August 06, 2013
Will Robots Work For Poor Unemployed Masses?
Will robots cause unemployment of most working age people? Suppose they will. Then will governments collect tax money to pay the zero marginal product non-workers to live a life of leisure? Some people, for example Federico Pistono, think we will all do just fine once robots wipe out most of our jobs. I think an assumption underlying this argument is false.
The assumption of the complacent: sufficient amounts of robot-driven production will get done in the countries where people live to provide the revenue flows that governments will then tax to fund bountiful lives of leisure. But consider the massive profits which American corporations hold abroad in order to avoid US taxes. Capital can move much more easily that people can.
Imagine a future where robots enable manufacturing to be done with far far fewer workers. What does that mean? Manufacturing will no longer need to be tied to locations where lots of people live. Why manufacture (and therefore get taxed) in the United States, Germany, China, or India when you do not need the manual laborers there?
Wondering what are the ideal attributes of countries where to run huge robot factories?
- very small human populations (so lower taxes needed to support them).
- lots of natural resources.
- low border exposure to teeming masses of poorer people.
- exceptionally highly (primarily imported) skilled human workers.
- governments which the capitalists can totally dominate.
I'm thinking big sovereign islands.
Incredibly wealthy capitalists could pay the inhabitants of a poor island to move to another place (and even bribe a government to accept the immigrants) in order to create an ideal environment for automated factories and beautiful automated mansions, orchards, and vineyards.
Update: Think robots will lower the cost of good and services or the lower classes? That depends. Will the lower classes be able to produce goods and services useful to the robot owners? How?
Think poor people can use robots to make goods and services for trade? Companies with top engineers to design products will get better efficiency from owning robots. What can the average person do with robots that isn't better done in massive robot factories run by top engineers and scientists? Owners of large factories of robots can design and coordinate fabrication of the many components that come together to make finished products.
Look at the trend in semiconductor wafer fab plants: fewer operators of these plants and each new generation of wafer fab is more complex. Top notch engineers and scientists design them and work to improve them.
Think of Ireland. It seems a great place to put lots of totally automated factories. The Irish government has low corporate taxes. The population is small enough that a huge concentration of factories in Ireland would not need to be heavily taxed in order for the government to subsidize high living standards for most of the populace.
Factories will not need lots of space or labor. So why put them in the United States, Germany, China, or India? Why not put them in New Zealand or Ireland or and other industrialized country that can fairly easily isolate itself from all the world's poor that might want to move there?
Think about it from the perspective of multi-billionaires. If they put their capital out of reach of the big taxing countries their fortunes will be better protected.
Update II: only workers with graduate school training have seen their hiring rise in manufacturing in recent decades. The employment of other kinds of workers in manufacturing has plummeted.
Ireland could carve out a niche where it only accepts Ph.D. immigrant engineers and managers to design and operate robotic factories. That small island could become one of the biggest manufacturing sites in the world. Low taxes, the best engineers, and a solid legal system with good contract enforcement and intellectual property protection could enable an island nation with the right qualities to become a magnet for the capitalists who need little human labor.
Update III: Poor people won't be able to use robots to make useful stuff to sell. In order for robots to work for a poor person to produce sellable goods to learn the poor person money the poor person will need to be able to get the robot input raw materials and manufactured components to use to build stuff. Plus, they'll need to be able to choose designs to manufacture. Well, I see no reason to expect the least intelligent and least skilled to know how to manage robots to build useful stuff.
Robots will not turn the lower classes into successful capitalists.
Randall Parker, 2013 August 06 09:10 PM
First, if all manufacturing is automated, products will be so ridiculously cheap that a "life of leisure" won't cost much at all.
Second, remember that prior to Prohibition, there were no income taxes. Government taxed trade (like alcohol) and ran just fine. In fact, the reason no one thought Prohibition would pass was because everyone knew government needed the alcohol revenue. It was the damn teetotalers who got the government to introduce income tax just so they could get Prohibition passed. We can get rid of income taxes.
Third, this same robot/AI revolution will mean far fewer Federal and State employees (though their unions will scream bloody murder). So government will finally get smaller and cost less whether it likes it or not.
Fourth, the actual economic upheaval caused by this new tech will have many unimaginable and unforeseeable consequences, and will itself just be a minor change compared to the changes brought on by smarter than human AI a few decades later.
what is missing in a picture, that why poor do not have most of capital, still they have some. And that advanced reconfigurable robot might produce quite a lot, so a small shop might produce almost everything current enterprises do ( including clothing ), thus - spending their small capital and their labor - people might live quite well - without huge overseas factories. So the difference would be - either to have a leisure and exposure to domination, or some labor and relative freedom
correction why = while in previous message;
and also take a look at what can be done else
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Corporation - so not only small shops but also bigger corporations might be organized to pool people resources.
So in case of really harsh poverty - the solutions like Mondragon Corporation might appear in numbers
The scenario presented is most unlikely, although Hollywood may well be interested in the plot if you can write it up in script form.
Governments are responsible for the ongoing collapse of the middle classes, not cheap robot production. Focus on the clear and immediate problems, unless you are working for a Hollywood studio of course.
It's not clear to me that you need all that much capital per se in a robot future. The whole premise is that "labor" is cheaply reproducible, and can be used to build more capital. So what's to stop a country from saying "Go ahead, build your island, but we're just going to build a ton of robots here"? Sure, the rights to build and the software to run it might be tied up in intellectual property laws, but countries can and do just disregard those laws when it suits them (for example, India and pharmaceuticals).
For me the real problem with the robot future is it will drive up birthrates, because if you have tons of leisure time, well why not have more children? This will further hasten the arrival of thermodynamic limits to growth (on Earth) or sheer lack of matter limits (in space). It also strikes me that it would have very pernicious political consequences. Right now it's no problem to me if someone has a lot of children, because the children eventually have to work to earn a living, and the labor is needed anyway. But what happens when every additional person is just another piece of the pie, which cannot be further grown (see the thermodynamic limits)? Every gain is someone's loss. That seems like it could get very ugly.
Will robots displace human workers and cause mass unemployment? Yes, this is already happening.
Will the government use taxes to pay non-workers to live a life of leisure? Yes and no. The government will give the unemployed masses just enough to survive and not revolt.
The wealthy elite will use robots to remove or minimize the necessity to care about displaced human workers.
Promotes tribalism. If gummint doesn't care about you and the "elites" don't care about you, then you must look to your brothers...so to speak. And if you want respect for you and your brothers, you'll earn it. In practice that will mean territory issues.
Seasteading, the ocean city-state concept.
The effect of automation on employment is the most important issue of the next 20 years. We have to get this right.
You need a better threaded discussion format, so that we can respond to particular comments and vote them up or down.
Vektor has the right line fo thinking, just enough govt goodies to not revolt. The problem the elites will have is that since FDR's election the focus of the govt is "are we at full employment". Robotics will require a reorientation of stated goals. We're in the midst of this right now,a nd it's going poorly so far.
Automation, and increasing labor productivity, has been happening for 200 years. So, we need to ask: how is this different?
We have enough goods in the OECD countries, but their quality and features can improve. We don't have enough services - there's lot of room for growth in healthcare, eldercare, education, etc, without unemployment. The rate of labor productivity growth isn't accelerating. To the contrary, it's a bit lower than the post-WWII rates.
I'd say the current problems are social, not technological: elites have managed to take more power, and weaken unions and government regulation. Thus, middle class wages have stagnated, and unemployment has grown, while more income is going to capital (as we see in financial rates of return that are higher than overall GDP growth).
Your description of the ideal country for advanced automation sounds like Antarctica.
You don't get it, Randall. I understand why you don't get it. The greatest self-destructive con of the West has been ripping off inventors. The system is set up to rip off inventors and exterminate their genetic stock. For the benefit of who? For the benefit of capital, that's who.
However, capital has a little problem: It has bought its own material -- that inventors are merely barbarian pastoralists and the capitalists are the proper "conjunction" of "the old mercantile thoughtfulness and the infused daring". They're not. They're just mercantile parasites that are trying to rationalize to themselves the extermination of the source of their wealth. The result is predictable: Hyper parasites will eat them alive.
The incursions of barbaric pastoralists seem to do civilizations less harm in the long run than one might expect. Indeed, two dark ages and renaissances in Europe suggest a recurring pattern in which a renaissance follows an incursion by about 800 years. It may even be suggested that certain genes or traditions of pastoralists revitalize the conquered people with an ingredient of progress which tends to die out in a large panmictic population for the reasons already discussed. I have in mind altruism itself, or the part of the altruism which is perhaps better described as self-sacrificial daring. By the time of the renaissance it may be that the mixing of genes and cultures (or of cultures alone if these are the only vehicles, which I doubt) has continued long enough to bring the old mercantile thoughtfulness and the infused daring into conjunction in a few individuals who then find courage for all kinds of inventive innovation against the resistance of established thought and practice. Often, however, the cost in fitness of such altruism and sublimated pugnacity to the individuals concerned is by no means metaphorical, and the benefits to fitness, such as they are, go to a mass of individuals whose genetic correlation with the innovator must be slight indeed. Thus civilization probably slowly reduces its altruism of all kinds, including the kinds needed for cultural creativity (see also Eshel 1972).
Hamilton, W.D. (1975), Innate social aptitudes of man: an approach from evolutionary genetics, in R. Fox (ed.), Biosocial Anthropology, Malaby Press, London, 133-53.
The driving force of the left is power over the people. (Or, at least, those who survive.)
Start from there.
Government taxed trade (like alcohol) and ran just fine.
The globalists have enough political power to keep tariffs from going up enough to stop their plans. The US worker is suffering terribly today, but nobody will even mention raising tariffs to pull more jobs back to the USA.
this same robot/AI revolution will mean far fewer Federal and State employees (though their unions will scream bloody murder).
The workers will just be promoted to managers over the computers. Nobody's going to let their bureaucratic empire get downsized because it means a cut in pay. What this leads to is all employment being in do-nothing government "jobs".
I don't see the case for a hockey stick advancement in robotics. The more they replace, the harder it gets to replace the rest, no hockey stick.
What jobs specifically are we expecting to lose?
I watch 'How things are made' and marvel at just how many humans those things replace. Yet, that's already status quo. Those jobs are replaced.
How does a robot replace a plumber? a teacher? a politician? a USPS driver?
These things are incremental and usually take all kinds of things to align before being possible. That takes a lot of time. I don't think this plays out nearly as quickly as some people fear.
Teaching programs are already starting to replace teachers. USPS drivers will be replaced shortly after autonomous cars are accepted. (Within the next 10 years, IOW.) Plumbers will be among the last to be replaced entirely, because dealing with things that are messy and broken in unpredictable ways is the sort of thing robots are worst at.
Brett is right on the button. Having worked in many factories I can't think of many jobs that can't be replaced by robots. No need for health care, no high absenteeism the first day of deer hunting season, no strikes, no hr, no vacations,etc.. We will be no better than the Luddites at halting robots. Look how quickly drones have come to dominate warfare. I was teaching about the possibility of drone warriors 20 years ago and they already have become our most successful arm in fighting terrorism.
Our most successful arm in killing people in distant lands, anyway. Their success at fighting terrorism is yet to be established, it's quite possible the high rate of collateral damage is producing as much terrorism as is being fought.
There are some interesting but not necessarily correct assumptions regarding automation taking every/most jobs leaving an unemployed population too poor to buy anything. Firstly, you assume that the population birth rate will not be affected by the approach of this event. Demographics has shown us the more materialistic and wealthier a society is the lower the birthrate. We are currently looking at a population crash in Russia and Japan in progress. The US and Europe would be also experiencing a population decline were it not for immigration from low income countries. IF and that's a big IF a country decided to prevent any immigration, (Japan being a real world example of this) the pace of automation would match up with the pace of population decline due to the economics of needing to replace a dwindling workforce.
Secondly, remember, the Laws of Supply and Demand can not be repealed even with machines. As the population declines, employers must pay more for fewer workers because they have to compete for them. Automation in this respect could either hold the line on wage increases as historically experienced in the US OR cause wages to decrease IF the cost and pace of technological advances outstrips the population trend. For a small group of people wages will go up as they would be the ones to control or repair the machines.
Thirdly, the assumption of large factories churning out products is also faulty. The greater the technological advance, the cheaper it is to produce a smaller amount of products that can be made locally, thus forgoing the cost of transportation. What good is it to shave pennies on a per unit basis when to get that product to the consumer costs dollars per unit? Unless the local tax environment is excessive, automation creates the opportunity of micro manufacturing scales for companies already having accepted the just in time inventory delivery paradigm. Imagine if you will an Amazon dot com type company taking orders for a product, directs that order to the closest 3D printer near a customer and then has the local parcel delivery/courier service drop off the product. Why would you need factories when a shop in a warehouse district could custom build and deliver exactly what was purchased? No inventory expense, no warehousing operation, no theft, no spoilage (no expiration stamp necessary.)
Finally, there is an implied notion of how poverty occurs. Poverty in the third world is largely due to self serving, short sighted, corrupt government officials breaking the wealth creation cycle that Capitalism naturally promotes. In the West, we call it crony Capitalism where politicians and big corporations collude together by passing restrictive laws, massive regulations and paperwork to present a wall to competition all under the guise of safety, consumer protection or environmental safeguards, etc. I call it the three unsustainables: Mandates, tax credits and subsidies. Look no further than ethanol, wind and solar for examples. Europe now is backpedaling on green energy.
Agreeing with the idea of factories, that 3D printers won't manufacture everything you need for free in your garage for quite a while ...
It's tricky to make a small good 3D printer. Today's printers have one printing method. You can make more interesting things if you combine multiple materials with multiple manufacturing methods. Multiple materials isn't hard, but multiple manufacturing methods means either bigger gear or more miniaturization. Eventually we'll have 100 techniques that can all be applied at the atomic scale, but until then, fully automated manufacturing of all forms of useful things is going to require big factories. Not something in your garage. Disassembling built things is even harder ... it's trivial if they're all made out of the same type of meltable plastic, but once you combine two substances you've got the problem of separating components.
Incentives matter when it comes to investment, production, and employment. Current government incentives are so dysfunctional and hopelessly contradictory that the future is likely to be very bloody.
Big bad corporate boogeymen cannot do the damage they do without their corrupt crony friends in power, and the reams of bad legislation and executive policy that keep expanding without end. Any hope for a prosperous and peaceful society in the future will require the dismantling of large portions of the government machine, with severe slashing of central spending.
Throughout history poverty is the normal condition of man... http://growthmatters.blogspot.com/2011/06/robert-heinlein-poverty-is-normal.html ... R. Heinlein
Besides poverty, famine - plague - war - early death, have generally been close companions of humans.
We are living in a temporarily benign period of history, made possible only by a brief respite from deadly government suffocation of the human spirit centered around a western concept of personal liberty. That respite is fading, and the normal condition of man is pressing back.
Fertility is going to rebound due to selective pressures.
Law of supply and demand: Median household income in the United States peaked in 1999. We are now 14 years past peak. The trend is definitely away from hiring people with less than a college degree. Low cognitive ability people are increasing in supply while demand for them drops.
Local production: almost all the world's socks are made in a single city in China. Semiconductors are made in a shrinking number of wafer fabs. I see more concentration of production. Heavier stuff incurs shipping costs. But some shipping costs can't be avoided due to where the raw materials come from.
Implied notion of how poverty occurs: I'll be even more explicit: the biggest cause of poverty by far is low intelligence. Read the psychometric research literature on IQ and life outcomes.
Massive regulations: Some very affluent societies have lots of regulations. Some really poor societies lack those same regulations. The regulations argument is out of date. Regs make a difference. But they are not the biggest reason for differences in the wealth of nations.
I agree about the longer existence of the plumber occupation as compared to drivers or most other manual labor occupations. But when those other jobs go away more people will compete to do plumbing work. So I would argue that the future is poor for plumbers as well.
The people whose occupations will last longest: Machine learning specialists. Prostitutes too.
Look at trends in manufacturing employment by education level. Also, look at overall trends in employment by educational level (and educational level is an excellent proxy for level of intelligence). The lower IQ workers are less needed, their earned incomes are declining, and fewer of them have jobs. This trend has been going on for decades and has accelerated in recent years.
Look at the stuff I'm linking to. What's coming up next: a huge reduction in labor for vegetable farming. Then once machine vision systems advance far enough there'll be an additional very large drop in labor for fruit orchard and fruit bush farming.
In 20 to 30 years I expect truck, bus, taxi, and most delivery vehicle drivers to lose their jobs. This might even start in 10-15 years, especially for highway vehicles. Highways are simpler than streets. Automated trucks are already in use at large mining sites in Australia and other big mining countries.
Look at trash collection. I see trash collection trucks where humans do not jump down to pick up the cans. The driver operates a sort of crane that grabs each can. Surely computers will eventually do that faster than humans. Computers will drive the trucks and operate the thing that grabs each can.
Or how about fast food? We'll stop having humans taking orders. You'll just type them in. Robots in the kitchen will cook the burgers. Imagine a McDonalds with one or two human employees that does a very large volume and serves a much bigger menu.
I think the approaching technological singularity along with the likely inevitable intelligence explosion (machine based or Human) will be so disruptive that old systems of parasitical control will be largely unsustainable. Many High IQ / Transhumanist organizations are thoughtfully preparing their membership to be ready to strategically embrace, and become early adopters of, uplifting new technologies during this pivotal upcoming period in Human history.
I estimate that about 1/20th of my expenses come from technological goods. My main expenses are:
I barely spend money on anything else. You could add fuel too for commuters. So 3D printers aren't going to affect my life in any significant way. I just bought a laptop for $500, the first one I've had in 10 years. I bought a big ass monitor like 3 years ago, which is awesome. But all in all it adds up to maybe 500-1000 a year. It's just a drop in the bucket compared to real expenses.
My biggest single cost is housing. I live way below my means. What I most want to buy is not for sale: rejuvenation treatments.
My second biggest desire: more free time. I wish I could cut my need for sleep by about 2 hours. I wish I could get bigger blocks of time off.
Buying electronics: yes, that stuff used to be so expensive and now it is so cheap. I can remember buying 20" Hitachi tube monitors for $1700 each. Now far better flat panels cost half that. Pretty good flat panels cost just $250.
I'm going to get a Motorola X Phone because of the long battery life. It is annoying to remember to plug in every night and sometimes even during the day. I want more ways to buy greater convenience.
the biggest cause of poverty by far is low intelligence. Randall, I will have to disagree with that statement. The greed of the ruling elites are the biggest source of poverty as they hinder anyone, no matter how intelligent from reaching their full potential. One look at Mexico, a country rich in natural resources whose development was arrested by the PRI and Communist movement in the early 1900s. There is no reason why Mexico on a per capita basis could not have become as wealthy as the US but for it's restrictive laws on foreign investment and insistence on the government model of owning PEMEX. Mexico started at the same level of technology as the US at the end of the 1800s and then stalled in it's economic development due to bad government policy.
If you want to say that the ruling elites due to their low intelligence are the source of poverty I'll concede the point, but that's not quite what you're saying though. The lust for power, greed and manipulation have many times been mistaken for intelligence as individuals who practice this behavior do indeed become wealthy and powerful but at the expense of the general population. Wealth and power are a false correlation for intelligence. Correlation does not equal causation.
You fail to acknowledge the fact that as a group of individuals who create wealth (not hoard it or steal it from others) engage in their wealth producing activity unhindered, this activity has a spill over effect on those around them causing others to mimic or copy the successful behavior thus becoming more successful themselves. Creativity is a sign of intelligence, copying a successful behavior is a natural instinct. We see this in nature all the time. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that sticking your finger in fire hurts nor does it take a genius or high intelligence to copy starting a fire to cook your food or do other things with it. This is why civilization is humanity's greatest achievement, our advancement is built upon the foundation of the few exceptional people who influence those around them, not rule over them. The people of Africa are not poor due to inferior genetics but strictly from the greed and lust for power by those who rule for their own selfish ends using clever slogans to trick people into believing they are better off because of their rule of incompetence such as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Here was a country that was the bread basket of Africa and now under the rule of Mugabe it is the basket case of Africa. People of low intelligence don't require rulers to treat them as children to make them comfortable in their poverty, they require the creativity and success of the intelligent to mimic. This is liberalism's greatest flaw, it's own arrogance in their self divine right to tell other people what to do and think. On the flip side, this is nature's greatest success, the culling of the truly stupid who refuse to take the path of success. Nature is cruel but it preserves the best and improves the future. Poverty is a choice by those who hinder and those who refuse to mimic.
Do a deep dive in psychometrics research and then come back and we can discuss.
Dscott, check out Argentina. At one time, that country was one of the wealthiest in the world, per capita, with excellent quality of life for most citizens. Then along comes some crooked politicians...
And, I'll second Mexico should be much better off. Mexicans in general are neither stupid nor lazy, and they have considerable natural resource wealth. I suspect the effects of the Catholic Church there, though. I don't think there is a single nation, predominantly Catholic, that is wealthy. (This predates Marxism, from what I've read, not that Marxism has done anyone but the crooks in power any good.)
Manufacturing countries will have to have plentiful reliable electricity supplies which probably means nuclear plants (possibly shale). With robotics good enough to build a robot that can walk & chew gum, the far simpler problems of running robotic nuclear plants will be solved. However the real problem with nuclear is the Luddite scare. That may well exclude Ireland from becoming an industrial heartland.
I suggest that just as good rule of law may be more important than low taxes (taxes can only take a part of your money) a technologically progressive, low regulation, anti-Luddite culture may be even more important (I think such Luddism is already cutting western economies by 100% of their potential while taxes can only take 50%).
That could be Singapore, seasteding and Elysium (the latter only for high value/low weight items).
"Manufacturing countries will have to have plentiful reliable electricity supplies which probably means nuclear plants (possibly shale)."
I hear germany managed to shutdown a substantial portion of their nuclear power plants while still exporting energy to other countries and remaining without major electricity problems. They're planning to shutdown even more plants in the future too.
So there goes Germany's chance of being a future major manufacturer.
If you think Germany doesn't have electricity problems you are clearly ignorant of the fact that their neighbours are refusing to accept power from them when it is the intermittent unstable windpower that destabilises the grid.
Iceland makes sense as a major manufacturing center for robotic factories. Cheap, reliable geothermal electricity. Small population. Sea port. Near export markets. I should have thought of this sooner.
That works though I believe that 90% of the cost of nuclear is regulatory (including the fact that regulation prevents mass production of reactors). If that is correct then it becomes competitive with even the cheapest electricity in the world, Iceland's and the main requirement becomes confidence in a long term government technological progressivism, which requires a population of the same sort. That makes seasteding look good because people going there are self selecting for that progressivism. Also, as a Scot, I think of some of our islands which currently have populations in the hundreds (but were as important as the entire mainland a millennium ago) or the Isle of Man, could be places for such communities. Call it a Viking resurgence.
I am continually surprised by the notion that it is better to have people in boring, soul-destroying jobs than to consign them to robots and mechanical devices which can do them much more efficiently. Sure, the transition to mechanisation is never an easy one and the loser is usually the newly redundant worker, but this then is the correct issue to deal with, not that of whether to do it at all.
Such is the effect that industrial society has that it seems to have introduced the widespread (forgive me for being blunt) slave mentality where people cannot but see themselves as property of the industrial machine, and all of their self-worth tied to it.
While certain simple, repetitive jobs such as manufacturing have needed to be done by humans, it is possible to respect someone for doing it; but to try to hold onto it after the arrival of the ability to consign it to the mechanistic, soulles realm where it belongs is frankly disgusting.