[ExI] Is unemployment the future?

Emlyn emlynoregan at gmail.com
Wed Nov 4 01:14:36 UTC 2009

2009/11/4 BillK <pharos at gmail.com>:
> On 11/3/09, Eugen Leitl wrote:
> <snip>
>>  The unemployment rate in the US (Europe and elsewhere is not that
>>  different or worse) is pretty close to 20%. If you look at the shift
>>  in quality from around 1970, or so, you'll see it's make-pretend
>>  work in low-skill minimal wage service serf sector. These people are not
>>  happy, strangely enough.
>>  I mean, we can pretend that nothing serious is happening, and tune
>>  the statistics until they shine, but we're not fooling anybody. Not
>>  on the long run, no-how.
> Ah ha!  I see Eugen understands what is going on.
> The official unemployment figures are massaged to meaninglessness by
> the politicians. That's why I quoted the food stamps figures. So far
> as I can tell these figures are just straight totals and are not
> adjusted for public consumption.
> Even GDP stats nowadays are mostly useless. Recovery??? That's a joke
> - except for bankers' bonuses.
> Also, many people 'officially' employed are on short time and have
> very low take-home pay. Thus they become eligible for food stamps,
> which shoots upwards.
> It is not only computer tech that is the problem. Production has been
> outsourced to China and the Far East. India provides helpdesks and
> call-centres, cars come from Japan, etc. etc. The first world jobs are
> in government or the remaining services that are not yet transferred
> abroad.
> In some areas of the UK, half the population is employed by the
> national or local government or the national health service. They
> provide services to the other half who are on unemployment benefit or
> permanent disability benefit.
> Is this the wonderful future we anticipate?
> BillK

Eugen's write when he says the so called "service" sector is
make-work. Not only that, but much of the "creative" sector (usually
cast to include management) is also makework, especially that which
primarily plays a part in the upper eschelons of the service sector.

The thing is this: it's not a sign of failure, per se, that this is
happening. If we are doing tech civilization right, the jobs *should*
be disappearing. After all, a job is something which needs doing, but
which no one will volunteer to do. Somehow we often forget, in our
quest for high employment levels and job security, that people,
overall, fundamentally don't actually want jobs; they want financial
security (ie: to be able to live), and jobs have been a necessary
evil, an indirect method and usually the only way to provide that.

On the other hand, a successful advanced civilization should see paid
labour as a failure of automation; victory conditions are that no
sentient has to do things for money rather than love in order to live
(although if doing things for money instead of love voluntarily, over
and above being able to survive and live a dignified life is your idea
of self actualization, then that's good too of course).

So we find ourselves in this bind, victims of our own success. We
really are becoming vastly more efficient at running our society,
enough so that we don't need everyone to toil endlessly to make that
happen. But, our social & economic organisation is such that, rather
than freeing people from toil, we doom them to the poor house (no,
sorry, to the streets; we are too civilised for poor houses).

(A quick aside: many of the "efficiencies" we see aren't from
automation, but from exploiting cheap overseas labour, so we resemble
at least in part the slave based empires of the past. That probably
undermines a lot of my argument, as these economies don't ever seem to
be sustainable. So let's hope that there is actually a good chunk of
real productivity gain, real devaluing of labour, real automation, and
that this can eventually entirely replace the questionable gains that
come from relying on oppressed people in depressed economies.)

It's time for a major shift. These societies we live in are supposed
to be for the good of their participants, that's why we form the
damned things. We should look at being able to live a dignified life,
if not as a fundamental right, then as a fundamental goal for a good
society. In a post-job capitalist world, it's got to mean a universal
basic income. The alternative, that masses of people have no way to
participate or even live, and have no money, is actually anathema to a
market economy, because those people become inaccessible to it. The
prestidigitation of the invisible hand only works if everyone has
tokens with which to signal their preferences.

Also I might add that if really seriously large numbers of people are
left out of the formal economy, then they will go set up their own
alternative economy of some form or forms, be it black markets,
alternative currencies, non-monetary sharing economies, or just
outright criminal enterprise. Every one of those alternatives
undermines the formal market economy, and should worry anyone who
cares about the market system. Either you include everyone, or you
start making soylent green, but you can't just ignore this
increasingly large marginalised group and hope they'll go away.

Or, hell, maybe the Robin Hansons of the world are right, that the
market will invent a bunch of new jobs to take up the slack. But, will
those be fulfilling work, advancing the state of humanity? Or will the
new new economy consist of even more disengaged people well aware of
the pointlessness of their endeavours but powerless to escape them? Is
that actually the way we want to deal with the fact that the universe
no longer requires most of us to toil for existence?


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

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