebody (or something) that serve us.

I think the challenge is we are currently in the middle of a transitionary period towards full automation of "shitty jobs." Basic income is a logical model once those shitty jobs have been commoditized: there is no need for the jobs, and the people who normally would only be qualified for those jobs need to survive somehow.

But we're not there yet, our economy is still reliant upon a large number of people doing "shitty jobs" in order to grow in general, and more specifically to continue this push towards further automation. This is the challenge: you need a way to alleviate human suffering during the transition towards a greater world for everyone, but the most obvious way to do that (basic income) may halt the transition itself. What we probably need is something that looks more like a bridge than a final destination, but any such bridge starts to resemble the experiments in communism that cost the world so much during the 20th century.

I haven't seen a model of basic income where math makes sense.

If the government has a significant source of non-income revenue (Alaska), the payouts seem to be too trivial ($1,884 annually at yesteryear oil prices). Nice, but not a deal breaker.

US on the federal level is so dependent on income tax revenue, that you have to tax income to distribute that income.

Humans want services from other humans. If humans aren't willing or able to pay other humans to do things, something is preventing that. Anything that can be provided by machines at negligible cost becomes a "general condition" (like air), so it isn't relevant to scarcity. If something is still scarce after that, it means some human labor is needed to provide it (or a bad actor is preventing it--e.g., labor laws or whatever).

But I'm not sure what point you're making. If market forces can operate in a world with a 40 hour default work week, they can operate in a world with a 20 hour work week. At the macroeconomic level, we're talking about tweaking a coefficient. So what? By shortening the work week, we can give many more people an opportunity to engage in dignified work, give them more leisure time, and spur further investment in labor-saving machinery, all in the same stroke.

That strikes me as a tangent, it raises many questions (What happens if I want to work more than 20 hours a week?). The idea of a "work week" is based on the salary model which is based on the idea that companies are magical job fairies that exist to provide jobs. What if I create a product and work on it more than 20 hours? What if I want to sell peanut butter at the local food market on the weekends?

This obsession with hours might be the root of the problem.

Most businesses have given up trying to measure produced value per worker (and certainly don't reward based on value produced). The 40 hour work week just means that it is expected that you work 40 hours a week, 48 weeks a year (give or take, depending on vacation practice/laws) -- in order for the employer to pay you "full benefits". That typically includes ideas about a living wage (not in all parts of the world), and some form of social safety net, such as health care, insurance etc.

A 20 hour work week, would just mean that the expected time most need to put in, to get the basic salary/coverage would be cut in half.

I don't think a smooth, nor easy transition is possible -- you can look at like doubling hourly wages, or halving all prices, or through some other lens: but I think that we are getting accustomed to thinking of hourly pay, hourly wages/compensation etc is part of the problem.

The idea of a work week: that one can work "full time" for one employer doesn't really say that much about how much time one puts in -- it's more about what responsibility that employer have for the employee. And the "norm" of 40 hours is used as a guide to compensate extra for overtime, or to reduce compensation for people that can't or won't work "full time".

Maybe the best way forward, if one believes that some form of "fair" distribution is possible under capitalism, is to have all businesses be 100% employee owned. It's not entirely clear why anyone else should benefit directly from being able to pay less for work put in by workers, and pocket the difference. Especially considering that a lot of the capital invested might be borrowed money -- which under fractional reserve banking is just money made up out of thin air and given to those that need it the least.

I'd think a better solution (that requiring full employee ownership) would be to remove as much of the per-employee cost as possible.

Make health insurance not tied to employment. (It could be universal coverage handled by the government, it could be what we're half trying where everyone buys their own. As long as it's not thru the employer, it doesn't matter for this.)

Make things like FMLA leave not depend on working enough hours.

Remove the caps that some payroll taxes have.

Some per-employee costs are unavoidable. If my team has 10 people instead of 5 people, and they're all available at different times, that's a cost. The work has to be divided differently, I have to remember more interpersonal crap, there will be communication delays, etc.

But as much as possible should either be handled by Someone Else or made dependent linearly on hours or pay, rather than being tied to employment as a boolean or to a threshold number of hours or amount of pay.

In practice, an "X hour work week" means employers are required to pay a multiple of the usual wage for hours worked past X. So you can allow/require employees to work longer, but it'll be cheaper to employ more people for fewer hours.

Which just leads to people having to get multiple jobs, with the added stress and commuting it brings.

> (What happens if I want to work more than 20 hours a week?)

I have friends in France who sneak into their academic research labs after hours because of this exact reason (well, not 20 hours, but set max work hours)... seems super silly to me.

There has to be a mechanism for people who are truly passionate about their work, like artists, scientists, programmers, to follow their passions as far as they want. The danger, of course, is that intra-organization competition pressures people to work longer and longer hours. I'm willing to accept that risk so long as we make a shorter work week the default.

We're talking about an unusual case, though. You have to realize the most people hate their jobs. They're not following their passions. They find work tedious, uncomfortable, and frequently demeaning. For these people, the bulk of humanity, a cap on working hours frees them to do something they find much more interesting.

It most likely frees them to go to their second job, now that their salary has been cut proportionally to the fewer hours worked.

In the online dictionary I consulted, dignity is defined as "The state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect."

I think productive work is one means by which individuals can become more worthy of honor and respect.


Any successful scam is very productive in the economic sense. Does that make the scammer worthy of honor and respect? If Bill Gates gives away a billion meals to starving African children then he is 0% productive (no revenue!). Does that make Bill Gates unworthy of honor and respect?

Ken Levine (of BioShock fame) calls this the "circus of value." The disparity between economic terms and their moral/intuitive counterparts grows very large in certain important limits.

I have a different view on scams. I don't think they are productive, even in an economic sense, if one takes the long view.

A person who tries to succeed in life by scamming other people enters a war with reality. He may fool some people, for a certain period of time, but he is forced to constantly be looking over his shoulder. One lie leads to the need for additional lies.

Some people think this is fine, or that it's a price they are willing to pay in order to get away with stealing a million dollars or whatever. It's not worth it to me, however.

As regards Bill Gates, what he does with his money is his business. If he wishes to give it way in that manner, I'm fine with it.

I'd suggest, however, that Bill Gates worked many long hours to earn his money. So if you claim that giving it away is 0% productive, I think you're dropping the context of how he came to have the money in the first place.


I think you need to be more precise about what you mean by "productive" before I can reply. Clearly you don't mean it in the economic sense (productivity is revenue/X where X is some measure of input, e.g. workers or hours). So what do you mean?

In the sense that I am using the term, an action is productive when it moves a person closer to achieving their goal or goals.

Are you saying that work, not people, is what is worthy of honor and respect?

I'm saying that productive work is one way in which people can become more worthy of honor and respect.

For example, let's say you have two individuals. One gets married, fathers some children, and then decides that rather than supporting his family, he's going to sit around and play video games while his wife works 24x7 to try to take care of the family.

Another man, in the same circumstances, gets a job, works hard every day, studies things that he finds interesting, and eventually works himself into a job where he can easily support his family, to the point where the members of his family can engage in things that interest them.

Which man is more worthy of honor and respect? I would say the man in the second example.

Do you see it differently?

Not the OP, but yes, I see it differently. IMHO, it's none of my business. The division of chores between the man and his wife is between the man and his wife.

The reason is because of a quirk of psychology. What you're describing is basically shaming people: making them feel like they are unworthy because of what they do or do not choose to do. And that's a logical response to trying to influence behavior. Except it doesn't work. When you, me, society in general makes people feel like they're unworthy of honor and respect because of what they do, they end up confirming those expectations of unworthiness in what they do, they don't end up adjusting what they do to escape your judgments.

Your reply is helpful to me, to clarify my own thinking. Thank you.

Let's continue with the hypothetical that I presented.

We have a man who is shirking his responsibility to his wife and to his children. Presumably, his wife did not sign up for the deal she now has when she married him (and if she did, it's on her, then, but I'm assuming she did not) and the children, of course, had no role in the decision making.

Does the man who ignores the responsibilities he freely chose develop or improve his sense of self-esteem, by sitting home and playing video games? Does he come to view himself as more and more competent to make his way in the world?

I would say he does not. I would expect that, by his own estimate, he will come to consider himself less and less worthy of honor and respect. I don't know that he would admit this to anyone, but I think his estimate of himself would decline.

Now, consider his wife. Should she consider him worthy of honor and respect? Is she acting with integrity if she fakes something she doesn't really believe?

I would say that his wife would have less esteem for him over time, that she would come to resent him, and that this would have a negative effect on her view of him as worthy of honor and respect.

Finally, I would say that I am not out to shame people, but if someone does act unjustly, I think they should bear the consequences of their decisions.

So yes, in your hypothetical, I think that's a logical train of thought. But it's unfortunate. He will come to consider himself less and less worthy of honor respect, and as a result, he lives up to his deflated estimate, and never gets off the couch.

Here's an alternate reframing. The man considers himself worthy of honor and respect by virtue of his existence as a human being. He takes those attributes off the table. And because he is an honorable and worthy human being, he acts like it. He puts down the video games (or Hacker News), and goes back to writing code and spending time with his family, because that is what allows him to maintain his self-respect. To do otherwise would cause emotional friction, as his self-image is no longer congruent with his actions.

> I'm saying that productive work is one way in which people can become more worthy of honor and respect.

It's not quite that I disagree. I just think that your statement and example don't make an accounting for what honor and respect a person is worthy of independent of their work status. Should a 3 year old, or a 93 year old, only be accorded respect in accordance to how much they work? Should hospital patients receive less honor and respect than hospital staff?

I think human life has value, and is worth of honor and respect, completely independent of the capacity and willingness to work.

Do you see it differently?

What's the value of your honor and respect?

I realize that sounds pretty dismissive, that isn't what I'm getting at. I'm asking a serious question about why you are framing the discussion in that way.

I don't mean to be dense, but I'm not sure I understand your question. I take you at your word when you say you don't mean to be dismissive.

I'm framing the discussion the way I am because of how I see the issues raised in the comment to which I initially replied.

Perhaps we are using different definitions for some of the terms that were used?

How would you frame the discussion? I will try to respond to that if you wish.

It's just a literal question. Say you don't respect someone very much. What harm does that do to them? Say you respect someone a great deal, what good does that do them?

Oh, got it. Thank you.

If I don't respect someone very much, they lose the benefits (let's assume there are some) of trading with me, and I lose the benefits (presumably, small, if I don't respect them much) of trading with them.

I think we 1) live in a division-of-labor society, and that we 2) survive best when we trade with each other on a strictly voluntary basis.

So if that's the case, I think that people that are good trading partners want to have the (legitimately earned, based on past performance) respect of other people in the marketplace.

Perhaps the reputation systems we see all around us are evidence of this? ("Please remember to leave positive feedback for me!")

If I am a good judge of character, then someone I don't respect is likely not respected by (many?) other people as well. If our society is in fact based on division-of-labor and trading, then that person is going to have a more difficult time getting by.


The pretext of the 20 hour work week stated above is that we don't really live in a division of labor society (in the sense that material needs can be met with a fraction of the available labor).

I agree that we tend to pick winners and losers, but I think a lot of the time those decisions are more arbitrary than we think they are (for example, good judges of character might conflate that judgement with appreciation for charisma without realizing it).

In addition to probably being more arbitrary than we think, the winner/loser way of thinking is also self polarizing, rewarding prior success with more success and punishing lack of success.

(Think about a student that gets some bad grades when they are 10. In our system, that might follow them around for decades (they don't get into a private Junior high, they don't get into Harvard...). There's no reason it should follow them into the next year of school.)

They already have, more or less, with ACA coverage provisions. Old article, but

"Along with more workers clocking just below 30 hours in their primary jobs, CPS data show the number working 20-29 hours in secondary jobs rose 105,000, or 7.6%, from a year ago. Other Labor Department data also suggest an ObamaCare effect. The average retail workweek for nonsupervisors shrank to a three-year low of 30 hours in July, down from a post-recession peak of 30.8 hours in January 2012. That's the sharpest decline in the retail workweek since the early 1980s."


Unused and less-used skills deteriorate over time. For skilled professions, how much time practicing is needed to counteract this?

Technology is changing very rapidly. As a software developer, I need to put in some amount of time keeping up with the changes. Someone specifically focused on web stuff would probably need to put in even more time keeping up. Lawyers will have to keep with new laws, and case law. I understand it's typical for licensed professions to require members to have ongoing education in order to keep their licenses. How much time keeping up is needed to stay current?

If you try to force a 20-hour work week, what do you do when people try to evade this by taking multiple jobs? What do you do about independent business owners who only employ themselves?

That only works if the fixed costs of a worker (benefits) are negligible at best. If employers need to keep on paying for health care, then it's always cheaper to overwork a worker unless the overtime makes it more expensive. So you need govt. health care for one to get rid of a fixed cost of employees before it becomes feasible for companies.

Also a single worker can produce more work until exhaustion effects start kicking in than a single worker. That equilibrium is probably around 40hrs. Communication and management overhead alone adds more fixed cost to adding an employee.

But if you look at the charts of average work weeks, you'll notice that they are going down. In parts of europe, a full time worker is becoming something between 30-40 hrs.

How does gov health care change this? I pay $500 a year to health ins or $500 a year more in taxes. Either way I pay $500 a year. That's not an argument for or against gov health care I'm just asking for clarification why it matters for your point

Because it's based on a tax % rate vs a fixed cost of $2-5k/yr per employee. So if you want to hire 4 people for 10hrs/wk paying each of them $20/hr instead of 1 person at 40hrs/wk, it's not going to cost the company an extra $6-15k / yr to get equivalent hours of labor to do so.

You need to reduce fixed costs and make them a cost that scales with the amount paid for the labor to make doing this more attractive for companies.

Other benefits are pretty much nothing compared to health insurance, or only cost money when the employees are at the job site, so govt. healthcare is needed before 4 workers at 10 hours a week becomes more attractive to employers.

Walmart & co make their employees work part time just to avoid paying mandatory benefits. Benefits are a big cost to companies.

Serious question: what's special about now, as opposed to 10 years ago or 10 years from now?

I can't think of anything special about this instant, but look at prevailing conditions: the employment-to-population rate has plummeted in recent years [1]. The number of zero-margin-product people on disability has skyrocketed [2]. Income inequality has increased markedly [3]. Yet our GDP has increased tremendously during that time [4].

We just don't need as many person-hours as we used to need. The trend is only going to continue. Except in the case of people with exceptional cognitive endowments (like most of the HN readership), there's a labor glut.

We could just wait. The trend will continue. Eventually, things will come to a head (or several, under a guillotine). Instead, let's gracefully adapt to increased productivity by increasing the cost of labor. That's how we can let the population as a whole benefit from this productivity miracle.

[1] http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS12300000 [2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/us-disability... [3] https://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=gini+coefficient+unite... [4] https://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=United+States+real+GDP...

Your [1] begins in 2005. Expand that to maximum range, and it will turn out that we're at about average.

I think one of the expected outcomes of ACA was that people who could afford to retire, but were too constrained to buy their own health insurance, would leave the workforce.

The previous period with a comparable employment-population ratio was before women entered the workforce in large numbers.

you can kind of do that now. of course it doesn't work for everyone's occupation as easily. you just have to decide not to care how you compare to other people. most of humanity lived with nothing!

high-skilled workers have moved down the occupational ladder and have begun to perform jobs traditionally performed by lower-skilled workers

I dont know about USA but this paper describes exactly labour southern european market

Ah yes. Grand conclusions drawn from 20 data points. Economic science wins again.

short version: software is eating the world

None of this should come as a surprise. The powers that be looked at employment statistics and decided if everyone had a college degree we'd all be upper middle class and the toilets would clean themselves. But that's pushing on a string - increasing the supply of "cognitive" workers without increasing the demand just means there are going to be a whole lot of unemployed college graduates.

A book about this: http://thelightsinthetunnel.com

tldr; a surprising 2000 peak in white collar jobs is the reason for high unemployment today + complex mathematical models of questionable importance bury unclear economic assumptions.

Mediocre people are getting pushed out. This is a good thing for the efficiency of the economy.

By definition, "mediocre people" make up approx. 66% of the workforce. We are supposed to celebrate their inability to make a living?

I thought "mediocre" was the middle one third, rather than the middle two thirds? ;)

Not sure if you're kidding, but GP is referring to area of the one-sigma region around mean for a normal distribution (see: bell curve) in relation to the total area (68ish percent of total), which is usually where the "normal" people live. It seems the popular understanding in soft sciences is that distribution of talent/ability/other human metric seems to follow a normal distribution.

Well if the trend is right, and continues, it means future generations will have to have education and a society that by default works in a critical thinking - always learning - always thinking kind of mode. This could be huge for humanity. I think it's mostly culture and societal norms that dictate the normal modes of thinking, and that most people can do just fine if they are brought up in the right environment. The other option is some kind of transformation or crash, or that technology fails somehow and crashes. Or? Well it could be a very bright future if the conditions are right and the planet allows it

A lot of people talk like humans are made to serve the economy, not the other way around.

If "the efficiency of the economy" really demands that an increasing number of people be unable to support themselves, that would mean that it's time to tear down the existing economy and replace it with something that works properly. is that what you want?

Until they go after the non-mediocre with pitchforks, torches and guillotines. It's not like history lacks precedents.

If history is a teacher, there is usually a small cadre of non-mediocre people running the show.

Where are they getting pushed out to? If you can't vaporize them (and you can't) what happens?

The failure of hubris isn't necessarily in obnoxiousness. It's in shortsightedness.

Still, it's pretty obnoxious, too. There are a LOT of highly paid software developers with huge egos that think they are inherently special. I guarantee if we figure out how to better automate software development, they will be changing their tune, and quick. They (and I) just happen to be very fortunate to work in an industry that rewards our talents very highly.

It might be, but it's probably not a good thing for the people who get pushed out.

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