[ExI] Is unemployment the future?

Emlyn emlynoregan at gmail.com
Thu Nov 5 06:36:53 UTC 2009

2009/11/5 JOSHUA JOB <nanite1018 at gmail.com>:
> Sorry to jump in, but I feel I need to speak up about some problems I see
> with the arguments below.
>> On Nov 4, 2009, at 9:52 PM, Emlyn wrote:
>> The work ethic is wrong. Work (as in toil) is not an end in itself, it
>> is a means to an end.... We think work is necessary for people to live
>> dignified lives, but
>> this is false.
> Work is the means to survival. You have to produce values of some kind
> (almost always material values, in some manner, in most sectors of the
> economy) in order to survive.

Well, you have to have food, shelter, companionship to live (plus a
few more things on this list?). "Producing value" is a method of
getting tokens to trade with other people to get those things.

> So having a desire to be productive (i.e. a
> work ethic) is a good thing.

Good? It is useful to the individual, in a society organised to
require tokens, because it helps the individual get tokens. If the
"productive" work the individual has to do to get those tokens turns
out to be a negative though (either through indulging in important
looking makework like service work and middle management, which do
nothing useful but consume extra resources, or through indulging in
outright destructive behaviour like working in scams such as much of
the finance work, or marketing/advertising), then it looks like the
opposite of useful to the group, and the morality of the endeavour is

> Work is definitely not an end in itself, it is
> a means to the end of furthering your life.


> So some work is necessary to
> live a dignified life, absolutely.

"Work" is conflating two things here:
- what I would call "toil", ie: work done largely to get tokens
(money), or to further future ability to get tokens, say by increasing
reputation, and
- voluntary effort (better word here?), work done primarily for some
non-monetary satisfaction

Toil is required now, in the current system, unless you are self
sufficient for tokens. Work of some kind, which provides a sense of
meaning, is probably required to live a dignified life, but that is
not the same as "toil".

> Even your example of retired seniors
> doesn't support your points, it doesn't seem. They are all doing productive
> things, volunteering and the like. They aren't sitting around doing nothing.

Well the point is that they don't toil, especially not in makework
paid jobs. This is meant to highlight that people with the choice will
not toil, so any suggestions that we need to create toil in order for
people to live a dignified life is wrong. We might need to create toil
because we are structurally unable to assign them tokens in any other
way, but that doesn't seem like something to crow about.

> So while you certainly don't have to be in a formal job, or be employed at
> that moment in time (though you had to be before, in order to have the
> capacity to forego that now), you still have to be productive in order to
> live a meaningful and dignified life.

I agree that you have to do meaningful work or action to live a
dignified life, but I think it is error to confuse that with paid
labour (which is toil, where the person wouldn't otherwise do it). As
to these people having had to store up money in order to do that now,
this is true; they are not people on a universal basic income, just a
good model of what such people might be like. It's a good life, even
on a pretty low income, from what I can see.

>>>> 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.
> There is a major issue with the above. In order for your statement that a
> universal basic income is desirable you must make the assumption that you
> can force other people do things they don't want to do. That idea violates
> the principle of self-direction and rational thinking. The two go hand in
> hand of course, you have to think rationally to be truly self-directed, and
> vice versa. So you can't force people to help others if they have decided it
> is in their rational interest not to do so; you have to respect their
> ability to make decisions just as much as they have to respect your ability
> to do the same.

So you mean you shouldn't force people to pay taxes to support other people?

Actually I partly agree with this; I find it difficult to stomach the
idea of big new taxes. Especially income taxes, it's kind of the point
that selling ones' labour as a means of participating in the market is
failing as an idea, because technology is reducing the value of

If you are a government, whose job it is to look after the interests
of the people (a fraught concept to be sure, and hopefully we can come
up with something a bit more self organising and useful, but it's what
we've got), there are other ways to raise money than to tax the
working stiffs. For instance, the government hands out monopolies all
over the place, especially on IP. If we are going to stay with IP (and
there's another tar baby), then charge like wounded bulls for the
privellege of these monopolies! If companies want to have exclusive
rights over abstract ideas, make them pay for the privellege; after
all, these monopolies damage us all.

Property rights are also artificial grants, if you think about it,
guaranteed by he with the biggest stick (that's the government,
maintaining its monopoly on violence so we don't all need armed
gangs). It could charge handsomely for those privelleges too; after
all, it's expensive to guarantee that stuff.

Or, you know, you could view the matter in the universe as belonging
primarily to the collective of all humanity. Perhaps private property
shouldn't be able to be owned at all? Perhaps it should be more like a
subscription system? Hmm...

>  If you reject the ability to initiate force on those grounds
> (as it seems to me one should, logically), then you are left with simply an
> argument that charities are good things. I'll leave that question alone, but
> I certainly think that any sort of guaranteed (through the state) minimum
> income can be rejected based on fundamental principles.

Unless you argue that the state should be entirely abolished (you
might! Large collections of people acting together and imposing their
will on others tend to be pretty shit), then how do you draw the line
between when the state can use its based-in-force powers and when it

> I also don't see a reason to be concerned about that. After all, if some
> models of the economic growth that is likely to result of advanced AIs and
> nanotechnology are correct, charitable giving at current percentages would
> result in the elimination of poverty in terms of our modern definitions,
> giving the "benefits" of basic income without the issues with principle.

Well, that's a different game, ey?

>>>> (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.
> A couple of things here. First: What is the problem if portions of the world
> are "marginalized?" They are by powerless.

Why do you say "they"? The only moral way to my mind of judging any
system of social organisation, is to imagine yourself as part of the
least well off group. Unless you can be ok with being that person, how
can you support that system? To be clear here, would you be ok being
one of those powerless people?

> On principle, they aren't allowed
> to do anything. They can't attack the formal economy using violence, they
> can't steal, they can't defraud people, they can't take away their property
> (legitimately). So what is the issue?

Marginalised doesn't mean powerless, just deprived of an ability to be
involved in the "legitimate" economy. They can indeed use violence,
steal, fraud. People can do whatever people can do, not just whatever
they are legally allowed to. They might also be punished, but that's a
different issue.

Bleeding heart issues aside, these actions are increasingly possible
and powerful and threatening to the existing order, as the percentage
of people in that marginalised group increases. The issue is this
increasingly is an example of a broken system.

> Just that some people won't have what
> some others will? That's the case to day, and for good reason. It provides a
> strong incentive structure which increases productivity.

That's a matter of faith really.

> Also, the existence of multiple sub-markets is a good thing, not a bad one.
> There are different markets now for different groups. Wealthy people
> primarily operate in a different market than the people in developing
> countries (for the most part). They certainly purchase vastly different
> things. That isn't a problem, but is actually a strength of the market. Free
> markets allow people to supply whatever people want or need (signaled by
> willingness to pay).

People can only pay, if they have tokens to pay with. Marginalised
people can't signal their preferences, because they don't have tokens.
So, how can the market do its magic for these people?

> So if the needs of some group aren't being met by the
> market dominated by the super-wealthy or the transhumans, etc., the poorer
> people can start their own thing, making quilts or whatever like the Amish.
> This a reason why markets are a positive thing, and why they will always
> adapt to the needs of people.

There are indeed lots of grassroots efforts to create local and
alternative currencies around, for just this reason. But this seems to
be quite hard, to often not sit entirely comfortably with the law, and
is an example not of markets adapting to meet the needs of people, but
of people trying to wrench new markets into being to escape the
depredations of existing, non adapting ones.

> The other thing I wanted to question was: What type of society could exist
> totally without money? Money is what allows people to a) not have to barter
> which is extremely inefficient and b) not use force against each other in
> order to get what they want.
> It is the single greatest invention in the
> history of the world, it allowed the blossoming of civilization and reason
> as opposed to poverty, barbarism, and mysticism.

Entirely without money is a tall order, I'll admit. I suspect it's
very difficult for anyone presently alive to truly imagine a
technologically advanced society without money (the Federation doesn't
count, it never made sense :-) ).

But consider that in the modern world, everything we would think of as
useful above the level of raw commodity is largely information and
social value. An iPhone isn't valuable to us because of the value of
the raw materials in it, neither is a car. It's because of the
arrangement of the atoms, and the social context of that arrangement
(iPhones allow us to compute and communicate, and they work on a world
communications network and in the context of Apple's iTunes; cars
allow us to travel and act as peacock tails, and have value because
the western world is largely paved for them). The raw materials are
usually cheap, the social context actually costs nothing, and
information is distributable endlessly for close enough to free that
it doesn't matter. Yet the prices we pay don't reflect that; we pay a
lot of money because the people who provide these things need also to
pay for inputs (stuff and information) which can be expensive even
though it is also mostly made of things which really cost very little,
and labour which costs because the people supplying the labour want
tokens to trade for overly expensive things mostly made of information
and social context, and they want profits because they too want to be
able to buy things mostly made of information and social context.

Information and social context are both essentially free, and we can
have as much of them as we can stomach without costing anyone else.
They are non scarce. Yet we continually price things made out of them
in a non-free way, ie: we make them scarce. Because we need tokens.

So, another way to look at this is to say, we could just let all the
information and social context go free, remove the mediation of money.
There is still the matter of resources, atoms, which might require a
scarcity economy or might not (but lets say they do for now - one day
we will realise that everything in the entire universe is made of
atoms and we shouldn't get so hung up on them, but today is not that

There is also the matter of the human creative input to create
physical things, and to create new information and social context. But
do we need money to motivate this actual work? The great body of the
internet says no. People will do things for money, but we see
increasingly that enough people will do even more, far more, for
reputation and just for the love of it, if they are not otherwise
required to spend their time toiling. If the things they need to live
have zero or almost zero cost, for the reasons stated above, then that
will be the case; you don't need to financially reward people who have
no use for that reward. And, you don't need (and can't use) the work
of everyone, just of a few, which can be endlessly distributed to
anyone who can use it.

The great strength of the market is its signalling aspects, but you
can still have that, because you can still have reputation markets.
The social internet, if it is anything, is almost wholely an
unimaginably large collection of variously sized reputation markets.
These markets aren't command economy; they're bonefide distributed
organisations of free actors. I'd like to think that we could
eventually replace government with mechanisms that arise out of this

> Now I might imagine a
> society in the semi-far future (perhaps by the end of the century) in which
> extremely powerful AIs might be able to provide basically everything without
> any human involvement. They might be something like the Minds in Iain M.
> Banks' "The Culture" novels. Perhaps such a society would have no need of
> money, but it isn't really a society of people anymore, so much as a world
> dominated by nearly godlike entities. The production is done by these
> superbeings who use a microscopic amount of their power to provide
> everything we mere mortals and less intelligent beings may desire. A world
> where people are interacting on anything approaching equal terms is going to
> have to be dominated by money in some form or another in order to function
> peacefully and efficiently.

Are you sure?

>>>> 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
>> happen?
>> --
>> Emlyn
> I will say that the empire will fall. The empire won't of work,
> productiveness, and laissez-faire capitalism won't be what falls however. It
> will be the mixed economy, socialism, and the world dominated by force and
> compulsion which falls. Where to next? Well back to capitalism. What we need
> isn't force and regulation and universal basic incomes to make sure everyone
> is included. We need to set people free to follow their own lights, do what
> they deem best for themselves, and think independently. A society which bans
> all forms of force is one which will enable everyone to be free to do
> whatever they wish. Technology will advance more rapidly, people will get
> what they desire more quickly and more efficiently than under a centrally
> organized system, and we will reach the day when the results everyone seems
> to strive for (a world where people don't have to be productive if they
> don't want to; even if I think that would be a horrible thing to do) will be
> a reality without any force of compulsion involved. Free actions of free
> individuals will create it. And its the only way to attain that end without
> violating at the very least the principle of self-direction.

I hope you're wrong. The 20th century seemed to be all about
capitalism vs socialism, various mixes of these showing up, and no one
being particularly happy about most of the results. The 21st century
dawns with a new connected humanity, with a new set of possibilities
for living together, collaborating or not, communicating or not,
helping each other or not, which invalidate the core assumptions of
the previous ideologies.

We have new possibilities for productivity, ones that don't require
human toil (in fact which increasingly wont be able to find a use for
it), yet we find ourselves mired in a pre-existing system which
requires money purely for organizational reasons. The universal basic
income is a kludge to tide us over while we sort out the new stuff,
because people don't deserve to die in the streets just because things
have gotten better.

> This was my first post, hope its okay.

Yep, thanks for posting!


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

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list