Robots, Universal Basic Income, and the Welfare State

By Rick McGahey, Senior Vice President of Programs, Institute for New Economic Thinking. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

Welfare states in developed economies are being hit from all directions. Some argue they are too expensive; others see them as inadequate to new economic challenges. Their failure to address the needs of working class voters are blamed for the rise of what Mark Blyth calls the “neonationalism” seen in the Brexit vote, the Trump presidential victory, and the strength of nationalist candidates in France, Italy, and elsewhere.

Faced with economic disruption, especially in the labor market, some have advocated the adoption of a universal basic income (UBI) policy. Much of the current interest in UBI stems from a belief that technology is eliminating jobs more rapidly than new ones can be created, and that future job growth will be much lower. Erik Brynjolfsson, co-author of the widely read book The Second Machine Age, which forecasts significant displacement of human labor by robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), believes a UBI will eventually be necessary. Other authors, such as Martin Ford in his dystopian Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future supports a UBI, although initially at a “relatively low level.”

But, as I discuss in my recent paper “Universal Basic Income and the Welfare State”, labor economists from a variety of perspectives don’t believe the effect of robotics on employment are as dire as some imagine. (The paper is part of a forthcoming Columbia University Press volume on the welfare state, edited by Joseph Stiglitz.) That consensus among economists should give pause to those who believe that technological displacement justifies major disruptions in the welfare state.

The assumption that technology will be so disruptive as to justify discarding existing welfare state and other labor market institutions for a UBI should be treated with caution. Politically, that could result in an alliance with libertarian advocates of a UBI who want to eliminate the welfare state — unemployment insurance, housing, health care — and use the funds to provide cash grants to individuals, with the ultimate goal of reducing public spending.

Robotics and artificial intelligence may eventually cause major labor market disruptions, but that has not been the case thus far. Larry Katz and Alan Krueger found that people who work through the internet via online platforms like Uber represent only about 0.5 percent of the U.S. workforce — almost all of them Uber drivers, many of whom have another job. Contingent work arrangements — part-time, contracted, and temporary work agencies — are growing, and the new technology is being used in part to control worker schedules and expand global supply chains, weakening labor’s bargaining power but not resulting in wholesale elimination of jobs.

I argue that the UBI debate should focus on the strengthening of business’ economic power over labor over a more than three-decade period. Rather than a historically unique event, advanced technology may just be the latest factor impeding both labor’s ability to bargain, and overall macroeconomic performance, by contributing to weaker overall demand and growing inequality.

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  1. Michael Fiorillo

    Couldn’t it be reasonably argued that the accelerating increase in contingent labor via technology, and the economic precariousness and anxiety that follows from it, is qualitatively not so different from the actual elimination of jobs, and is the primary cause of the “neo-nationalism” the author refers to?

    It might just be a distinction without a difference.

    1. craazyboy

      I’ll go with “robotics and automation” making jobs disappear is really a neolib cover story to deflect attention from the effects of offshoring. Otherwise, you’d think there would be a “robot belt” where the rust belt used to be.

      But I guess now they are calling “self checkout” at Home Depot and supermarkets “robotics”, so the narrative seeks to adapt as necessary. Your unemployment check will be mailed out by robots too, eventually.

      1. Podrick

        That’s only because those jobs left when robotics was not a factor. There’s no incentive to bring them back, robots have no geographic restrictions. The bulk of what is left – service and tech tasks – will almost certainly be eliminated by automation, and probably sooner than we think.

      2. fresno dan

        January 6, 2017 at 10:30 am

        “I’ll go with “robotics and automation” making jobs disappear is really a neolib cover story to deflect attention from the effects of offshoring.”

        I would say EVERYTHING is a neolib cover story to hide that real real assets, real stuff, real wealth is being mercilessly transferred from the 90% to the 0.01% – and of course, this is portrayed as “evolution” or “economic physics” (the imprimatur of a unstoppable force of nature, instead of arbitrary and capricious rules made by men….nay, WEALTHY men)

        That is why unionizable jobs leave the county, health care is crapified constantly with increasing “fees” NOT covered by insurance is the order of the day, rents rise, and the official passport to middle class land, i.e., a college degree which used to be essentially free now costs a fortune and MUST BE FINANCED, and the REAL costs of living rise far higher and faster than the FED admits.

        And than the story…the NARRATIVE – we just have so much stuff….we are too productive. We have “full” employment, complete recovery from the great recession….. Supposedly so well off, yet so many feel so desperate….
        As Mish says, ‘inflation in what (goods AND services) is needed to live, deflation in what is not needed to live’

        1. inhibi

          Well it can only last for so long. As wealh gets transferred, consumerism goes down, retail plummets, auto plummets, agro plummets, construction plummets, inflation rises.

          America is on a slow long crawl towards a banana republic.

          1. Code Name D

            America is not on the long crawl towards becoming a banana republic. America is already there and cutting new ground.

          2. djrichard

            This is an acceptable outcome to the 1%.

            Indeed they have an economy that perpetuates on its own independent of the main-street economy. All they need to do is drive up the price of assets perpetually. And the Federal Reserve is more than happy to be the hand maiden for this “wealth” effect.

            The only reason they keep us 99% around is so that the Federal Reserve has something to fret about in raising the fed funds rate too quickly. The Fed Reserve is going slow to help the rest of us catch up don’t you know.

        2. jgordon

          You are right! Everything is a mess and things are only headed in one direction. I think that deep down everyone (who cares) realizes that there’s no saving America. We are on the last leg of a multistage journey into the new dark age and the fuel gauge is on empty.

          Speaking of the imminent dark age, the trajectory of the collapsing American Empire can be mapped very precisely to that of the collapsing Roman Empire, from the decaying social fabric and sense of sexual identity to the corruption of politics and economics etc. If you want to know how all this turns out, history offers a rough map. Go ahead and look into it; the parallels are stunning!

        3. David Troutman

          Yes, fresno dan. I am also very suspicious of the neolib barrative of roots. Yes, they trajectory jobs. But it is not like we don’t have enough work to do. But it is work that would be on the public sector. Abs the wealthy do not want that. They want more rent extraction.

    2. A. Mutter

      Richard McGahey is not making much of an argument at all. He’s just rallying against “technological determinism,” nothing more. His concluding sentence:

      “But debate over the distribution of profits and rents from technical change or any other form of work reorganization, and the welfare state’s role in buffering or confronting those changes, should not be
      reduced to a debate over robotization and internet platforms.” (i.e. don’t place the blame solely on technology.)

      No problem.

  2. CRH

    Fascinating topic, one which I wrote an article recently on. Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) might as well be called “Alchemical” Intelligence…it ain’t happening without sentience, and good luck getting that mass-produced in a sweatshop in Bangladesh (though I admit they may try). Otherwise, robotics will be implemented increasingly in areas where there is a) a sound investment reason for doing so, and b) in closed systems where all variables can be controlled.

    Self-driving cars remain largely a curiosity because the amount of electronic infrastructure required to support their use en masse is staggering, while the end user/market is actually quite small.
    Self driving cars that tandem on long-distance trips? That is feasible. Going anywhere in any weather without any type of human interaction, assistance or direction? Not likely anytime soon. Flying cars may well be on the market before autonomous vehicles are fully worked out. Mass robots or A.I. will require government support, and who wants to tell the taxpayer they’re paying for their own lay-off? Clearly the whole thing has not been thought through to this point by anyone, and few have the stomach for it.

    1. jrs

      If workers ran this country it would be the dangerous and deadly and health destroying jobs that were first automated.

  3. cocomaan

    I am completely with the criticism of the Futurists: tech predictions are about as accurate as economic predictions over time. Keynes thought we would all be working less hours by now. 1969 visions of the future involved fantastic images of space exploration.

    Predictions about disruptive AIs controlling all automotive travel, will probably be just as unrealistic. On the automotive front, for example, will be the problems arising from banditry when an autonomous 18 wheeler full of shiny christmas presents is driving lonely highways at 3AM.

    But I also have to disagree with the idea that jobs disappearing has anything to do with the work being done, or needing to be done, a discussion around Yves’ other article about F@ck Work. There is plenty of work that needs doing, including that old standby, infrastructure, but plenty of other industries that remain black market but have significant demand like, well, f@ck work, psychedelic drugs, and my favorite, any meaningful deviations from our ridiculous patent system. In other words, a host of work remains underground.

    We could solve a jobs crisis created by autonomous vehicles tomorrow, but we have an extremely long list of excuses for why someone living in a rowhome in an urban area can’t fix the decrepit road right outside their door, or some suffering occurs because patented medicine was too expensive. Lots of people make lots of money off that list of excuses, though, so the system persists.

    How do you match work to be done with people needing work? You free them to do it.

    1. fgbouman

      Keynes was being too rational… he saw that it would not be necessary for us to work as much as we do, so he thought that we wouldn’t. He apparently misjudged the stickiness of the compensation and rewards system that makes it necessary to work long hours. We work long hours, not because it is needed by society but because we need to give the appearance of working in order to get paid. In that we are very much like the Japanese.
      The idea that we can step outside and fix the roadway or do anything else in the commons is to fail to understand humans. There is no benefit for any of us to do anything to benefit the commons because we would see no benefit to ourselves. That’s the most fundamental reason that we have governments; governments force us to act for the common good. No market will ever do that… they have neither the breadth of coverage nor the long-term time horizon needed for maintaining the commons.

      I have lived to see computers evolve from room-sized monsters to chips that can be hidden almost anywhere and require almost no power and we are on the verge of another dramatic increase in capability. To dismiss all forecasts based on the fact that forecasts aren’t perfect is to throw the baby out with the bath water. I can recall seeing ice delivered by horse-drawn wagon in Chicago. Imagine that! The ice man had to carry the ice up several flights of stairs and the lady of the house had to lift it and put it in the ice box. Refrigerators were still a semi-luxury at that point. I’m fairly certain that if some futurist had at that point predicted the near disappearance of elevator operators, telephone operators, typists, gas station attendants, etc., milkmen, Fuller Brush men and on and on that were part of our normal life, they’d have been thought crazy. Yet here we are.
      When is the last time you rode with an elevator operator in the U.S.? Is the fact that we have robots scooting around the Solar System, scouting around Mars and headed out into intra-galactic space just a big yawn?

      Technology and science have been changing our lives at an exponential rate and there aren’t any signs of slowing down. Don’t imagine for a second that we aren’t far beyond the point where we need to be working an eight hour day. Technology has made that possible. Our stubborn refusal to adapt our compensation practices and financial system to modern reality is why we work too many hours for too little pay.

      BTW, the government has made it possible for you to put your thoughts before one and all throughout the world. We brought you the Internet and the web browser and the computer, etc., etc. as well as providing your roads, giving you potable water, etc. I’m sure that you have excuses for not doing all of that yourself. I suppose that you are simply young and inexperienced in the ways of the world so we needn’t hold your naiveté against you. Since you, too are part of the government, you’ll be a positive contributor at some point.

      1. Parker Dooley

        +1000 — especially the last paragraph. And call the BIG the “citizen’s dividend” as we are all shareholders.

        Speaking of infrastructure, would the “National Defense and Deportation-Facilitating High Speed Rail System” pass Congress? It worked for the Interstate Highway system.

    2. washunate

      Keynes was far more right than wrong, though. He suggested that due to the compounding nature of capital over time (productivity growth, scientific advancement, technological innovation, whatever we want to call it), we wouldn’t need to work as much. And we don’t. It’s why the present system creates so many artificial constructs to force people to work so much. Given any meaningful choice, Americans would, in aggregate, spend less time in formal employment.

      Keynes wasn’t making a prediction – indeed, he talked about how people would push back against this notion of working less and the difficulties of finding purpose in a world where the economic problem is largely solved. He was offering us an opportunity. There is a legitimate progressive non-establishment case to be made for public policy choices that allow people to work less. It was at the heart of the New Deal reforms in the last century, and it could be the heart of further reforms today.

  4. Arthur J

    I’m not so sure that it’s all puffery. Sure, a self-checkout isn’t really what anyone thinks of a robot, but it certainly represents a job not done by a human any longer. With the rises in minimum wage everywhere and the fact that computer technology costs less ever year (thanks G Moore), it is easier than ever to install systems that replicate human effort. Just in the last year McDonalds in several towns around me have cut the counter staff in half and installed the self-order kiosks. At first I never saw anyone use them much, but in the last few months I’ve noticed that nearly all the under-20’s will use them. It’s only us older folk that still persist in going to the counter.

    There’s already the custom burger making machine, and that successful test of an OTR truck going from depot to depot. I don’t doubt that in the next few years we’re going to see a large increase in automation and/or robotics performing tasks that humans once did. The pressure to produce profit is inexorable and it will force the changes.

    Still, I’d probably draw the line at having Watson do a prostate exam on me.

    1. tegnost

      self checkout is job performed by the consumer, right? In a safeway last night there were 2 (of 8) human checkout lanes open with long lines and 4 self checkouts…

      1. a different chris

        Oh, I see where you are going with this! So we develop robots to do the checkout and take the item “home” (which can just be an X on a piece of concrete), and then another robot to come by, take it, and drive it to a landfill! No humans necessary at all… PROFIT!!!

        1. craazyboy

          Well, at that point I think the MBAs will embrace recycling and 100 year warrantees. You have the warehouse robot pick up the “item” from the X location and restock it in the Y location. You can then close the factory and realize a large cost reduction. No landfill fees either. Good bonus year to look forward to, methinks.

      2. craazyman

        It’s like CB’s self-service dog wash.

        I tried it once and I was horrible at it. I think the machine wasn’t working right.

        not only that, but you can’t chit-chat with the cashier. What a joke this is!

        There was one cashier last week at the supermarket who’d had incredibly colorfull braids in her hair for weeks, her head was a blooming flower of braided orange shades of cloth and hair. I asked her where they went because her hair was plain now. They reminded me of something Rembrandt would have painted in a portrait with incredible skill. She smiled and said to me “Oh, you remember?” That’s true.

      3. Arthur J

        It’s a sad state of affairs when the local Zehrs has a banner on the outside of the store proclaiming “All checkout lanes open 10am-6pm”, that that is a selling point.

      4. jrs

        I think that some stores just ignore customer service so much (long long lines for a human checkout) that many will decide to use self-checkout. Then they’ll proclaim that “customers prefer self-checkout”, well no not necessarily, they sometimes create the problem self-checkout solves with their own under-staffing.

    2. craazyboy

      But the cool thing about humans is we are supposed to be “toolmakers”. They could remove our opposable thumbs, but things would certainly be worse that way.

      The larger part of the problem is still that they have offshored huge segments of the economy and then expect fast food and retail to be the remaining employer. The associated need for companies to consolidate and get big so they can be efficient global mega competitors is a big driver too. All factories are mega plants sized to export to the entire world and white collar employment suffers from the economy of scale probably just as bad.

      But if that is the way of the modern world, then I like the notion that, heck, it’s the 21st Century. Why are we expected to slave away like it’s the 2nd Century? Hasn’t there been progress?

    3. a different chris

      You used to make stuff on a lathe that you likely drove with your feet. Then something replaced your feet, you set the speed but let it drive. Then you got another addition that allowed you to make screw threads cause that was insanely difficult for people but it’s just a couple of stupid gears for a machine.

      Now we have stuff where you draw a picture on CAD, load the machine and it “does everything”…. no, it doesn’t. It is a machine, it never does everything.*

      What is the definition of “robot”?? A machine is something built to follow human commands… so if you think a robot is qualitatively different then you are talking about something that is going to replace humanity. About time, probably.

      But otherwise they will just do some stuff we are doing now and create new stuff for us to do. We need to focus on the people that are stealing our effort (who used to be really easy to find, just use a mirror, did we really need to “keep up with the Joneses”? – but nowadays college tuition and health care and the need for “a reliable car” make ours and the Joneses kids start well behind the 8 ball)

      *It always does seem to break, though. Or at a minimum require regular (lubrication, etc.) attention.

    4. Waldenpond

      It could be the writer is using the limited terms of robotics and AI to avoid using automation. Some may find it supports their argument to exclude what are basically vending machines as old technology so they should be discarded from the data also.

    5. Yves Smith Post author

      You apparently didn’t get the memo that self-checkout has proven to be a bust. It enables customers to steal more than the store saves in labor. Even I can think of ways to steal: take a bulky item and scan that with a smaller higher value item hidden underneath, so that other people and security cameras would have trouble seeing what you did. You’d probably have to scope out location of cameras to determine how to pull it off, but that presumably is not hard.

      1. craazyman

        You have a criminal mind. I never once thought of that.

        But you’re right!

        you could check out self service, for example, a ride on lawnmower at Home Depot that can cut 4 acres of grass in 2 hours — and on top of it put, like, a box of 60 watt lightbulbs.

        You’d have to have a way of lifting the ride on lawnmower up on the check out bar code reader. That would be hard but not impossible. Hopefully the lightbulbs woouldn’t have to go UNDER the ride on lawnmower. I just thought of that.

        If a lawnmower is implausible, I bet a chain saw or a power saw might be doable. You could practice on little stuff and work up to the big stuff.

    6. fgbouman

      It is our human nature to dismiss that which we understand and worship that which we don’t. Had we introduced the many robots in our lives to folks in the 16th century, most of them would have been inclined towards worship… probably attributing their existence to their chosen supreme being. We are so comfortable with robots that while we dismiss all the ones in our lives but we understand the concept well enough that we aren’t inclined to worship them. So the self-checkout robot and the web-spider robots are dismissed. But they are robots nonetheless. We’re surrounded with robots. Oh, and by the way, they do surgery on humans, too. Have been for quite a long time now.

    7. Parker Dooley

      “Still, I’d probably draw the line at having Watson do a prostate exam on me.”
      Sure, but how about having “DaVinci” assist with the surgery?

    8. Scott

      /Beavis and Butthead dialogue:

      “Heh heh, he said, ‘with the rises in minimum wage everywhere . . .,’ and stuff. Heh heh, heh yeah!”

  5. GlassHammer

    “technology may just be the latest factor impeding both labor’s ability to bargain, and overall macroeconomic performance,”

    From what I recall the IT revolution was supposed to make labor (white collar labor in particular) both more productive and increase its value(since employees needed a more developed skill set to utilize it). Flash-forward a few decades, the productivity metrics have been raised to absurd levels and employees are more disposable than ever (since the skill sets required are easier to obtain). And this was a highly predictable outcome since the system we operate within links productivity to labor value (one drives the other until a surplus breaks them both).

    UBI could make labor absurdly inexpensive but it still operates within a system that links it to productivity. How would we keep productivity in check so that surpluses don’t run amok?

  6. craazyman

    Very very very Deep Thawts from the outskirts (let us say “suburbs’) of Magonia

    OK all you fkkers who don’t know jack shale about money, economics, human relations or existential confusion (I’m just kidding most of you guys are geniuses and I haven’t even gotten a 5 bagger much less a 10 bagger so who am I kidding except myself).

    I have recently been studying vector spaces in several dimensions — I mean the vector spaces, I’ve only been in 3 dimensions while studying them. This isn’t advanced math, it’s undergraduate math anybody would study in a math curriculum. But it is suggestive and illuminatory in the context of metaphorical resonance.

    Nevertheless. A linear transformation is a process by which vectors in one reference frame are transformed into vectors in a different reference frame. In three dimensions (like the x/y/z coordinate axes) a linear transformation would map the x, y, z axes into let us say 3 other axes like u, v, w, that point in different directions than x, y z, You multiply a vector by a matrix to transform it. So you have a Matrix (M) times a vector (x) = a new vector (u) that usually points in a different direction than x. I’m not explaining this really well but it’s good enough.

    There are some vectors that, when multiplied by a matrix, don’t change direction. They may get longer or shorter, but they are stable otherwise. They point the same way before and after. Their direction is invariant under the transformation. These are called “characteristic vectors” of the transforming Matrix. Or in German they’re called “eigenvectors”. They help explain the structure of many natural processes in nature that evolve over time in a way that can be modeled by differential equations. They also help explain sources of variation in measurable social phenomenon that can be measured and evaluated using statistical analysis.

    If you think of two societies, 1) one that doesn’t use money at all, like a “primitive” tribal society and 2) one, like ours, that does use money, (you can go back to ancient Rome or before and find money).

    It occurred to me that use of money by a society can be conceived of as a Matrix that translates human relations perhaps in systematic ways, And human relations themselves, and their wide variety, are like vectors. That raises the question, are there certain “vectors” i.e. attributes of human group organization, that are stable when undergoing Money-Matrix transform — that are stable in the sense that they appear quite similarly in a non-money culture and a money-based culture. It occurred to me there might be, while other social relations are meaningfully changed through the influence of the use of money as a social organizing idea.

    Clearly there’s lots of yada yada about how “capitalism” “commodifies” human relations. I’m not so sure that’s precise enough to be illuminating. I think it can be more systematically explored, perhaps using the metaphors of linear transformations.

    Societies seem to self-organize around certain principles — hierarchy, division of labor, sacred/profane ideations, broader mythic strucures, concepts of the hero image, etc. These are conceptually like vectors that may translate in a consistent way under a money-matrix transform — preserving similarity and/or altering “direction” which is another word for the more general idea of an essential property of the phenomenon

    It may be this is a somewhat broader framework that may relate to analysis of employment and automation. These are metaphors but I find them sort of illuminating.

    This is really new economic thinking. It’s not the old thinking with new words like taking food and mixing it up on your plate and saying it’s a new recipe! hhahahahah.

    This is already long enough. The basic idea is here but clearly there’s more detail to it.

    1. craazyboy

      President Eigenvector says we need to move forward! Always forward!

      Dunno. Sounds complicated, but then you may get a fat 100 year research study grant from a neo-lib think tank to [slowly] develop the model further.

      1. craazyman

        It would be very slow, that’s for sure.

        I think I need a grant from the Guggenheim foundation. Just for the bar tab and the xanax. actually xanax is very cheap. But good wine isn’t cheap in New Yawk, expecially at fine restaurants — that’s where the grant m oney would really make a difference

    2. Steve H.

      c, I have a reply involving automation requiring repairs, while slaves reproduce and thus increase roi, the necessity of the investment class not needing consumers in a speculative economy just no competitive producers, and the efficiency of adding zeroes via computer to the number of dollars you have outcompeting catalytic materialism, but I’ll just go with a fine elucidation of a primary characteristic vector.

  7. craazyman

    Get me the eff out of moderation! I’m trying to contribute thoughtfully to this Post!

    Hopefully this will be as fast at Chinese food. We have deep thawts to probe here & we need to start now.

      1. craazyman

        that was like waiting for the ice sheet to fall off Antarctica!

        I already had lunch already. No Chinese food for me today. LOL.

        Now I have to wait for the one about craazyboy’s self-service dog wash business idea — that might be better with automation since dogs can’t wash themselves very well.

  8. Altandmain

    Robots and automation was always just a neoliberal attempt to cover-up what was a policy of rent extraction on behalf of the very rich.

    If robots really were displacing jobs, we would see:
    1. Massive increases in productivity
    2. Increases in capital expenditures to purchase robots
    3. Huge R&D expenditures as well across the many industries in the economy to develop better robots
    4. Unemployment would be in the fields that have the highest capital expenditure

    We don’t see that happening.

    Corporations are literally hoarding cash, rather than spending it on capital expenses, R&D, employee training, or something that would benefit society. Productivity gains remain weak. Some of the largest causes of job loss are corporate restructurings due to off-shoring of jobs, replacement by H1Bs, aggressive cost cutting, or simply due to a loss in demand caused by inequality.

    What money is spent is often spent on stock buybacks, which of course are no doubt when executives choose to exercise their stock options.

    That’s the thing though, the best propaganda is the ones that seem believable, but if you look at it, has no basis in fact.

    1. craazyboy

      Plus, summarizing things as succinctly as you did here would be a woefully inadequate number of words to supply all the fodder to fill MSM media, generate ad revenue, and pay 7 figure talking head salaries.

      Some people know how to stay employed.

    2. BecauseTradition

      Cure for hoarding: Negative interest on reserves with a say, $250,000 individual citizen exemption. Then watch the yields on US sovereign debt plunge to negative too :)

      Instead, the FED pays interest on inherently risk-free reserves held there. Why? Welfare for the rich is why.

    3. Brad

      “Corporations are literally hoarding cash, rather than spending it on capital expenses, R&D, employee training, or something that would benefit society” This refers only to the present conjuncture since 2008. And Marx made it clear a long time ago that the longer term effect of automation was to lower the average rate of profit. The barrier to capital investment is thus continuously recreated by automation. But “the propensity for capital investment” is also determined by the current financial structure, and that has been a big factor since 2008. These factors need to be sorted out when claiming cause and effect. My own hunch – only a hunch – is that the leading edge of automation is largely contained within IT and, in relation to other industries such as autos, steel, etc, may or may not have reached certain technological thresholds, i.e., may be “done” for the time being, while it continues forward in services and in transport, both productive an non-productive. The aggregate result may be that current automation trends are too narrowly IT based to provide sufficient investment outlet for total capital savings, and that money goes elsewhere.

      So yes, there has been a productivity investment problem since 2008, but that doesn’t mean that this is a fundamental problem.

      1. Synoia

        My own hunch – only a hunch – is that the leading edge of automation is largely contained within IT

        LMAO – Good luck with that automation a modifying existing code.

        Here’s a thought experiment:
        1. Business and Government have in the last 50 years spend 2% of revenues on Programming (writing code).
        2. Without inflation adjustment, Businesses and Government now have 100% of annual revenue invested in Code.

        Hypothesis: It cannot be replaced, because it would consume a uuuuge percentage of revenue.

        Ergo: The most secure job in the world (and the least liked in IT) is fixing and enhancing old code.

        1. Frog in a Pot

          One can find job listings for COBOL programmers. Are they secure? No.

          I’ve been coding since 1980. The reason people like me can continue to find work is our autodidactic inclination toward lifelong learning directed toward solving real-world problems.

          Pleasant micro conditions are subject to macro disruption. One must look for a new niche from time to time. As one gets older the boundary between niches becomes more difficult to overcome.

          Acceptance within a new niche often requires some kind of “academic” exercise – often remotely administered. At that point we run into a kind-of credentialism specified by recent graduates – possibly mediated by an automaton.

          Coding is still a craft – a kind-of trade. I can see that changing. To the degree tha that specifications can be ever more tightly made – and automatically interpreted – is the degree to which coding can become open to automation. Hmm. Sounds like a compiler?

          AlpahGo…. it’s just a kind-of problem solver…. A kind-of optimizer. The most interesting side-effect to me: existential dread amongst high-level Go players. Can you see the ramifications for IdPol?

          Keep pushing it. In the end, there can be only one. But one what?

      2. John

        Fantastic post! I can’t remember the last time I saw someone on here discuss the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (or Marx for that matter), and since NC seeks to be a haven for heterodox economics, it’s sorely needed.

        I think you’re close, but I think you’re focusing too much on ‘automation’ and not enough on investment in productive capacity. We’ve had a crisis of overproduction/under-utilization of capacity since the 1970’s, and the only growth we’ve had since then (anemic as it has been) has come from the blowing of asset bubbles (Japanese real estate in the 80’s, American stock market in the 90’s, American real estate in the 00’s, various Euro bubbles in the 00’s). The rate of profit in the manufacturing sectors of advanced countries has been steadily falling, and the share of that profit moves more towards the country(ies) with the cheapest currency. The crisis of 2008 and the popping of these massive asset bubbles only exposed how poor the real economy had been. I think unemployment is more a result of the fact that we’re in such a labor abundant economy (outsourcing is so easy due to globalization/the global free trade regime) rather than this falling rate of profit. But the latter is the cause of our current economic malaise, and unless we destroy a huge amount of infrastructure (ie a world war) and get the chance to build it all again, we’re looking at low growth rates indefinitely.

        As far as lacking a “sufficient investment outlet for total capital savings…[that] goes elsewhere,” that’s a different problem. If the economy grows at 3%, that 3% must be reinvested. Familiar with the mathematics of compound interest? The point is that that 3% gets bigger and bigger every year.By the 1990’s, we had reached a crisis point. Even with China and India industrializing and urbanizing by that point, there was still too much surplus capital and not enough destinations for profitable investment. There was so much surplus capital that we needed to invest it in assets (eg stocks). Now in 2016, we simply have far, far more capital than places to invest it, and this means the problem only worsens every year. And of course if the global economy were to grow at 3%, it’d double by 2060, and double again by the end of the century. I know Africa will develop like crazy over the next few decades, but it won’t be enough to absorb all of that surplus capital, or anywhere near enough to make the global economy double so quickly.

        Point is that we have much bigger problems at hand than robots taking away a few jobs. And no amount of fiscal stimulus can solve these structural problems.

  9. Skip Intro

    Kinda weird framing to consider UBI ‘discarding the welfare state’ when the destruction of the welfare state is the obvious and successful program of the current neoliberal consensus of the past 3 decades. The link to automation is also tenuous, although I suppose it is clear that if Ford pays a robot enough to buy its self-driving car, that robot will buy the self-driving car.

    disheveled automaton, I, for one, welcome our new robotic overlords, now where’s my damn check?

    1. Synoia

      although I suppose it is clear that if Ford pays a robot enough to buy its self-driving car, that robot will buy the self-driving car.

      More probable:Ford pays it’s bondholders enough to buy hundreds of self-driving cars for each money manager. Ford’s marketing mission to to convince the Money Manager to buy a new car for every week of the year.

      We have been here before – only the the market was the Carriage Market for the Aristocracy. Henry Ford’s strategy was to raise its workers wages to enable them to buy a Ford, because Henry saw the masses as his path to success and wealth.

      I believe the phrase “Revolting Peasants” could re-appear in our society.

      How much will the rich pay the poor to avoid being spitted? Zero is my estimate, they will pay the police a pittance to keep the “revolting peasants” under control.

    2. jrs

      “Kinda weird framing to consider UBI ‘discarding the welfare state’ when the destruction of the welfare state is the obvious and successful program of the current neoliberal consensus of the past 3 decades. ”


      not that some don’t argue UBI instead of the welfare state, but UBI seems pretty far down there in terms of actual real-world threats to the welfare state. It seems more likely that we will have no welfare state and no UBI.

  10. Brad

    It can be counter-argued that the refusal to focus on the meaning of the clear long term trend to displace living labor with automation and machinery is due to the fact that this is a process fundamental to the capitalist system, has therefore no “capitalist” solution also favorable to the working class, and therefore brings the continued existence of the wages system, and with it the whole system, into question. It can also be argued that this long term process has reached a qualitative tipping point in, and that is why it forces itself upon us as an urgent social question, particularly in the USA with its heightened ethos of wage system dependency upon private bosses.

    First, the evidence is clear in aggregate BLS statistics on relative manufacturing employment going back to the 1950’s, long before the terms “neo-liberalism” and “off-shoring” were in vogue, indeed Charles Post states in “We’re All Precariat Now” that capitalist automation is a trend dating from the 1890’s. Second, we are hardly confined to a lesser evil choice between liberal welfare advocates and libertarians who understand the social meaning of the fundamental problem. There is also the socialist critique going back to Karl Marx’s Capital, where the process of automation was clearly regarded as the most fundamental feature of the system. It is clear we can support and demand as reforms, both protections for workers in the private wage labor market AND a guaranteed social wage free of the demeaning means tested policing – and welfare always means cops. Welfare case workers *are* cops.

    Otherwise, why aren’t welfare liberals calling for an end to Social Security, which is nothing but a guaranteed minimum income program for people of a certain age? In general, the fundamental orientation of both welfare liberalism and “sub-minimum social wage” libertarians is towards cattle prodding us back into the private wages market.

  11. fred

    Their failure to address the needs of working class voters are blamed for the rise of what Mark Blyth calls the “neonationalism” seen in the Brexit vote, the Trump presidential victory, and the strength of nationalist candidates in France, Italy, and elsewhere.

    This of course has absolutely nothing to do with “Immigration”. Those voting for Brexit or Trump represent ” the demographics of the past.” as a great “educator” and historian from the University of Michigan put it. Those people and their views don’t matter. Just their tax dollars – to pay for things for those who do matter.

  12. juliania

    Thanks to Yves for continuing to present articles on these subjects. To me it has always seemed there were jobs for the asking out there needing to be filled had society a little more mind to so concern itself. The poor we have always with us, and Social Security is the system we have had in place, administered by the government, that is saving us from calamity.

    It works! For crying out loud, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Build upon it and expand it so seniors can have money to buy the things our young people make, so that they can be creatively employed and we will be proud of them! And they will have money to actually have families themselves – do you realize how hard to do that is these days?

    Look what the Russians are doing out of necessity because of the sanctions. They are creating their own industries, a slow, hard process, and at the same time they are rebuilding their own self esteem. That latter is hugely important and I haven’t seen it mentioned in any of the plans for some new economic structure. They leave out the family or friendship dynamics that are so important to normal, healthy living.

    Do not disparage the jobs that contribute to this – they should not be just volunteer jobs they should be paying jobs! We have a sick society at present, people can be working to help it become healthy again – and it will be the ones who have been sick or in prison in this nightmare who can help rebuild – not the experts.

    And we also have a sick planet. Let’s stop arguing about why that is; let’s do something about it. Give everyone seedlings to plant – not genetically engineeered, not pesticide saturated, and let’s all get to work planting!

    Spring is coming; time to get back to work. There’s lots to do.

    1. JTFaraday

      “It works! For crying out loud, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

      It is broke. If you can’t earn sufficient wages, you don’t pay into the system and you don’t get a check.

      If you earn fewer wages than the next guy, who likely has other income in addition, you get a smaller check. SSN reproduces in retirement the results of market competition during ones’ prime earning years. That’s not broke, exactly. But it’s telling.

  13. David

    As with everything else, it depends who is in control. In practice, decisions to deploy technology are made by those who will benefit from the resultant cost savings they can screw out of the system. So for example, you could convert half of supermarket checkouts to automatic scanners, and re-employ the surplus staff to help the customers. But of course that won’t happen.
    Although technology has always had the potential to displace jobs, it’s only since the triumph of neoliberalism that it has been deliberately used to do so on a large scale. I remember the first widespread deployment of IT in the British government thirty-five years ago. The whole political purpose was to get rid of as many staff as possible, which meant sacking skilled secretaries and typists and buying new computer systems that scarcely worked and for which there was no training budget (CP/M anybody?) Overnight, people had to learn to type, learn to to coax temperamental machines the size of fridges to do something useful, and find something to do when the machines broke down, or just sulked, which they did frequently. I think they even came round and took manual typewriters away, just so we wouldn’t be tempted. It’s not about technology, it’s about control.

    1. JTFaraday

      Well, we all see things a bit differently. Anytime I came face to face with a typewriter, it was definitely a f@ck work moment.

  14. The Heretic

    We need an expanded definition of work. I believe that it is a human trait that most people share; the desire to feel deserving of their income for the work that they have done, for their contributions to the good of their community. Hence welfare without work is destructive to the individual as well as the community; people don’t like to feel dependent (and hence helpless) on the state, and the community has a tendency to marginalize those who are of working age but who do not contribute. (In addition to moralizing about the laziness of the unemployed)

    There was a time when heavy industry and manufacturing could supply jobs for people to work. There was a time when the capacity to produce was what constrained the prosperity of the nations of the earth. An element of that constraint was the availability of labour and necessary industrial capitol and infrastructure. However in the present day, the supply of low to mid-skill blue collar and white collar, managerial/intellectual labour has been rapidly increasing. The integration of eastern europe, china and India, (and we have not even begun developing the human capitol of south America and africa) along with intelligent automation, integrated supply hains and robots, have all been huge drivers of this trend; indeed there will be (if not already is) an overabundance of supply of low to mid skill level blue collar and white collar, combined with globalization and freer trade, this has certainly been a large factor in the declining wages and jobs of the blue collar, and white collar middle class. I would argue that our capacity to gather and consume resources as well as the resultant pollution, would far outstrip the resources and pollution absorption capacity of the earth. So the production of goods and services that are heavily dependant on resource consumption and pollution generation, is not a solution for humanity needs.

    What is needed, is not just a basic income, but a new definition and expansion of ‘dignfied’ work and leisure, into spheres of human need and want that have not been satisfied, that cannot be satisfied and guided by robots or automation. The need for freedon, dignity, community, understanding, fun, and caring are but some of the areas that i feel automation will never be able to capture, for the simple fact that robots cannot empthatize or feel or be spontaneous. For example, in the areas of art, industry and science, exploration, research, and experimentation can be encouraged, without the need to commercialize and scale up to produce in large scale. Care and rehabillitation of the seas and the land (for the health of ecosystems) can be a new line of work for those who were in forrestry, fishing or mining. These new areas of work could be facilitated/produced in a way that is very environmentally friendly, and hence sustainable for the earth. Thus they could be scalable for all nations of the earth, enriching human experience for both worker and citizen,

  15. Ray LaPan-Love

    The following is an excerpt from Doug Irwin in an article by Tim Taylor:

    “Although imports have put some people out of work, trade is far from the most important factor behind the loss of manufacturing jobs. The main culprit is technology. Auto­mation and other technologies have enabled vast productivity and efficiency improvements, but they have also made many blue-collar jobs obsolete. One representative study, by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, found that pro­ductivity growth accounted for more than 85 percent of the job loss in manufacturing between 2000 and 2010, a period when employment in that sector fell by 5.6 million. Just 13 percent of the overall job loss resulted from trade, although in two sectors, apparel and furniture, it accounted for 40 percent.”

  16. Jesper

    UBI is the extremist version of reducing hours worked. I’m not for the extreme but I do think a reduction of the number of hours worked is entirely possible and also desirable.
    & I also think the ‘debate’ about UBI is a distraction from the discussion about other currently more realistic reforms.

  17. Paul Tioxon

    There will be a political reckoning revolving around a 3 day work week with a 6 hour day. We have only so much need for direct human labor input to keep the productive levels of civilization providing for the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter plus advanced medicine and education for culture transmission from one generation to the next. As we went from the 6 day work week with a 12 -14 hour work day, to the 5 day/40hour work week, we will need to face the fact that are able to get everything we need from less work activity. Not no work at all, just less.

    Currently, we are enmeshed in the capitalist mode of production which is coming apart at the seams and the purpose of profit making is being obsoleted by MMT and higher industrial and agricultural productivity. We throw away a lot of food in the advanced nations and do not know what to do with so much stuff, we rent storage lockers to put it. It is finding its way into auction houses, ebay and thrift stores.

    Our lives can not be taken up with tribute to corporate capitalism with excessive time given over to commuting and waste of time cubicle sitting. At home, if you have one, there is plenty of work to be done, particularly in taking care of one another from becoming alienated hulks of a human being riddled with mental and emotional problems and then other diseases from stress and pollution. Imagine, staying home with your kids and teaching them how to grow up to a man or woman instead ignoring them because you love them so much, you will throw your life away to keep health insurance, build up a college fund, a 401k and a house as far away from crime and drugs that you can afford. What used to sound like a plan for many Americans has slipped away is beginning to slip away from all but the top 20% or so of the income strata.

    A political reckoning has begun, and one way or another it will be resolved, because the chaos and volatility will be ended, deliberately. All processes eventually end and our current political construct is no different. It will end and will be replaced with something that does work, is stable and stops the pain of not knowing that spinning out of control from the old order, the old ways is finally over with a predictable set of expectations that most of us can live with.
    We can’t go on living in a unsustainable manner.

    1. JTFaraday

      The reason we have 60 hour work weeks + being perpetually on-call, on one hand, and substantial un- and under-employment on the other is that we, as a society, dumped as much social welfare provisioning onto employers as we possibly could– and tried to deny its provision entirely (healthcare, income in old age)– outside the employment relationship.

      Businesses today have decided that this is not exactly a business friendly environment, and they’re not entirely wrong about that. As a society and a nation, we could have done better than that.

      1. JTFaraday

        So now, not to put too fine a point on it, when employers pick up and move to some 3rd world sh–hole, they leave behind a completely stripped population in the first world.

        Are we citizens of this country or not? In a way, I would reverse what the nationalism of the Trumpertantrums, conceptually speaking. Don’t yell about the jobs, but do take your government back.

  18. casino implosion

    Martin Ford’s free ebook “The Lights In The Tunnel” dismantles the “lump of labor fallacy”, showing that it would be better called the “lump of labor fallacy fallacy”.

    Read that back to back with the blog called “The Real Movement”, by accelerationist Communist known only as Jehu, and starts looking as if Marx was right all along.

  19. Normal

    The low hanging fruit of automation has already been picked. The future will consist of slowly displacing the smaller opportunities that have longer payback. Automation will continue but not at the same pace as before.

    Lowered wages due to outsourcing have also gutted the automation business as paybacks are extended.

  20. Steven

    But, as I discuss in my recent paper “Universal Basic Income and the Welfare State”, labor economists from a variety of perspectives don’t believe the effect of robotics on employment are as dire as some imagine.

    What’s missing here is any discussion of the military-industrial complex’s massive contribution to employment, particularly in the U.S. (But hey! A job’s a job, right?) It is entirely possible that if the ‘best and the brightest’ in this country weren’t hard at work figuring out new ways to blow people up (or swindle them out of their life savings), they could actually be doing something useful.

    1. jrs

      Quality of jobs, let’s talk quality of jobs (although a tight labor market might improve this, so it’s not entirely separate from quantity), if a job is a job and more and more jobs are increasingly immoral (and I think they are – of course I think the MIC is immoral) then people will be forced to make increasingly morally compromised decisions in order to live, not the sociopaths who will do whatever, but good people who don’t want to do so …

  21. Steve Ruis

    The 40-hr work week and overtime pay were instituted to share the work available. Rather than a universal basic income, another alternative would be jobs with a living wage. Cut the work week to 35 or even 30 hours, boost overtime pay requirements, and there would be more jobs. Combine these with a robust increase in minimum wage and much could be done. (We did it before, so maybe …) Of course, taking the boot of the plutocratic thugs off of the necks of the unions would help a lot, too.

    I am not saying these things are doable, just that if we were to do them …

    Remember the futuristic thinking that “robots” would reduce our labor and we would have more time to be at liberty with what we really wished to do? Why are we working more now, rather than less with all of the automation that has been created? Oh, wage suppression fueled by greed, eh. Why is this all so effing obvious, except to the people paid to find it mysterious?

  22. Jim

    Linda Gottfredson’s research on IQ led her to conclude that a person with an IQ below 75 is essentially unemployable in the present US economy. That is about 5% of the present US population. Current demographic trends in the US will reduce the average US population IQ about 5 points by mid-century. If that is combined with advances in automation increasing the threshold for employment from 75 to 80 then the unemployable percent of the US population will rise from 5% to 15%.

  23. Sound of the Suburbs

    If robots are a problem there is something wrong with the system.

    Everyone in the 1970s and 1980s believed automation would lead to increased leisure time as robots would be doing so much of the work. Many boring, dull and repetitive jobs could be done by robots freeing human beings up for better things.

    As this has started to come true we are starting to realise how the capitalist system turns this into a massive problem.

    Capitalism had started to run into difficulties with over-production by the 1920s and extensive advertising became necessary to shift all the stuff the system could produce. Demand for the goods had to be manufactured along with the goods themselves, which no one really needed.

    Consumerism had to be actively encouraged in the thrifty population of the time as they were not used to wasting money on things they didn’t really need. Today we have to build storage units to house the surplus stuff from the private sector that people can’t fit in their houses.

    As natural resource limits become apparent such a wasteful system looks as though it’s approaching the end of the line.

    In the 1950s John Kenneth Galbraith wrote a book “The Affluent Society” discussing how they were still bound by pre-1920s ideas where increasing productivity and efficiency were seen as essential although they lived in a land of plenty. By the 1950s the only problem was shifting all the stuff the system produced and advertisers faced an uphill struggle. He also noted how a world of private luxury co-existed with a world of public squalor and there were no advertising campaigns for better schools and hospitals.

    We still think in terms of those pre-1920s worries today, productivity and efficiency. Larry Summers and the IMF have noted that demand is the problem that even today’s ubiquitous advertising can’t overcome.

    Capitalism is a way of organising society. The lower class does the manual work, the middle class does the managerial and administrative work and the upper class live a life of luxury and leisure. Since the dawn of human civilisation nearly all societies have been organised along these lines.

    The UK Aristocracy where there for the transition from feudalism to capitalism and barely noticed the difference as there life of luxury and leisure continued as before. They are still living the same life of luxury and leisure today as nothing has really changed.

    Adam Smith observed:

    “The Labour and time of the poor is in civilised countries sacrificed to the maintaining of the rich in ease and luxury. The Landlord is maintained in idleness and luxury by the labour of his tenants. The moneyed man is supported by his extractions from the industrious merchant and the needy who are obliged to support him in ease by a return for the use of his money. But every savage has the full fruits of his own labours; there are no landlords, no usurers and no tax gatherers.”

    It was all much easier to see in the early days of capitalism.

    In the early 19th century things were much the same and the great wealth of the British Empire was claimed by those at the top. The men, women and children at the bottom of society were housed in slums, worked almost every hour they were awake in the factories of the wealthy and still lived a bare subsistence existence. It was only organised labour movements that bought an end to the natural order of 5,000 years of human civilisation and those at the bottom had a mechanism for getting a larger slice of the pie.

    This internal welfare state to look after the lords of the manor was just the norm. in the days when capitalism came into being, today we have moved on and expect everyone to do their bit, even the descendents of feudal warlords (aka the aristocracy).

    We need a system that is efficient and doesn’t use advertising to shift the massive excess it produces. Natural resources are approaching their limits.

    We also need a system that can use improvements in technology like robots to benefit all. A system like capitalism, that makes robots a problem, obviously has fundamental flaws.

    It’s time for something new, a finite earth cannot cope with this wasteful system.

    It’s time for something new as robots prevent capitalism from being a way to organise society. Either over-production becomes so excessive even advertising can’t cope or far too members of society become surplus to requirements.

    It’s time for something new, a system without an internal welfare state for the lords of the manor, it’s the 21st century.

    It’s working at the moment but its end is near.

    A better future awaits when we can think of a new system.

    1. jrs

      It’s always been a brutal system, but capitalism made some sense at one time, when it produced a lot of truly beneficial innovations (18th, 19th centuries). Worth the cost in terms of how brutal it was? Oh who can say really, a humanist would recoil at it.

      But I mean at least there actually WAS a significant upside to it. In contrast to now when we’re deep into almost all downside at this point, even if some still mouth words about the innovation it creates.

  24. washunate

    INET authors appear to continue to miss the point. Of course technological change has some impact, and that is important and shouldn’t be brushed aside. Contract work is everywhere. The US hasn’t created decent full time regular jobs for so long that many American workers have never had one.

    But beyond that, ‘robots taking jobs’ is not the primary source of angst in the western world generally and the US in particular. Inequality and imperialism are the fundamental drivers, the root causes. Dismissing social insurance and basic income perspectives ‘because robots’ is such a bizarre line of reasoning that it calls into question the underlying logic for why some commentators are so dead set against these two approaches.

    We don’t have a welfare state that works in the US. Our existing system traps the most disadvantaged citizens in intergenerational cycles of dependence and hopelessness while offering effectively no support for unemployment, healthcare, housing, and so forth for the median worker. JG, UBI, and social insurance are all legitimate policy options for people to advocate. If we want to compare them, then we should do an intellectually honest comparison on the merits each approach presents.

  25. Patrick M. Rael

    The Intractable Studies Institute has a Communication on the topic of robots and labor from 2013. This problem of robots replacing humans in jobs was foreseen over 10 years ago, providing enough time to design a solution, 10 years into this model Utopia Androidia. See below this communication, or UtopiaAndroidia.pdf. In a nutshell: through legal laws (regulation) it’s possible to structure a labor model where robots don’t displace humans, yet the robot technology is allowed to advance. It’s a human-robot/AI cooperative model, which realizes age-old predictions of humans working less (or as much as they want) and still getting a full salary.

    Utopia Androidia – a solution to labor and retirement
    A Communication of the Intractable Studies Institute
    Patrick M. Rael, Director,

    Through the use of the general-purpose android robot and some structural Laws, it is possible to design a revolutionary labor system in a Utopian way. Utopia Androidia combines 1 human with 1 android robot into a working pair which have a combined work week of 40 hours. The brief version of the Utopia Androidia follows – The Laws of Human and Android symbiotic labor from Penzar, ch. 8 (see

    Law 1: Work Week – 40 hours/week combined.
    Law 2: Participation – Automatic at birth, to death.
    Law 3: Right to Android – Guaranteed right, Utopia .
    Law 4: Tax on the pair is identical to solo human tax.
    Law 5: Android Employed – Always employed.
    Law 6: Android equal Salary – salary same to human.
    Law 7: Non-Slavery Clause – Non-sentient android pair.
    Law 8: Golden Education – Education funded 100%+.
    Law 9: Dispersal – Graduated dispersal, not lump sum.
    Law 10: Control of Wages – Plan A (all) or B (health) wages to human.
    Law 11: Mechanical Immunity – Android robot cannot be sued.
    Law 12: Human Right of Way – Human worker can take any (unpaired) android job.
    Law 13: Android Equality – Virtual equalization of androids.
    Law 14: No Android Shortage – Never a shortage of robots.
    Law *15: Max Education – Robot skill/edu level is capped at its human’s level.
    Law *16: Non-Inheritance – At human death, robot and savings re-assigned.

    Note about Law 7: The robot paired with a human leads a laborious life. It legally cannot be fully sentient: If it was fully sentient, such a labor-intensive life has a name: Slavery. We do not want to make that error. Therefore, ONLY non-sentient androids can be paired w/humans. A fully sentient android robot will eventually want the same right as Law 2 to have a labor robot working for it so that the sentient robot can also benefit from Utopia Androidia.

    A labor system based on the Utopia Androidia design has human beings working less hours yet getting full pay. Also revolutionary is there is no need to save money for retirement nor pay into Social Security nor IRAs nor pensions because the robot half of the paired labor NEVER RETIRES!.

    ● Humans and android robots work as pairs with a required combined 40 hour work week.
    ● Human beings work less (or as much as they want), typically 8 hours/week for human, 32 for android robot.
    ● Social Security, pensions, IRAs all become obsolete since the robot continues working without retiring.
    ● All disabled worker benefit systems become obsolete since the robot continues working.
    ● The android is paired with human from human birth through final death, always working. At human death the robot is re-assigned to another.

    No. 006, 2013-06-03, Revised 2015-08-06 Copyright © 2013-2017 Intractable Studies Institute. All rights reserved.
    Note about Law 15, this prevents people from becoming couch potatoes/lazy, if they think their robot can advance in degrees/salary while the human puts no effort into education.
    Hope this helps!

  26. Jessie G

    There’s an assumption that automation to replace jobs will require sentient AIs, in part from sci-fi depictions and partly a psychological disposition to envision our replacements as such. As a software developer, I have automated specific duties of staff, without (yet) replacing an entire staffing position. But when you scale this effect- duties within jobs automated- the net result is less jobs. When one staff person has X hours of their job replaced with software, they can then spend that time on other duties and those X hours add up eventually to entire positions being outright eliminated or the growth of positions required slowed over time.

    There’s also the effect of tasks being greatly simplified though not fully automated- when I started in this career, if a staff member wanted a report from their company database, they’d have to put in a request to their database administrator who would whip up a SQL query or more complex stored procedure to meet that request. Now that can often be done directly in a reporting interface by the staff person looking for data, and often against a shared cloud database maintained by relatively few database administrators.

    So while I agree that the threat is overblown, viewing automation as sentient robots a la iRobot is not a useful framework for understanding how automation affects the jobs market. The “menial” tasks that can be automated or even just made less time-consuming for humans (e.g. fast food cash registers with pictogram buttons that spit out change) will account for more and more of the time that employers used to have to pay humans, and will continue to do so long before sentient AI is achieved.

  27. Scot

    Advanced technology without maximum freedoms will be muted. However, since entraprenuers and freedom are the foundation for maximum prosperity, I don’t understand your logic that technology leads to weaker demand and growing inequality. It is govt largess/power that supresses inovations that creates demand and lifts the living standards of the most people.

  28. Scot Srodes

    Advanced technology without maximum freedoms will be muted. However, since entraprenuers and freedom are the foundation for maximum prosperity, I don’t understand your logic that technology leads to weaker demand and growing inequality. It is govt largess/power that supresses inovations.

  29. equote

    “Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer.” Adam Smith
    What are the implications of ‘technology’ as the consumer?

  30. pslebow

    I look at the cashier at the checkout counter and wonder, is this the best use we as a society can make of this intelligent and feeling human being?

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