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Some Notes on Labor, Technology and Economics #

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I think that we are all aware that advanced capitalism is leading us down a road that as a society, we may not want to travel – constant crisis due to increasingly advanced, complex, and unstable financialization, an increasingly vicious trend toward plutocracy and plutonomy that has obliterated socioeconomic mobility via massively increasing inequality, and of course, as an engine of unsustainability, where environmental, health, and social costs are externalized and reality is subsumed via a twisted economic logic.

All these things really should be teased out into much larger discussions, but a few recently related links/discussions I want to make note of (I’m slowly moving some things back out of Evernote into a way that can be narratized):

  • HN: Confessions of a Job Destroyer – a good essay that highlights what technological “disruption” really means; relevant to software, robotics and all sorts of enabling technologies
  • HN: Unfit for work (npr.org) – NPR is doing a weeklong series on how the disability program is hiding massive collapses in the workforce

Also, this image popped up in my Twitter stream recently…

A quick Google search shows that it’s been floating around for at least a year, and the bottom text references an organization that ceased to exist in 1982 so it is probably quite old, but still resonates as much (if not more) today. Here’s the text transcribed (via)

If you’re unemployed it’s not because there isn’t any work

Just look around: A housing shortage, crime, pollution; we need better schools and parks. Whatever our needs, they all require work. And as long as we have unsatisfied needs, there’s work to be done.

So ask yourself, what kind of world has work but no jobs. It’s a world where work is not related to satisfying our needs, a world where work is only related to satisfying the profit needs of business.

This country was not built by the huge corporations or government bureaucracies. It was built by people who work. And, it is working people who should control the work to be done. Yet, as long as employment is tied to somebody else’s profits, the work won’t get done.

- The New American Movement (NAM)

Searching for this led to this interesting article:

  • http://twitter.com/neil21 neil21

    Love this train of thought, which has been occupying my mind for a while too, particularly led by Izabella Kaminska at the Financial Times: http://theleisuresociety.tumblr.com/post/42948727455/on-stating-the-obvious-before-its-obvious and http://ftalphaville.ft.com/2012/12/10/1303512/the-robot-economy-and-the-new-rentier-class/ and http://ftalphaville.ft.com/2012/06/12/1037001/redefining-labour/

    My conclusions so far are:
    – the future is a) equity holders / dividend income (own the robot) b) welfare-for-all (redefined as direct-to-individual QE) c) entrepreneurs / sweat equity creators (able to take risks because of the regular checks in (b) )
    – the policy recommendation is the exact opposite to austerity. States must borrow big (a.k.a. hold on to rich peoples’ money for them: note that people are currently happy to pay, through negative real rates, to have sovereigns hold their money) and redistribute directly to people, with quantitative easing direct to bank accounts.
    – states may also borrow big for good urban and interurban infrastructure projects (i.e. transit, HSR) Good projects are democratic projects that yield positive externalities. Freeways for example are undemocratic (only those with a license may drive, a subset of the total electorate) and yield well-documented negative externalities (from induced demand, to carnage, to blight).
    – technology in finance cannot be ignored: bitcoin, mpesa etc. will pick up cross-border flows if cypriot capital controls are enacted

    An alternative, worse IMO, but likely future would be the growth of state bureaucracy. i.e. rather than distributing the capital the surplus down to the lowest possible level, the state seeks to direct too much of it top-down. Possibly combined with a more explicit wealth tax than borrow & print.

    I’ve suggested some future-ready entrepreneurial directions worth pursuing here: http://technooptimist.tumblr.com/post/38902380594/ten-reasons-for-techno-optimism

  • http://randomfoo.net/ lhl

    Recently I’ve been reading about Basic Income and Guaranteed Minimum Incomes (negative tax)… There’s an interesting recent study/discussion on how that worked out in an Indian village recently: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5656249 and how it’s much better than other qualified subsidies that invite bureaucracy and ultimate, corruption. This corroborates findings from a similar program in Namibia (PDF): http://www.bignam.org/Publications/BIG_Assessment_report_08a.pdf

    The social improvements (health, education) against the controls are pretty undeniable.

    I do wonder if there are certain “universal” benefits like healthcare, education, and food/shelter services that might work better for in the developed world. In any case, the lack of a social net or any sort of wealth redistribution from “tech dividends” seems to be at the crux of increasing socio-economic unrest and ultimately, disaster. I wonder what developed countries will do as productivity and wealth continues to rise and to be increasingly concentrated, while thanks to demographics and technology, the job market and the ability for the majority to survive continues deteriorates at an increasing pace.

    With this stuff looming, I’m wondering if there’s a way for countries to avoid disaster (or just being horrible places to live) I can see Western European or East Asian countries adapting, and maybe it’s just lack of imagination or foresight on my part, but I’m not seeing a self-motivated “good” transition in the US… Actually, that’s a bit of a lie – I don’t see a transition for the current system, but I do see a technologically driven disruption – I can see an alternative system growing from technologically mediated exchanges – think about when things like Lyft, AirBnB, Neighborgoods, etc can allow a community to trade value and if there was a digital currency even beyond Bitcoin that aren’t necessarily (or primarily) tied to real-world monetary exchange, but attached directly into these other value exchange networks or a reputation network).

    That’s my late-night spitballing there…

    Other references:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income_guarantee
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guaranteed_Annual_Income