[ExI] Is unemployment the future?

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Wed Nov 4 11:00:51 UTC 2009

On Wed, Nov 04, 2009 at 11:44:36AM +1030, Emlyn wrote:

> 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.

It would to better if we eliminate unproductive make-pretend
work, and leave such people at home. They can pick up hobbies, do
gardening, and no longer burn up resources and clog up infrastructure
commuting. Speaking about telecommunting and telepresence, why is
nobody mentioning that bete noire, ubiquitous symmetric broadband?
It's not just for pirates anymore.
> 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*

The problem is that we're not doing tech civilisation right.
We're regressing in our capabilities. Our infrastructure is degrading,
since we no longer have the financial wherewithal nor skilled
manpower to keep it where it was. I'm not talking about developing countries,
most of them climb up. We slide; I guess we'll meet more than halfway
in the middle. What then? How can we start ascending again, this
time, together?

> 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.

Speaking about another failure: it's pretty obvious that the current
retirement model is dead, having lasted only one generation of retirees.
This was pretty clear in 1980s already, but you'll notice that's another
simple fact nobody will publicly voice.
> On the other hand, a successful advanced civilization should see paid
> labour as a failure of automation; victory conditions are that no

Current automation is not worth much outside of structured environments.
We're getting some advances in simple environments (air, sea) and nowadays
nonrugged terrain, almost all of them from the military, but it's not 
obvious they're advancing quickly enough, given that our time window 
to further push advanced technology is slowly (or not so slowly, should 
we get resource wars) closing. It would be interesting to see how Japan 
fares with assisted living automation, it's not obvious they can pull 
this off in time.

> 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).

That's how things were supposed to pan out, yes. 
> 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

I personally find that a little personal agriculture on plots of lands
would do a lot in keeping retirees healthy, occupied and providing a
fair fraction of baseline calories and vitamins, and recycle
organic phosphate and nitrate. Win/win, but not officially on anyone's
horizont yet.

If we're regressing technically in places, it doesn't mean we can't 
do it in an uncontrolled, unsophisticated fashion.

> 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).

What is strange is that this apparently still has political support,
though of course the preparation for crowd control and civil-war like
settings is pretty obvious, both on-record and off-record (atlas of hate,
and the like).
> (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

Yep. We're cutting corners everywhere, especially out of sight. This
is no way to run a planet.

> 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.)

The more you outsource or automate the more people are out of work 
and more askew the wealth distribution flow is. Crowd control is
not a good way of dealing with this. Once it starts escalating, there's
no halting.
> 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

There's surprisingly little political support for this.

> 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

Right now this is happening, but is increasingly addressed by
extremely intrusive surveillance, especially as tax revenue continues
to go south.

> 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.

Increasingly large, increasingly angry marginalized group.
Thankfully, not sophisticated nor organized, yet.
> 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

A bunch of pointless new jobs which just help us advance resource
entropy and calcify society is exactly our problem. The market is not
exactly helping.

> 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?

I believe you already mentioned soylent green as an option.

What I'm missing is that it's pretty obvious what needs to be done.
But nobody is doing it, and not even talking about doing it.
Politically, it looks like a bad case of rigor mortis. Not much
seem to be happening at the grassroots either.

We're overdue for another revolutionary movement, but there's a
curious silence in the room. I don't get it.

Eugen* Leitl <a href="http://leitl.org">leitl</a> http://leitl.org
ICBM: 48.07100, 11.36820 http://www.ativel.com http://postbiota.org
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