[ExI] retrainability of plebeians

Emlyn emlynoregan at gmail.com
Wed Apr 22 01:23:56 UTC 2009

2009/4/21 Rafal Smigrodzki <rafal.smigrodzki at gmail.com>:
> The amount of
> useful work that can be performed by humans is always larger than
> their ability to perform. As soon as one specific job is "destroyed"
> by technological change, another job opens. And the reasoning is quite
> simple - Jobs exist because they fulfill human desires but there are
> always more desires than there are resources (including humans) needed
> to make them come true. If an easier way of fulfilling a human desire
> is found, it will increase the amount of resources or decrease their
> use in fulfilling the desire. The extra resources are not destroyed -
> since there are always more desires available to soak up resources
> (including workers), the resources will be used to satisfy yet another
> unfulfilled desires, and not destroyed (i.e. sent to a concentration
> camp).

This is econ 101, and I think the really depressing thing is that you
are right. In fact, I'm pretty sure that we passed the point long ago
where most employed workers were doing anything real with their lives.
I know that value is defined relatively in this context, so it is
invalid to say what is real and not real value, but surely there is
some difference between work which directly feeds another person, say,
and work which is on the face of it entirely superfluous (eg: many
faceless bureaucrat jobs in government and large industry)? Maybe
tentatively you could say any particular job has a "reality
coefficient", which is derived from how much impact would be felt by
that job no longer being performed? Fuzzy. Sorry, this is difficult.

I propose that pretty much all of the service industries are of this
nature; they are in fact make work, magically appearing out of the
ether based on a surfeit of labor that can do nothing else. I read
that the hospitality industry is expanding here at the moment due to
the availability of skilled workers coming out of the finance
industry, for instance. I actually think most of the "creative" and
professional jobs are also make work, but that's harder to argue.

So, what I'm saying is yes, you are right that jobs get created. On
the other hand, it is very difficult to argue that as a group, we'd be
worse off if many of those jobs went unfilled. I would also posit that
many people, given the choice between doing their jobs and not doing
them, would choose not to do them, all else being equal (eg: if they
were still able to live comparatively well).

Now if you concede that this is all true, then we have a picture of
many (most, I think) jobs really being about income redistribution.
You do need a mechanism to allocate resources, of course. But, is
making people perform what amounts to make-work really the best way to
do that?

I also assert, and we've been seeing some hints of this in the media
recently, that absent paid employment, the useful people among us
volunteer, likely doing something more fulfilling for them, and
possibly at least as valuable for the group. Feel free to ignore this
point, I don't feel that I can substantiate it.

My worry is that we will get to a society of fully automated
production, and yet we will still all be employed, in ever more
unfulfilling and pointless paid work, with no mechanism to stop.

Actually I should cut my verbiage short here, and ask, who sees this
as a problem? Are there some people who see nothing wrong with this?
It might shed some light on different world views; arguing about
details will fail if we differ on something so fundamental.


http://emlyntech.wordpress.com - coding related
http://point7.wordpress.com - ranting
http://emlynoregan.com - main site

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list