[ExI] Is unemployment the future?

Emlyn emlynoregan at gmail.com
Thu Nov 5 02:52:39 UTC 2009

2009/11/4 Eugen Leitl <eugen at leitl.org>:
> 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.

Sure, yes. It's a cultural bias, the work ethic. The idea that an
endeavour that looks like productive work might actually be negative
(wastes resources, clogs infrastructure, possibly deals direct damage
to other parts of society) doesn't really compute for us. So the
rational evaluation, that it would be better to pay that person to do
nothing than to pay them to do what they are doing, doesn't get

The work ethic is wrong. Work (as in toil) is not an end in itself, it
is a means to an end. Now, it might be the wrong means to the end we

We think work is necessary for people to live dignified lives, but
this is false. I interact with a lot of retired people, and they give
the lie to it; they're healthy active people, very valuable to the
community. But no one that I can think of, none, still does what they
were employed to do in their working life, even though many are really
very skilled in that area. Instead, they volunteer in areas where they
feel they are needed, and where they enjoy what they are doing. Many
in fact pay money to do those things (providing their own equipment,
donating where they can, or doing voluntary organisational work for
groups like choirs where they are also paying to be members).

Active retirees are a great template right now for how a universal
basic income world could look.

Speaking about telecommunting and telepresence, why is
> nobody mentioning that bete noire, ubiquitous symmetric broadband?
> It's not just for pirates anymore.

I hadn't noticed anyone really talking about it one way or another.

>> 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?

Well we'll meet them, and then likely after a dip below we'll climb
with them. After all, too great a gap the other way will lead them to
outsource to us, and things will turn around. Hopefully we're moving
into a future where national boundaries are much more leaky
economically than they have been.

As to infrastructure, I'm becoming more skeptical about it. More and
better centralised infrastructure seems to lead to more top down
management and control. Also, it shapes the way we live; a certain
kind of infrastructure is imposed, and we change our way of lives,
even our identities, around it. I'd like to see us really minimizing
centralised infrastructure, and instead going for decentralised
solutions; solar houses rather than large power plants, on site waste
treatment rather than massive sewage infrastructure, teleworking
and/or local economies rather than massive road infrastructure based
mega city stuff, etc etc.

>> 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.

Well, it doesn't look good in the face of the boomer retirement. It's
a pity, because it'd be one model for getting a universal basic income
going; that is, just keep lowering retirement age until finally anyone
can retire whenever they like; better memetically than trying to build
outwards from the dole.

>> 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.

I didn't just mean automating physical work. What we've been
automating that really matters has been distribution of information
and information like things, and social organisation. Some argue that
this is what's breaking our money based economies.

>> 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.

Well in fact that doesn't need to be regressing at all really, does
it? We can do the high tech version of that; the new kind of
off-the-grid living becoming en vogue in techy fashion circles. I must
admit a personal attraction to that approach to life!

>> 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).

Weirdly, I think this kind of explains it:

Research shows chronically ill might be happier if they gave up hope

It seems that no matter how much you crush modern westerners with
unemployment, debt, and lack of prospects, they can still maintain the
false hope that one day they too will be able to shit on the little
guy. So many are against welfare even as they are on welfare, against
health insurance for all even when they can't and wont ever be able to
get health insurance, etc.

>> (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.

Yes. I wonder how that can change? Do you think this stuff is likely
to fly in parts of Europe earlier than in say US/UK/Australia?

>> 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.

Yep. wtf is going on in the UK at the moment, btw? Orwell seems to be
being taken the same way as Machiavelli.

>> 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.

Actually, sophisticated would be bloody excellent. We now have the
tools to organise, work, and live together in totally new ways, ways
never seen before under the sun that aren't mediated by the money
economy, if only we can figure out how to use them.

>> 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.

This is probably what it is like at the fall of empires, I guess. And
you know, screw the empire, we never really liked it anyway. But, the
zero dollar questions are, where to next, and how do we make it


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