Friday, July 31, 2015

The Robots are Coming

In this PBS News Hour piece they discuss how things will be going from bad to worse for low skill low academic capability citizens. And how this will continue to drive the wealth distribution gap even wider.  The people with investments and/or hard to replace skills will make more, and the people with minimal investments who work in "robot jobs" will make less.

We have already seen the strife caused by American consumers turning their backs on American workers and choosing to buy many of their products and Services from low cost countries.

The question of course will be what to do about this?  Are Americans going to be willing to pay more to support higher paid American Human labor, or will they seek out the highest value goods no matter the consequences to the low skilled workers?

CSM What Role
HBR What Happens to Society

20 comments:

jerrye92002 said...

Three quick comments.
First, glad to see that somebody recognizes that artificially raising minimum wage has the exact effect of replacing workers with machines. That company building robotic burger flippers that "pay for themselves in 6 months" replacing $8/hr humans can now pay for itself in 3 months. And it is doing so.

Second, my father saw this coming 50 years ago, musing that someday we would all get rich "taking in each other's laundry."

Lastly, I am reminded of STTNG's Jean Luc Picard, when asked what people do now that the "replicator" had freed the whole population from deprivation and from work, said that they took pride in art and learning and space exploration. So Dad was wrong. We'll all get rich in the future by buying one another's art.

John said...

Unfortunately Picard's reality requires that everyone be capable of art, space exploration, etc. And that someone is willing to fund those activities.

Your denying the reality of this very serious pending problem will not make it go away.

Star Trek Sanctuary

Laurie said...

My favorite blogger, Kevin Drum, wrote about the coming age of robotics 2 years ago:
Welcome, Robot Overlords. Please Don't Fire Us?

The obvious solution for people pushed into unemployment is guaranteed basic income:
The Conservative Case for a Guaranteed Basic Income

I think people could adjust very well to a life of leisure. It hasn't been a problem for me this summer, although I am looking forward to going back to work (except getting up at 6:00)

Sean said...

The notion that the recent push to raise minimum wages is driving automation is, well, a bunch of hooey. Automation will always be a threat to the minimum wage worker.

2003 McDonald's Automation

Here's an idea that will make your head explode -- a new 21st Century social contract for all workers. Don't agree with all the specific policy ideas in here, but it does raise some real concerns that folks face given the move towards a more freelance or jobber economy.

Shared Security, Shared Growth

John said...

Sean and Laurie,
Same old questions.

Who is going to pay for the programs?
How will this entice people to make good decisions?
How will this punish people for making bad decisions?

Free riders are going to kill our country's dominance in this globally competitive world. And then their goes the source of those guaranteed incomes.

Sean said...

Perhaps you should read the article again, because it details how the Shared Security Account would be funded. And Shared Security Accounts only apply to people who are working.

(Also, if you're going to demand specifics from us, how about giving some of your own on deficit reduction? Funny how you only seem to demand backup from others.)

Laurie said...

I would raise taxes. America is a very rich country.

jerrye92002 said...

"I would raise taxes. America is a very rich country. "-- Laurie

Question: How much do robots pay in taxes? Since they are the only ones working? The theory before was that all the rest of us would be building and servicing robots, and thus have even higher-paying jobs than now. Obviously neither the math nor the social and educational realities support that theory.

Laurie said...

The robots owners and the ownership class in general could pay the bulk of the taxes.

jerrye92002 said...

Sean, I fully support the idea of health care portability. Employer-based coverage is an anachronism and is cost-INeffective. I would also applaud a "private, owned" replacement for Social Security and the elimination of tax withholding (replaced with a consumption tax). But then the idea proposed sort of runs off the rails into fantasy land. The idea that benefits can be "accrued" and held/distributed against a large range of employers, especially by some government entity, seems likely to collapse of its own bureaucratic and regulatory weight. And automation, contrary to your claim, WILL accelerate when the cost of workers exceeds their productive value in the organization. A robot doesn't NEED health care or sick leave or paid vacation, either. Not even coffee and restroom breaks. Or sleep. In short, I don't see how this "contract" solves the problem at hand.

jerrye92002 said...

Laurie, where are these "ownership class" people going to get the money to pay all these taxes? With nobody else working, where do the "non-ownership class" people get the money to buy anything the robots make? Seems like a lot of bootstrapping.

Laurie said...

it is simple, really, the robots would do all the work and people receive a monthly allowance for consumption of all the goods the robots produce. Of course their are natural resource based limits to how much each person can consume on a planet full of billions of people.

I think in the system I am imagining there would be a small, very rich class of owners and the rest of us would live somewhat modestly but comfortably.

John said...

So what will prevent the free riders from having more children than they can afford and demanding more money?

Kind of like what happens today.

Laurie said...

With the current world population at 7.3 billion and projections to be at 11 billion by 2100, I would be OK with a two child limit per family. This limit seems fair, reasonable, and responsible to me. What do you think is a good number of people for planet Earth? Or do you favor unlimited population growth?

John said...

Since we can only somewhat control what happens in the USA, I think that is what I will limit my thoughts to.

The goal would not be an arbitrary fixed limit like in a Haddix book. The goal is to ensure that people only have as many children as the can afford and responsibly raise.

If one is already costing society more than they contribute and/or able to responsibly raise children, they really should not be having children and adding to the burden they are placing on society.

Having and raising children should be a privilege not a right.

jerrye92002 said...

"The goal is to ensure that people only have as many children as the can afford and responsibly raise."-- John

Laurie, I think John has exposed the fatal flaw in your utopian scheme. If everybody gets a big check from the robot masters, just for sucking air and buying the things the robots produce, then what is their incentive for limiting their children, especially when there's "nothing else to do"? And I'm trying to understand why the robot masters would produce ANYTHING, since all they are going to do is turn over all the proceeds to the consumers. Essentially, they're running a factory, with a huge capital investment, and then giving everything they produce away for free.

No, what you have here is a classical perpetual motion machine, except with cash and goods instead of energy. The robots produce, the people pay for the goods with money they get from the money they pay the robots. If the robot master takes out anything for himself, the system "leaks" money/wealth just like friction and other losses eventually sap the energy of perpetual motion machines. No NEW wealth is ever produced; it is eventually all consumed by people who don't produce anything in exchange.

Even Star Trek's "replicator" has limits. To produce a cup of "Earl Grey tea, hot" the "perfect" matter-antimatter engines must consume 1 cup of matter, turn it to energy, then back into matter in the form of tea. Eventually the engines run out of things to consume.

John said...

Sean,
I read the Atlantic link which led me to this piece. Though I see some benefits to the "basic income" concept, I see more negative free loader consequences.

John said...

Though if we pass this and keep ACA in force, I may be able to retire even sooner and live off those still working until I can access my 401K money without penalty.

jerrye92002 said...

Ever since Richard Nixon first suggested it, I thought a "negative income tax" was a great idea. It would be a completely progressive tax, right down to zero, so that at zero income for the year, the government would pay you something like 50% of poverty-line income-- just above starvation. ALL other federal benefits would be eliminated, except that there would be welfare "counselors" to help you find jobs or education or learn to cook for yourself or... basically all the things private charities do now, except for food and shelter. As people work and earn more, their taxes go "up," but not as fast as their total income after taxes, so the incentive is always there to work, better oneself and earn more. Of course, robots are going to quickly foreclose the route of low-wage and entry-level work, so we don't have much time before Atlas Shrugs.

jerrye92002 said...

Before we forget all about this topic, I was hoping someone could shed some real light on this question: Let us assume, for the moment, that the nation recovers from a bad case of Obamanomics and resumes Reagan-era economic growth and Bush-era "full employment." That is, all of the currently unemployed go back to work (the real number, ~11%, not the phony DOL number of 5.whatever). Now assume that we shut off the flood of illegal immigrant labor taking some jobs, and maybe even send a few of them "back where they came from." One more: Let us assume that 80-90% of welfare recipients are not only "able-bodied" (a reasonable estimate) and able to work, but they are somehow magically qualified for any job that might be open. The question is: ARE THERE enough jobs currently open to employ all the people in this country right now?