I'm off on a long road trip next Wednesday (back the following Thursday), and will be appearing at Nine Worlds in London over the weekend. There will also probably be a signing at Forbidden Planet International in London the following Monday—I'll update this entry with details when I confirm it.
In the meantime ...
That last blog entry about police states and revolution spawned an interesting discussion, including this offering by Poul-Henning Kamp, which I'm going to quote selectively from:
New Scientist had an interesting article a couple of weeks ago: 1978 was the year where the GPI index peaked, whereas GDP continued to climb.To follow up on Poul's point: while headlines are made from un-employment figures, because unemployment in a work-for-pay-or-starve culture is frightening (and therefore good news material), we should be keeping a much closer eye on the employment figures. Which are always far lower than you would expect by naively calculating (100% minus unemployed %), because there is an increasing proportion of adults of working age who do not participate in the work force but who can't claim unemployment insurance or support.
Reagan and Thatcher were not the origin of the refeudalism, they got elected to reflect politically a shift which had already happened.
The real trigger were probably the energy-crisis of 1973-74 which in more than one way ended the plastic-fantastic party.
Let the hangover and realization that the fun is over fester for a couple of years, push the right kind of lobsters into the front line and let Murdoch loose on the tabloids and there you are...
But the other interesting thing is that 1978 is also right about where computers start taking jobs away, with typesetters being the first major casualty.
From there computers and robotics have hollowed out what used to be solid middle-class jobs.
The computerization of retail alone has wiped about 20% out of the middleclass jobs, replacing them with low-paid unskilled computer-slaves.
Soon chaffeurs will be the next to see their jobs disappear to robotic cars, and the medical profession is starting to see computers give more correct diagnoses and robots being better at surgery.
There's no way to put the technological genie back in the bottle, nor should we, our ancestors longed for the day they wouldn't have to toil.
The tricky question is how we structure a society where only a dwindling fraction of the potential workforce is required for keeping the wheels on the track.
All of capitalism, communism, socialism, liberalism or libertarianism have as fundamental assumption that we need people to work to keep the wheels turning and therefore they are all worse than useless in the present situation.
The current employment participation rate in the USA is around 58%, and dropping steadily. It's hard to google for figures (firstly: online statistics tend to be overwhelmed by breathless news reports, secondly: google helpfully corrects "employment" to "unemployment" as a search term) but I earlier stubbed my toe on the corresponding figures for people employed full time and using their training/education (so that a PhD flipping burgers in McD's doesn't count as "fully employed"), and it's even lower.
I take the US as a type specimen here, but the trend is common to the entire developed world; workforce participation is generally between 40% (Greece and the PIIGS, in dire economic trouble) and 60%. But it seems obvious that it's in long-term decline.
As automation of mind-work bites, sooner or later we're going to need to switch from a work-to-live-and-pay-taxes-on-income economy to a basic-income-and-work-to-add-luxuries economy. Otherwise we're going to end up with a vast majority of the population who are immiserated and have nothing to lose from violent unrest, and whose immiseration means they can't provide the level of consumer spending that supports the profits of the businesses owned by the 0.1%. And indeed, Switzerland looks set to vote on a basic income law shortly. (Switzerland: very odd place. But we should look for change first on the margins, as with cannabis legalization in Uruguay—small countries can move far faster than lumbering behemoths.)
But beyond the issue of how to keep capitalism creaking along, Poul raised a key point: How do we structure a society where only a dwindling fraction of the potential workforce is required for keeping the wheels on the track? Assuming the point is to structure a society that tries to minimize cruelty, what are our options?