Of interest to FI folks:
"Are jobs obsolete?" -CNN(51 posts)
The problem is how to align the high rate of technology replacing people with people obviously not getting smarter enough to do higher level work at the same increasing rate under the moral ["farming"] imperative that "people must work to eat".
My dad suggested the solution was to reduce the number of working hours even if it meant lower business efficiency. If profitability is lost, businesses can be government subsidized (tax breaks) which would be more beneficial in the aggregate than social transfers.
Europe has taken that road. Typical numbers for vacation is 4-6 weeks per years and typical work weeks are 35-38 hours.
The resistance to less work, as Jacob points out, is cultural, not structural.
I remember when France lowered their work week to 35 hours and were harshly criticized for it. I believe they have since increased the work week: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/2453277/France-drops-the-35-hour-working-week.html
How many of you would give up ERE if you could work at your current job for 4 hours a week instead of 40+?
I completely agree with your dad. Lowering the hours worked is pretty much the only feasible solution I can think of. Interestingly, we almost had a 30 hour work week in the 1930s – it passed the Senate and not the House. Alternatively you could have a really young retirement age (which is just another way of lowering hours worked), but I imagine this would be difficult to manage unless the total population in different age ranges stays fairly constant.
Politically, this is unlikely to happen anytime soon, especially in the US. We have a kind of race to the bottom when it comes to labor, based on the premise that we need to to “compete in a global marketplace.” If I remember correctly, Sarkozy said something like that a few years back in support of France leaving the 35 hour work week. The ultimate point this logic takes us, is that we should have China’s labor standards so we can compete with China.
On a related note, I read this article today:
and found it pretty scary (reminiscent of Ehrenreich’s book). It seems to suggest a move to workers as fungible temps. That people put up with these kind of conditions also suggests that if you wanted to lower hours, you really would need to increase the safety net in the US - since there are many in US who can’t afford some pretty basic things, there would always be an incentive to cheat and try to work more hours to meet basic needs.
We could go back to one wage earner per family unit to reduce the number of jobs needed (but in a gender neutral way).
Obsolescence of jobs is quickening. The F-16 fighter wing in my city is being replaced by robotic drones. There will still be jobs, but less of them.
I never thought in my lifetime thought I'd see technology change things so quickly.
I think the financial crisis has sped up the replacement of workers with technology. After the massive layoffs of 2008-2010, companies realized that they actually didn't need as many people as they thought they did.
An article tracing the evolution of the 40 hr. week and the reasons behind it, i.e., searching for the sweet spot of efficiency:
I don't know anyone aside from government workers who puts in only 40 hours. It makes me sadly recall a campaign button I saw from 100 years ago: "I'm for Wilson and the Five Day Week!"
And another article that details the decline in STEM employment as well:
jennypenny, in which class? Most minorities, immigrants, and lower-economic class families have always had more than 1 breadwinner.
About Time - Developing the case for a shorter working week
The Swiss just voted against 6 weeks of vacation per year (it's at 4 weeks at the moment, although most employers give 5). I also hear it almost unanimously from my French collegues at work, they much prefer the Swiss official 42h working week and higher salaries to the 35h week in France. It seems that people prefer to face an increasing tax burden to pay for an increasing unemployment rate, in the vague hope that the average wage will somehow magically retain its current purchasing power.
@prosaic--I was talking about the class of people (and jobs) addressed in the article. I don't think the jobs the author refers to have ever been widely available to the lower classes you mentioned. They (the lower classes) have been stuck in menial, service, or under-the-table jobs that no one seems concerned about replacing or improving.
The question is too large to have a uniform answer...
Too many vested inerests and humans cannot look past our navals anyway..
So we get back to markets, cycles, evolution, tipping points etc
Eventually if too many people lose work then the lower classes will not be able to buy anything and the technology business will go bankrupt...people will storm the bastille and so it goes...
The key for us as individuals is to be able to ride out the various waves that will inevitably wash over us...and this question of technology vs jobs is another one. It will reach a tipping point.
how to cope?
For me ERE is part of it. The renaissance man is part of it...
To some this may sound defeatest but its the opposite.....there are some fights that cannot be won...
Hat-tip to Felix, I think it was he that first pointed to that Rushkoff link, last week in the journal thread.
My dad suggested the solution was to reduce the number of working hours even if it meant lower business efficiency.
Ha! That's precisely the point I was raising in your journal last week as well. (I also linked to that Motherjones article in the thread).
Exhorting about "efficiency" is too reductionist a view (and relies on survivorship bias), when so many human beings are involved in the picture.
Dragline's comments on Jacob's original journal are well drawn out regarding your rhetorical questions.
As Obelix would say, "These Romans".... I mean, "These Swiss are Crazy"!
But based on my overall experience from the previous thread (Jacob's journal), the discussions here won't amount to much. One reason might be that, most of us secretly 'worship' the "efficiency machine" and are in awe of it.
I read the article again this morning and I'm getting something else from it. The title is, "Are Jobs Obsolete?" and seems to be talking about jobs becoming obsolete, or actually disappearing. As in they don't exist anymore. That's why I don't understand how working less hours will solve anything. Help?
If a factory needs 33 worker per shift (assuming 3 shifts) and replaces the meat bags with IG-88s that only need 3 support staff per shift you've gone from 99 employees to 9. What does a 20 hour week save in this case? What do the other 90 people do? The jobs just don't exist anymore.
The article seemed to say that jobs are disappearing:
New technologies are wreaking havoc on employment figures -- from EZpasses ousting toll collectors to Google-controlled self-driving automobiles rendering taxicab drivers obsolete.
Our problem is not that we don't have enough stuff -- it's that we don't have enough ways for people to work...
and the question he asks (and doesn't answer very well) is:
not how do we employ all the people who are rendered obsolete by technology, but how can we organize a society around something other than employment?
Therefore I don't get the reduced work hours thing...? Making a job take twice as long so two people can share in the suffering seems like protracting the problem. Seems more like we need a new game to play.
@Surio - speaking of games, nice ROMs.
@ JasonR - Thats exactly the flaw in it. Your just rationing diminishing labour demand and spreading it around more equitably, which may be politically attractive but does'nt really deal with the problem.
What matters are the real wages the worker is earning. Two people each doing half of one person's 40 hour shift, are each going to be half as rich as the guy who did the whole shift. You would have to double the real hourly rate to keep living standards the same. And its well known average real wages have stagnated in the United States since the 1970s, and elsewhere in the West.
On the otherhand, in the long term greater manufacturing automation may reduce costs to significantly lower consumer prices, which in turn might make a shorter working week more attractice and normal. Which is pretty much why ERE is viable today, as most goods are so much cheaper in real terms than in generations past.
We are really close to machines surpassing humans in any given task. Just read about Watson. This is not a bad thing in itself. More leisure time and meaningful activities.
My optimistic opinion is that we are the pioneers of the future, where we don't have to do grunt work at all.
"Citizen's Income" -- I doubt it would work well. It would encourage people to not work in favor of drawing a benefit, and those who do choose to work would bear the brunt of paying for the program.
Additionally, there would be pressure to increase the benefit to buy a better lifestyle that people are 'entitled' to. It would not stay where it is. It would bloat. What people are entitled to would be redefined upwards and upwards. And again, the few who would work would pay for it.
There is no free lunch. And people want free lunches. But somebody always pays for it.
Seems like rather sparse information based on too short a period of time. A final report wasn't issued by the program and the question must be asked if it worked so well, why wasn't it expanded?
Still, it seems tantalizing to consider more experiments to gather more data. A 20 or 30 year experimental program would be more useful to study.
I'm thinking something like communism, only with robots doing (almost) all the work. :-)
Financially, here are some ideas:
These ideas may be valid or not, but they are certainly worth pondering.
I believe that basically we need to get out of a monetary system based on artificial scarcity and exponential growth at all costs. It's the driving force behind our economic madness, mass marketing, planned obsolescence, ecological damage, inequality etc. as far as I see it.
What else? Well, that's the big question. :-)
Rushkoff has some ideas in his book Life Inc, which I would recommend reading.
The Social Credit wikipedia page is quite extensive:
"I doubt it would work well. It would encourage people to not work in favor of drawing a benefit"
But that's kind of the point, isn't it?
"There is no free lunch. And people want free lunches. But somebody always pays for it."
While I agree nothing will ever be completely free. The entire point of the discussion is that things will eventually be so cheap that they will almost essentially be free. I mean, when one hour of human labor can feed, clothe and shelter thousands of people for years, it's hard to imagine a system that requires everyone to work. What the heck would we do with the amazing overabundance of stuff?
Sure, we're not there yet. But it's just a matter of degrees.
I just got to this thread and mikeBOS beat me to it. I completely agree.
"those who do choose to work would bear the brunt of paying for the program."
Actually, the machines would bear the brunt of paying for this and they don't care. At least not yet. The people that worked would just be able to make more money if they wanted.
In order for this to work I think it would have to be quite different from communism. You wouldn't be forced to do anything. You would just automatically get a certain amount of benefits because the machines make us ultra productive and efficient. The ultra productivity and efficiency would force the price of everything towards zero. Making a very small stipend go a long way.
The real limiting factor on all of this will be energy and the actual resources. The current helium shortage being one example:
I agree with Chad.
"My optimistic opinion is that we are the pioneers of the future, where we don't have to do grunt work at all." The grunt work we don't do is due to availability of cheap, easily assessable energy.
Read up on "energy slaves" http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2011-05-09/you-and-your-slaves.
I'm not talking about machines doing work.
Or cheap energy helping make everything else cheap.
I'm talking about what happens to the human soul when they have what they need/want just handed to them.
Some people will use it to better themselves.
But some people will just sit on their asses all day and vegetate while watching TV (or virtual reality, as may be the case in the future).
We do see this to some extent already with people on welfare. (And people living on their parents' money.)
I'd rather see a population improving themselves (not necessarily through work). I'm not worried about this bunch here on the forum. But I'm worried about the average human being.
That's why I need more persuasion/studies to believe that this *won't* happen if a "Citizen's Income" were implemented. Especially over generations. The first generation is used to working and self-improvement. The second and third generations will come to expect and feel entitled to the payment.
But some people will just sit on their asses all day and vegetate while watching TV (or virtual reality, as may be the case in the future).
Would this really be a problem ? If some people want to waste their time away watching TV really does'nt bother me. Indeed, as everyone got the citizen income, it would largely eradicate welfare fraud and free-riders living off the backs of others.
> Indeed, as everyone got the citizen income, it would largely eradicate
> welfare fraud and free-riders living off the backs of others.
That is an intriguing point. Hmm.
Valid points. I definitely agree with you on:
"Indeed, as everyone got the citizen income, it would largely eradicate welfare fraud and free-riders living off the backs of others."
Going a step further you would also eliminate a decent sized cost in our current government, as we wouldn't need the social bureaucracy we currenlty have to distribute this money since everyone would get it.
I wouldn't have a problem with people wasting their lives watching TV, but the problem is that these same people then think their voice should be as loud in the community as people who have bettered themselves. This is part of our problem with political discourse now. It would be interesting to compare the idiots now to the idiots of 80 years ago and see if they knew their place better.
"I'd rather see a population improving themselves (not necessarily through work). I'm not worried about this bunch here on the forum. But I'm worried about the average human being."
I don't disagree with your general premise that improving ourselse should be part of what we use that free time for. I would just argue that the majority of our current jobs don't do this, so the danger of not working isn't as great as it appears.
"But some people will just sit on their asses all day and vegetate while watching TV (or virtual reality, as may be the case in the future)."
Maybe so, but it will still be a more dignified life than a life spent alphabetizing insurance forms under fluorescent light.
The whole notion that work in the wage-slave sense is to any degree some form of self-improvement is quite an empty promise.
As the saying goes, if work were so good, the rich would keep it for themselves.
Also, if you worry that people will stop doing meaningful things with their lives, you may want to check out the teenage liberation handbook.
It's about kids being freed from the drudgery of school. Basically, the author's experience is that they will go through an initial phase (of 3-6 months) of doing nothing at all except watching TV and playing video games, but then they will usually begin working on something that interests them or do things they find meaningful and usually end up learning more than they ever would in a school system.
If school is just plain boring to most people, so the argument that it was necessary somehow is usually just a justification to avoid the fact that it was just a big waste of time with nothing but a degree to show for it.
I think similar things can be said about college and most certainly about most jobs. It's very often a soul-crushing experience. Putting the right cover sheets on TPS reports and such. Meetings, deadlines, evaluations etc.
Maybe 5% have something like a dreamjob, meaning "I would do it even if I weren't paid to do it". The rest would rather do something else.
Me, I would read books most of the time and eventually write some.
I wouldn't worry that people will stop doing something useful. I would actually guess the opposite. To quote the article on the RICH economy I linked to in my last post,
"As Bucky Fuller says, the first thought of people, once they are delivered from wage slavery, will be, "What was it that I was so interested in as a youth, before I was told I had to earn a living?" The answer to that question, coming from millions and then billions of persons liberated from mechanical toil, will make the Renaissance look like a high school science fair or a Greenwich Village art show."
This pretty much matches the average experience described in the teenage liberation handbook only extended to an average human lifespan.
* A citizen income wouldn't eliminate fraud. Social Security is a citizen income for seniors and there is a lot of fraud associated with that. No matter how much you give people, some will try and get more.
* If you had a citizen income and socialized medicine, you'd go back to the days of people having too many babies just for the income.
* People complain now about the growing disparity between the rich and the poor. A citizen income would only make that worse. You'd have an upper class, a professional class, and everyone else. Is that really the goal?
Some people (in the US) might consider the fact that a large percentage of households don't pay income tax as a de facto citizen income.
A citizen income wouldn't eliminate fraud. Social Security is a citizen income for seniors and there is a lot of fraud associated with that.
No it would'nt entirely, but the opportunities and incentives to cheat would be massively reduced. Entitlements to Social Security (as I understand it) vary according to age, disability, years worked, health, family circumstances etc etc. Plenty of opportunities for people to misuse their entrepeneurial tendencies to milk the system. With a citizen income, everyone justs gets the same amount every year, regardless of their circumstances, and the costs of provision would be much cheaper
If you had a citizen income and socialized medicine, you'd go back to the days of people having too many babies just for the income.
I doubt it now child labour is banned; more children means more expenditure.
People complain now about the growing disparity between the rich and the poor. A citizen income would only make that worse.
Surely it would help to minimise disparity, everyone would have guaranteed the same minimum living standards ? Higher incomes would usually be the result of greater work and effort made by those seeking a higher income.
"People complain now about the growing disparity between the rich and the poor. A citizen income would only make that worse."
It seems to me that Americans don't really mind the existence of rich people as long as the poor are also doing well and feel like they could be rich too if they wanted. Since the poor would have all the bread and circuses they need, I doubt it would be much of an issue, and if they did want more, they could still get jobs.
@chenda--I think some of our differences probably come from being raised in different systems. Having more babies shouldn't increase your expenditure because the government should be giving each new family member enough money to cover basic expenses through a citizen income. And things like housing costs per person are reduced for every person you add to the household (assuming they all got money). The same with transportation. If you own a large car, the costs are almost the same whether you drive around 1 child or 4 children.
@BeyondtheWrap--I got the impression from OWS that at least some Americans have a real problem with the rich. I'm not sure someone would suddenly be ok with Jamie Dimon making $20 million just because the government gave them $40K every year.
I have no problem trying to raise the standard of living for people, but what's the standard? If it's food, shelter, education, and healthcare, then I guess I would rather address those specific needs then just mail out checks. What if someone gambles their check away? Or uses it to buy an iPad instead of food? Then what? (I'm assuming a citizen income would replace programs like welfare and food stamps)
I keep thinking the economics of a citizen income don't work anyway. Who would work in housekeeping or washes dishes in a restaurant if everyone got a wage from the government? But someone has to, so how does that work? Wages would have to be raised to attract people to those jobs. And then all other wages would go up in tandem, fueling inflation. I would think inflation would then eat away any government income until it was pointless.
Or would a shadow economy develop where people were paid off the books? (Greece anyone??)
Isn't reducing the amount of cash in the system the best thing in the long run for an economy?
<quote>Who would work in housekeeping or washes dishes in a restaurant if everyone got a wage from the government?</quote>
Robots. Products of super-automated industries will actually provide deflationary pressure, since human labor costs are eliminated (replaced with robots and their energy costs).
Last post, I promise :)
@Chris--but those aren't the jobs being replaced. Companies are using technology to replace middle class jobs (call centers, reservationists, billing depts, factory work) not low end work. Tech R&D funding is geared toward producing robots that perform surgery, not housekeeping.
Who would work in housekeeping or washes dishes in a restaurant if everyone got a wage from the government? But someone has to
I think the flaw in that argument is that it's not true that someone has to. It's true that wages would need to be higher to entice people to take on unappealing or dangerous jobs, but that's not necessarily bad. Maybe we shouldn't have those jobs around any more. Either clients pay what it costs based on a more even negotiating power dynamic, or they choose to do without. This has happened before; middle class households used to have more servants, but the cost of labor increased relative to technological substitutes. In the main, people decided to load their own dishwasher rather than hiring a scullery maid.
Wages wouldn't necessarily have to be higher. Theoretically, this is being implemented at a time in the near future when productivity is higher and there are few jobs anyway. Thus, a giant pool of workers who want to work would drive the wages down. It could go either way, but no way of knowing. Though, I would bet down, as a surprising number of people tend to need someone else to tell them what to do.
NPR's Planet Money toured an auto-parts factory recently. The general theme was that the factory required highly skilled labor.
They used unskilled (human) labor only when it was cheaper than buying an automated machine. The manager and worker seemed to think it was only a matter of time before these jobs would be replaced by machines.
You must log in to post.