Friday, January 27, 2012

The Employment "Problem"

(Sorry for posting so rarely lately. I've been distracted by some other projects, so post here only when I can't restrain myself.)

Just suppose that there has been a huge breakthrough in the art of robotics and suddenly robots are capable of just about any task. And let's suppose also that methods of producing robots very cheaply have been devised. So suddenly robots are cleaning houses, repairing automobiles, fixing the plumbing, designing bridges, designing buildings, building bridges, building buildings, etc., etc. Also let's suppose that education has also been automated, so classrooms are no longer necessary, classes are taught online via pre-packaged software, exams are graded automatically, etc.

Sounds great, right? But wait a minute! As this technology catches on there are gradually fewer and fewer jobs for housekeepers, mechanics, plumbers, engineers, architects, construction workers, even teachers (including professors). Ultimately, with so few working, there is no money to purchase any of these robots or online classes, no one in a position to buy a house or even rent an apartment, etc. The 99% are homeless and on the verge of starvation.

Thanks to modern technology, humanity has taken a great leap forward. But instead of this being a boon to humanity it turns out to be a disaster. Why?

The moral of the story is that we are already very close to being in more less this same position at the present time. And the answer to this dilemma lies in a well worn phrase that we very rarely hear anymore: "means of production." Capitalism is based on the notion that the means of production are controlled by a few "entrepreneurs," "innovators," "investors," etc. -- an arrangement that is supposed to benefit everyone. But when we take this arrangement to its absurd extreme, as in the situation I've just described, we see very clearly that it is not only unworkable, but self-defeating.

Why are enhancements in "productivity" taking away so many jobs? Because productivity is defined by the owners of the means of production (the 1%) as something that ultimately enhances their profits and, consequently, their power -- at the expense of workers.  As now seems clear, however, enhancements in productivity are socially desirable only when they benefit everyone, not just the very few at the top of the social pyramid. And capitalism can work only when government intervenes to make sure that the benefits of technology are shared by all.

Thus, instead of taking jobs from workers, the technology should exist to make their lives better. In the form of: shorter working hours, higher pay, more pleasant and challenging types of work, more leisure time to be with family, pursue the arts, hobbies, do research, express oneself, etc. Is this a Utopian dream? Is it (God forbid!) socialism? At one time it might have seemed that way. But at this particular time in history it looks more and more like our only hope.


  1. some questions

    1) you seem to be knowledgable on sci-fi. I was wondering, what is the difference between a robot and an android? And which type is Mitt Romney?

    2) Is Rick Santorum just stupid, just evil, or a combination of both?

    3) Hypothetical. You are in a large, safe boat but in stormy seas. Two small lifeboats pull up to your side. Boat A contains Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and Sarah Palin. Boat B contains cockroaches, rats, bedbugs, maggots, malaria carrying mosquitos, and 20 pounds of warm, freshly made horseshit.

    Assuming you can only rescue one boat of the two, which boat do you choose to save?

  2. The problem is over education and under employment,also employment gained not on basis of merit but by bribes,contacts and reservation quota of the relevant job.Thanks for sharing us!

  3. I'd have to disagree Smile Proud. I think 100 times more (either publicly/private) education of the masses is in order. Unless you're talking about general and specific vocational training. Either way, all such post-seconfary education of ANY type should be free. I believe this is the way it is currently with European countries and others. Of course, yes, that IS socialism, but I am a socialist, so I'll move on.

    The problem of basing employment (I assume good job and not in some sweat shop in China making IPODS & IPADS, as modern day slaves), on "merit" is flawed and is not going to solve anything. The national debt of college grads these days (including owed and defaulted loans, etc.) is in the many billions. Many college and even graduate school folks, after school, exit with a huge debt and a lot are unable to find work in their field (or study), and so must settle for underemployment (which they find lousy and are seen by employers as "temp"). Also, how does one exactly earn "merit" if they are either undereducated or overeducated?

    I think the above article IS a pie in the sky type fantasy, given today's world economics. Yes, we should all be doing a job we love, and yes I find that utopian. But I'm all for it. I don't think that any such society will come about in my lifetime, but yes, I wish for the same.

    Merit is kind of a nebulous term though. Doesn't "merit" basically mean "experience?" Yet how is even the lowest of the low even with high education supposed to get employment without experience?

    It's a catch 22 alright. In a broader vein, I question whether there shouldn't be at least SOME qualification test before a US citizen (or resident) could vote. The whole concept of "democracy" seems absurd. As does "majority rules." If the majority is either stupid or just plain blindly selfish, how is "democracy" ever achieved.

    I am a socialist and proud to be one, but I am a libertarian as well. In my view, the USA just seems like another unworkable failed experiment because the supreme court has turned over the whole VOTE to money. So it works on Wall street, in our schools, in our government, local, state, national, international.

    I am a utopian also I suppose, but an undereducated populace is no basis for truly civilized society. The shame is a lot of the problems could be solved very quickly if only the ignorant and greedy didn't control USA politics, and the media.

    On the boat question above, I would vote to save the various right wing crazies. More "meat" I would think than the other boat... :-)

    Eat the rich... :-)

  4. True. But our higher educational system is all devoted to supplying Wall Street, and the bastard pharmaceuticals and media whores (and offshoots), a steady stream of worker bee slaves.

    Around the whole philosphical/political arguemnet here, I think whether or not "every" employee has any problem in whatever field, depends alot on specific employment field, and training/experience, AND interest. A lot of people employed in this country probably has at least "some" problem. But none are enough to significantly change the employer-employee arrangement.

    Regardless of appearances, I think we all basically still exist in a boss/slave economic system. How clearly we recognize that depends on which rung of the latter from bottom to top, we hang by.

  5. I was recently on a bus going to my doctor early in the morning. Most of the bus was filled with college students. Every 9 out of 10 of them were playing with their smart phones, on the web, Facebook, etc. Some were playing video games. A lot had earbud headphones on, listening to whatever, while surfing the net. Some were fumbling with their books and writing tablet, and their web activities, plus games, plus music or whatever. Out of the 40 or so students, I only saw about 3 or 4 people actually talking to each other.

    So, this is the great leap forward. That's one small step for man, one giant leap to some weird surrogate world, where people would rather focus all their attention to some weird web cloud reality, instead of talking to each other in "real life" right next to them. I was led to conclude from my observations that if their "tech" suddenly died, what the hell they would all have to talk about with other real human beings?

  6. Out of the 40 or so students, I only saw about 3 or 4 people actually talking to each other.

  7. So...wha happend to "DocG"?

  8. When I was growing up, we were taught the meme that while automation (eg: of factor jobs) may temporarily displace some workers, in the end it increases per capital wealth and workers go on to (on the whole) find better jobs. This has probably been the mantra for industry for centuries, and often it actually has held true.

    I think that it may be breaking down tho. I was growing up in an era with low unemployment (ie: demand for labor), where the step up from manual laborer (do it yourself) to factory worker (run the machines that do it) was often widely accessible. On the job training was often enough, or college was cheap if you had the brains and initiative. That's not so true now - many tech jobs require extensive training and skillsets that only some people are capable of learning - it takes years and a lot of money to be competitive. Back then there were also trade barriers that caused owners to develop domestic workers even if they had to pay to train them; in the new world order with freer trade, many of those "next step" jobs have been outsourced to low labor cost countries. Meanwhile, a lot of young people hardly try (others try very hard, I know, but there really are a lot of discouraged young folks who have pretty much no real career goals).

    The logical extension, as you point out, would be a system which needs hardly any labor - except perhaps a few well paid super-engineers to assist the machines that design other machines. In some old time Science Fiction, this resulted in societies where nobody needs to work unless they want to, because everybody is effectively wealthy. But we don't distribute per-capital wealth evenly - it's divided between those who do the work and those who own the facilities. If there's hardly any need for workers, then almost all the profits will go to the owners - and the unemployed can starve while the trillionaires that own the robots get richer.

    EXCEPT - in a consumer society, who buys the goods made by the robots, if the masses have no money because they have no jobs? The system falls apart there. Maybe the society moves only so far towards the world you envision, stopping at some point of pain where people still have some money to spend, enough to keep the system faltering along, not quite falling apart but miserable for most.

    OR the masses are encouraged to die off, and a relatively small group of extremely wealthy "owners" receive all the benefits of the robotic work. Not a mass consumption society, only enough is produced by the robots, as the owners want for themselves. I wonder if even this could be stable tho.

    Will we wise up in time as a species?

    1. Thanks, Zeph. What I was presenting in this post was, basically, an argument for socialism. While I am painfully aware of the drawbacks and even dangers of a socialist society, it seems to me the world no longer has much of a choice, because the alternative, the continuation of the capitalist status quo, is patently self destructive -- for all, including the 1%.

      The hope expressed early on in this blog was that the whole system would soon come tumbling down, of its own accord, with no need for a bloody revolution. I seriously underestimated the ability of the oligarchs and their "liberal" supporters to maintain the Ponzi scheme indefinitely. Sooner or later, however, Humpty Dumpty is going to take a nose dive off that wall and when that happens there will no longer be a "private sector" to maintain that status quo and socialism of some kind will be the only option. The sooner we prepare for this inevitable outcome the better.


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