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Automation and Working Class Displacement

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This piece on automation in the Permian Basin oil fields is telling for both why companies want to automate all their jobs and why this is disastrous for working-class Americans. A few bits:

In the land where oil jobs were once a guaranteed road to security for blue-collar workers, Eustasio Velazquez’s career has been upended by technology.

For 10 years, he laid cables for service companies doing seismic testing in the search for the next big gusher. Then, powerful computer hardware and software replaced cables with wireless data collection, and he lost his job. He found new work connecting pipes on rigs, but lost that job, too, when plunging oil prices in 2015 forced the driller he worked for to replace rig hands with cheaper, more reliable automated tools.

“I don’t see a future,” Mr. Velazquez, 44, said on a recent afternoon as he stooped over his shopping cart at a local grocery store. “Pretty soon every rig will have one worker and a robot.”

Oil and gas workers have traditionally had some of the highest-paying blue-collar jobs — just the type that President Trump has vowed to preserve and bring back. But the West Texas oil fields, where activity is gearing back up as prices rebound, illustrate how difficult it will be to meet that goal. As in other industries, automation is creating a new demand for high-tech workers — sometimes hundreds of miles away in a control center — but their numbers don’t offset the ranks of field hands no longer required to sling chains and lift iron.

And despite all the lost workers, United States oil production is galloping upward, to nine million barrels a day from 8.6 million in September. Nationwide, with a bit more than one-third as many rigs operating as in 2014, production is not even down 10 percent from record levels.

Some of the best wells here in the Permian Basin that three years ago required an oil price of over $60 a barrel for an operator to break even now need about $35, well below the current price of about $53.

Much of the technology has been developed by the aviation and automotive industries, along with deepwater oil exploration, over more than a decade. But companies drilling on land were slow to adapt until oil prices crashed and companies needed to get efficient quickly or go out of business.

All the big companies, and many smaller ones, have organized teams of technicians that collect well and tank data to develop complex algorithms enabling them to duplicate the design for the most productive wells over and over, and to repair valves and other parts before they break down.

The result is improved production and safety, but also a far smaller work force, and one that is increasingly morphing from muscle to brain power.

Pioneer Natural Resources, one of the most productive West Texas producers, has slashed the number of days to drill and complete wells so drastically that it has been able to cut costs by 25 percent in wells completed since early 2015. The typical rig that drilled eight to 12 wells a year just a few years ago now drills up to 16. Last year, the company added nearly 240 wells to its Permian Basin inventory without adding new employees.

The problem with automation is not its existence per se. After all, the search for greater efficiency has existed since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The problem with automation today is that as opposed to previous eras where automation might cause short-term displacement but would absorb those unemployed workers in other jobs in a booming industrial economy, today’s era of automation leaves no hope for equally good work in an economy where work itself is being phased out. There might be space for a few workers who can adapt to tech-oriented jobs, but many of these workers cannot. This will likely cause massive social problems. There simply are millions of Americans who will never go to college. They do not have that ability or desire. There has to be good jobs that pay well for them. If we get rid of all of these jobs, as it seems that we are, then what is the future for them?

This is why I think the Trump election may be seen in the future as the first of the Automation Era. The lack of economic opportunity creates desperation, hatred, and appeals to radicalism. It leads to a greater embrace of racism, ethnic nationalism, and violence. Of course Trump has no real answer for these workers in terms of reversing automation or creating a welfare state where the loss of work doesn’t matter. But he very much had an appealing message for white working class voters who long for the better days of the past mythologized or not (and it’s a little of both) in ways that include, but is not exclusive to, stable jobs that paid well and allowed the movement of workers into the middle-class. Yes, that’s racialized too. But it also doesn’t mean that they are wrong about their own position in the economy. The endless amount of data that demonstrate growing income inequality, working-class stagnation, debt, and the fact that nearly all the economic gains of the last 20 years have gone to the 1 percent are very real things. Unemployment may be low right now, but that doesn’t mean that the economy is doing well for working people of any race. It’s not. It means they can get a low-paying job. Or probably 2 or 3 of those low-paying jobs. Working on an oil rig is not a fun job. The Permian Basin in shockingly hot and awful (I would argue it is the single worst place in the United States). This is dangerous labor. There might be good reason to automate it. But it also pays well. And when you are trying to feed your family, you will sacrifice a lot to make that happen. If you don’t feel like you can feed your family, you will do anything to lash out at those who you think are causing your life’s problems. While we might want them to do that lashing at their employers, that has proven fleeting in American history. It’s going to be others they lash out against.

These are very hard questions. I don’t have all the answers. But I do know we have to find a future for working-class Americans of all races where they are paid well for dignified labor, whatever that might be. I have no problem with Universal Basic Income except that everything in American history says that people will largely reject it as a welfare program that is unrelated to work and therefore creates dependence. UBI strikes at core American mythology. So I don’t think it is feasible or even if it is, it isn’t good enough. We need a real jobs plan to put people to work. That might mean some industrial protectionism, even while we do not reject globalism in much of our society. It almost certainly means a massive green infrastructure program that ensures that our wind energy future is built from union-made, American-produced steel. That’s just a start. But we have to support and articulate that future. Because a world without decently-paid working-class jobs is a disastrous, awful, horrible world of massive instability. You don’t want to live in that version of the United States. And you are just beginning to find out why.

In a related point, you may also find this interesting, but I found it kind of wanky.

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  • NeonTrotsky

    Honestly, if a UBI strikes at the core of American mythology about work, then surely so must the kind of mass automation you’re talking about.

    • Why? When have Americans ever rejected the automation of work? Never. There’s no doubt many reasons for that, but one of them is that Americans generally believe capitalists should be able to do more or less what they want to do.

      • NeonTrotsky

        When millions of truck drivers are put out of work in the coming decades due to self-driving cars I just don’t see how anyone will be able to credible blame that on black people or immigrants. I’m not naive enough to think these people will magically become liberals, but assuming the government remains at least vaguely democratic people aren’t going to vote to starve themselves to death.

        • Nobdy

          Blacks and Mexicans are taking all the jobs is not a philosophy that requires a specific job that’s being taken nor one that requires a lot of empirical evidence.

          People won’t vote to starve themselves to death but they WILL vote to starve others. That’s what’s so scary about the ethnonationalism now. We tell ourselves “Well the constitution and the social contract will prevent the government from ACTUALLY only distributing food/money/work to whites and withholding it from others” but those things only hold while there is popular buy-in. One need only look at places like Iraq where legally Sunni and Shiite are supposed to both be protected by the government equally but in fact that is not the case. Or the Sudan. Or wherever.

          • Dilan Esper

            I suspect you’ll see some of both.

            The white working class is perfectly capable of demanding welfare (remember “keep your hands off my Medicare!”?). At the same time, they will also focus plenty of ire on immigrants and foreigners and minorities, as they always do.

          • Brien Jackson

            I don’t know: Trucking is a pretty visible industry by its nature, and if there are literally no jobs available because of self-driving trucks, that’s going to be pretty evident. The people who load and unload trucks will know, people who see the trucks driving down the road, and there will no doubt be A TOOOOOOON of major news stories on it.

        • Timurid

          assuming the government remains at least vaguely democratic

          That’s the whole point of Trump. Elites believe that developments like those discussed in this thread will make democracy unsustainable (for them) and want to move things in a more authoritarian direction. Trump, as badly flawed as he is, is the only national politician with the balls to be King. All of the others just wanted to be President.

          • humanoid.panda

            That’s the whole point of Trump. Elites believe that developments like those discussed in this thread will make democracy unsustainable (for them) and want to move things in a more authoritarian direction. Trump, as badly flawed as he is, is the only national politician with the balls to be King. All of the others just wanted to be President.

            You do realize there is zero evidence any elites, republican elites included, particularly wanted to Trump to be president, right? I mean, a lot of them came around when he became the nominee, but practically no one of any financial standing was behind him initially, and he got massively outspent in the general. Not everything happens because the Koch Brothers wish it so.

            • aturner339

              I’d have to agree. Trump is a poor representation of the “republican elite”.

              He is a walking avatar of the GOP base tho.

              • humanoid.panda

                Right- to an extent, he could serve as proof that as long as American have the right to vote, elites can’t really impose their will on the public without any potential backlash.

                • Phil Perspective

                  … elites can’t really impose their will on the public without any potential backlash.

                  Yes, they can. They’ve bought off both parties after all.

                • humanoid.panda

                  God, you are a moron.

                • NoMoreAltCenter

                  Yeah. Trump refreshingly points to the idea that the elites don’t always get their way, exactly. Hillary was absolutely the Ruling Class Chosen One of this election cycle.

                  Unfortunately, he is still EMINENTLY suitable for their purposes.

                • ColBatGuano

                  God, you are a moron.

                  You appear to be a rational sandwich between two slices of shitbread.

        • Emmryss

          The point is it doesn’t matter how”democratic” the government is or isn’t when it comes to issues like these. What matters is who controls the economy aka the means of production and if it’s in the hands of private enterprise aka capitalists then they’ll make their decisions based on whatever will maximize their profit. And if UBI strikes at the core of American mythology about work, what about worker control of the enterprises in which they work, or worker control of their own futures? Though why that should seem so threatening when it is in fact emancipatory baffles me to this day.

          • humanoid.panda

            Interesting take. It explains perfectly while the entire world operates under the rules of Galt’s Gulch, and no welfare measure was ever implemented anywhere.

    • Honestly, if a UBI strikes at the core of American mythology about work…

      There will be no UBI, not now, not ever. We will be lucky by the end of this term to have Social Security. If anything, there will be a two-tiered society: a society of the uber-rich who will be taken care of by their autonomous machines, and the rest of us who will be bartering for goods or whatever is left once the economy collapses and we are left to fend for ourselves. The Republican elite is merely doing what they can to make sure they have rooms on the mothership before the ladder gets pulled up.

      • wca

        If anything, there will be a two-tiered society: a society of the uber-rich who will be taken care of by their autonomous machines, and the rest of us who will be bartering for goods or whatever is left once the economy collapses and we are left to fend for ourselves.

        This wasn’t supposed to happen until the 26th century.

      • NoMoreAltCenter

        I am the kind of dumbass who wishes we had a party that would fight that sort of development.

        • Abbey Bartlet

          We do.

          • efgoldman

            We do.

            Well, you and I do, and millions of our fellow citizen do, but NMAC is too fucking pure for the likes of us.
            He just complains that we’re DOING IT RRRROOOONNNNNGG!! Without ever joining up to try to make it better, or suggesting any kind of reachable, doable, realistic solution.

            Assholes like NMAC and Phil are like baseball fans who always know how to manage a game better than the actual manager.

    • grytafey

      I also don’t think UBI strikes at that core mythology, because most mythology is funded by corporations. Corporations are going to quickly realize that UBI is good for them, when they start paying attention to University of Chicago law professors, which they always do.

      In his Chicago’s Best Idea lecture this year, Saul Levmore talked about “Carrots and Sticks”. Around 37 minutes in, he recognized that the UBI allows more sticks, because there is more money that corporations can get in court against poor people.

      Unless our civil legal system is radically reformed (meaning collecting data about outcomes of cases in a systemic way), UBI just means being able to collect on default judgments.

  • Gregor Sansa

    Green jobs isn’t a permanent solution, but it could be a hell of a good temporary one. But of course nothing’s getting solved for another 3.9 years. (I don’t actually expect Trump to last, but getting him out solves nothing.)

  • Cheerfull

    A UBI is a proposal by future presidential also ran, Hamon of the Socialist Party in France, but to be limited at least initially only to ages 18-25. I wonder if in the U.S. a basic income that was similarly age limited ( and might include higher guaranteed SS at an early age) could better coexist with the American mythology of work – you get to spend some time in your youth trying to put together a worthwhile career, and after giving it a go for a period, can stop struggling while you’re still not too old.

    • Brett

      I’d expect UBI to show up in Europe first, with the US going for a Job Guarantee instead. I used to think that the US would go for some hodge-podge mix of jobs programs and welfare assistance, but we seem to be hitting the Twilight of the Wonks in the Democratic Party, so maybe future programs will be more straightforward.

    • NewishLawyer

      We already have a very backdoor UBI via SSDI. But this causes a lot more rage in communities than relief. Most people want to work as Erik points out. But it is what we have and there seem to be a lot of people who can theoretically work but are on SSDI because there is no work in their locations and it is cheaper to keep them on SSDI than to move them.

  • Nobdy

    There’s one clear disconnect in this post that isn’t explored (though you have discussed it in the past.)

    There’s not a jobs problem per se. As you point out unemployment is low and there are sometimes multiple jobs for individual people. The problem is that the jobs don’t pay well, so they don’t satisfy people’s needs.

    If UBI won’t work for cultural reasons (I am not 100% convinced; cultures change and sometimes fast, especially under pressure) then isn’t the answer…to take all these low paying jobs and make them medium paying or high paying jobs?

    Society is aging. We need more home health aides and similar workers to help our older, sicker, population. Robots can’t really do this, partially because the work is complex and varied (Robots are really good at doing a single thing efficiently but not good at all at doing lots of things adequately) and partially because the work is, in part, emotional. A robot may one day be able to help an old person get to the bathroom and clean themselves, but we are nowhere near having that same robot be able to cheer that person up when they’re sad or know when to take them out for a walk.

    I think government hiring and infrastructure work is part of the solution, but a large part also has to be taking low paid service jobs (often ‘women’s work’) and making them higher paid and higher status. If society has unmet needs that people can fill then we don’t have a lack of work problem, we have a work value problem.

    American society is obsessed with ‘efficiency’ and profit and all that jazz. Those are values that will naturally drive wages down and promote automation and the concentration of wealth. We need to shift the thinking about work and compensation. Maybe UBI won’t be acceptable but the government subsidizing work with wage supports and the like will?

    If we don’t succeed in changing the conversation in at least some way then things will just get worse. Industrial protectionism is a dead end in my opinion. It’s an inefficient form of subsidy with a lot of collateral consequences. We’re much better off just straight up subsidizing work that needs to be done rather than artificially creating makework through weird market manipulation.

    • NickFlynn

      This is pretty close to my take on this issue.

      Vastly more progressive taxation supporting a much more robust set of government services, policies that protect workers and drive higher wages(minimum wage, support for unions), macroeconomic management that prioritizes high employment, more support for high education, a commitment to infrastructure spending, all that sort of European social democratic thing.

      Higher education is not for everyone, but color me deeply skeptical that we couldn’t dramatically raise American higher education rates.

      Also, put me in the Atrios camp as being pretty skeptical of the speed and success of these automation efforts in the short to medium term. Lots of these nightmare scenarios (robot truckers) are not really on the immediate horizon.

      • BigHank53

        … we couldn’t dramatically raise American higher education rates.

        Which will be instantly countered by credential inflation or extending adjuntification to other areas of employment. Instantly.

        • mojrim

          This is exactly what has already happened with US tertiary education so there is every reason to believe it can only be accelerated by increasing attendance. Making more (engineers, nurses, etc…) doesn’t make more jobs in those fields. In fact, over the past 20 years, 60% of the increases in enrollment have placed people in fields that DOL considers non-degree. All we managed with this mad rush to the academy is increasing competition (and thus suppressing wages) almost across the board.

      • Domino

        Wouldn’t the US then reflect Western European States more? I.E. An unemployment rate higher than what people would probably like but a more robust welfare state?

    • humanoid.panda

      Absolutely right. As Erik knows better than anyone, the idea that manufacturing jobs are “good” is not some kind of law of nature. It’s a product of specific historical circumstances, which could be reproduced if the balance of political forces was right. Additionally, a good argument could be made that a greeter position at Walmart both requires higher cognitive skills and is less prone to automation than a produciton line job. It’s just that production line workers (used to) have power, and Wal Mart greeters never did.

    • Rob in CT

      Are you thinking of a significant EITC expansion here?

    • Uneekness

      Yeah, the nut of it in the short term is the “good job” problem. THere was a time when industrial work was shit work, good only for immigrants and displaced women and children. Real men had farms or ranches – i.e., independence. It took a lot of slogging on the cultural fronts by the labor movement and allied intellectuals to create “the dignity of work” around those industrial jobs, in order to build additional reasoning for why they should pay well.

      It’s going to take more than $15/hr to make service work be seen to have value – its going to take a cultural understanding that doing the work – any work – has more value than we ascribe to it. These jobs used to mean “you must not be able to get better work”, now that they are the only work they need to be elevated.

      BUT … if we really are entering an economy where automation and near-intelligent software is rolling up all of the jobs, then the whole idea of “work” giving value and dignity to human existence needs to be changed. Wasn’t that always the point of utopian sci-fi? That someday, we wouldn’t have to work at all?

    • Brett

      Maybe UBI won’t be acceptable but the government subsidizing work with wage supports and the like will?

      In the US, probably. I think western and northern European countries will probably just go for the UBI, like how most or all of them have universal health care.

      That will be a big political fight if or when we do a Job Guarantee. There will be a lot of pressure to turn the program into a subsidy for private sector work, especially in conservative states (like how many of them want to turn their Medicaid programs into vouchers to buy private insurance). People who want the work to be done by the public sector will have to fight hard for it.

    • epidemiologist

      I agree. I think these types of jobs can become coded male, or male enough, if the pay and the respect are there.

      In health and human services, there are safety and financial reasons to support this as well. Among people interested in home health care and its patients and workers, there is a common perception that better training and pay would not only improve conditions for workers but reduce the risk of neglect and abuse of patients. Workers themselves are at risk of occupational injury under current conditions where they are often un- or under-trained and overworked.

      Some observers have also argued that it is more cost effective, in addition to more humane, to facilitate living at home or in the least institutionalized setting possible among people with chronic health problems and disabilities. (This will include nearly all of us at some point). I think the logic is that institutions can avoid budgeting for and providing a level of care that is not needed by all of their residents. Certainly living in the community is preferable to most people. Yet this arrangement also creates demand for in-home and traveling help. Not all of these workers need to be particularly highly trained or paid to be a huge improvement over the current situation.

      Reforming and enforcing overtime rules would also be a wide-ranging solution. I’m sure I’m not the only professional who spends part of their day doing stuff that could be done by any high school graduate with knowledge of how to behave in an office. Right now many companies get that work from their salaried employees for free by appealing to our professional pride or our organizational mission and encouraging us to make it work. Yet email and Google Calendar haven’t actually made that work frictionless, and it would be much more efficient to have someone else do it– if the work weren’t free. Health care organizations are starting to act on this with part of doctors’ work (e.g. physician assistants, advanced practice nurses, scribes).

  • The problem with automation today is that as opposed to previous eras where automation might cause short-term displacement but would absorb those unemployed workers in other jobs in a booming industrial economy, today’s era of automation leaves no hope for equally good work in an economy where work itself is being phased out.

    The point I try to make with those who want their driverless cars is that the goal of creating driverless cars is not driverless cars, but the creation of autonomous machines that will be used to put vast numbers of people out of work. The driverless cars are merely sugar coating on the poison pill.

    • No Longer Middle Aged Man

      Regarding that same exact quoted passage, it also seems to run counter to Marx’s “reserve army of the unemployed.” And to experience almost everywhere where agriculture moved from small holders, tenant farmers and/or sharecroppers growing mostly food consumption crops to more centrally managed agriculture estates, including mechanization and often involving a shift to export crops. The displaced former agricultural workers made for burgeoning cities throughout developing countries (aka “emerging markets”) and no way most of them found industrial employment in the short to medium term.

      I’m not disputing that we (USA) need planning about how to adjust labor markets for ongoing tech change and automation, just that Erik’s description about the past doesn’t seem to be fully accurate. It probably is the case for what happened in the USA in the late 19th through early-mid 20th century but it’s not universal.

      • My personal opinion is that it is dangerous to look back a past technological advances as a primer for how truly autonomous machines will affect our society when they come out in the near future. Previous technological advances destroyed one sector while advancing others. What we are talking about with autonomous machines is the potential destruction of all employment sectors. There won’t be anything for workers to move to because the machines will be used to do it all.

        Probably the closest historical context is the Antebellum South, where plantation owners utilized slaves for production, where wealth was highly concentrated with the plantation owners because they owned both capital and labor, and most of the rest were miserably poor.

  • timb

    I asked this on Twitter and I’m interested

    When the rich folks automate the entire middle class, who do they suppose will buy all the stuff their robots make?.

    Who knew Vonnegut was a prophet?

    • Nobdy

      I don’t understand why this question exists.

      Either they’ll sell to other rich people or nobody will buy things and the robots will just create the things their masters need, a post-scarcity economy for the rich.

      The idea that selling to the mass market is necessary to build wealth is predicated on the idea that the masses have the majority of the resources. You can make a LOT of money just selling to the very rich.

      Heck much of urban construction these days ignores the poor and middle class entirely and business is booming. There is absolutely no economic need to have a large number of people buy your products. You just need enough people with enough money.

      • timb

        At some point, the rich have what they need, i.e., they don’t need 2 Manhattan apartments.

        To sell services, you don’t need a mass market. To sell things, you do. Apple is the wealthiest corporation on Earth, because they opened up their gadgets to the middle class, not because only rich people have Iwatches

        • Nobdy

          So they won’t sell things anymore? Or they will invent new things to sell that are very expensive like yachts? Or economic growth will slow?

          How is this a problem? It is only an issue if you are a rich manufacturer of mass market goods. And even then the only cost is stagnation.

          If you are saying that it would be better for some rich people, economically, to have a wealthier large middle class, that is true, but so what?

        • humanoid.panda

          I’d argue that in the real existing context of the American economy ,you really do need mass market for services. Starbucks is not going to retool itself to selling coffee with molten gold leaf…

          • Zamfir

            Seriously, why not? You can find coffee corners at every price point. For many people, Starbucks is already on the extravagant side, that doesn’t stop it from existing.

            If inequality keeps growing, Starbucks (or competitors) will move towards a more expensive concept serving less people. More space per customer, less waiting time, better service, better furnishing, special interior design for every location, a wider variety of beverages made to more exacting standards.

            • humanoid.panda

              Thing is that if you look at the history of Starbucks, it represents an expansion of certain idea of luxury to a wider audience. It could be that it will reverse itself, but mass marketing is in its DNA.

              I mean, what you describe is a classical European coffee shop – which was a very nice business, but never had the size, clout or profits of Starbucks..

        • Brett

          What makes you think the mass market will go away? The Middle Class aren’t the only buyers in the mass market – the poor and working-class buy a considerable amount of goods and services as a group (even if their individual purchases are small). Robotics, if anything, should make selling to very “cost-conscious” consumers much easier.

          • pianomover

            Workers being pushed out by automation (especially older workers) are going to wise up acquire a chronic pain and have themselves placed on SSI, becoming permanent wards of the state they despise.
            The despair and addiction of the Midwest will be the dominant culture of this great country in no time.

    • Timurid

      The endgame is the rich alone with their robots and their concubines.

      • Nobdy

        their robots and their concubines.

        who are also, maybe, robots?

        • Dennis Orphen

          Precious Metals.

      • N__B

        Why would the rich buy concubines for their robots?

        • Nobdy

          Haven’t you seen Futurama? If you want to keep Bender happy and productive he is going to need blackjack AND hookers, or he will go someplace that has those things.

          • Domino

            In fact, forget the Blackjack!

        • rea

          They will buy sexbots for themselves, and no one will complain that the sexbots are underaged.

          • Joseph Slater

            This is like the third LGM comment thread in as many days that has drifted into “Penthouse Letters” territory.

            This observation is descriptive only, not normative.

            • N__B

              “Dear Penthouse:

              I never thought this would happen to me, but I was reading an LGM comment thread…”

    • When the rich folks automate the entire middle class, who do they suppose will buy all the stuff their robots make?

      The purpose of autonomous machines and AI is for the super-rich to finally separate themselves from that. They will wall themselves off behind their robot servants and the rest of us will just fight it out for the scraps, Elysium style. The robots will be their guards and will be used to manufacture the stuff the rich will need for their survival, not ours.

      • Gregor Sansa

        But Moore’s law is already broken by the fact that modern chip fabs require economies of scale of the scale of the world economy. If you take out the “stuff for the middle class”, that scale is unsustainable.

        Imagine a world where robots can do most jobs, and two subsets of this world, one where the middle class is mercilessly left out to dry, and the other where there is some kind of policy that artificially keeps those people with a middle-class mindset. I think that the artificial jobs policy could have huge inefficiencies and the latter society would still be more dynamic over the medium to long run.

        That doesn’t mean that it’s an inevitable outcome. The evil rich will be trying to take over both societies and they may manage to do so. But it does mean that if we keep up the fight, we are not guaranteed to lose.

        • I don’t think the rich will be trying to take over our society. I think they will try to wall off Richistan from our society, or whatever is left of it.

          Up until the advent of autonomous machines, the rich had to have us around because someone had to do the labor. Economies for centuries have been an offshoot of that need. When they can replace human labor with machines that they own, they will have no more need for us. They could just as easily shoot out a virus that kills off 99% of the rest of humanity and they would consider themselves better off because of it.

          • Gregor Sansa

            My picture was of two societies; one of which has Richistan, wall, Pooristan, while one of them — let’s call it “Zanzibar” — has kept a functioning middle class. I was saying that the rich would constantly be trying to take over Zanzibar and build more walls, but that overall Zanzibar would tend to be more prosperous. That means a constant struggle against the wall-builders and to make other places more Zanzibarian, a struggle that could be lost at any moment, but because Zanzibar is more dynamic, it’s not necessarily a struggle that will be lost in the long term with probability 1. It could be like self-sustaining inflationary cosmology; where we live in a world of temporary victories and permanent defeats, but because of growth defeat is never total.

            • John Brunner was nothing if not a visionary. I found “The Sheep Look Up” to be quite prophetic.

  • Frank Wilhoit

    The Automation Era began with the invention of the steam engine. The steam engine invalidated, utterly and at once, the notion that everyone must work, as some kind of undefinable moral obligation. We (the entire civilized world) have spent the past two centuries and more trying to pretend that this did not happen. We will now spend more time — as much as we have left — pretending; anything to avoid engaging with reality.

    • Brett

      It goes back earlier than that, to water mills in the Classical Era and water/wind power in the Medieval Period. There was even a claim that the Emperor Vespasian rejected some piece of new technology proposed by one of his engineers because it would have reduced labor for his slaves (whether that’s actually true or not, it shows that this was a thing people thought about). Wherever people can’t compel other people to do back-breaking work for them, they start using machines whenever possible.

      What we have failed to completely deal with during the rise of industrialization and urbanization was the loss of the implicit “safety net” of agriculture. If you were a landowning farmer with minimal debt, then you could survive economic calamity without starvation and homelessness even if it meant you were living very austerely. The existing safety net isn’t a true substitute, with many falling through (although it’s much better in most European countries than here). Something like a Job Guarantee or Basic Income would be a true substitute.

      • kvs

        What we’ve failed to do is decide that anyone but owners and investors should directly reap the benefits of increased productivity.

      • sonamib

        Arguably Ancient Rome had the technology to make steam engines. But they didn’t really need steam engines, they had slave labor. If labor is abundant, there is no incentive for technological progress meant to save labor. The elites already have everything they need*.

        The automated future will only happen if the robots are so cheap that they cost less than humans, even in a mass unemployment context.

        I think a more realistic dystopia would be partial automation with low unemployment, but most workers have shitty low-paying jobs, because they’re competing with machines.

        *And that’s why I think elites in countries like Brazil aren’t interested in economic growth. They already have access both to cheap labor and high-tech products from the developed world. Economic growth in Brazil would only make the peasants more uppity, they would demand higher wages, and political power and all.

        • Brett

          They didn’t have the technology to make useful steam engines. They could make a crude steam engine, but without the ability to cast the parts that would turn the steam into useful work (particularly things like metal pistons and the like), it just wouldn’t be useful when they already had water power and abundant human and animal labor (not to mention the world’s then-best system for logistically organizing all of that).

          The ancient Romans were not averse to technology, including labor-saving technology. The surviving remains of the great water mill complexes (such as Barbegal) are a testament to that. That’s why I don’t really believe that story about Vespasian I mentioned in my comment.

          As to your broader point, I agree that we’re more likely to get partial automation with low unemployment.

          In Brazil’s case, it’s complicated because they’ve been constantly trying (and failing) to get away from an economy oriented around commodity extraction.

          • sonamib

            Interesting discussion. I’ll admit I don’t know much about the subject, just read a few blog posts here and there.

            I wouldn’t dispute the fact that the Romans had labor-saving technology. After all, they had a more sofisticated society than the ones that existed at the dawn of agriculture, a few millenia before. The point is more about the pace of technological change.

            Why did it pick up so abruptly in England, in the 1700s? If there was such a high pace of technology change in Ancient Rome, they could have made a functional steam engine in a few centuries or so. It took 1500 years instead. Why?

            I do think a big part of the explanation has to be labor costs. I’ve read somewhere that English workers were well-paid in the 1700s compared to the rest of Europe. I’m not sure why that was the case, I should definitely read more about it.

            • Taylor

              The Romans couldn’t have the industrial revolution because they didn’t have the mathematics.

              Newton had to invent calculus before you could have the industrial revolution.

              • Jon_H11

                Questionable, most early industrialism was based on empiricism more than mathematical modeling. Watt was one of the few formally trained engineers at the time, but his was really a more marginal contribution that picked up due to better craftsman and metal workers than better math.

                I’m reading Mathias’s “The First Industrial Nation” right now. It really seems like a perfect storm of culture, technology, resources, and politics that let England kick off where others didn’t.

              • David Chop

                I’m going to put on my, admittedly annoying, engineer hat for a second and say; hmm, no.

                I can build a pressure vessel (boiler) without Newton. If I want to know how much pressure that vessel can take before it explodes, then I need him, but not before. Even then I can do it with just \Sigma F\bar = 0. Don’t need the calculus.

              • N__B

                First, what Jon_H11 and David Chop said.

                Second, there are reliable engineering analysis techniques that don’t require any math beyond the basics. Graphic statics, for example. The difference between stone mensuration in the Middle Ages and graphic statics is surprisingly small.

                Third, people have this annoying habit of doing stuff and the later figuring out how they did it. The Wrights, for example, could not perform any meaningful fluid mechanics calculations.

                Finally, and most importantly, the empiricism that Jon mentioned can be incredibly accurate given time and a willingness to accept failures. Modern analysis of the stability of gothic cathedrals shows that most of the roof vaulting and buttresses have a safety factor between 2 and 3, which is in the same ballpark as modern masonry design. (A little more conservative, but not much.) And that was arrived at by trial, error, and observation.

            • Brett

              I’ve read somewhere that English workers were well-paid in the 1700s compared to the rest of Europe.

              I’ve read that one as well, and seen research papers saying that wages in London in the late 17th century were among the highest in the world.

              On the other hand, some of the more recent research seems to suggest that the immediate predecessor to textile manufacturing (the putting out system that inspired the “factory” name) involved people working for very low wages.

              Honestly, I have no idea why technology advancement sped up in the 18th century. There had been great advances in the use of wind and water power going back to the Middle Ages, so it was part of a bigger trend, but I do think it was speeding up. It could just be because literacy was far higher in 18th century Britain than anywhere in the Roman Empire outside of Italy and certain parts of the Empire, and the means for transmitting and sharing information about new advances much better because of printing presses and cheap paper.

  • Rusty SpikeFist

    Because a world without decently-paid working-class jobs is a disastrous, awful, horrible world of massive instability. You don’t want to live in that version of the United States. And you are just beginning to find out why.

    We’re just beginning to find out why? Uhhhhh…. Erik, it was your blog whose official position during the election was “Economic anxiety hahahahaLOL, yeah, like anyone cares about jobs and inequality and nonsense like that LOLOL” while you said not one word in demurral.

    Maybe you’d better be lecturing your co-bloggers like Scott and “Shakezula” instead of your readership.

    • Cheerfull

      You put a statement in quotation marks that I don’t recall actually being said on this site by Scott or Shakezula. Do you have a citation for it?

      • angrifon

        But surely you must agree that Loomis is obligated to defend an argument that he himself never made. Even if, or maybe especially since, it was never made by anyone else.

    • Thom

      First of all, see reply from Cheerfull. Second, you may not have noticed, but there is not a uniformity of opinion among the bloggers at LGM, though there are some broad overlaps.

    • witlesschum

      Worthless.

    • Rob in CT

      while you said not one word in demurral.

      It’s impressive how much bullshit you packed into a short post, but this takes the cake.

      Erik has been ripping on people for snarking about economic anxiety in thread after thread. He has been consistent: both the economic anxiety and racism/xenophobia/culture war angles matter.

      • Rusty SpikeFist

        doesn’t fit with my recollection.

        and certainly nothing on the front page that was comparable to literally dozens of posts from Scott and “Shakezula” mocking the idea that anybody in the US should feel economically insecure, or that it would possibly affect their voting behavior or attitude towards the incumbent party during a period of catastrophically declining income and living standards.

        • Cheerfull

          Could you cite one of those posts? I’d like to compare your interpretation to my own recollections.

        • FlipYrWhig

          Mocking the idea that “economic insecurity” explains Trump, not mocking the idea that there are struggling people on the receiving end of baleful economic developments. Many economically insecure people are Democrats.

        • sibusisodan

          Putting only one of the FPers names in “quotation marks” isn’t tell at all, no siree…

          • Rusty SpikeFist

            It’s not her real name.

            • Aaron Morrow

              Doesn’t give you the right to “echo-ize” her, DudeBro.

              • Rusty SpikeFist

                no idea what the fuck you’re talking about, and i’m pretty sure neither do you.

              • Abbey Bartlet

                I do know what you mean, and I don’t think it was echoizing so much as just being a dick.

              • rhino

                I can tell he’s being an asshole, but what is echo-ize?

            • sibusisodan

              Pseudonymous commenter says what?

        • Rob in CT

          Erik and his co-bloggers can disagree, “Rusty SpikeFist.”

          Second, as Erik has pointed out (but I missed), you claimed that this was during election season. But the posts fighting over the explanatory power of economic anxiety have been AFTER the election. Because that argument has been advanced to explain Trump’s win. Erik’s take has been, over and over and over again, that it’s one of the major factors.

          Third, people who are dubious about the economic anxiety argument are not making the absurd strawman argument you’ve created. They’re saying that Trump support correlates more strongly with other things (racial and/or cultural anxiety, for example) and, therefore, the economic anxiety explanation is overplayed – not that it has no explanatory power at all. These things – economic anxiety, racism/xenophobia, sexism, resentment of city folk and/or elites, fear of crime, and so on are factors in every election. The key question is whether one or more had out-sized influence on this one.

          And yeah, I think it’s likely that Trump won in part because he said some things (all the things, the best things!) about trade and immigration and thereby pressed some buttons that made people who otherwise wouldn’t have voted show up and vote for him to fix everything.

          I’m perfectly willing to believe that people feeling squeezed might be nastier about immigrants. But I’m not convinced yet that this explains the key shifts towards Trump. It’s been a long time since a Presidential candidate served that particular red meat, so nice and raw, the way Trump did. You got a bunch of scared/angry people. They might be scared in part because of economic trends. They might be scared because they, like a majority of their fellow citizens, wrongly believe crime is always getting worse (and particularly don’t much like those BLM folks and think police are unfairly maligned). The might be scared of terrorism, even though the chance of them being harmed by terrorists is essentially zero. They might be pissed because people like them are no longer the cultural center of gravity. Or combinations of these, or all of these, depending on the individual voter.

          There is one axis there – the economic anxiety one – that Bernie spoke to and got people excited about. The others, though… the key question is whether Bernie could’ve pulled people’s attention off of those and kept it on bankers and healthcare and whatnot. And that’s far from clear.

      • Abbey Bartlet

        Erik has been ripping on people for snarking about economic anxiety in thread after thread.

        Can confirm.

        • Rusty SpikeFist

          link please?

          • Abbey Bartlet

            No.

            • Rusty SpikeFist

              LOL thought as much. Thank you for admitting you were lying.

              • Cheerfull

                Can you confirm any of the claims you make about Scott and Shakezula?

              • You need citations for all the bullshit you are claiming. I’ve written at least 10 posts since the election about economic issues influencing the election. If you don’t see them, I guess we don’t have to take your bullshit about this blog being a neoliberal site seriously since evidently you don’t actually read the site.

                • Rusty SpikeFist

                  I do tend to pay more attention to posts I disagree with than ones I agree with (since I already agree with them, what am I going to gain by dwelling on them?) but I do remember a couple like this http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2016/11/the-economic-anxiety-debate which, good as far is it goes, but sort of too little and obviously too late.

                • What gets me about you is that you actually believe that St. Bernie would have solved all our problems and that by voting for Bernie, but not demonizing Clinton, even though the policy preferences of the two are quite similar on most issues, I am part of the problem. To say the least, that reflects very poorly on both your political analysis and on your judgment about how to build a party going forward.

                • Rusty SpikeFist

                  BTW, I love how you’ve put my post, which lists several examples of exactly the kind of bullshit I’m talking about from Scott and “Shakezula”, into moderation, since it would be pretty embarrassing for you and LGM’s defenders, to admit I am 100% right about how insultingly awful this blog has been on this issue.

                • Rusty SpikeFist
                • These are almost all after the election. You said it was during the election season. Prove your work.

                • sonamib

                  Posts with more than 2 links go automatically into moderation. It happened to me once. You’re not being targeted.

                • Rusty SpikeFist

                  even though the policy preferences of the two are quite similar on most issues

                  LOL you mean the policy “preferences” Clinton hurriedly and transparently insincerely converted to at the same time as declaring her candidacy, and would inevitably have dropped the moment she got elected, as Obama did with most of the progressive views he couldn’t wriggle out of being pinned down on during the 2008 election?

                • Like Bernie’s position on gun control?

                • Dennis Orphen

                  All that progressive legislation that Obama vetoed. Our system of laws and government, how does it work?

                • NoMoreAltCenter

                  Gun control shouldn’t be the basis of anything any voter ever considers if we are talking about “Things that could realistically be accomplished”

                • Unlike socialism

                • Rob in CT

                  BTW, I love how you’ve put my post, which lists several examples of exactly the kind of bullshit I’m talking about from Scott and “Shakezula”, into moderation, since it would be pretty embarrassing for you and LGM’s defenders, to admit I am 100% right about how insultingly awful this blog has been on this issue.

                  LOL.

              • Rob in CT

                Not lying, just merely unwilling to comb through comment threads to satisfy you (especially since you won’t be satisfied).

                Erik has made front-page posts too, but what Abbey and I are talking about happened in comment threads and while I may be a procrastinator who posts here too much, I simply don’t care about what you think enough to go dig them up.

                • I’m co-signing this. I distinctly remember the threads Abbey and Rob are referring to. I’m not going to go bother finding them, either, because I have better things to do than coddle a troll with a history of making bad faith arguments.

                  (I happen not even to agree with Erik that much about the economic anxiety explanation, but he doesn’t lie and make baseless attacks on others to score cheap rhetorical points, hence this post.)

  • JKTH

    UBI strikes at core American mythology. So I don’t think it is feasible or even if it is, it isn’t good enough.

    I think the second part of this is more important than the first. People have no problem with getting money for not working if they’re the ones receiving it. It’s only if others do where they have an issue. But more importantly, the UBIs I’ve seen talked about are generally not big enough to live on by themselves and in a lot of cases they aren’t intended to be. So unless we’re talking about UBIs in the tens of thousands, it’s only going to be part of the solution not a panacea.

    • Brett

      I think even Americans who do receive money for not working like to pretend that they’ve “earned it” in some way that involves working. Farmers believe they’ve “earned” the subsidies, elderly people believe they’ve “earned” Social Security and Medicare.

      • FlipYrWhig

        Agreed. If anything I’m stunned at the number of people who find _shame_ in their own “getting money for not working.”

      • JKTH

        Certainly people can rationalize things, but ultimately they just want some money handed them.

    • Most of the proposals I’ve seen have been for enough to allow a person to live austerely, because otherwise, what’s even the point? The idea is that you can spend time spinning your wheels if you need to without worrying about where food and lodgings will come from, but if you want cool stuff, you’ll have to work.

      I agree that a proposal that doesn’t allow for enough to live on is woefully inadequate as a response to automation, though.

  • burritoboy

    It’s much worse than even Loomis thinks. Absolutely everything in modernity is built on work – for instance, it’s Machiavelli’s only replacement for the masses for all the pageant, play, wastefulness and leisure built into the predecessor civilization that he wished to abolish. We’ve lost even the memory of what leisure meant.

    Earlier societies, while they didn’t usually have enough abundance for the masses or even the middling classes, if they did, they knew some ways how to channel it semi-productively (religion, the aristocratic arts, civic pageants and rituals, elaborate education, etc.)

    • Davis X. Machina

      In a society where you are what you do for a living, and you don’t do anything for a living, you’re either a millionaire, or dog food.

    • Karen24

      Perhaps it’s time to rediscover the aristocratic arts, like, say, dancing, for everyone?

      • Joseph Slater

        I’ve always wanted to try playing the lute.

        • rea

          I’ve heard Pres. Trump is a long-time luter

  • N__B

    Along with the myth of self-sufficiency that makes UBI politically difficult as a goal, we need to address the myth that efficiency is always a good idea. To use an example close to many of our hearts, let’s discuss beer. The production of Budweiser is vastly more efficient than having several hundred* microbreweries producing the same amount of beer. But the micros are not only better-tasting, they employ a lot more people in production and distribution. Economies of scale benefit the big companies more than they do anyone else.

    *Or maybe thousands. I sadly lack beer statistics at the moment.

    • Nobdy

      Hipsterism is the future! An artisanal cheese shoppe on every corner! If there is no work in building cars then let them repair fixed-wheel bicycles! Can you build an entire economy on locally sourced organic moustache wax? By god we can try. WE CAN TRY.

      In all seriousness this is, in part, the answer. There’s no limit to the amount/types of services human beings can provide for one another. The main problem is that these activities are by their nature not scalable and so not very “productive” in the economic sense. We need to decouple wages from that kind of productivity.

      It’s a much better solution than taking very productive jobs and freezing their current level of productivity by outlawing automation, thus creating a sinecure for whoever happens to have that job right now.

      • so-in-so

        There is a bit of an answer here to the issue of “the rich will sit back and have their robots make whatever they need”. I suspect for a lot of rich folks, there is little point if all the other rich folks are just as rich and can have identical things made by their robot factories. Maybe they go nuts over “antiques” or odd hand-crafts produced by a small cadre of artisans, maybe elite engineers tweaking the robots to make better products, or designers to design more aesthetic objects for the robots to produce, but I suspect they need some form of competition or dick-measuring to be happy. Otherwise, they’d have retired years ago with the vast wealth they already have that they can never fully spend.

      • humanoid.panda

        Hipsterism is the future! An artisanal cheese shoppe on every corner! If there is no work in building cars then let them repair fixed-wheel bicycles! Can you build an entire economy on locally sourced organic moustache wax? By god we can try. WE CAN TRY.

        I know you joke, but Apple and Starbucks, two of the biggest corporations out there, thrive on selling stuff that that gives the impression it could be produced more “efficiently” and sold more cheaply.

        • Nobdy

          And every Starbucks I go into is crowded with overworked batistas. So there is more work to be done there. And if Batista paid $55k with benefits it could be a solid middle class living slinging coffee.

          • humanoid.panda

            The counter-argument to this is that if we forced Starbucks to provide that, it would automate barrista jobs. But that’s absurd, because the whole value proposition of Starbucks is that it emulates a coffee shop experience.

            • nixnutz

              The irony is that the coffee shops they emulate were generally hiring only young white kids in gentrifying neighborhoods and giving them no benefits while Starbucks was providing health insurance to lots of people of color years before the ACA mandated them to. They’ve always been a particularly poor choice of corporate bogeyman.

          • Ahenobarbus

            In the not too distant future, there’s a very good chance Starbucks will all be automated. No human baristas.

            Doesn’t Japan have fully automated sushi shops already?

            • humanoid.panda

              See above. Starbucks doesn’t sell coffeee. Starbucks sells an idea of a coffeeshop.

            • Aexia

              If I want a machine to make my coffee, I can do that already.

            • rhino

              Not ones you would actually want to eat at.

              You can make human fuel with robots. You cannot make ‘food’ with robots. Mcdonalds can’t automate their garbage food production, and you think one of the most demanding of all the culinary specialties can be done by robots?

      • kvs

        It’s Rawls’ theory of justice as fairness. There are probably only a handful of end-state options since it’s basically eliminating the idea of value from work. You can implement UBI which is extreme because it potentially rewards not working. Another option is a universal hourly wage which is extreme because it caps earnings and values all work equally. You could also have a heavily regulated economy where the minimum wage is set high enough to be a living wage with price controls in place to prevent inflation and exploitative rent-seeking–which offends free market, capitalist profit-seeking sensibilities.

        These are obviously something like the ideal solutions for achieving equality if we were starting from scratch. But between here, with people wanting to preserve their known advantages, and there is a lot of resistance.

  • Bloix

    Oh, my, there won’t be enough mind-numbing assembly line jobs in the future! Dean Baker has been mocking this argument for a long time – productivity increases have actually slowed:

    “[P]roductivity growth has fallen from nearly 3.0 percent annually from 1995 to 2005, to less than 1.0 percent over the last decade. We’ve actually seen negative growth over the last two years.”

    http://cepr.net/blogs/beat-the-press/the-answer-to-slow-productivity-growth-shorter-workdays

    And as the population ages, there will be fewer workers to be absorbed into the work force. Oh my goodness! There won’t be enough workers, and also there won’t be any work for them! Wait, what?

    The problem we have now is a lack of demand created by austerity measures and an over-valued dollar, which the mainstream media conveniently blames on automation.

    But maybe we are on the cusp of a major leap forward in productivity so that we will be swimming in heaps of consumer goods that no one had to work to produce. This is a problem? It’s the easiest technical problem that any government has ever had to face, except that the ideology of the billionaires won’t let us solve it. How about (the numbers are more or less arbitrary, but you get the idea):

    – a 6-hour work-day, with mandatory double-time for overtime for anyone earning under $75,000
    – four weeks of paid vacation for all workers, and a six-month sabbatical every seven years
    – medicare for all, including dental, mental health, and nursing home care
    – retirement at 62 with social security enough to live on
    – government investment in infrastructure so that we have the best transportation, water and sewer, and public wifi networks in the world
    – all public schools having classes no larger than 15 students, and every school with a librarian, a music teacher, and a coach
    – Etc = whatever you wish!

    So now tell me “we can’t afford it.” Yes, we will be so productive that the cost of making goods will go almost to zero, and we will be too poor to pay home health aides to care for the very old.

    This so-called problem is a bullshit problem. The problem is that all the increased value from robot automation is flowing to billionaires to buy private jets to fly from their mansions to their private Caribbean islands. It’s a political problem, not a technological problem.

    • Nobdy

      Yup. This is the answer.

      It’s impossible to run out of work. The right wing has seized control of the conversation through propaganda so thoroughly that even lefties are having the discussion in right wing terms.

      • SIS1

        “It’s impossible to run out of work.”

        “work” is defined as paid labor, and there is a point at which those “willing and able” to pay stop demanding more paid labor.

        • rhino

          You operate from the assumption that the wealthy will be permitted to keep their capital in the face of world economic collapse.

          They may try, but 8 billion poor people will eventually defeat 50 thousand rich ones.

          • I’d like to think this would be the case, but it’s difficult to know what kind of technological advances might be on the horizon that could be used to prevent this. It’s one reason I find the increasing wealth gaps so alarming: if the wealth gap is accompanied by a gap in distribution of technology, that could make it ultimately impossible for the poor of the world to overcome the latter.

    • NickFlynn

      This gets at the core of the issue – the problem isn’t technology or economics – it is fundamentally a political problem.

      This is my core objection to the people pushing the UBI – that idea is so far out of the mainstream of American politics and would require such an upheaval of the existing order, when the problems it is trying to solve can in fact be addressed with much more incremental changes.

      • humanoid.panda

        Is the UBI really that much more out left field in American politics than Medicare++, six hour workday, and retirement at 62?

        • FlipYrWhig

          WAY more. You’re paying people for doing nothing. All the other things you just described adhere to a logic of hard work and earned benefits, not no work and freebies.

          • humanoid.panda

            I think that anyone alive during the health care debates would deem the notion that universal health care is something all Americans line behind is somewhat suspect.

            • FlipYrWhig

              Fair enough. But even something THAT little embraced is FAR MORE embraceable than UBI, or, at worst, on par, because the breaking point is the association with unearned “welfare.”

              • humanoid.panda

                That’s the key issue here though: the ACA was deemed “welfare” because it took from the deserving (Medicare recipients) and gave to the non-deserving (younger people)- in popular mythology ,at least. Would something truly universal- say a 50,000 deposit into an account of every citizen baby, would be deemed welfare?

                • FlipYrWhig

                  Yes. It would immediately become OMG THE BLACKS ARE SPENDING IT ON GOLD TEETH AND FAKE NAILS

                • humanoid.panda

                  And if and when it passed, that grumbling would go nowhere, because whites would be enjoying it too.

                • Domino

                  Yes, yes it would. Because Breitbart and Fox would supply an endless amount of stories about individual people who are lazy moochers who have no desire to get a job and are perfectly content to live their current lives until they die.

                • humanoid.panda

                  Passing UBI would be difficult due to such stories, sure. But the notion that people would vote themselves out of money they already receive is kinda baseless. See under: Social Security and Medicare.

                • FlipYrWhig

                  People on disability complain about undeserving people on disability, and some public employees are the biggest anti-government wingnuts around. It doesn’t adhere to logic. Social Security and Medicare fall under the “earned” category because recipients consider themselves from the generation that toiled virtuously. UBI would have to have some sort of work requirement for any significant number of Republicans to even begin to countenance it. Otherwise it’ll be viewed as welfare for goldbrickers, scammers, ne’er-do-wells, and weaklings.

                • I think this really depends upon the circumstances in which it were implemented. Real-life places that have tried UBI have found that the only people who stopped working at any statistically significant rate were students and new mothers. Otherwise people would take time off between jobs if they needed to, but most people ultimately elected to go back to work because it turns out most people aren’t happy doing nothing. People like to feel productive.

                  So if this were implemented close to an election season and then repealed, then yeah, the Faux News/Reichfart spin would become the dominant narrative. If the Dems just said fuck it and passed it the next time they regain the presidency and both houses of Congress without regard for the political consequences, there would in all likelihood be four years before the Republicans would have a chance to repeal it, and by that time there’d be enough evidence to suggest that the vast majority of people weren’t using it as an excuse to sit around doing nothing, because as it turns out sitting around doing nothing isn’t a recipe for happiness.

                  Of course, this won’t penetrate the skulls of Reichfart readers, but we can win elections without them. And, of course, once a measure that helps people is passed, it’s very difficult to muster the political support to get rid of it.

                  Another reason to favour UBI is that it increases the bargaining power of workers immeasurably. When you aren’t beholden to a job for a roof over your head, it gives you the power to tell asshole bosses to fuck off. It’s difficult to overstate how important that is.

          • rhino

            But you don’t have to ‘pay them for doing nothing’. You can assign them 200sq feet of a local park, which they have to pick the litter off, weed, and care for.

            Or give them a job cuddling kittens at the spca. Or any of a million other tasks which can be used as justification for the money.

            • pseudalicious

              Wait. Free money and a kitten-cuddling job? rhino for President!

    • sonamib

      – a 6-hour work-day, with mandatory double-time for overtime for anyone earning under $75,000
      – four weeks of paid vacation for all workers, and a six-month sabbatical every seven years

      […]

      – retirement at 62 with social security enough to live on

      Yes, yes, yes. Why the hell is a reduction in working hours NOT a standard part of the solution. Americans are overworked anyway, and might become less resentful if they get more free time to enjoy life, instead of complaining that others don’t work as hard as they do.

      • FlipYrWhig

        Working harder and more thanklessly is the consummate American bourgeois-capitalist virtue. I wouldn’t bet on Americans making any choice that involves becoming less resentful or enjoying life more.

        • sonamib

          To be fair, Germans do work little compared to the OECD average, and they’re still resentful of all those lazy Southern Europeans. Maybe resentfulness is a given, and won’t change.

      • N__B

        I blame the protestant work ethic.

        • JustRuss

          Yeah, that’s definitely a thing, and given how much more religious the US is compared to Europe it does a lot to explain why we can’t have nice things like health care, vacations, pensions, etc. And of course it dovetails nicely with the desires of our plutocrats.

        • kvs

          Specifically the Puritans.

          • Jake the antisoshul soshulist

            That is why there will always be sinecures for those who promote it.
            A large portion of the American populace is so invested in PWE that you would have a hell of a time convincing them that it was a joint invention by the clergy and the aristocracy to get the peasants to work harder.

    • Rob in CT

      Yes, but it’s a HUGE political problem.

      Re: the 6-hour work day, that’s a lovely idea that I’d fully support. But Keynes thought we’d be there decades ago and we aren’t even now.

      The reason we “can’t afford it” is, of course, that we won’t tax the megawealthy (and just wealthy, and even the merely pretty affluent) enough to cover it. [Insert objection from MMTers here about how we don’t actually need tax revenue to do things].

      • sonamib

        The average German worker only works 1370 hours per year*. If you assume 6 weeks vacations**,

        1370 h / (52 – 6) weeks = 30h/week (more or less)

        Amazing, right? And they’re a developed country, with all the comforts of modern life. They don’t even have that many taxes as a proportion of GDP : 40.6% to the US´s 36%.

        Would it really be that hard to tell the American population : “you’ve worked hard, you deserve more vacations, you deserve free time to enjoy life”? Obviously it doesn’t need to be done right now since the unemployment rate is so low, but surely that can’t be a hard sell if the time comes?

        *while Americans workers work 1790 hours. Belgians are in the middle, in the 1500ish range.

        **nice, isn’t it

        EDIT: And the Germans also have a “work is noble” culture. They pretend they work extra-hard when actually they work the less hours in all of the OECD countries. If they can be fooled into thinking they work hard, surely American workaholics can also be fooled.

        • Rob in CT

          Yes.

          Liberals have been saying hey, let’s be a bit more like Western Europe (Bernie picked Denmark, IIRC, while others point to Scandanvia, France or Germany, sometimes even the UK). We occasionally move a bit in that direction, so I’m not saying it’s hopeless, but the political obstacles are formidable.

          • FlipYrWhig

            Especially because “America becoming like Greece,” to wit, being filled with too many layabouts living free and easy to the point where it crashes the economy, is something right-wingers think is already happening.

            • sonamib

              Funnily enough, the Greeks who do work, work an awful lot. 2000+ hours, as per my link upthread. That might be part of why they have such large unemployment.

              • Rob in CT

                My (admittedly very limited) understanding is that Greece’s problems are basically all about corruption (including widespread tax evasion), not laziness.

                • so-in-so

                  The right-wingers refuse to admit it’s the tax-cheats, and they’re solution is to not expect people with wealth to pay ANY taxes anyway… that way they aren’t cheating! Once again, it’s projection. “We’ll be like Greece!” all the while moving us deliberately in that direction;

                • sonamib

                  Yes, I believe poor institutions are a big part of the problems. I know the Troïka asked for a lot of reforms to fight corruption in their “rescue” plans. It could have done Greece some good if those reasonable demands were not coupled with monstruous austerity. Oh well.

                • GCarty

                  Greece is also impoverished by its geography: its mainland is too mountainous to allow for efficient economic development, and its multitude of islands in the Aegean Sea demand a big defense budget. Modern Greece was only economically viable as an independent state for as long as it was propped up by an outside patron (the USA during the Cold War or the British Empire before that).

              • Ronan

                Aren’t long Greek work hours partly explained by the (relative) underdevelopment of the greek economy, ie proportionately more small (often family) businesses where people tend to work longer (though not necessarily more productive) hours?

                • Ronan

                  Googled it. Don’t know how good this site is, but looks legit:

                  http://lolgreece.blogspot.ie/2015/04/on-greek-working-hours-and-structural.html

                • sonamib

                  The article also mentions low development of part-time work, and low female participation in the labor market, which means that the men often do all the paid work (and the women all the unpaid work). In any case, for whatever reason, work appears to be an all-or-nothing affair in Greece, and that can’t be good.

                • Ronan

                  You know a bit about French politics, dont you?

                  How do you think this should be interpreted?

                  https://twitter.com/GoodwinMJ/status/834075671097905152

                  bad for Le Pen because she doesnt pick up enough transfers in the next round?

                • sonamib

                  It’s bad mostly because it will be Fillon vs Le Pen in the second round. Le Pen would lose, Fillon would be the lesser evil, but he’s still a horrible racist who glorifies the French colonial past, and who plans to implement a massive austerity plan which will dwarf whatever Hollande has done until now.

                  At this point I’m hoping Macron makes the second round. With him, we get a lot less racism and austerity than with Fillon, so that’s a win. But I don’t know how much he’ll be able to accomplish, since he’s not affiliated to ANY party, and he will need Parliament to form a government.

                  There’s also the background fear that Le Pen will win, but that’s pretty unlikely. It could still happen if she faces Fillon in the second round since :

                  1. Fillon is scandal-ridden
                  2. Fillon is right-wing, so the second round would be right vs far-right, which will hardly motivate left-wingers to go to the polls.

                  Still, it’s unlikely. Reasonable French voters have proven again and again that they will crawl through broken glass to vote against Le Pen.

                • Didn’t this already happen once with Chirac against Le Pen père? I seem to remember as much.

                • sonamib

                  Yeah, Chirac got 80% of the vote, despite the fact that the left hated him. (And still does)

                  And, more recently, in the regional elections, Le Pen’s party got a plurality of votes in the first round, in a lot of different regions… But they lost every single one of those elections in the second round. They couldn’t get a majority in any region.

                • That amuses me greatly. Hopefully the French won’t repeat our (and Britain’s) stupid mistake, then.

                • Ronan

                  thanks sonamib, that makes sense (for some reason i had it wrong, thinking this was good for Macron)

          • humanoid.panda

            I do wonder what would happen if the next time Dems are in power, they just go ahead and do it: have a legislative package ready, suspend filbuster, and just forge ahead with an array of policies improving workers’ lots, all passed within a 2 week period. Kinda like Scott Walker, but in reverse. I have a strong sense that if there is not time for opposition to develop a storyline about socialism ,those measures would be very popular.

            • Rob in CT

              The storyline would develop overnight (I mean, come on, it already exists on the shelf) and 40-45% of the population would believe it.

              That said, yes, that’s exactly what Democrats should do. It’s worth a try!

              • sonamib

                Yes. It needs to be part of the conversation, it’s not impossible! After all, people did manage to get the work week down to 40 hours in the past, even in the US. Surely it must be possible to reduce it further.

                • so-in-so

                  By massive strikes, literally dying for it in some cases, and during a period of progressive advancement as a better alternative to communist revolution; right?

                  Meanwhile, the hours worked have been creeping up again as people fill-in for laid-off co-workers who are never replaced (because they obviously were not necessary if the business survives their being gone, somehow).

              • humanoid.panda

                Thing is that I think if there is one thing we learned about American voters in the last 8 years is that they hate change, but also don’t like to change things back. So they hated the ACA, but don’t like repeal; disliked Walker’s anti-union stuff, but didn’t like idea of replacing him. All this leads to the conclusion that you just need to do things fast, before opposition has chance to organize, and take your lumps and go home with a policy achievement.

                • Domino

                  Pretty much – it’s been proven that people will fight much harder to not lose a benefit than they will to gain one. Look at the ACA – will Republicans get rid of the lifetime cap on limits? What about people currently covered under the Medicaid expansion?

                  These questions are much, much thornier than “How many people will benefit from this?”

            • FlipYrWhig

              Never gonna happen. Anyone who developed a career in Democratic politics in the 1990s was conditioned to deplore deficits and explain in painstaking detail how everything would be paid for in order to avoid on onslaught of TAX N SPEND attacks. And we’re going to have 1990s-vintage Democrats around for many more decades.

              • humanoid.panda

                Are we? First off, HRC, the quintessential 90s Democrat, ran a very non-1990s campaign. Second, Democrats are not idiots, so I presume they will have learned from the Obama years, just as Obama learned from Clinton years. Third, define what you mean as: 1990s vintage Democrat. Gilbrand, to cite on example, launched he political career in 1999…

                • FlipYrWhig

                  I was thinking of people like Tom Carper and Mark Warner, maybe Claire McCaskill, maybe Bill Nelson. Maybe the sun is setting on that type; there’s a new crop now where even the moderates don’t go back to the particular pitched battles of the New Democrats and Democratic Leadership Council. But if Orrin Hatch and Chuck Grassley are still around now, way past the Republican moments that spawned them, we could be reckoning with the assumptions of 1990s-steeped Democrats for 20, 25, 30 more years.

                • Rusty SpikeFist

                  Second, Democrats are not idiots

                  Cites omitted.

          • sonamib

            Re : political obstacles.

            I understand they’re real, but I always find them baffling when the policy is such an obvious improvement for everyone.

            I mean, I was lauding Germany, but they fucked up big with their wage austerity and extremely high trade surplus. They’re a big part of why the Eurozone’s economy is so bad. And the solution would be very simple : German workers need to be paid more so they can party more, buy more Italian wine, go on more Greek vacations, etc. The trade surplus would go down, German workers would be happier and the Eurozone’s economy would be less dysfunctional! Win-win. Why is this not happening?

            • Davis X. Machina

              I mean, I was lauding Germany, but they fucked up big with their wage austerity and extremely high trade surplus.

              Economics is still a morality play. And the psychic dividend of watching the corrupt, indolent Catholic south suffer has real, if not monetary, value.

              • sonamib

                I don’t think it’s really about Catholicism. West and South Germany are Catholic, and they’re also economical powerhouses.

              • Zamfir

                The Catholic south of Germany is currently it’s richest part – it’s rustbelty parts are in the north. Life is complicated…

              • Ronan

                Also, Greek is majority orthodox ? ; )

          • kvs

            A Loomis post about the campaigns for 8-hour work days and weekends might illustrate what’s involved.

        • rhino

          I have my Record of employment for the six months I worked last year. I worked 1457 hours in that 6 months. And we had less overtime than usual for about half that time.

    • FlipYrWhig

      Small gripe here:

      – all public schools having classes no larger than 15 students, and every school with a librarian, a music teacher, and a coach

      These people hate school and also hate the kinds of people who like school or even think it’s important. I think that’s one of the biggest cultural divides in contemporary America. The most disaffected people are the ones who think education is a waste of time and/or feel self-conscious that they’re not book-smart and flip that into disdain for eggheads, who are a category of Liberal Elite they hate almost as much as they hate brown people.

      • GCarty

        How much do you think anti-intellectualism in red-state America (and provincial England for that matter) is driven by a parental fear that if their children become too educated they will be drawn away to the big city and never return to care for them in their old age?

        • FlipYrWhig

          Could be big. My in-laws are longstanding New Englanders and they guilt-trip anyone who leaves, and most of their friends are the same way.

      • Davis X. Machina

        If you replaced teachers and such with everything-on-line, and hired a couple of people at $11.50 an hour to walk around a former big-box-store with clipboards taking attendance and handing out detentions, you could lower the property tax rate a lot.

        The average property-tax payer doesn’t have kids in public schools.

        • humanoid.panda

          Given that over 95% of American kids attend public schools, this seems like a dubious contention.

          • Davis X. Machina

            They’re public schools. Once the median voter gets accustomed to how cheaply a service with the same name can be provided by private industry, they’re gone.

            • humanoid.panda

              Nice goal post shifting!

              • Davis X. Machina

                It’s happening, in pieces. At the ACTFL convention last fall you could see Middlebury College and others selling you a turnkey package that lets you lay off your entire MS/HS foreign language department.

    • wendigo

      I made it to the age of massive automation believing it would forever unshackle mankind – that we would all finally be free to pursue our own individual life’s hopes and dreams.

      And all I got was 6 guys owning everything in sight. Lunchtime’s over, down on your knees.

      • Linnaeus

        The building that my academic department is housed in has an interesting work of art hanging over one of the interior doorways: a metal etching of a man (represented fairly abstractly) encumbered with chains that are being broken by two huge sets of gears on either side of him. The title of the work is, “Mankind Liberated by Machinery”, dated 1938. Ah, the possibilities, eh?

    • And as the population ages, there will be fewer workers to be absorbed into the work force. Oh my goodness! There won’t be enough workers, and also there won’t be any work for them! Wait, what?

      I think the point is that once capital legitimately owns labor through the use of autonomous machines, there won’t be much paid work left, period. But who knows, resurrection of the Antebellum South as a permanent economic model might be nice. Think of all the extra time you’ll have sitting in front of your mud hut scratching at fleas while writing poetry.

  • Brett

    Easier laws for unionization (and maybe new forms of unionization) would be the key here. Manufacturing and railroad jobs weren’t great-paying in the First Gilded Age either (although they paid more than being a field hand). In our situation, that would be Service Sector jobs, because manufacturing as a share of employment has been declining for decades and the total number of manufacturing jobs was mostly stagnant even before China entered the manufacturing world market in force.

    I don’t see us in the Automation Job Loss Era yet. Unemployment has been going down and labor force participation finally stopped falling in recent years (even though we’d expect some fall with an aging population). Maybe if labor force participation and unemployment stay flat or fall/rise once productivity recovers . . . . but that’s not happening yet.

    • kvs

      What would you call automation replacing good-paying manufacturing jobs with low-paying service jobs?

  • Connecticut Yankee

    The automation thing makes no sense to me. If robots replacing Work Itself were really the problem, wouldn’t we expect to see rising as opposed to high but stagnant inequality, rapidly rising as opposed to below trend productivity growth, low and declining as opposed to normal and rising growth in quits and wages, a rising as opposed to stagnant college wage premium, declining as opposed to rising prime age employment rates, and a lot of other things that just aren’t happening in 2010s America? This is the left-wing version of the skills gap nonsense conservative economists were pushing in 2010. The new economic problem that “explains Trump” is the same now as it was back then, a slow cyclical recovery caused by excessively tight government policy and levels of capital investment that are *too low* to create enough jobs, not so high they’re destroying them

    • sonamib

      Yup, pretty much. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, people have been predicting the End of Work because productivity gains made some specific jobs obsolete. But, as you say, the End of Work theory makes some specific predictions, which can be falsified when looking at the evidence.

      • sibusisodan

        The possibility which I fret about is where the rate of increase of automation outpaces the rate at which humans can imagine and then secure gainful employment.

        Although a world in which automation opens up new possibilities for work which are then themselves rapidly automated out of existence is one which is so vastly different in pace from this present one we don’t really have the tools to work with it.

        • sonamib

          Mind you, it might be useful to think about the End of Work anyway, so we’re prepared to deal with it if it ever happens. Otherwise, we’ll be headed for a dystopia. I just don’t think the question needs to be approached with desperate urgency.

          • I don’t think it’ll happen in the next ten years, but I expect it’ll probably happen in my lifetime. This is one reason I’m pursuing an education in computer science; it’s one of the fields that’s likely to continue to be important in maintaining the field of robots that is likely to come. But as an overall solution to the likely inevitable world where it’s possible to make anything you want with no manual human input and minimum resource input, I’m not certain anything less than UBI will actually suffice.

    • glasnost

      wouldn’t we expect to see rising as opposed to high but stagnant inequality,

      You are seeing rising inequality.

      Below trend productivity

      Productivity doesn’t measure what you think it measures. It’s a ratio of labor or inputs to output. But output isn’t static. It depends on demand. No one produces what isn’t being bought. So as you eliminate labor, you eliminate income (or you weaken the breadth of income, and rich people don’t spend more to compensate), and thus output falls because nobody buys shit, and thus your productivity growth stagnates. You lose output as fast as you lose input (labor). Get it?

      This is a vastly well distributed stupid mistake.

      a rising as opposed to stagnant college wage premium,

      Falling median income for the uneducated lowers demand for everyone. Predatory changes in the distribution of income is self-reinforcing – the even more rich push the system to take even more, and consumer demand gets thinner across the board. College wages stagnate. There’s no demand anywhere except in strata much, much more exclusive than “college degree”.

      declining as opposed to rising prime age employment rates,

      Jesus fucking christ, look at the 40-year chart on “employment-population ratio”.

      You’re asking sane questions but you think you understand things – data, metrics, casual relationships and facts – that you in fact don’t understand.

      • xq

        I’m looking at the 40-year chart on “employment-population ratio” at BLS. Doesn’t look like a technological unemployment situation to me. 57.0 in Jan 1977, 59.9 in Jan 2017.

        • glasnost

          Touche. Okay, it works on the 25 and 15-year timescales. Better to pick 25-54 years to filter out demographic changes as well.

          Arguably in the 1970s, women were still entering the workplace. In 1950, 55% emp-pop 25-54 was, for cultural reasons, probably full employment, and median employment income scaled so that financial obligations lined up with one-income households. It goes up steadily 1950-1990 as women culturally integrate into work – median individual income stops consistently rising somewhere in here… holds steady for a decade… then begins to fall.

          Same argument, different timescale.

          • xq

            Still don’t see it. Looking at the 25-54 data, there was a rapid drop at the financial crisis, then a very slow but steady recovery. This seems consistent with cyclical explanations.

            • glasnost

              1990: 80.2 % 25-54 year olds.
              1997: 80.5%
              2000: 81.8%, the peak.
              2004: 78.9. This is down, pre-financial crisis. Get it?
              2011: 75.2%.
              2017: 78.2%. We have yet to recover from the financial crisis, ten years later.

              I would add, furthermore, that I personally don’t know how the emp-pop ratio deals with part-time work. I would then add again that stagnating and falling income is an alternate transmission vector for the impact of several different things – globalization, automation, and bad income distribution – all leading to low demand for labor.

              You could, in theory, have falling demand for labor and *rising* employment, or even full employment, or even a labor-population ratio of 1, if wages fell fast enough.

              It’s an economy, messy interdependencies. But in practice, it doesn’t look cyclical to me.

      • Brett

        thus output falls because nobody buys shit, and thus your productivity growth stagnates.

        Questionable assumption. Productivity growth is not closely tied to economic growth, and can be lower overall even in the midst of a boom (early 1970s, etc).

        esus fucking christ, look at the 40-year chart on “employment-population ratio”.

        What about it? We have an aging population as well, so all other things being equal we’d expect the share of the population in work to go down over time as long as that remains true. You have to prove that automation is reducing this beyond that trend, and beyond the variations due to the business cycle.

      • Connecticut Yankee

        You are seeing rising inequality.

        The data I’m looking at (from FRED) says inequality increased a lot until Gini reached 40.86 in 1997 and has barely moved since (41.06 in 2013).

        Productivity doesn’t measure what you think it measures. It’s a ratio of labor or inputs to output. But output isn’t static. It depends on demand. No one produces what isn’t being bought. So as you eliminate labor, you eliminate income (or you weaken the breadth of income, and rich people don’t spend more to compensate), and thus output falls because nobody buys shit, and thus your productivity growth stagnates. You lose output as fast as you lose input (labor). Get it?

        What is “automation” if not rising output per hour worked? In the robot overlords automating everything story we could possibly see outputs and inputs both fall but labor input would fall much more rapidly and we would see rising productivity and declining GDP. Which we did for about a year or so around 2009 but haven’t since; in fact we’ve seen the reverse. Another possibility would be stagnant capital productivity but rapidly rising labor productivity, which we also haven’t seen. You just can’t have rising output with no jobs because everything being automated without rising labor productivity; the output has to come from somewhere. And we have rising output.

        Jesus fucking christ, look at the 40-year chart on “employment-population ratio”.

        You’re asking sane questions but you think you understand things – data, metrics, casual relationships and facts – that you in fact don’t understand.

        Long-term increases in employment-population ratio are an unmistakable sign that All The Jobs are being automated away, sure. More seriously, what we see is a long-term secular decline in male labor force participation that began *in the 1940s*, more than made up for by the secular rise in female labor force participation. There was a big decline in 2008, but that wasn’t “automation.” It was a recession! Far from unprecedented. We had big ones in the 1870s, 1890s, 1930s, early 90s, they are common events and don’t signify the end of work. The last few years have seen very slowly rising *overall* employment to population ratios, though from a high base (2000 was the all-time high). Most of this is not “no jobs.” More of the population is old than ever before; more young people who could be working are in college and not working because they don’t have to than ever before. For workers aged 25-54 we are at 78.2% and rising, closing in on the all-time high (81.8%). There’s just nothing in the economic statistics that suggests “automation” is a problem anymore than it has ever been.

        • glasnost

          I underestimated your knowledge background and I apologize, but see my last response to xq. I’d have to respond to your reply on productivity with more questions, and I need to stop screwing around for now.

          • glasnost

            Ugh, edit to improve timed out. Productivity is complicated. Output is up, but sub-par. It’s not up as much as it should be, and the slack in the economy, thus weak net output, is preventing productivity metrics from looking as good as they do.

            If you use half the workers but only make 55% of the stuff you used to make because demand has crashed, your productivity growth will look sluggish, but your true productivity growth is disguised. At the national level of combined labor productivity, some labor being shed in automation-heavy industries is being rehired in industries with minimal automation zero or negative productivity growth. But those industries won’t stay that way, and we’re still getting the localized wipeouts to which Eric refers.

            The difference between now and 1870 is the difference between “automating one industry” and “automating half of the set of known industries” (and in the future, 85% of all industries). Industries don’t de-automate; it’s a cumulative process. We don’t create new industries as fast as we automate old ones anymore. 100 years ago, not the case.

      • Bloix

        “thus output falls because nobody buys shit, and thus your productivity growth stagnates.”

        This is not right. Typically, when falling demand falls leads to a decrease in output (e.g. as in a recession) productivity goes up, because businesses lay off the least productive workers first.

    • The automation thing makes no sense to me. If robots replacing Work Itself were really the problem, wouldn’t we expect to see rising as opposed to high but stagnant inequality, rapidly rising as opposed to below trend productivity growth, low and declining as opposed to normal and rising growth in quits and wages, a rising as opposed to stagnant college wage premium, declining as opposed to rising prime age employment rates, and a lot of other things that just aren’t happening in 2010s America?

      Because in 2010s America the robots aren’t that smart yet. But they will be soon enough. An AI that’s smart enough to drive a car won’t just be used to drive cars.

      • xq

        Yes, but the optimal political strategy for the case where automation is already permanently replacing work is quite different from the political strategy for the case where it will maybe do so 30 years from now.

  • Heron

    We could look to Keynes for a solution to this: “pay people to dig ditches one day, and fill them in the next”.

    Not something that obviously make-work maybe, but government-funded manual labor to replace the “low skill”(not a description I really agree with) jobs the private sector has automated away. We could drastically increase the parks budget and hired these workers to cover the massive back-log of parks maintenance we’ve got, or stipulate that infrastructure improvement projects make use, as much as possible, of manual labor and hire them for that. We could also use such programs as a way to train these workers in higher technical skills; fund a solar/wind project and use that to teach them how to operate remote diagnostic and maintenance programs and the like, skills which could then be transferred to private sector worker later.

    Creating a class of public/private manufacturing partnerships might also be a good solution. Rather than requiring a “buy American” provision for government supplies(which has led to the rebirth of slave labor in the US via prisons), we’d require that all government supplies minus transport(uniforms, furniture, pens, ect) be provided by these p/pps. Then, we locate the factories throughout the Rust Belt or the like, hire locals at higher-than-market wages, and not only are we solving unemployment, we’re also undercutting the private prison industry and creating a regional wage-floor employers will have to stay competitive with to keep their workers.

    Of course that’s all a pipedream: significant public works projects are about as likely in the US rn as a livable UBI.

    • FlipYrWhig

      This all sounds great. Versions have been proposed many times. Republicans scoff that it is welfare make-work picking of winners and losers or whatever the contemptuous phrase du jour is, and that’s that. And Republican voters have not been inclined to punish their own politicians for obstructionism and just general dickishness, and until they do, we’re stuck.

    • witlesschum

      The other part of “Green jobs” is cleaning up the byproducts of capitalism.

      Put the mountaintops back where they were after the coal is gone. It’s the sort of thing that will only get done right by the federal government and it should be a huge source of employment in the 21st century. Every community in the country has contaminated sites from industry to be cleaned up. Tax the people who profited most from creating the pollution and pay the people who suffered most from it to clean it up.

      • Brett

        That’s my personal preference. There is a great deal of environmental damage that needs to be fixed, and adjustments that will probably have to be made due to climate change. All of that is going to require a ton of labor.

    • BigHank53

      Ever wonder why you have to navigate 200 touch-tone menus to report an issue to your cable TV company while Verizon Wireless has a storefront every five blocks? There are lots of real jobs that could use doing, and they’re not being done because there’s more profit to be made in not doing them.

      • Linnaeus

        they’re not being done because there’s more profit to be made in not doing them.

        And now we’re back to square one.

    • Not something that obviously make-work maybe, but government-funded manual labor to replace the “low skill”(not a description I really agree with) jobs the private sector has automated away. We could drastically increase the parks budget and hired these workers to cover the massive back-log of parks maintenance we’ve got, or stipulate that infrastructure improvement projects make use, as much as possible, of manual labor and hire them for that.

      And why do that when you can have an army of robots who will do it much cheaper? General purpose machines will be used for the same tasks as general purpose humans, for a fraction of the cost.

  • FlipYrWhig

    If the people immediately affected by these developments are voting for Republicans lately, and happily so, to the point where it’s a deeply ingrained part of their identity, they should be agitating for the Republican politicians who represent them to come up with a solution. Most of the solutions seem unsatisfactory and incomplete. Make _them_ grasp the nettle and figure it out. Make _them_ deal with the repercussions of half-measures and discontent. Make _them_ handle a social problem for a change.

    • humanoid.panda

      The problem with this is that you are accepting the Republican framing that “working class= white working class Real American Heartland Jesus Guns and Democrats are all gay hipsters” Minority groups and single women, core Democratic constituencies, are equally exposed to adverse economic winds as former coal miners in West Virginia.

      • FlipYrWhig

        Point taken, but those constituencies are not obsessed with the diminution of traditional masculinity as expressed in hard physical labor. There are a lot of things that displaced workers _could_ do; a lot of them they find disgracefully womanish. They don’t really LIKE to work in mines and assembly lines, but they think by suffering stoically in those lines of work they prove themselves manly and purposeful. It’s a huge component of the cultural politics of this adjustment.

        • so-in-so

          Right, but the GOP lies and says they’ll bring back the jobs, then blames the failure of the jobs to come back on Dems/blahs/foreigners. Rinse and repeat.

          It’s easier and I suppose more comforting to believe those reasons than that you had a dead-end job and need to do something else. Meanwhile, the GOP insists that any attempt to get enough tax revenue to do things will make the sainted Job Creators so cross they withhold their trickle-down, and the Real Americans believe that too.

          • FlipYrWhig

            True, but I have to think that at a certain point the metaphysical bill comes due, and the people who have been voting for Republicans to thwart the welfare-loving liberals start to feel like all this voting for Republicans is giving them a steady diet of symbolism and not much substance, and the Job Creators aren’t really creating any jobs for them despite all the boons and perks they reap. So a moment should arrive.

            I don’t think they’ll start voting for Democrats then, because it’s just too tribal–it’d be like renouncing Christianity–but they might start trying to hold Republicans accountable. Some kind of Republican economic populism, like what Trump mouthed without really believing, because he’s an idiot and a bullshitter.

            This is the political development I think is looming and perhaps even overdue.

            • humanoid.panda

              It’s a bit of a left-field, but I remember reading that back in 1959, Nixon toyed with the idea of making civil rights his signature issue as he ran for president. Had that happened, we would probably have the Democrats as party of working class whites, and Republicans as party of educated elites and minorities- and American politics would probably be about 2 standard deviations to the left of where they are…

              • FlipYrWhig

                Never heard that tidbit, but it resonates. I could live with that alignment. That would engender a two-party system that would clash vigorously on many important things but still find common ground that would improve the lives of everyday people. Whatever we have now feels like one party trying to do all the serious policymaking and tying itself in knots with all the problems of intersectionality… and the other just doing propaganda and media strategy and feathering its own nest. That’s not sustainable.

                • humanoid.panda

                  Robert Caro’s Master of the Senate. Everyone ought to read it!

            • Jake the antisoshul soshulist

              That is why there will always be sinecures for those who promote it.
              A large portion of the American populace is so invested in PWE that you would have a hell of a time convincing them that it was a joint invention by the clergy and the aristocracy to get the peasants to work harder.

          • witlesschum

            Read a few things where people in Indiana were unwilling to give the normal credit they do to a president for economic improvements to Obama. The analysis was that partisanship was getting so strong that even people who were traditionally leaners wouldn’t give the president the benefit of the doubt for improving the economy.

            I tend to think this points Democrats in the direction of putting more effort into trying to organize and energize people who haven’t previously voted much, because they have less hardened attitudes about such things. Plus focusing on turnout.

  • Rob in CT

    I think this discussion should involve ideas to close our perpetual trade deficit of 3-4% of GDP.

    The easy/simplistic answer is to weaken the dollar. But from what I’ve read, it’s not that easy.

    • humanoid.panda

      Does it? Very smart, left-leaning economists think that there the trade deficit is red herring.

      • Rob in CT

        I have never been able to shake the feeling that the dismissal of the trade deficit as a problem amounts to hand-waving.

        I am not an economist, so I could be full of shit.

      • JKTH

        There’s some disagreement there which basically reflects each economists’ prior views on globalization/trade agreements. The people more hostile to those things tend to think the trade deficit matters more.

      • PLGettinBannedAgain

        Who? Name names.

    • Merkwürdigliebe

      Isn’t the trade deficit just the accounting flip side of investment foreign capital inflow?

      • PLGettinBannedAgain

        No. It is exports minus imports in the equation demand = Consumption + Investment + Govt Spend + Net Exports.

        So, if we have a trade deficit, it has to be made up elsewhere – either Government Spending (you want the govt to run bigger deficits) or consumption (you want people to save LESS for retirement) or investment (good luck convincing business to invest more for no legitimate reason.)

        Every dollar you send to a worker in China is a dollar that isn’t sent to a worker in the US, that isn’t spent at the local grocery store, restaurant, etc. We all believe giving money to people helps the economy, right? Why is anyone denying withholding money from people and instead sending it to people in Bangladesh hurts the economy?

        • Merkwürdigliebe

          Eh… no. You are talking about GDP.

          “Trade deficit” (as generally understood) = current account deficit, i.e. (exports of goods&services) – (imports of goods&services)

          The current account is, in an accounting sense, linked to the capital account which = (inflows of capital) – (outflows of capital). The sum of these two accounts must be zero. If, therefore, you have lots of foreign money flowing into the country as investment (i.e. people buying American bonds and stocks), you must also be, by virtue of mathematical accounting necessity, running a trade deficit.

          I’m not an economist either though, so it is possible that I’m making some fundamental mistake here somewhere.

    • PLGettinBannedAgain

      ***ding ding ding*** we have a winner…

      We keep blaming automation for our trade deficits effects.

      If we didn’t have a lack of demand due to our trade deficit, the fine fellow in this anecdote would be able to find work.

      • Rob in CT

        I don’t think it’s quite that simple, but I do think trade is a key piece of the puzzle.

        • humanoid.panda

          The problem with this “every dollar sent to China is dollar not sent here” perspecitve is that
          1. Still, there are plenty of people who make their living out of sending stuff to China. Attempting to rapidly transform the terms of trade is going to give them some headache.
          2. There is still the issue that if you used to spend 10 dollars on your grocery bill and now spend 12 because trade deficit is narrower, that’s 2 dollars you are not spending at Starbucks. Just like free trade, protectionism is going to have winners and losers..

          • PLGettinBannedAgain

            1. That’s why the trade deficit is “net exports.” We also account for the fact that some people here will get some share of the $100 sent to china – it shows up in consumption when they spend it, etc. But right now we’re giving “headaches” to the millions of prime age workers that don’t even bother looking for jobs because of the lack of demand in our economy.

            2. People like baker don’t say we should impose tariffs. They think we should negotiate/manage the dollar better. For example, when china sells all the excess dollars they hold, our dollar goes down and their currency goes up, making our exports more competitive worldwide, which would decrease the trade deficit. This can all be negotiated with them as part of trade deals. So yes, everything has winners and losers, but in this case its sam walton’s kids that are the loser and the millions of unemployed prime age workers (and every worker that wants a raise) in the US that are the winners. Isn’t that what we’re going for here? Isn’t that liberalism in a nutshell?

            • humanoid.panda

              Fair enough- I agree with baker about the dollar. But it’s also wortwhile noticing that as we speak, China is already doing this- its selling huge amounts of dollars to keep the Yuan from crashing..

  • Aaron Morrow

    The employment-population ratios are still not at pre-crisis levels, regardless of age; a lot of people have stopped looking for employment.

    Not much else to add to the other commentators, so I’ll just throw in the suggestion that we need to LOWER the minimum ages for Social Security and Medicare.

    After all, many Americans love unemployment when you call it retirement.

    • JKTH

      We won’t have a good idea if the employment rate won’t recover until we actually have another recession. The prime-age employment rate has been rising for about 5 years so it could get back there (though obviously it’s taking a really long time to do that).

      • PLGettinBannedAgain

        The fed is raising rates now and has declared all is normal and the crisis is over. You’re engaging in wishful thinking.

    • Rob in CT

      I doubt it’s THAT simple. But I do think it’s a piece of the puzzle.

      • Rob in CT

        Gah, in wrong place.

  • Joe_JP

    today’s era of automation leaves no hope for equally good work in an economy where work itself is being phased out

    Wasn’t there a large displacement as improvement in agricultural technology hundreds of years ago and so forth that resulted in people being pushed off farms without much “good work” alternatives?

    • PLGettinBannedAgain

      Cut it out with the common sense. You’re going to get yourself banned.

      • Aaron Morrow

        SockPuppet, you were banned for being a sockpuppet.

    • Connecticut Yankee

      The alternatives were generally “good work” relative to what was available in the countryside. When they existed, that is, which they did during expansions but not during recessions.

      • Davis X. Machina

        Subsistence agriculture is such that almost everything is a more attractive alternative.

        • Joe_JP

          Living the same basic hand to mouth existence but in crowded polluted cities while working in factories where you can’t control your hours and life threatening injuries is a daily possibility might not be one. From my readings of history, many poor farmers felt more dignity in having a small piece of land, granting many didn’t even have that.

          • Davis X. Machina

            Tenant farmers move. Landless agricultural laborers move. Smallholders don’t — but their kids move…

    • humanoid.panda

      Wasn’t there a large displacement as improvement in agricultural technology hundreds of years ago and so forth that resulted in people being pushed off farms without much “good work” alternatives?

      This is a really weird argument, because it yadda yadda’s a century and more of immense social dislocation..

      • Joe_JP

        I’m not sure of the issue here. This was stated:

        The problem with automation is not its existence per se. After all, the search for greater efficiency has existed since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The problem with automation today is that as opposed to previous eras where automation might cause short-term displacement but would absorb those unemployed workers in other jobs in a booming industrial economy, today’s era of automation leaves no hope for equally good work in an economy where work itself is being phased out.

        This made me go “hmm” since looking that long term (“beginning of Industrial Revolution” etc.), there seems to me to have been more than “short term displacement.” It was a rather messy thing.

        And, per Connecticut Yankee, especially given Erik Loomis’ views, didn’t seem the not great and often dangerous industrial work etc. available for displaced persons was that good. Though if “starvation” is your alternative, yes, it was better.

  • Merkwürdigliebe

    There is an infinite amount of potential “jobs” in arts, sports and games. All those truck drivers (that don’t become start Silicon Valley coders…) could be coaches, scout-troop leaders or professional WoW players.

    If straight UBI is politically unacceptable, it could take a form of grants on these activities to sufficiently expand the already existing fields.

    We just need to get over the convention that jobs are linked to supply of “necessities.”

    • FlipYrWhig

      Or, to put it another way, the convention that all real jobs involve making stuff.

      • Merkwürdigliebe

        Exactly. I have no idea how this could play out in political practice, but no one seems to have a problem with the astronomical incomes of top athletes, despite the fact that they also don’t produce any “stuff.”

        • Rob in CT

          That doesn’t jibe with my experience. I’ve seen/heard people bitching and moaning about athletes’ compensation my whole life. *Grumble*makes millions of dollars a year for playing a kid’s game!*Grumble* is an evergreen in sports commentary.

          • witlesschum

            Sure, people grumble but it’s an evergreen grumble because it doesn’t tend to actually get people to stop following their favorite teams.

            • humanoid.panda

              Nor affect the anyone’s bottom line. (and ,recently, sports media tends to be much less harsh on the players).

            • Merkwürdigliebe

              Well, I was wrong in stating that “no one” objects to it; But the objection is generally aimed at the amount, not the core fact that the players are rewarded for “unproductive” activity.

          • Davis X. Machina

            The median caller-in to sports talk radio hates the players for making too much and never seems to think about the owners much.

            • humanoid.panda

              But Steph Curry shoes outsell Bob Myers’ by quite a bit.

        • FlipYrWhig

          Maybe entertainment is a special category, because it involves talents that few people have. Most jobs can be done by _kinds_ of people. And that’s where the stigma kicks in. Manly men do jobs that involve making stuff, with a smaller category for protecting people (cops, soldiers, firefighters). If your job isn’t that, it’s woman’s work, egghead work, or government work.

          • Merkwürdigliebe

            I feel that manly varieties of this could be quite easily found as well. Coaching Managing local kids’ baseball team? Leading a boy scout (or equivalent thereof) troop? Fishing/hunting team? etc.

            • FlipYrWhig

              I hope so. Maybe I should add “making stuff for a profit-making concern.” Public workers are stigmatized even when they’re out in the field. When it comes to jobs like mowing highway medians, I think in the popular imagination that counts as “lazy government work,” a/k/a Too Many Guys Leaning On Shovels, even though it’s obviously labor-intensive. Somehow the fact that it’s not for profit makes it less manly even when the strenuousness of the work would otherwise easily qualify.

          • sonamib

            Someone mentioned craft beers upthread. Can’t manly men brew craft beer? It can even be strong, bitter beer if that helps them feel more manly. There’s certainly a market for that!

            Other options include jobs involving artisanal-made gardening or woodwork tools.

            • FlipYrWhig

              Those fit easily under Making Stuff, no?

              • sonamib

                True. I just wanted to point out that industrial jobs aren’t the be-all end-all of making stuff. Making stuff can also be high-quality, labor-intensive work, which can employ lots of people.

                • FlipYrWhig

                  Ah, got it.

    • FMguru

      There’s plenty of nice things that surplus labor can be put to doing in exchange for benefits. We could always use more people doing environmental remediation, or hosting foster children, or staffing daycare/elder care facilities, or working in wildlife sanctuaries, or running food pantries, or any one of a thousand things. Just think of all the good things that currently aren’t being done because there just isn’t enough manpower.

      Climate change and drought/beetles have killed hundreds of millions of trees across North America in recent years. How about a project to replant and replace some of them? Or perhaps restoring all those blasted mountaintops in West Virginia to something more appealing? Why can’t libraries be open 12 hours a day, 7 days a week?

      There are, obviously, numerous ideological and economic and structural reasons why these things aren’t being done now, but the point is there’s lots and lots of useful work to be done by people that currently isn’t being done.

      • so-in-so

        Unless you can figure a way to make a profit from it, it isn’t happening near term.

        Taxes to pay for it? Perish the thought! Didn’t you get the memo that taxes are theft?

        • FMguru

          My point is that there’s plenty of good, useful, meaningful non-busywork to be done, and that a post-automation future doesn’t have to mean people idling on welfare moaning about the workless emptiness of their lives. If the argument against UBI is that people need meaningful labor to make their lives worth living, well, there’s always plenty of meaningful labor to be done, even in a world where robots drive all the cars and run all the oil rigs.

          • PLGettinBannedAgain

            Yep.

            It’s like a birthday party where everyone is bitching that they’re aren’t enough chairs cause there’s a robot sitting in one.

            Meanwhile no one is asking who the fuck is in charge of making sure enough chairs are set out for robots AND people, no one is cutting the cake, no one is washing the dishes, etc, etc, etc. Instead we’re blaming a fucking robot for our problems. An inanimate fucking object. And we’re pretending that no human made any of these decisions and that everything just happens to exist the way it does by happenstance.

            The amount of people employed isn’t happenstance, its the consequence of decisions made by humans. Wages aren’t set by god, they’re determined by a market we manipulate. All of this is in our control. And instead we got people like Loomis blaming fucking robots. It would be funny if it wasn’t so goddamn tragic.

            • …Loomis talks about the disgraceful choices made by capitalists all the time. It’s not an either/or proposition. It’s both/and. I was with you on that post until you took that gratuitous shot at him.

              This is why you got banned; it seems like you’re constitutionally incapable of resisting the urge to be a dick.

      • Merkwürdigliebe

        It sure could be a part of the mix. But these are often hard, unpleasant, boring and mostly just as susceptible to automation as regular jobs.

        I think it needs to be some activity where the participation of living breathing people is the very point.

  • Mike in DC

    The pending replacement of knowledge workers is the new wrinkle introduced by automation. We could have new jobs created, but what if that’s only equal to half the jobs lost? Permanent structural unemployment at a high level would require a major extension of the social safety net.

    • Davis X. Machina

      “Require” is doing a lot of lifting there.

      If you can ride out the revolution with your autonomous lethal robots, you can get by with no social safety net at all – no middle class at all – a much smaller work force generally.

      • This is one of the things I’m most worried about happening in the future and a major reason the wage gaps and technology gaps terrify me.

  • Joe_JP

    dignified labor

    I’m reminded of the Kevin Kline movie “Dave,” where the dopplanger for the President runs an employment agency and speaks of the dignity of having a job. Stephen Colbert also said something revealing last night to a guest — the one time he was really depressed was when he was out of work.

    The income idea might be a pipe dream but basically as noted money alone isn’t enough. Nor is education — the problem of well educated people out of work in places like Egypt has been referenced elsewhere. It is having a life with dignity, something perhaps somewhat ironically a theme for someone some on the left have at best mixed feelings about — Justice Anthony Kennedy.

    • Ahenobarbus

      The question is, would these attitudes about work change if nearly everyone was out of work (with good excuse)?

      If robots really did all the work, I’m not sure anyone would be depressed about it (assuming they weren’t forced to live in dire poverty).

      • PLGettinBannedAgain

        Exactly.

        I think we’d all get along just fine.

        The problem is, people realize that when they’re out of work, they’re about to lose all their shit and starve to death.

        I don’t see Melania crying. Rich people never seem to have this problem.

      • Joe_JP

        I think “work” would be redefined here.

        Colbert is in the entertainment business. Robots doing all the labor stuff wouldn’t necessarily mean he was out of work. Just having income isn’t enough, to me — there has to be something useful for the people to do, including some sort of “work.”

        People could very well be depressed even if they had the means to live, food and such provided. I understand the level of needs here. Basic subsistence is more important. But, we can aim higher too.

        ETA: Melania is cited. Really, it’s not all or nothing. There are degrees. Even rich people, yes, don’t all sit around in their mansions. Quite a few find it important to do something productive with their lives, some sort of work. Be it charity or something else.

    • Bloix

      “having a life with dignity”
      This is totally a matter of cultural norms. In 18th and 19th c England, the gentry wouldn’t let their daughters marry a man who had to work for a living – not even a lawyer or a stockbroker (a clergyman was okay as long as he had a “living”). What did the dignified men do with their time? Lots of them rode to hounds three days a week.
      If we ever get to the point that most people don’t need to work at all and can spend their days playing sports and their evenings watching 3D TV, we’ll develop a culture that doesn’t give a flying fuck for the dignity of manhandling the corpse of a cow that’s rushing past you on a hook.

  • Nick never Nick

    I hate to come off as the local hippie — but this is also a chance to re-examine the centrality of work in American life. I know many people who have not made a career the centre of their lives, but have lived largely in poverty and enjoyed gardening, reading books, baking bread, etc. A future where people have health care, entertainment, food, and free time is not automatically a terrible change. The challenge is not necessarily to preserve work — as Eric notes, the jobs he’s talking about are awful ones — but to preserve some combination of work and the benefits that work gives people. Don’t underestimate basic human creativity, our choices are not a binary of employment/giant population of Morlocks trolling each other on the Internet.

    • sonamib

      Cosign on all that. Not that anyone remembers, but I’ve written here a couple of times that I don’t spend much money, but I still live a comfortable life. I don’t see the point of working harder to buy stuff I wouldn’t have the time to enjoy because I was working so hard in the first place.

      And sure, that’s the sign of a privileged life, because I get to make those choices. Lots of people don’t. But a lot of privileged people do choose to overwork themselves, and I don’t think that does anyone any good.

  • Blanche Davidian

    For the last thirty or forty years, and especially since the Reagan days, I’ve argued that the 40-hour work week was not given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Yet that always seems to be the beginning and end of arguments about employment. “Everybody needs that 40-hour a week job so that they’ll understand the “dignity” of labor.” Well if suffering through a 40-hour week on a private sector job in the US teaches dignity, I’ll have none of it, thank you. Very few of us have been lucky enough to have a job that we love–the one where we hated to quit it at night and couldn’t wait to get back to it the next day. That kind of enthusiasm is reserved for things some of us may be fortunate enough to do as an avocation, not our occupation.
    How many people have you come in contact with who brag about the hours they spend at work, and the more they put in the more they brag about it? There are no greater drones in a beehive. In the words of the Tennessee Ernie Ford song “16 Tons” they owe their soul to the company store and are proud of it. And certain Republicans are now being heard extolling the virtues of child-labor. Where are the guillotines for these throwbacks?
    With enlightened management of our resources we would be on the verge of a post-scarcity civilization, but we are completely unprepared psychologically and emotionally for what should guarantee at last the creative flowering of our species.
    We really must get past the notion that luck and pluck will either make us all billionaires or guarantee a lotto win for everyone with sufficient faith in the little numbered ping pong balls.
    The best preparation for the future is immediately going to a 24-hour work week at a guaranteed liveable wage for all. And we may have to cut that back to an 18-hour week in the next decade or two.

    • so-in-so

      The “job creators” will have none of that. They have been busy for the last 30-40 years making employees into “manager trainees” and the like, so they can be classified as exempt and worked 50-80 hours a week at the same pay.

      I’ve had interviews were I was explicitly told “everybody here works sixty hours+ a week”. So far, I’ve been able to bow out on those jobs.

      • Davis X. Machina

        I’ve had interviews were I was explicitly told “everybody here works sixty hours+ a wee

        It’s actually pitched as an indicator that the firm is hard-charging, going places, etc. etc. Workaholics looking to hire other workaholics, too.

    • PLGettinBannedAgain

      I look around the planet and see a shit ton of work to be done. I don’t know what planet anyone else lives on. The 40 hour work week can be here for a long, long, long time.

      We have piss poor economic management that is creating the work crisis, not productivity or other nonsense. We have a high dollar which leads to a trade deficit that leads to a lack of demand that leads to prime age workers not even trying to work, and we have a fed that thinks this is perfectly fine and is jacking up rates to make sure no further americans get employment. Our country is run by terrible assholes top to bottom, and we’re blaming tractors and cars. Fuck this shit.

      • humanoid.panda

        “This one weird trick economists don’t want you to know about..”

    • In the airline business we say “You spend half your life trying to get this job and the other half trying to get out of it.”

  • Chip Daniels

    I think automation and AI are going to strike not just at the idea of work, but the idea of ownership of property.
    Our traditional moral foundations of property ownership relied on some Lockean nexus of work and wealth.
    He who works is the rightful owner of the wealth produced.

    But what if I no longer need to work to produce wealth, if I merely hold title to a robot machine that produces a staggering amount of wealth?

    What moral theory holds that I have rightful ownership of that wealth?
    I didn’t work; I didn’t invent the machine; I certainly didn’t create the natural resources it uses.
    So aside from the fact that the King or State gifted me with a title, how can I rightfully claim it?

    Why shouldn’t the robot machine be publicly owned, and everyone given a share of the wealth?

    • so-in-so

      Our traditional moral foundations of property ownership relied on some Lockean nexus of work and wealth.
      He who works is the rightful owner of the wealth produced.

      Somehow that sure got short-circuited under Capitalism, where the workers get a tiny sliver of the wealth produced… the extension of capitalism where the workers aren’t needed at all is what is approaching.

      • Chip Daniels

        I remember reading in Twain’s “Connecticut Yankee” where he ridiculed a local “Lord of Barley Mash” whose great grandfather built a brewery and so impressed the King that he received a hereditary title and lands, and this sheepwitted heir never worked a day, but merely reaped the wealth.

        In the Hugh Grant movie “About A Boy” Grant plays a foppish cad whose father wrote a silly holiday jingle back in the 60’s and reaped so much wealth from it that Grant himself never worked a day in his life.

        Which makes me wonder why we accept the objections to a UBI on the grounds of “He who doesn’t work shall not eat” when we calmly accept these other nonworking eaters.

        • so-in-so

          Because somebody somewhere did some “work” to earn the money. Plus, same reason the right reviles the “death”, err, inheritance tax. That one was explicitly created to limit the wealth passed on and keep the next generation working.

        • Dennis Orphen

          In my opinion, the first idea that must be discarded if society is going to make any progress is the idea that if a person is well off is that their descendants must be equally well off…..in perpetuity.

    • Brett

      Why shouldn’t the robot machine be publicly owned, and everyone given a share of the wealth?

      There’s your entry-way into robot socialism, which is what I think will ultimately happen after all the strife and struggle. Humanity – or our transhuman descendants – will live atop an edifice of automation that does everything, and maybe we’ll have some type of marketplace for our own personal services and time plus rare objects that can’t be duplicated (or something like the informal “credit” economy of ancient agrarian villages).

      • so-in-so

        Michael Moorcock’s “Dancers at the End of Time” kind of covers this angle. His stories have very few humans living in that “everyone a god” civilization, struggling to avoid boredom.

      • sonamib

        Don’t forget prime real estate in the “things that will always be scarce” column. There are only so many parkfront properties in a vibrant metropolis, so many beachfront houses at the cool hippie village, etc.

      • Chip Daniels

        To bring it down to something more tangible, why can’t cities create a municipal version of Uber software, and a fleet of driverless cars that people can use for a modest fee?

        The City of LA right now has installed fleets of rented bikes all over the downtown area, where you just pay a couple bucks and can ride the bike for 30 minutes, then dock it at another facility.

        • Dennis Orphen

          To the first point, that’s socialism, which is supposedly worse than a slow, painful death.

          To the second, the tragedy of the commons renders those kinds of ideas somewhat unworkable.

          • sonamib

            To the second, the tragedy of the commons renders those kinds of ideas somewhat unworkable.

            Wait, what? Fleets of short-term rental bikes are hardly unique to LA, they also exist in Chicago, NY, Barcelona, Paris, my very own city (Brussels), among others. It works very well!

  • PLGettinBannedAgain

    Again, you couldn’t be more wrong.

    Dean Baker, one week ago (emphasis mine):

    Elite media types have tried to deny these facts by claiming that the source of job loss is automation (i.e. productivity growth), not trade. This claim deserves to be met with the same sort of derision as the claims of climate change deniers.

    The data are very clear. From December of 1970 to December of 2000 we lost 130,000 manufacturing jobs, less than one percent of the total. There was plenty of productivity growth in manufacturing over these three decades. While manufacturing employment did fall as a share of total employment, there was little change in the absolute number of manufacturing jobs over this long period.

    By contrast, manufacturing employment dropped by more than 3.4 million, or more than 20 percent, in the seven years from 2000 to 2007. This was trade. The trade deficit exploded over this period to almost 6 percent of GDP, which would be more than $1.1 trillion in today’s economy.

    • Ahenobarbus

      deleted

    • Rob in CT

      I like Baker, but this:

      From December of 1970 to December of 2000 we lost 130,000 manufacturing jobs, less than one percent of the total. There was plenty of productivity growth in manufacturing over these three decades. While manufacturing employment did fall as a share of total employment, there was little change in the absolute number of manufacturing jobs over this long period.

      Has an obvious problem. That decline in manufacturing employment as a share of the total kind of matters (and happened across the developed world, including in export nirvana Germany). Quick googling indicates that US population went from ~200 million in 1970 to ~280 million in 2000.

      This part, though, yeah:

      By contrast, manufacturing employment dropped by more than 3.4 million, or more than 20 percent, in the seven years from 2000 to 2007. This was trade. The trade deficit exploded over this period to almost 6 percent of GDP, which would be more than $1.1 trillion in today’s economy.

      Trade might be the biggest factor, but automation is a factor too. Automation has been happening for a long time, though, so while it’s a factor it’s secondary to the trade issue and other things that impact distribution of wealth (I think there’s really something to the concept of the “winner take all” global economy that goes beyond trade deals. Add in tax policy that shifted the tax burden downward, and…).

      • PLGettinBannedAgain

        His point is that even though productivity is growing, it wasn’t destroying jobs. At worst productivity was making jobs more efficient so that we could keep up with the output necessary for the additional people. There shouldn’t have been a massive drop in manufacturing employment.

        In any case, there are plenty of jobs – I am going to guess at least 80 million – that didn’t exist as career choices back in the 70s. Our problem isn’t productivity, our problem is the trade deficit.

        I mean, its really this simple: If the government gives you $100, everyone agrees that stimulus would help the economy. If your neighbor gives you $100 to cut his grass, that helps our economy. If your neighbor gives a worker in china $100 to make a pair of shoes for him, how does that help our economy? If everyone took their $100 in government stimulus money and didn’t spend it and instead put it in an envelope and mailed it to china, we’d all agree that the stimulus would be a massive failure here in america, right?

        We absorbed much larger doses of automation before – our productivity rate is really pathetic right now actually – without large scale displacement and unemployment. We went from an agrarian society to an industrialized society. We had times of 3x to 4x greater surges in productivity than we are having now, and people think some of these times in the 50s and 60s did more for the average worker than at any other point in history.

        We want MORE productivity, not less. We want LESS shitty managers of our economy. That’s the real problem we’re having right now.

        • Aaron Morrow

          We absorbed much larger doses of automation before – our productivity rate is really pathetic right now actually – without large scale displacement and unemployment. We went from an agrarian society to an industrialized society.

          Um, large scale displacement was required to go from an agrarian society to an industrialized society.

        • We absorbed larger doses of automation – over a fairly long time period.

          The Industrial Revolution didn’t happen at anywhere near the pace of what I fear is coming down the road.

          My history is a little sketchy here, but I suspect it was largely the children of farmers who left the farm to move to the city and work in a factory back in the day.

          Correct me if I’m wrong. After night flying I’m down to my last few brain cells right now.

          • Davis X. Machina

            but I suspect it was largely the children of farmers who left the farm to move to the city and work in a factory back in the day.

            This was precisely the case in New England during the First Industrial revolution, and if you go to a mill town like Lewiston or Sanford, it’s clear that the same pattern repeated itself for the second one. They’re full of old people — thank God for the Somalis and Sudanese.

    • Abbey Bartlet

      You have waaaaay too much time on your hands.

    • Even Chinese factories are starting to automate, because apparently they don’t even want to pay Chinese level wages.

      • NoMoreAltCenter

        Eventually the bourgeoisie will run out of untapped cheap labor resources.

        • rhino

          So what? Everyone but that final sliver will have starved to death.

          God, but you are dense.

  • Erik, have you read Four Futures by Peter Frase? He’s a regular contributor to Jacobin, and the book explores four future societies arranged on the axes of capitalism/socialism and scarcity/abundance. I’m reading it right now, and while it’s not an academic book, it does a good job of thinking through the future beyond the usual liberal solutions of job training/everything will work itself out.

  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    If we could just relax the dress code for nurses and home health aides to include a hard hat and tool belt, it might fix a lot of these headaches.

  • CrunchyFrog

    In the land where oil jobs were once a guaranteed road to security for blue-collar workers

    I’m not arguing with the gist of the article or this post, but that point is wrong. Workers in resource extraction have no job security. It may seem that way for a few years during the good times, and these are low-education, generally low IQ people (this isn’t meant as a pejorative, just a statement of fact) so their perception of their condition is overly influenced by recent events. As a rule, with few exceptions, they’ll spend during the good times as though the high income will continue forever and then be completely unprepared for the bad times. It’s pretty much the standard way of life for that segment of society.

    Also, this article may be a bit misleading. The title says that the oil economy is back but it’s leaving workers behind. Given the low price of wholesale oil due to the global supply glut, the only way oil is going to be economically viable in places like west Texas, where all the easy-to-get oil was sucked out long ago, is to reduce the costs of the advanced recovery techniques and that is going to mean cutting labor costs. In other words, without that automation the worker in the article wouldn’t have work anyway because the price of oil wouldn’t justify the cost of recovery in that area.

    There are many good reasons to get completely away from fossil fuels, but an additional side benefit is the elimination of most (not all) local resource extraction economies. These are always very hard on the people who live there.

    • When I moved to Shreveport in 1989 they were in a bit of an “oil bust” as I remember.

    • Davis X. Machina

      It’s not just oil and coal. Work in the north woods is contingent on the housing market, and is getting hammered by long-term movements in the paper-products sector to boot.

      • FMguru

        Construction and other trades are the same way – boom-bust. Moving every few years to chase whatever the hot housing/construction market happens to be is no fun.

  • I’ve been arguing for some years now that changes in industrial and military technologies has made democracy, at least in its old forms, obsolete. As Carl Schmitt pointed out back in the 30s, even the most reactionary and illiberal states of his times had to make their peace with the masses because state actors and capitalists needed to mobilize the population as a whole as workers and soldiers—in Schmitt’s view even Stalin, Hitler, and Mao were democratic leaders just as much as FDR. Now firms don’t need so many workers, and states simply can’t afford to field the enormous armies of the long 20th Century. Members of the elite may still respect ordinary people out of nostalgia or piety but they don’t need them in the same way as before. They aren’t a resource to be exploited, but a nuisance to be managed. Promoting the general welfare simply isn’t an imperative, ergo the worldwide triumph of conservative policies. Thing is, though, the fact that the nth redundant individual has little or no positive value from the point of view of the system doesn’t mean they have no value at all. There’s plenty of room below the zero. Ordinary people have a negative value, not only from the perspective of the oligarchs who don’t want to have to pay taxes to support them or of the environmentalists worried about the consequences of overpopulation or the cops who have to keep them under control or—and this is a crucial point—from the perspective of the ordinary folks themselves who suffer from a sense of their own uselessness. The fury of the Trump voters is rooted in their own sense of inferiority. The disdain of the elites for the great unwashed isn’t the sore that will not heal. It’s the disdain of the many for themselves in a world that doesn’t need them. What’s left but to make yourself feared? As Erik says, a universal basic income might meet the material needs of the superfluous, but it won’t salve their injured pride. After all, the basic political motive for instituting a guaranteed income, at least in conservative circles, is the desire of better off to make an irritating problem go away. The irritating problems understand that very well. It’s going to take one hell of a revolution in values before we hear a new Fanfare for the Common Man, at least one that anybody applauds without irony.

  • Bitter Scribe

    One thing that often gets left out of this debate is that automation has the potential to (after a fashion) increase the number of manufacturing jobs.

    Case in point: ATMs, which were introduced in the 1970s. As they developed and proliferated, they took jobs away from tellers…in individual banks. But they also brought about a big drop in the cost of establishing and running a bank branch, which led banks to increase their outlets. As a result, the number of bank tellers increased from a quarter of a million in 1970 to about a half a million today, with 100,000 added since the year 2000.

    Similarly, by cutting labor costs within an individual factory, automation creates a powerful incentive for industry to establish factories in the U.S. instead of abroad. Once cheaper labor is removed from the picture, the natural advantages of domestic manufacturing (lower transportation costs, no danger of tariffs, no danger of disruption due to a host country’s political situation, the “made in USA” cachet) assert themselves. So labor measured as per unit of production goes down, but overall manufacturing employment has the potential to increase, simply because there will be more factories here.

    Of course, the nature of those jobs will change. Just as bank tellers morphed from simple handers-out of cash to quasi-salespeople who developed relationships with customers, so many manufacturing jobs will call more for evaluating information and making decisions. But there’s no reason this couldn’t be done by people with a high-school education, plus it will undoubtedly be more fulfilling than “traditional” factory work.

    • I’m not certain that the United States any longer qualifies as a country where a disruptive political situation is unlikely to arise, but your overall point is interesting.

  • pegabel

    There is plenty of work that NEEDS to be done, just that most people cannot afford to pay for it – Home Health Care workers. This has been touched on by a few commentators, but I can give a personal example.

    Some people are born with a disability significant enough to require an extensive amount of personal care. Some become disabled at some point in their lives because of accident or illness. Most of us will need personal care in our later years if we live long enough. At whatever point this happens, at least 90% of families don’t have the means to obtain adequate personal care, even at the ridiculously low wage levels in this vocation.

    Many years ago, we adopted several children with multiple disabilities. They’re adults now and enjoy high quality lives. But they require 24/7 assistance to be able to have this quality of life. We are fortunate in that we have the ability to maximize home care funding for our children through a variety of sources, largely community mental health programs. Most people don’t have this ability and receive far less help. Additionally, my wife’s earnings have allowed me the flexibility to give a great deal of time to the paperwork, wrangling, negotiating, and staff supervision to mae this work. Most people have to hire an agency to utilize available funding but I take care of these functions myself, raising the pay for our home care workers from a ridiculous 8 or 9 $/hr to a better, but still too low $12.50/hr.

    We have a staff of eight working in the home my son and daughter share. We can never find enough employees with the skills and motivation to do this job properly – not for 12.50/hr and certainly not for $9/hr. Most of our employees work two jobs. These jobs should be paid at least $15/hr and probably more. There should be good, free training. They should get vacation time and benefits. They should have adequate equipment to do their work without injuring themselves. This should be valued work.

    These wages are determined by government reimbursement rates. These are political decisions. Significantly higher reimbursement rates will allow good wages and benefits for home health care workers. Yes, those who are wealthy, largely due to benefiting from automation and other efficiency gains should pay much more in taxes. But everyone in the so called middle class will need to pony up more, too. By doing so, there will be many more higher paying jobs available, the kind that do not require higher education and, at the same time, there can finally be adequate care for the increasingly many that need it.

    • This, I think, is the key point: there is plenty of work that needs to be done, plenty that could be done, but who will pay to have it done?

      • Right. I’m a major advocate of UBI, but I’m also a major advocate of a second major New Deal-like government jobs program that pays people to do all the things that need to be done but aren’t profitable. Caring for the disabled and elderly is one of these things. Maintenance of public infrastructure is one of these things. Various environmental tasks are some of these things. And so on. These can help alleviate unemployment issues in the short term, but they almost certainly won’t be sufficient in the long term, which is why I also advocate UBI.

  • Platypus Prime

    There has to be good jobs that pay well for them.

    Looks like copy editors will always be in demand…

    • Bitter Scribe

      Copy editors are needed. That doesn’t mean they’re in demand.

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