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Marking time, more thoughts

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.

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.

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.

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?



>>>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?

Wrong question. The right question is: how to convince enough people that basic income should be implemented?


Wrong question. The right question is: how to convince enough people that basic income should be implemented?

I already mentioned basic income. The trouble, it seems to me, isn't convincing enough people as convincing the right people.


Perhaps the Roman Empire could provide us with a historical precedent; a citizen would receive a ration of bread, but not every inhabitant was classed as a citizen.


I'm not sure about that. You need a moral atmosphere where being unemployed isn't considered a sin. Otherwise, even if the right people will implement basic income, you'll get this line of thinking: "if it's already a sin, I might as well exploit the system to the fullest". A kind of a vicious feedback. And it will end with the right people cancelling the basic income.


You need a moral atmosphere where being unemployed isn't considered a sin.

Yes, absolutely. Here we run up against a centuries-deep strain of Calvinist thinking that has infected economic theory and policy since the 18th century Enlightenment. "The Devil Makes Work for Idle Hands" and all that.

Moreover, we see the effects today in the huge proportion of Americans on medicare or other state benefits who are in denial about these things being benefits. (Flashbacks to anti-Affordable Care Act demonstrators with white hair and placards saying 'Obama keep your hands off my Medicare!'.)


Bit pie in the sky but I've been pondering the subject of reputation based crypto-currency. The idea being that you pay in a time limited key signature marked with a note that the recipient has done something for you. Acquiring more would increase the number of people who could verify your purchasing power but not improve it - effectively rendering wealth inequality impossible.

Convincing people to adopt basic income is probably a lot easier though.


Jaron Lanier has a few thoughts in this area in "Who Owns The Future"

Lanier has some interesting thoughts on how the demonetization of information cut off the obvious path of those who lost their jobs going into the information/content creation business. One of his suggestions is that the demonetization of information is a bit of an artifact of a particular Silicon Valley business model where the person who creates the information has the value siphoned off by an entrenched big company that defends and lobbies for the demonetization of information as "necessary for the safety of the internet" when it is more necessary for the safety of their business model. (put more simply - by making "information free" a lot of the economic potential was wiped off the books, which would have been fine if the wealth that making "information free" created had found wider ways into the economy instead of getting siphoned off by Google/Facebook et al who are able to monetize all that "free information" with advertisments).

I'm not sure that I agree with it, but it was certainly an interesting take on why the "information creation" type jobs weren't able to replace the ones lost to automation.


In the end you don't really have to structure the society, you should let the society structure itself.

The reason why this isn't happening is that people haven't realized and internalized that our society doesn't need the full employment of all people in 8-hour-days, because a lot of people are dependent on just such arrangements, even those who currently don't have a job.

Usually people make a pretty decent job of changing society once the reality of the situation is clear to most people. In all cases, they do a much better job that any political or ideological group of people trying to structure societies to fit their mindset from the outside. We've seen enough of such things that I sure we can agree on not being keen to repeat the experience.

So, it all comes down to creating awareness and (MOST IMPORTANTLY) patience.


Well, obvious answers: early retirement, limited working hours, extended free education and training, expanded and extensive state services.


>>Assuming the point is to structure a society that tries to minimize cruelty, what are our options?
the first questions here seems "why minimize cruelty ?" This is a very pessimistic point of view, but the 20th century showed that maximizing cruelty can work ... and indeed the mass killing of WW2 was "for the best" of an indutrialized country.
in this view, a police state can be the solution : extreme cruelty to some very few people that shows no common thing with "us" and some new moral trends sowing who is with us or who is against ... (war on terror, 1984, new closed city wher citizenship is allowed only for the rich ....) This can work, doesn't need new ideas and id already in the box...
A lot of the people in charge don't think about minimizing cruelty but minimizing novelty, and THAT is a big issue !
As a species we seem to avoid novelty as much as we can and tend to continue on errors : if it didn't work the first time, try again!
last century, the western main thought was that progress was good now, I'm not sure it's still the case : nostalgia, "good old days" seem to come much easier in the conversations (maybe it is because of the aging of our population)
So, if we have to do anything about the present state (and I think we should) the first thing is to try and convince people that progress is a good word and social progress a better one !
As for the basic income : income is already tight with work, but work has been totally cut out from social utility : as pointed out someone in the last thread, in an ecological view, most of the people with the best incomes are complete parasites, showing no social utility at all, and those are the one we should admire !
but if someone is benevolent his (her) social utility is much higher than his (her) income and can be totally separated.
so maybe ther is a hint : count benevolat in the years for pension...
(please excuse my poor english)


Doesn't work. That's because some people are actually *good* at doing what they are doing. And I don't mean "good" in a quantitative sense, but in a qualitative one. They can do things that other people simply can't do. Restricting their working hours does disproportionally more damage than limiting the hours of purely manual work.

It has a lot to do with experience - which is also a very good reason to be against early retirement becoming a social norm. It is easily conceivable that older people in work would be stigmatised for taking away the jobs of the younger ones - with the result that experienced people end up in places where their experience is thoroughly wasted.


This is a really important question and a complete 'sleeper' in terms of general public consciousness, where it ought to be far higher up the order of the public policy debate.

Instead of being debated directly, it tends to be deflected into undesirable proxy debates about immigration, protectionism and luddism.

The best structural solution seems to me to be a radical restructuring of what's the social norm for the number of working hours in a working week. I'd much rather inhabit a UK where 50% of the population works 30 hours a week (the rest being too old, too young, too sick, or otherwise engaged in socially useful stuff like unpaid childcare) than one where a world where 25% of the population works 60 hours a week.

For about 15 years now I've been using a throwaway line that these days the world seems to require you to have either two jobs (70-hr week) or none at all. The white-collar corporate world being my habitual workplace, that is what I know most about, and in that environment 'presenteeism' and overwork of individual create as many problems for those in work as those out of work.

It's easy to say "so just redistribute the work, then". In practice it is hard to do so, not necessarily because an employer is a slave-driver but because of boundless increases in the expectations of the outside world, the consumer and the consumer's proxies.

One of the disadvantages of an always-on networked world is that those people who are reasonably good at what they do attract greater and greater demand for response, not directly by their employers, but from their employers' stakeholders (customers, investors, politicians, the media, campaigners). If you;re a good customer service rep, instead of your job being to deal with (say) BloggsCo's customers in Manchester, or even the whole of the north-west of England, in an online world you are just as likely to be swamped by a Twitterstorm about something happening on the other side of the world, because the local reps are asleep or are seen as not being close enough to the Seat of Power.

Semi-contingent on that...
I had an interesting conversation in London three years ago with a cosmopolitan group of first-world well educated, affluent 17-18 year olds, then applying for top universities, about how they saw the workplace of the future and their role in it. I'm on the cusp of "Late Boomer / Gen X", and what came back was a very strong sense of "your generation has totally lost the plot, you've destroyed your lives working ridiculously too hard and we're not going to make that mistake". I pointed out that when we were their age, shopping was 9-5 Mon-Fri only, the pubs closed in the afternoon, there was no internet, no rolling news, no telephone backing or insurance, and did they want to return to that world? Of course they didn't. They had a massive disconnect between the expectations of what they felt entitled to as consumers of services and what they felt prepared to put in as providers of those services, as the future workforce.

So... resolving the distribution of work cannot be done simply in the realm of employer debating with employees, nor in the realm of politicians debating with electors. It needs to be led in the realm of people as consumers debating with people as service-providers, or the other debates will just be empty mouth-flapping.


The shift from 'work for a living' to 'basics provided, work for luxuries' sounds has an interesting consequence.

It makes the whole concept of pensions pretty much redundant, and the question of demographic time bombs pretty much moot.

If a country can transition its economy into maximal computerization and automation, and rely on taxing corporations for the bulk of the money to pay for the 'dole' (for want of a better word) and all the other government services like roads and policing and education, then it doesn't matter so much how many people there are of working age compared to pensioners.


Mack Reynolds was asking this in the '70s, in the same stories where he invented the smartphone.


How about, as more and more tasks become automated and thus frees up the workforce, we start using this surplus workforce for the jobs that are better suited for actual human beings.

This means more actual people working at nursing homes, care facilities, kindergardens, maintenance jobs, teachers, instructors, mentors, social workers - all doing things that could be mercilessly "optimized" but we now actually choose to give back into the hands of caring people.

Why not let the unemployed become integral parts of community care in the broadest terms, whether it's fixing all the obvious parts that's worn down in the name of budget cuts and hiring stops or lending an extra warm hand to old as well as young?

No, everyone can't be peoplepersons, but then they get to work on painting & generally fixing stuff in their nearby area, thus getting a 2 for 1 effect in that they suddenly become much more invested in maintaining their surroundings instead of just thinking "that's the super's job".

Here in Denmark, we have had very good results in taking idle, somewhat rebellious, youth in "bad areas" and paying them money to work in small crews, alongside a skilled handyman, and doing misc. small fixing jobs in their "hood", and suddenly most of the troubled youths started taking responsibility, both for their area and their own lives in many ways, so they could step into the regular education system that they had previously rejected (and been rejected by) and move on. Some of them came back and are now the mentors and "skilled handymen" to drag the next iteration of malcontent youths out of idleness.
This & other projects has transformed one of our worst neighbourhoods over the course of 15 or so years.

Change the mindset from "what can I get" to "how can I contribute" and suddenly there's loads more options


And, of course, retirement @ 60-65 is insane - people should be tapering-off @ 45, but continuing to work, quite possibly in two or more part-time "jonb" until they are 75 or 80, or as long as they want to.
Very, very important caveat: Those jobs should be rewarding/interesting/fun/nice/cool, etc.
There should be no jobs at all, or at least as few as possible, that are monotonous, demeaning & subservient, that's what the automation is for!

Now, how to get there from here?
Remember, most people want to work, they want to feel useful, but they also want to have fun.
How do we integrate thise desires & desireable outcomes?
P H-K's last sentance is the really imprtant one, isn't it?
[ Here it is again, just to keep it up-front:
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. ]

More details of your visit to London, Charlie? I will try to get to at least one of them - certainly the "Forbidden" signing ....


We might actually be closer to a basic income in the UK than most people think. The Universal Credit system being brought in at the moment, flawed as it is, is about 90% of the way there in terms of the changes that would be needed to get from where we are to where we need to be.


More details of your visit to London, Charlie?

Doesn't the GBBF begin on Tuesday 13th? I believe F and I might be spending the day there ...


Clearly the right course of action is to repurpose SETI to try and get the Culture's attention.


"The current employment participation rate in the USA is around 58%, and dropping steadily."
Where did you get these figures from? I picked up similar numbers from an earlier comment you made many months ago and tried to verify it, all I found was this, which says that it's 63% and not something around 50:
For added enjoyment, look at the same thing graphed over the entire available time (not linkable, but the form is on the same page). The numbers used to be even lower between '48 and roughly '70.


The question is actually more complex than OGH put it, because the other side is the UN projected 9 billion Homo Sapiens of which 100 million die horribly for every extra degree of global average temperature we buy.

The easiest way to solve the "immigrants take our jobs" non-issue will undoubtedly be to eliminate the jobs, rather than try to stem the flow of immigrants.

And that is also why I think the income-redistribution will be a much easier sell than the non-cruelty bit.

Even if we were able to get all of EU to introduce Strossonomics, there is no way we could do that without a clear class distinction, when faced with millions of potential climate-refugees.

Either we build an impenetrable barrier around EU, and only those on the inside get their daily bread & circus, or some kind of acid-test must be used to decide why We get bread&circus, but the refugees do not.

Either one is incredibly cruel, the second scenario in particular by making criminals out of toddlers (Aka: US's DREAMER generation)

Assuming we agree when, where and on how to unleash the minimum cruelty, the next question is how to pacify 250 million people in a sustainable way.

Obviously junk-food and reality-TV can and will do a lot.

Gardening, art and culture will do a lot too.

But what about the "I'm not old yet!" segment ?

If you got your basic requirements covered and have no need to work, what's to prevent a person from northern EU from heading south for the winter or one from southern EU from heading north for the summer ?

It doesn't have to be particularly fast transportation.

And there is a lot of nice sights up and down through Europe.

One high-profile article is all it will take and we have...

A swarm of a million sweating bicyclists, tearing up and down through Europe on their biannual locust-like migration, with the added complication of spontaneous flash-mobs trying to get away from "the beaten path".

I think Strossonomics is very likely to come with fine print that amounts to "... only if you stay put and don't pollute."

PS: strictly speaking my first name is "Poul-Henning", but I usually react to "P[ao][uv]l.*"

PPS: Much honoured.


The numbers used to be even lower between '48 and roughly '70.

Yes. In the era before mass female participation in the labour force. Remember when married women didn't have jobs? (My mother was of that era.)

If you adjust for gender, the participation rate should have nearly doubled since those days. It hasn't.


Sorry about getting your name mangled!

(Here's a partial explanation: 40 falsehoods programmers believe about names ...


'Remember when married women didn't have jobs?"

We make take a lesson from these women, together with aristocrats and hunter-gatherers (males). What did Jane Austen do all day - apart from scribble, scribble? I've been taking a look at her collected letters and it's basically all social life. What we're built for. Work is new. Working clocktime even newer.


>>>Either we build an impenetrable barrier around EU, and only those on the inside get their daily bread & circus, or some kind of acid-test must be used to decide why We get bread&circus, but the refugees do not.

We did it on the Egypt-Israel border already, and it seems to work so far. The main acid test is WHICH SIDE of the barrier you are on.

I don't know what's gonna happen if we'll get hundreds of thousands of refugees there all of the sudden. I suspect it will involve clandestine shipping a lot of bullets to the Bedouins of the Sinai peninsula...


'Remember when married women didn't have jobs?"

We make take a lesson from these women, together with aristocrats and hunter-gatherers (males).

The downside to that time was that for most women, the lack of a job did not mean a lack of work -- it just meant low-status menial drudgery without wages, coupled to a social imperative to keep up appearances. (Hence the pressing need for second wave feminism.)

As for aristocrats, they had servants. (Low-status menial drudgery with wages, albeit mostly consisting of bed, board, uniform, and a pittance of spending money -- if any -- not to mention little personal time to spend it.)

Now, if we get to the point where we can (a) replace the servants with non-sapient robots, and (b) provide a basic income for all, then we might need to learn new ways to fill our time. But that's a follow-on question!


If no-one has to work for a living, and there isn't that much paid work around anyhow, then presumably most people are going to spend much of their time doing unpaid work. For which the motivations as to what to do will necessarily be completely different: if you aren't being paid, then why do anything if it isn't fun, or it's not interesting or it doesn't make the world a better place?

So the value of what most people do will not be reflected in the level of wages paid them[*]. Perhaps we'll end up like ancient China where the mercantile class was considered the lowest stratum of society, beneath scholars, farmers and artisans (

The modern shi-nong-gong-shang might be

- Shi Those who work for their own intellectual

- Nong: Those who work for the good of society as
a whole

- Gong: Those who produce works of art or craft

- Shang: Those who work for money.

Although, like in China, there would inevitably be more than a little blurring of the boundaries between the four.

[*] Not that it is a particularly good correlation at the moment: nurses, teachers and firemen are a lot more valuable than their pay rates might suggest. Investment bankers somewhat less.


It would appear so, yes. I admit being a bit lost in all these stats, but these seem to underline your hypothesis:

-participation rate: (old, up to 2002) (old, up to 2002) (old, up to 2002) (recent) (recent) (recent)

-employment rate: (old, up to 2002) (old, up to 2002) (old, up to 2002)
(and I can't find any current ones right now)

Also what I dredged up earlier is participation (available labor force), not employment rate. So your 58% might hold, if you manage to find them.

The participation rate starts to drop regardless of gender at 2008 and doesn't show any sign of stopping. Coincidence?


I recall that a town in Canada tried this; and, by most accounts, it worked.

Of course, the town in question had the good fortune to be built on land with oil beneath it *and* have democratic control over this.

But were they really all that democratc? Who took out the trash, who cleaned the toilets? Were there denizens among these lucky citizens, who did not share in this astonishing good fortune?

If so, the citizens were just another type of landed aristocracy.

Now think of Singapore, a wealthy city-state with no poor citizens; but lots of denizens from the surrounding hinterland of poor and easily-exploited labour. And, in this connected world, much of all that 'dirty' labour can be carried out halfway around the world, with just a handful of undocumented migrants working in-country as our maids and gardeners. A handful, as in single-digit percentages of the population... Or higher. Much, much higher.

What justice would there be, if that percentage were so high that we had recreated the landed aristocracy of the Georgians? *Perhaps* it would be just, at some percentage, if a social compact were in place that took their labour in exchange for the protection of the law, free healthcare, and an education for their children...

...But that logic leads us to the dangerous idea of their children using higher-value educated labour to save up the cost of 'buying in' to citizenship - the danger being the creation of a structurally-unequal society in which a large proportion of the population never have a realistic chance of buying-in, and live in generational poverty as an under-caste of menials.

And is this really so different to the society we have, with an idle aristocracy of rentiers, a middle class who labour for the buy-in to the labour-free utopia of affluent retirement; and a precariat of denizens-in-all-but-name?

How long would it take for the economic islands of our wealthy city-states, existing in a worldwide honterland of Third-World poverty and exploitation, to proceed from proud pronouncements of a Universal Income and the end of poverty, to just the same old state of aristocracy and middle class and an immiserated underclass?

Be careful what you wish for... And take care than any city-state that tries a universal income implements it in a way that generates an outward spread of affluence, instead reinforcing the unequal distribution of wealth and privilege within and without an economic 'city wall'.


It's interesting to see how the idea of basic income pops up again in the last years (last time it was discussed in broader circles was in the 1970s, if I got my history correctly).

Two SF-references to it: One is of course Banks' Culture utopia, with resonances to parts of the concurrent Basic Income debate (opening up humanities potential in the arts, creativity etc. etc.).

The other, somewhat more bleak science fictional debate on basic income is the background story to the Corey-Expanse-series - most of the population of Earth lives on "basic", to the contempt of the protags. One nice detail: If you want to study, you have to work first for a year or two, to show you're worth a costly academic education.

And you are right: All this is as much a debate on time as on money.


Quick Google tip: if you put "employment" in quotes, just like that, Google won't look for similar words, but stick to that version.


Remember that we aren't just dealing with one change at a time. While skilled labor prices are falling, raw materials prices are rising and are likely to continue to rise (on trend, with some ups and downs along the way). Even if labor becomes largely unnecessary, the resources available for each member of society may fall.


The situationists spent a lot of time talking about how urban planning is affected by a laborless society (and thus about laborless societies -- which is a bit strange amongst marxists), and their essays on the subject are some of the most far-out yet coherent ones I've read. They don't spend a lot of time on the nitty gritty of structuring government to handle this (they thought that the only way this would happen would be the confluence of true communism with highly advanced automation), but they thought a lot about what society in the sense of culture and social interaction would need to look like in order for this to be reasonable (and, their view of it looks a whole lot like Rainbows End with a lower budget).


RA Wilson talked a lot about this, in the Schrodinger's Cat trilogy I think. This was mainly in the guise of a radical simplification of the tax and benefits system. Give everyone a minimum wage in the form of negative income tax, then a substantial zero tax allowance, then 2 levels of tax. Remove most tax allowances and most if not all of the benefits system. Automate the hell out of the remains. Fire all the gov employees currently involved in administering tax and benefits and plough the savings back into raising the minimum wage. Then start offering bonuses for people who make themselves redundant to the point where people can make a good living by inventively removing jobs from the system.

There is a view that a) the only thing wrong with being unemployed is the lack of money. And b) boredom leads to a substantial proportion (somebunall!) of the unemployed to start doing more interesting stuff providing their basic needs are taken care of. So we should actually be paying people to be unemployed but productive in ways that enrich society.

Of course one of the key things we need to do to achieve the endless leisure time automation should have brought us is to put the Mail and Express out of business. Benefit scrounging should be something that is admired not vilified!


And here's another curious way USA provides basic income while denying it:

"Obese or overweight patients may be prescribed Health Bucks under the new program, NPR reports. They can then redeem these at 140 participating local farmers markets under the GrowNYC initiative that aims to make good, healthy, nutritious food available to a larger portion of the population."


Charlie @ 18
Yes, it does, terrble sad, that!
See you there, if no-where else (aprt from the book-signing, of course .....
- & @ 22
My mother also - she would have been much better off in part-time work.
But then my father was an M.Sc. Chemist in a technical college lecturer's post in the 1950's - and, until he changed employer in about 1959, he walked to work (!)
- ah @ 26
There was a REASON why a lot of people LIKED "Domestic Service" - the working conditions were (usually) a lot better & the life expectancy was between 15 & 30 years hogher than industiral semi-slavery, esepcially during the 19thC ....

@ 19
Banksie did actually deal with that in one of the Culture novels.
(Can't remember which one right now) but the phrase was: "look, that table's clean" - someone was working in a bar FOR FUN - see also my post @ 16 about working, without oppression...

P H-K @ 21
You've done it AGAIN
So true - get rid of the (dull repetetive, enslavement) jobs & who cares about immigrants.
Nice one.


Greg (37), It was "Use of Weapons". Zakalwe meets a guy on a Culture ship who spends most of his time hanging around a little bar or restaurant or coffee shop or similar. He likes the space and enjoys meeting people, and he does some cleaning and serving to pass the time.


Arguments for Capitalism seem increasingly based on Morality - it's simply morally right - leaving the system's functionality a secondary consideration at best.


I keep getting the nagging sense that a "basic income" is missing the forest for the trees; a post-scarcity and/or post-labour economy is likely to be so different from the current status quo that even concepts like "income" are not going to be relevant, although I should note that I'm not an economist, much less a futurist, so I may have no clue what I'm talking about. Any economic system and society built around assuming the value of labour is ... not broken, per se, but definitely due for a review.

People will always want more than they have if they see someone else getting it. That's going to be a problem even if there's a move to a basic standard of living. Moreover, the people whose hands are on the controls for the economy would have their positions of power and privilege gutted by anything that reduced the value of simply shuffling money around, which would be a side effect of this class of change. I just don't see a path from here to ... there, no matter what "there" ends up being.


I'm surprised no one's mentions Logan's Run. Until the setting of the film it seemed a fairly well established, low cruelty system that worked with automated euthanasia at 30. That would help shift the employment numbers up if that's so important.

On a slightly more humane note, I think there's a lot of inertia because the people that are likely to seriously lead the discussion and the changes currently don't see a need for a change.

But we really need a change to systems where most of describe ourselves, and to some extent fit ourselves into hierarchies, based on what we (or our partners) do. "Hello, I'm Charlie, I'm an author" compared to "Hello, I'm Charlie, I'm a doctor." In fact, where I live, the shared areas were being decorated last week, and the painter handed me my mail when I came in. He well impressed when he found out I'm a doctor (although less impressed when he found out it was of the PhD variety). Apart from having had lunch and bought the makings of tea, I was no different to the person that had gone past him the other way an hour before - except now he knew I was a doctor.

We probably also need to change the other way we keep score. Does shuffling electronic funds for ultra-rich people and/or hedge-funds really mean you contribute more to society than the person responsible for policing Greater London? More than the heads of the various UK armed forces? You can argue scarcity (possibly) for good traders compared to good nurses but there aren't a whole lot of candidates for the other jobs and fewer posts for them.

I don't know that academia has a really reproducible system - it measures peer-reviewed publications, and to a lesser extent high impact publications as well - and while there are a number of well founded criticisms of the peer-review system that might cause it to evolve in the medium term, as well as criticisms of some aspects of testing medicines and not reporting negative results that is in the process of changing - it is at least evidence that alternative measures can be found when appropriate.


Until we figure out a way to tax economic activity for redistribution that isn't prone to too much manipulation, we will continue to fight the same old (new) class war.

The new class war has worked like this: employ a professional class to write a complex tax code and privatize the spending of what taxes are received, then hire another professional class to manage the administration of it for the purpose of redistributing upward.

A minimum income and redistribution downward is fine, but until raw economic activity can be taxed we will be stuck via hysteresis in the rentier-enforced depression of modern dystopia.


yes but only for certain people single people on JSA fall off the end quite quickly.

Giving people in work tax credits is just subsidding employers - I dont mind paying for the NHS etc but do have a problem with paying for tax dodging companies labor - and don't get me started on apprentice sawidge shops paying 1/3 of the minimum wage


Joe Haldeman described a Western world with guaranteed basic income in his 1997 Forever Peace (not a sequel to Forever War).

The notion that we should look at employment statistics is one of the topics of Guy Standing's The Precariat, the new dangerous class (good video of Standing giving a conference on this theme here on YouTube).

Of course, the Swiss initiative on guaranteed basic income has zero chance to come to fruition. It's not even a long shot, it's just to break the taboo and foster some discussion (they also propose disbanding their own army every once and a while, for the fun of calling it "stinking, polluting and stupid-making").

Eventually, we'll have to either re-think economy; or accept a billionaire sitting on a pile of automatically-produced goods that nobody can afford as a sane and healthy state of society. Owning the means of production might still make sense when they are factories, but it becomes more absurd the closer we get to producing everything with cornucopiae.


In the last two centuries, we have had somewhat similar "events" in the West. The first was when increased productivity in the country side drove unemployed workers to the cities, providing one important ingredient in the industrialization (lots of poor people desperate for any work). The second came when the industrial workforce started to decline, partially due to increased productivity, outsourcing of labour and the "entry" of women into the workforce (driven by the increased productivity of home appliances, e.g. washing machines, vacuum cleaners etc.) This sparked the growth of the service industry.

Each time this explosion of productivity came, the working masses were driven from their employment in the industry, and forced to work for low wages and horrible hours, incidentally sparking a new industry.

At the moment, we are seeing that the productivity of agriculture, industry and services continue to rise. Some people are being pushed out of employment while the total production seems to be rising. This happens at the same time as an expansion in consumption, e.g. the new fad for smart phones and tablet computers among the global middle class.

Looking at the West again, some mentioned the future usage of software to replace taxi drivers, one could add the inventions of cleaning robots to displace cleaning people and many similar inventions. These robots have to be intented, designed and produced, so I suspect that at least for the mid term (20-40 years), the people doing that will be pretty safe in terms of employment. Their numbers are even likely to increase.

However, not everybody can take a job like that for a variety of reasons. These people are going to be left behind, almost permanently out of employment. The question is if it will be possible in the Capitalist economy to find productive jobs for them, or they will be thrown out as human trash. I think this is the crucial difference between our current situation and the industrialization and rise of the service economy.

One option is to expand the service industry, e.g. to give more personal care to our seniors and children. I suspect that personal care will be difficult to automate for a long time yet. Sharing work is also a good option, especially as much work will wear you out, but it will run afoul of the capitalist need to maximize profits.

I don't think it is difficult to dream up ways of dealing with the problem. The problem is getting from where we are to a place where we can deal with the problem. Looking at the less than stellar ability of the world to deal with global warming, I think it is going to be an uphill battle.

The ruling party in Denmark are already gearing up for the fight. They have tried to make the unemployed responsible for them being unemployed, painting a picture of them being lazy leeches. The social welfare programs for unemployed have been cut, and the employed are increasingly getting private health insurance and pension through their workplaces.

A number of other programs have been instituted to expand the workforce. The ruling party politicians claim that a larger supply of workers will eventually increase demand for work. What most of them are keeping to themselves is that the larger number of unemployed will cause wages and work conditions to fall as people are afraid to lose their jobs and accept worse working conditions.

Most of our strong labour movement seems to be ignoring this, possibly because they are fearful of outsourcing, but I fear it will come back to haunt their members and everyone else.

Whew, this got a little long winded. Sorry about that.


No: a =resident of Rome= received a free grain ration. Rome was one of the half dozen largest cities in the world, with all the problems of cost of living which that implies (when that law was passed there was also no police force, no public fire service, and no public health service, and =every election which mattered took place in Rome=). The modern analogy would be the housing allowances which civil servants and soldiers living in expensive cities receive, and the way that London is subsidized by the UK government because disgruntled Londoneers are closer to the centre of power.


Employment to population ratio:-

If people are interested, the Federal Reserve Economic Database is the most comprehensive and easiest-to-use DIY tool for Economic charts. Paul Krugman uses FRED a lot on his blog, and once you've been there, you'll start recognising the chart style all over the interwebs.

(FRED:, hover over Data Tools in the top toolbar, and choose "create your own graph".)

Interestingly, the employment of over-65s is growing strongly (in the US, at any rate). When "decision-makers" look around their world, there's no reason to change at all.


After I read the phrase "One that has been widely used is the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), which adjusts expenditure in 26 ways to account for social and environmental costs...." I understand that I do not want to discuss anything basing on such a figure. 26 parameters for a dataset of 200 years (i.e. points) at most! I feel unclean when I add 5 more well-understood parameters to account for misfitting on a dataset of 8000 points...

However, the problem of computers and robots really taking the jobs away from medium-skilled people (high-skilled ones will be either directing "robots" or serving as a source of behavior patterns for them; low-skilled are too cheap to spend money on replacing them) is just around the corner.

My guess is that it will be solved gradually, like the general "welfare" problem in Western countries, only the category of the welfare recipients will widen. If the "state" will not have money for all unemployed, it will only mean that the work productivity did not improve *enough*.


I've some thoughts here, which may or may not be relevant.

Have you noticed that people are willing to pay money to play in an MMORPG? Here, people are going out of their way to ... participate in near mindless grinds, crushing routine, and some aspects of a rather barbaric existence. This suggests, to me, that if subsistence farming could be properly gamified people would happily jump through hoops to participate.

And, speaking of gamification, I've seen some writeups where medical (and engineering) problems presented in a game environment have resulted in ridiculously rapid solutions to what had been considered intractable problems.

Though, of course, for some people games are depressingly boring and utterly lacking in interest.

And, we even have activists proposing harm models for games (which, so far, seem ... rare... but anything worth doing has some potential for harm so I expect that this kind of thing will continue to pan out - and, if we're smart, we'll keep an eye out for the problems the nay-sayers are predicting and maybe keep them from going too rotten).

So, anyways, this suggests to me, that we - societal we - are interested in adopting for ourselves a wide variety of solutions to the kind of problem you are suggesting is important.

That said, there's a huge risk here - when games become important rather than fun, people's priorities shift and ... that can get bad. For this risk, though, I'm going to hold out some hope that it will involve exercise adequate water, clean air, and other such things that at least will help the people involved be non-tragic while they're doing all that not-fun stuff.


Food production isn't lacking in warm bodies though.

All this theorizing about reordering society is well and good, as long as no one goes and pulls a Khmer rouge and empties the cities at gunpoint to get people back in touch with nature.

Oh, incindentally, found this short story any Laundry readers ought to like


Teh Google is not your friend in this subject, but the US Bureau of Labor Statistics is:

Economic statistics for the USA:
In fact, it is not falling, but it is also not rising.

Various measures of unemployment:
U-6, probably the best measure under current economic conditions, is slowly falling.

(Paul Krugman, Mark Thoma, and Brad Delong are other good places to go.)

Why should everyone "work?"


As per Russell, I think the idea of the nobility of work (and therefore the shame of unemployment) goes back a lot further than the 18th century. And, of course, it's only the non-aristocrats for whom work is a noble pursuit. For the rentiers it's always been something to shun and avoid. It's a completely hypocritical and extremely successful value system.

I posted this link in the previous thread, but it's worth posting it again. If you want to think about how you would go about assaulting the idea of the nobility of work then Russell has already laid a lot of promising and clear-eyed groundwork here:

A quote or two to give some flavour:

The fact is that moving matter about, while a certain amount of it is necessary to our existence, is emphatically not one of the ends of human life. If it were, we should have to consider every navvy superior to Shakespeare. We have been misled in this matter by two causes. One is the necessity of keeping the poor contented, which has led the rich, for thousands of years, to preach the dignity of labor, while taking care themselves to remain undignified in this respect. The other is the new pleasure in mechanism, which makes us delight in the astonishingly clever changes that we can produce on the earth's surface.



Above all, there will be happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia. The work exacted will be enough to make leisure delightful, but not enough to produce exhaustion. Since men will not be tired in their spare time, they will not demand only such amusements as are passive and vapid. At least one per cent will probably devote the time not spent in professional work to pursuits of some public importance, and, since they will not depend upon these pursuits for their livelihood, their originality will be unhampered, and there will be no need to conform to the standards set by elderly pundits.


The whole essay makes for an excellent jumping-off point. Very much worth a read.


I want to push back on the idea that automation was the cause of the "employment gap"-- mainly because I used to think so, too, and there's none so virtuous as a former sinner, etc.

One of the first charts you get to see if you take an economics class is one called "the circular flow of income". It shows the truth. One person's spending is another's income.

The thing is, that ordinary people tend to buy things that other ordinary people provide (shoes, haircuts, yoga classes), and rich people tend to buy things from other rich people (stocks, artworks, property). The stuff that rich people buy doesn't provide a lot of employment.

All that is by way of saying, absent the capitalists' pre-emptive counter-revolution, both wages and employment would be a lot higher and we wouldn't be talking about this.

Don't get me wrong: I think automation is a looming test of our society. But it isn't a cause of the present dismal situation.


Turning to the question that Charlie asked, "what are our options?"), Peter Frase's essay in Jacobin Magazine, "Four Futures", is essential reading.

Out of the four, the first, Communism as depicted in Star Trek, seems the most desirable.

How do we get there from here? Probably by way of two of the other three futures Frase depicts: Rentism first, and then either Socialism or Exterminism.


Socialism and communism, at least as historically practised, both preach the dignity of work. All their propaganda emphasises it. A mere revolution in your economic organisation isn't enough to unseat hundreds or thousands of years of cultural assumptions!

It'll need to be a very culturally different version of either if it's actually going to get us towards a future in which the notion of a basic income doesn't cause attacks of the vapours.


enough of the right people...and less of the wrong ones


I pine for the world described in Philip Jose Farmer's Riders of the Purple Wage. But it is much more unlikely after Reagan.


Socialism and communism, at least as historically practised, both preach the dignity of work.

Of course, and in the Star Trek world, people have work. It's just not (mainly) for money.

Removing work entirely, as in the Culture, is a harder problem.

Work does provide contact with fellow humans (warmth, shared experience, norms), a sense of self worth, and a reason for continuing your existence, besides the means of it. We're going to have to figure out how to get all of those things.

On the other hand, people aren't very good at work (as currently organised). There's a system of decades-long indoctrination that seems to be required in order to get people to take their parts properly.

What people are good at is play. Games, music and dance, sports, creative arts... all of those are much older and more deep-rooted cultural traditions than is work. Perhaps there's something we can work with there.

Either we build an impenetrable barrier around EU, and only those on the inside get their daily bread & circus, or some kind of acid-test must be used to decide why We get bread&circus, but the refugees do not.

I think current practice points into the opposite direction: free food and housing for refugees, but severe restrictions on work permits. I doubt this is likely to change.

It seems to me that even today, we consider poor people starving and dying of curable illness characteristics of a failed state. There's still the significant social stigma of being poor, and access to education could be much better, but beyond that, basic income is mostly a reality. In non-failed states, that is.

However, the problem of computers and robots really taking the jobs away from medium-skilled people (high-skilled ones will be either directing "robots" or serving as a source of behavior patterns for them; low-skilled are too cheap to spend money on replacing them) is just around the corner.
It is my impression that medium skilled people will be able to learn a new trade. Low skilled people may be cheap in some places, but other areas they are not (in Denmark you would be hard pressed to get someone to work for less than $18 per hour). Furthermore, some of their job functions are also used in households, so there is a market for automation, e.g. dish washers and vacuum cleaners (floor washers, even), that are likely to spill over into industrial applications.

@52 "I think automation is a looming test of our society. But it isn't a cause of the present dismal situation."

I think you are dead wrong.

The point here is that automation is put in in order of profitability: You replace the most expensive employees first. Expensive because you need a lot of them (car factories, typesetters) or because they are expensive to educate and talent is rare (brain-surgeons).

Automation havn't even gone halfway to the bottom yet, we have only just gotten lawnmowers and vacuumcleaners robotized, we have yet to clean windows, harvest tomatoes etc.

But what we have done is take out a very large fraction of the traditional middleclass jobs, the jobs that required 3-5 years of school+training on top of 9th grade and paid a decent salary.

Those jobs barely exist anymore, and to the extent they do, they're in a bad "race to the bottom" competition from migrant workers.

With a hole cut just below the center of the middle-class, the social mobility ladder has been split.

You're either above or below the gap, and only lottery-like events can get you lifted up over the gap and any kind of misfortune will move you below the gap.

The net result is the refeudalisation where nobody but the top 1% is safe in their situation.


Zumbs: The second came when the industrial workforce started to decline, partially due to increased productivity, outsourcing of labour and the "entry" of women into the workforce (driven by the increased productivity of home appliances, e.g. washing machines, vacuum cleaners etc.)

Misconception alert: the time spent on housework by women has remained more or less constant for the past century-plus: the availability of cheap "labour-saving" appliances merely raise the standard of cleanliness/tidiness expected of women, while the hours spent achieving it remain constant.

Personal care is indeed hard to automate. Which is why those specialities suffer from Baumol's cost disease.


I read a story set in late-Victorian times where a woman received a vacuum-cleaning as a wedding present from her comfortably-well-off husband. A horse-drawn van pulled up outside their home and a steam-powered vacuum pump connected to a set of long hoses was used to suck up dust from the carpets in the rooms. After it was finished the van drove off, leaving the house cleaner than it had ever been so that she with her small staff (a live-in slavey and one or two daily domestics) would be able to maintain a basic level of cleanliness more easily.


The history of automation is that the easy-to-automate jobs get automated first regardless of the cost of the employees. That has tended to be the brute-force jobs like earthmoving, the steam shovel replacing gangs of navvies or harvesting with a horse-drawn reaper rather than hordes of men and women with hand-sickles.

I've mentioned it before but the coal industry in the UK was mainly muscle-powered well into the 1960s, with men digging coal with pick and shovel and in some cases still using ponies to move the coal to the bottom of the pit shaft. Miners weren't expensive to employ but automating the cutting and haulage of coal was not that difficult once the engineering (hydraulics mainly) caught up with the needs of the job and came up with safe reliable machinery to replace the hundreds of thousands of men employed previously.


When it's a one-off service provided by a facility that a household can't own directly due to cost/complexity, that's how it works. When it's a small buzzing box that everyone owns one of, you're expected to vacuum the house weekly. Or twice weekly. Or daily. Because if you only do it monthly, your house will look shabby compared to your weekly-vacuuming neighbours ...


We need more Art and more Science, that's all.

I think we need better paid people in the Arts (performing or other) so just tax me more and redistribute the money to all those incredibly underpaid and hard working artists. More people with talent will then flock to the Arts instead of flipping burgers at the golden arches.

In the Sciences it,s a bit different but it's also based on taxing me more and re-distributing the money and creating jobs.

Right now we have an amazingly low number of scientists around the world. For several decades I wondered how a small group of persons in Sweden could sift through what I thought to be monster sized rooms full of research publications in order to decide who would get the Nobel prizes. When I did a master's in Library Science I learned a lot about bibliographic things like scientific publication production and surprise, it really isn't that big for each segment of Science.

We need basic Science for our far future but there aren't enough research positions in institutes, government and universities. That's were new tax money should go: Making more scientists. You don't need any talent to be a scientist. All you need is an interest in Nature.


>Misconception alert: the time spent on housework >by women has remained more or less constant for >the past century-plus

I've heard that one before. Didn't believe it then, don't believe it now. For a minute.

At best it's a case of work expanding to fit available time, at worst it's 1st-world-problem feminist propaganda.

I have seen village women flogging their clothes clean on washboards in a riverside laundry set about a mile away from their homes, no WAY does clicking the ON button on the washing machine involve anywhere the same amount of effort.

This was last century, certainly, but not 100 years ago, more like 20. Last time I was down that road everyone seemed to have graduated to washing machines at home and the old laundry was abandoned, good riddance.

This kind of feminist luddism is extremely pernicious and gets right up my nose.


Washing machines are one of the few labour-saving devices that really do save labour. Seriously. (Dishwashers are maybe in second place.) Vacuum cleaners? Take as long to use on your carpet as a broom used to use on your dirt floor. But work expands. Where once washing clothes weekly or monthly was enough, now we expect clean shirts on a daily basis, and ironing to match ...


Another absolutely hugely labour-saving machine is the fridge-freezer, in terms of reducing the need for real-time cooking, and shopping or other gathering of daily fresh produce.

And while it's not an individual household gadget, the networked / distributed city-wide machine that is the mains water and sewage system is a vast domestic labour-saver too. Ask anyone who's had to work off a street-corner stand-pipe during a drought, let alone those who have to walk miles to a well with a water vessel balanced on their heads.


There's a rather positive public health side-effect to wearing clean shirts every day. It's not just appearance and better-smelling public transit. OK, it's not huge but in the domain of public health every little bit helps.


the wrong question is being asked, it is largely about status. We live in a society where 'being a respectable member of the community' is having a job and the better paid the job the more respectable. Or at least is used to be. We reinforce the status by buying status symbols in the form of cars and houses, etc and so forth.
If there is no work for the masses then status will be derived from other things.
The interesting questions are, how status acquisition might work for the masses and how we might get there.


it really isn't that big for each segment of Science

A "segment" or subfield of science is a body of literature of the right size that a community of scientists can learn it and develop it. I've heard of people in the '40s who read every single abstract published in the field of chemistry; nowadays it's hard enough for somebody to keep up with a much smaller subfield like rhenium catalysis or graphene film synthesis.

You don't need any talent to be a scientist.

I spent 20 years trying to make a go of it in the physical sciences. To do it, you need sales skills. Scientists' careers depend critically on how much money they bring in as grants, and the competition is tough. Actually understanding anything scientific is a nice bonus, but much more optional than you'd think.

the time spent on housework by women has remained more or less constant for the past century-plus
Given that they did not have a job and you say that housework was not a full time job, I'm kind of puzzled. What did they spend all their time on? I would be quite surprised if they just sat around drinking coffee ...

I don't agree that Basic Income will do the job, for a number of reasons.

First, because it will be held to mass misery levels by the same incentive calculus that keeps welfare at "mostly not dying on the street".

Second, because it maintains inequality (and worsens it) but ends the "American Dream" - it will become quite clear that there's no room at the top, that hard work buys you nothing, and what you don't have, you can't aspire to by peaceful means.

Third, because it would become extremely political and corrupt in administration and a source of canned lumpenproletariat ready to hand for empire building.

I think the answer is that money has to go. It's intrinsically a cause of inequality, and it's basically not necessary if you don't want economic arm-twisting as a means to do drudge work using humans. What has to be constructed in its place is equality of power-over-resources (not the same as equal outcomes). I think the "Zeitgeist movement" mostly has the right ideas here.


I forgot to mention, basic income would also be slurped up by economic factors driving up the cost of minimal living (rent, food, etc) to meet it (because that's what the "market can bear"). Effectively whatever it was set at, it would be inflated away. Attempts to fix this by forcible price controls would create a black market and a bribe economy, and political power for Al Capone types.


You replace the most expensive employees first. Expensive because you need a lot of them (car factories, typesetters) or because they are expensive to educate and talent is rare (brain-surgeons).

It is the difference between the employee cost and the computerized employee replacement cost matters, not the employee cost itself. So brain-surgeons will be safe much longer then vacuum-cleaners, just because creating a safe and useful brain surgeon robot will cost a hell.

But what we have done is take out a very large fraction of the traditional middleclass jobs, the jobs that required 3-5 years of school+training on top of 9th grade and paid a decent salary.

This is only a part of image. There is other part which you omit for some reason - the computerization created a plenty of new middleclass jobs and handed the new powerful tools to the people of many middleclass professions which existed before, from cleaners to brain surgeons to SF authors.


I'm really scratching my head on the question of who "we" is in this analysis. True, the US has fewer manufacturing jobs, but that's because it outsourced them to China, India, Indonesia, etc., where the cost of labor is lower.

Since there's 7.1 billion people worldwide and 316 million people in the US, that's 0.5 percent (round up to the 1% perhaps) of people being supported by a rather lot of labor from below. I'm really not comfortable calling 6.9 billion people feeding upwards to support me a triumph of automation.

The only thing that's changed is the scale of industrial capitalism. I wonder if the alternative explanation for Charlie's data is far simpler:


According to Wikipedia, the four important standards for international containers were created in the late 60s, while US trucking and rail were deregulated in the LATE 1970s and marine transport was deregulated in 1984.

With container shipping (multiple thingies in standard boxes moving on specialized systems) radically decreased shipping costs worldwide, allowing things like just-in-time manufacturing and on-time guarantees. It also meant that Japan, China, and elsewhere could compete with US factories, with the results we all know.

Shall I point out that in 1975, WallMart was a regional discount store in the South, and by 1988 it was a multinational and the biggest retailer in the US? Shall I point out how they made this trick happen.

So the answer to the question is that we're going to be whiplashed by shipping. If shipping rates stay cheap and there are no critical resource bottlenecks, the US is, indeed, going to have to find work for idle hands (perhaps as soldiers on another continent?) or risk domestic unrest. If shipping rates rise above some critical point, good prices spike sharply and local unrest ensues until local economies can make up the difference, or everyone leaves to find someplace better to live. I suspect that we can already see this happening in parts of the world where infrastructure isn't very good. Places like, oh, Afghanistan, Iraq, or Somalia.

There's a rather informative 2009 paper on trends in historical shipping costs at‎

So my prediction is that the future is going to be much more interesting than it needs to be, and not because we'll all be so rich that they need to find something to do with all our free time.


The jobs that automation creates are far fewer than the jobs it removes. Often, the skill is lower, too. If the automated way didn't save on labor costs, nobody would do it.

Factories in the Rust Belt typically have parking for thousands of cars. The lots are usually less than 10% full.

The joke is that modern factories employ a man and a dog. The man feeds the dog, and the dog keeps the man from touching the machines.


This is true only if we have the zero sum game with the fixed set of goods/services to produce. Then indeed the automation causes fewer jobs left on the market or it has no sense.

But we have no such limitation. If there are free working hands on the market then someone will hire them to create some new product. Though as the world we leave in is the complex one the consequences won't be such simple as ten new factories built in the Rust Belt but rather fifty new startups in the Silicon Walley, the server farm in Nevada and thousand junior software developers employed in India by outsourcing company.


This whole thread reminds me of the arguments that automation would make us all unemployed in the 1970s. It wasn't the machines that made us unemployed then and it won't be now.

There is plenty of "work" that needs doing and plenty of people to do it. What made unemployment balloon after 1973 and is making it balloon now are the banksters, neocon politicians and a mismatch between aggregate demand and supply.

From ww2 until the end of Bretton Woods in 1973 All of the countries in the west had near full employment and rising living standards. GNI/GDP exceeded one a few years after the end of Bretton Woods because without limits on bank lending and the government through its central bank being able to perform unsterilised QE there came a huge mismatch between labour market supply and aggregate demand in the economy.

During Bretton Woods any shortfall on demand could be made up by governments (without causing rampant inflation which only arrived after 73). Governments across the west would create work for their populations to ensure full employment. There was no build up of government debt as the central banks had the statiry power to force primary dealer banks to buy up huge amounts of issued government bonds. The yields were low and unsterilised QE could be used to fund government spending. The only constraint was inflation.

Thatcher, major, brown and now Cameron are all thralls to the neocon doctrine that followers Bretton woods. This is what has caused falling living standards and lower employment.

The solution to unemployment has various guises and names - Modern Monetatary Theory (see also and google mmt). Look at

Here's a lay explanation-

Don't fall for the idea that future tax revenue are required to pay-off government debt. In fact, it is a myth that taxes "pay" for any government spending.

When an economy is at 'full capacity', (i.e. very low unemployment and all resources in the economy being used productively), a government may wish to spend say £20Bn on something everyone agrees is needed - it could be repaying govt debt, defending the country, building hospitals, whatever. 

When it spends this money it inevitably causes inflation - this is because you have more spending chasing the same amount of goods and services. The amount of goods and services does not change because the economy is already at full capacity.

To enable the government to spend without causing an inflationary spiral, the government taxes by an equal amount to prevent the private sector spending by the same amount - so overall the spending (public and private) remains roughly constant, so no inflationary spiral.

So the extra tax is to prevent an inflationary spiral when the economy is at full capacity - it is not required to "finance" govt spending. This is why government economics is nothing like household economics.

However, when an economy is the position ours is in with excess capacity, spending by government  is permissible without taxation as it doesn't cause inflation.

Given that our economy has not been at full capacity for over 30 years (hence the high unemployment), the government does not need to increase taxes or cut spending elsewhere to "pay" the interest on govt debt or to "pay" for anything.

The big question is why does the government issue bonds at all and pay interest to private investors? Why doesn't the government just create the money at the mint or Bank of England - this won't be inflationary as there is spare capacity.

An answer often given is that when governments issue bonds someone has to surrender money to the government. If it wasn't for the bond that money would probably have gone into the banking system instead. This is called a 'reserve drain' and was clearly necessary when we had the Gold Standard/Bretton Woods or some other type of Fixed Exchange Mechanism.

The theory is outdated and based on the idea that there is a liquidity trap in the banking system. This was true 1945 to 1972 when the Bank of England forced all banks to buy up 50% of government bonds in order to deplete bank reserves and so prevent the money supply rapidly expanding due to banks being able to lend out massive amounts into the real economy. 

Since 1972 until 2009 the corset has been removed and the uk money supply ballooned as banks weren't required to buy up government debt (pension funds did it in this period). This caused the massive build up of debts that caused he collapse in 2008-

Since 2009 over 90% of government debt is being bought up by UK banks (because gilt yields are so low pension funds cant make enough money from the gilt interest to cover their future liabilities). 

The result of this is that the biggest risk of inflation we face is the eradication of the governments budget deficit. The £150 billion a year public sector deficit acts as a reserve drain on banks. The gilts the banks buy up from the government to allow the deficit means their reserves are depleted by £150 billion a year. Given leverage levels in banks this potentially means that £1 trillion or so is taken out of potential circulation.

Of course this doesn't truly matter as since 2009 the Bank of England has been making good the difference by buying up an equivalent £150 billion or so a year of outstanding government debt from banks.

The overall effect of course is that the effect of deficit and QE are cancelled out. The only thing that happens is that the government cancels out about £150 billion a year of outstanding government debt. The money supply neither widens or contracts.

So the the theory of deficits and funding them via banks buying them is utterly destructive and irrelevant when we dont have the need of fixed exchange rates. By issuing bonds the government can take money away from the banking system and make sure that it is being spent. The issue is that it doesn't need to be done this way and shouldn't be. All that happens is that taxpayers pay another subsidy to the banks and we get crashes every few decades. This is also what causes inflation and recessions.

However, it's pretty obvious that for countries with their own floating currency, deleveraging banks and with economies working at way, way below spare capacity that you can use QE to clear government debt at will without any inflationary effects.

This is obviously in the UK since there is £375 billion sitting in the Asset Purchase Facility. This money "unaffordable" government credit card bills. At the same time over a third of the debt they are moaning about is stuck in the government owned Bank of England with no hope of it ever being anything other than cancelled and retired. 

To add to the hilarity the Treasury, through a wholly government owned agency called the Debt Management Office pays interest on the £325 billion in the APF to the wholly government owned APF. This money is just building up and will eventually (as all profits for the Bank are) be returned to the taxpayer. You couldn't make this up.

So clearly in economic circumstances such as now you can print money directly, buy outstanding government debt and retire it with no inflationary consequences. 

Nevertheless Governments are continuing to use an explanation built up at a time of Bretton Woods with full employment, fixed exchange rates and no deleveraging to explain why they don't use the QE to clear down debts.

QE is a pure asset swap. No money is entering the economy. All that is happening is that outstanding public sector debt is being retired.
Look at the M4ex money supply figures. They are contracting despite £375 billion of QE and £150 billion a year deficit spending.

The Uk money supply is contracting very rapidly

Look at the graph half way down. It is showing  M4ex is contracting (by 5% at last measure). M4ex needs to grow at a rate of at least 5-10% per year in order to hold off contraction of the money supply.

There is no prospect of core inflation.

Policy interest rates are at 0.5%, there are 5 million people looking for work, bank capital adequacy ratios need to double according to Andrew Haldane, Basel 3 and the Vickers reforms kick in in a few years meaning capital creation will slow down further.

It is perfectly and utterly safe to retire the £375 billion in the Asset Purchase Facility.

The arguments Lord Turner, the IMF and many others are making that is perfectly safe for the UK to retire the £375 billion of debt in the Asset Purchase Facility are of course absolutely moot.

The QE cannot possible be reversed until the government has eradicated its deficit. If the APF sold the debt whilst the government was running the deficit the effects would be two fold-

1. Gilt yields would go ballistic making the deficit difficult to fund.

2. The reserves in private sector banks would be very rapidly drained so the uk money supply would crash. Bank lending would plummet. We would enter a deflationary depression.

The deficit is not really being paid down at all. Even the OBRs wildly optimistic estimates have the deficit persisting until 2018.

This is without factoring in their idiotic under estimate of the fiscal multiplier (they were expecting 6% growth over the last two years remember). Now we know for certain that austerity is utterly self defeating and as long as it persists the economy will stay flat with only QE keeping it from entering a fully fledged depression. The deficit doesn't decrease and all we get for our troubles is unemployment, declinging in living standards and reduced quality of public services.

By 2018 most of the gilts in the APF will have reached maturity and  retired themselves.

This is of course why Osborne will never ever select lord Turner as the new gov'nor. Turner would reveal the Tory economic strategy for what it is - a policy purely designed to keep the Uk economy on its back permanently whist raising unemployment, lowering living standards all in order to suppress wage demands in order the Tory donors gain more profit. 


automation is put in in order of profitability...

If unions were still strong, and the share of income going to wages and salaries had not declined by 20% the point would be moot.

As Warren Buffett said in a New York Times interview back in 2006: “there’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

In blunt terms, back in the 1970s, Western countries decided to restrict the incomes of ordinary people. When South Korea, and more importantly China, started developing, they did the same.

Compared to a counter-factual situation in which the wage share of income remained constant at 60%, we're missing between $5 trillion and $10 trillion from the world's economy: 7% to 15%. Most of that would have been in the OECD.

If wages and salaries had continued growing, ordinary people would be buying services such as lifestyle consultancy, career mentoring, wardrobe consultancy as well as the obvious mass-market services: child care, early childhod education and so on.

Those jobs can't be completely automated, because the value of them resides in the human touch.

The way the world is, was chosen. We could have chosen a different path, and many different paths would have maintained high employment.

Automation was not the cause of the present situation. Class warfare was.


Last year, Kent Pitman wrote a stimulating yet totally non-partisan essay about abundance economics:


There are millions of free hands on the American job market and there have been for over 10 years. Few businesses are hiring, and when they do they don't pay well.

It could work as you say it does, but for now it isn't working that way.


Some misconceptions about labor and costs here, one of the best examples is the Automation of Typesetting. I'm not so sure it was about "costs" so much as control, management wanted to get rid of those pesky unionized typesetters.

Twenty five years ago there was a reading illustrating Michels "Iron Law of Oligarchy" in my Sociology 101 class, "Why Democracy in the ITU" (International Typographers Union). Basically they were a governed from below union, not subject to regulatory capture because they were literate individuals. Now the author himself bears a higher burden of proofreading and correcting, because the text can be 'checked' by the editorial assistant with a spell checker.

You see the same with Boeing trying to get rid of the Unionized machinists (There is a literature about Numerically Controlled Machine tools and all the excitement about 3D printers...). Parsing out the work on the Dreamliner to "save" money and form strategic partnerships, we should all be familiar with how well that worked out.

I could go on, the McDonalds system was (originally) a method to get rid of the pesky (reasonably well paid) Short Order cooks by simplifying the menu and using nothing but cheap labor....

Glad there are some other fans of Mack Reynolds around here, where is my Inalienable Basic? Sounds like a good idea to me given our current problems. Most of the "Criminal" (War on Drugs victim) class would be happy if they could sit around getting high and playing on the x-Box all day.


Much is made, in economics circles, of the coming replacement of manual laborers of all stripes by robots, but I think that there is a peculiar blind spot to this argument: we have been very successful at replacing certain kinds of manual labor with machines -- e.g. some kinds of manufacturing, and some kinds of food production -- but other kinds of manual labor have stubbornly resisted automation. Specifically, anything that is not largely routine, or routine withing narrow parameters, seems to be a bad fit for automation. We have robots that can build most of an automobile, but I'm not aware of any robots that are used to repair automobiles. Similarly we have robots that can harvest wheat and corn, but it's much harder to make a robot that can harvest tomatoes (unless you make the tomatoes themselves easy to harvest, which has, so far, meant making them less like tomatoes and more like potatoes) or grapes.

While fruit picking is a relatively low wage job, repairing automobiles is not, and almost anyone can do automobile repair with very little formal training. Robot repair is likely to be quite similar to automobile repair, and with all the robots replacing manual laborers there is going to be a lot of work for robot mechanics (that is mechanics that work on robots, not robots that work as mechanics). It is also unrealistic to think that our robots can be invented once and then there is no more need for the engineers to invent new robots, but engineers will be outnumbered by mechanics by several orders of magnitude.

I suspect that automation will eliminate certain kinds of manual labor, but that other kinds of will either be unsuitable to automation (e.g. picking delicate fruit, or performing ill-defined tasks like car repair), or will not be accepted, culturally, as automated tasks (e.g. caring for the sick). I also suspect that there will be some legal barriers to automation: has anyone considered the liability implications of a Google driverless car?


Re containerization - you have the dates wrong. Wrong Wiki article, should have used:

The basic "ship big wood or metal boxes, not loose or independently bundled cargo" movement dated to the 1830s/40s mostly with coal. The modern cargo containers started with the US Army at the end of WW II, and the modern intermodal container - at 8x8 foot cross section rather than the fully modern 8x8.5 or 8x9.5 "high cube", but having the twist-lock corners for stacking interconnection and tiedown - with Malcom MacLean in 1950-1952. By 1968 we had 8.5' standard heights and the ISO standards (20, 40), and since then we added high cube, 45 and 50 and 53' lengths, etc, keeping the twistlocks.

In containerization and dockworkers we saw the first wave of rampant modernism torching a workforce, as we later saw with factory automation and with the rise of computer automation. Every item used to have to be put individually (sometimes in a bulk box or pallet, but "small groups" the biggest that forklifts could lift, usually) on a truck at a factory, off the truck onto a train, off the train into a warehouse alongside a pier, onto the ship, and then reverse the whole thing at the other end. Each of those locations had fleets of people whose job it was to move cargo. Nowadays, you throw it in a container at departure, and the container is moved (with large machines) as a unit until it reaches destination, at literally nearly 1% of the labor expenditure as the old ways.

The 1960s and early 70s saw a lot fewer dockworkers. Those metal boxes busted the first big unions to be largely busted, and cost a lot of semi-skilled laborers the only work they knew.


Around 2000, the French government (socialist/communist/green alliance) tried to address the unemployment situation by lowering the length of the working week to 35 hours - that was to be the first step towards the 4 days work week - and by creating the RMI (basic income with no work requirements and no fixed duration).
In exchange for the reduced work week, employers got "flexibility" which meant:
- dressing, undressing, lunchtime, toilet breaks, etc... were taken out of the effective work time
- work time could be cut in small non-consecutive fractions
- part-time employment was made much easier/cheaper
- firing an employee was made much simpler (prior administrative authorization was suppressed)
At the same time, all barriers to jobs and production outsourcing and offshoring were removed by the (right-dominated) EU.
That led to an unprecedented loss for the socialist party at the next election (they were not even qualified for the second round of the presidential election).
Ever since, all economic ills have been blamed by the right and extreme-right parties on the "35 hours" and almost all advances have been rolled-back, except for the public sector and a few very big companies.
Unsurprisingly, "flexibility" has been kept.
However,the right parties in power have kept the RMI (now called RSA) and have even expanded the scope of the program:
From a single person with no children who gets 483 euros per month to a couple with 3 chidren who gets 1208 euros per month.
Make of it what you will, but it seems that a low basic income is merely a useful instrument of social control (otherwise the right parties would have dismantled it long ago), while a reduced work week is anathema to the owning classes.


It's late here in the US, but CalculatedRisk is a good blog to search through for lots of good commentary on this. Some of the US Participation rate is demographics (baby boomers retiring), and some is that more people are out of work and not looking.

A recent post on this is here, but there are many others.



I agree that containerization started much earlier, but you're not even close to early enough.

The wine-barrel is the first standardized container I know of, invented specifically for easy modular transportation, and that takes us all the way back the roman empire and the Mosel river.


Oh, going to play that way? How about the standard sized amphorae for wine and oil and other liquids shipping, standard sized so you could fill a whole ship close-packed with them all? Those date back into pre-Greek times... 8-)

The point is, from the dawn of trade through the 1830s essentially everything was hand-moved / shoveled / whatever (sometimes in human-lifting-sized containers, but not generally bigger than that) to the donkey / cart / barge / ship and back off again in the pattern that continued through steamships and trains. We only saw a significant advancement when we saw modern box containerization - first with bulk coal, then as an intermediate container for loose-packed goods all travelling the same route together. The intermodal container that MacLean did, with twist-lock corners for stacking and quick crane lifting, was a fundamental two-order-of-magnitude shift. That had not happened before in shipping history.


I'm really scratching my head on the question of who "we" is in this analysis. True, the US has fewer manufacturing jobs, but that's because it outsourced them to China, India, Indonesia, etc., where the cost of labor is lower.

Since there's 7.1 billion people worldwide and 316 million people in the US, that's 0.5 percent (round up to the 1% perhaps) of people being supported by a rather lot of labor from below. I'm really not comfortable calling 6.9 billion people feeding upwards to support me a triumph of automation.

316 million out of 7.1 billion is 4.5%, not 0.5%.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Chinese manufacturing employment reached a local peak of 98.03 million in 1995, fell as low as 80.43 million in 2000, and reached a new high of 98.50 million only in 2008. In the 13 years it took to (barely) surpass 1995's manufacturing employment, Chinese industrial output rose tremendously. Chinese manufacturers are automating too, only a few years behind "advanced" economies.

I don't know if it is a wide enough misconception to be worth refuting, but in some quarters there is an idea that there is a smooth tradeoff between labor and capital costs. If wages go up, owners pay for more machines instead of workers, and if wages go down they pay for more workers instead of machines. The actual dynamic is more like a ratchet than a float valve.

Once you've discovered how to replace a chemical plant worker watching a porthole or gauges and adjusting valves with a closed loop electronic control system, you don't rehire the worker even after his union is broken and he's willing to work for 1/4 of the old rate. And it spreads rapidly, internationally: there's better than an order of magnitude difference between Western minimum wages and those in developing nations, but oil refineries in developing nations use modern-ish electronic controls instead of armies of labor like the West in 1950. It's not just that the electronic controls are cheaper than near-starvation wages for workers -- they might be more expensive than that. But they enable higher productivity. They have millisecond reflexes and never get bored or distracted. That means less raw material wasted, less downtime, and higher value outputs. The marginal value of a worker who wants to re-insert him or her self into a process that is now highly automated is not merely diminished: it is less than zero. The extra worker is more likely to cause $5 of breakage than to add $1 of production.

The world's manufacturing output is going up tremendously while creating jobs at a decidedly sub-linear rate. It's not just worker shuffling, moving the good Western manufacturing jobs of 1968 offshore with 1-to-1 worker replacement. If you reversed offshoring today, producing a tonne of steel or a meter of yarn would still employ far fewer worker-hours than it did 45 years ago. And people aren't increasing consumption of yarn or steel faster enough to keep employment up.


The problem with containerization in terms of labour is not using containers rather than shipping products loose but when we started having large containers which were sized in conjunction with the ships, designed to be quickly lifted by cranes and not opened from factory to retailer's regional warehouse.

It was when all of these details were in place that the men working on the docks lost jobs in large numbers.

And there was a discussion upthread about whether automation is a zero-sum game. It isn't, but a lot of what is added is also easily automated.

In the UK, as it would be immoral to leave people to starve we need to guarantee a living income and tax everything earned on top of that. Like child benefit was for 6 decades! We'd save on fraud and gain on tax most of the additional cost.


Popeguilty @ 37
Thanks – yes!

Muskegon Critic @ 38
That was the principal “argument” for the religion of communism, too, wasn’t it – that it was “morally right” [ See also #54 & #57 ]
And the argument still used by the proponents of INSERT$NAME(BigSkyFairy)HERE their particular god” or theocracy. Especially noticeable in the USA & the “muslim” countries of course, but not restricted to them.
Not a good omen or prospect, is it, since that usually means that the proponent does not actually have a real case.

@ 42
And the current justified protests starting to emerge about “Zero-hours contracts”

_ieronim@ 47 & others
“Automation” – underpinning almost all of this discussion, & what do we do with the perfectly willing-to-wrok individuals who are marginalised by its’ progress. As stated many times, this isn’t a new problem – yet it is, because it’s affecting the “middle classes” & “skilled workers” not *just* the lumpenproletariat &/or the casual or normal manual labourers.
Here is a complete classic example A highly-skilled & trained workforce, covering quite a wide range of trades, with a major (& in this particular case, historic as well) business, that no longer exists at all. Completely replaced by the QWERTY keyboard & modern computer-printing techniques.
Where did all these people go? What did they do when this world imploded?
Are there lessons to be learnt & what are they?
- @ 52 disagree – look at the linked article/pictures, above.

rauldmiller @ 48
that if subsistence farming could be properly gamified people would happily jump through hoops to participate Errr, I hate to tell you this, but it’s called: “Keeping an Allotment”
And there is usually a queue to get in …. Except / problem … that a lot of people do not realise, just how much quite/really hard work it can be, & especially if your “new” plot is a neglected one & you have to clear out the … brambles, couch-grass, bindweed etc, before you can so much as sow a row.

Zephro @ 51
Not quite
For the controllers, there is still work, but it is “ennobling work” – often literally so. Running a high-medieval or proto-renaissance city-state was hard work – ask the Medici?

P H-K @ 60
Very small correction: The top 0.1% [ Or even the top 0.01% ]
1%, in Britain, is 600 000 – far, far too large a number.
However if you go to 60 000 or possibly 6000 ( I think the number is between those two @ ~ 20 000 ) then you’d be correct.
What is the income for someone at the 1% point?
If it is below £100k p.a. then you are nowhere near the “controlling” minority, I’m afraid.
CORRECTION: just looked it up in Wiki ….
The 1% income – i.e. everyone else, with the 99% are below it is:
LINK: RIGHT HERE Very informative.

Charlie @ 54
Laughs out loud, falls off chair, has difficulty getting hands to hit keyboard, etc … I’ve got one of those houses – every so often I have to get the Bernoulli-effect cleaner out, if only because the cat-fluff is gainng much too fast!
- @ 67: What’s a dishwasher? { Answer – “me” } VERY wasteful of resources, actually.
- & @ 68 – yes – can’t run/keep an allotment [ see my reply to # 48, above ] without a BIG freezer, or possibly two ….

Sasquatch @ 82
Disagree – even with the example of the vile Murdoch in front of us.
Look at the article I Linked to up above.
How many people did Caslon’s employ?
And all that metal type, weighing hundreds of tonnes, & all the setting-up & designing & producing & delivery of those bulky, massive items.
How much cheaper if you are employing 20 people, not 200 or 2000, & all you need is a qwerty-board & a graphics package?


Containerization: yes, it's startlingly recent and has done bizarre things to the cost of general logistics and manufacturing.

But note that most containers are moved by sea and by rail, with road (relatively expensive) for final distribution from inland rail hubs and coastal ports. Shipping is the most energy-efficient (albeit slow) way of transporting goods that we've got, and despite current use of high-efficiency diesel propulsion, is amendable to being made even cheaper if energy prices enter a long-term spike -- we have these things called "sails", and a modern sailing ship need not employ hundreds of guys crawling around rigging to adjust it manually. As for rail, in most places traction is already electrified -- meaning it can run on whatever input power source we choose. And low-speed rail is the second most energy-efficient form of transport we've got.

My understanding is that containerization has cut the cost of international freight so savagely that even if energy costs tripled, permanently, in many cases it'd still be cost-effective to manufacture goods in the cheapest labour regime and ship them around the world to consumers. About the only produce that might get hit by rising container costs would be relatively low margin stuff ... like drinking water from Fiji.


If there are free working hands on the market then someone will hire them to create some new product.

Your faith in the market is touching.

(This didn't happen in the hot core of the industrial revolution during the long recession of the 1860s-1880s; the windrows of starved corpses in the parks of London testify to it.)



It's always tough to be at the bottom.

Some years ago New Scientist reported an article that showed that in England the preindustrial middle class was not created from people moving up from the bottom, but rather by people being pushed down from the top: Surplus kids of nobility ended up as merchants, surplus kids of merchants ended up as craftsmen etc. all the way to the bottom.

(Sorry: I tried to google-wrangle a link, but couldn't.)


Greg: you've fallen behind wrt. dishwasher tech. Seriously. I bought a new one a year ago; it uses less water and detergent to wash a load than I would, doing it by hand, it can operate at 35 celsius (relying on the detergent to kill bacteria rather than heat), and it's so quiet I sometimes have to check to make sure it's running.

(On the other hand, on full-eco mode it takes over 3 hours to run, rather than the 20-40 minutes a traditional high-energy/high-water model would take.)


Typical crew of a historic "tall ship" carrying cargo ~20.

That sail powered liner that wanders the Caribbean carrys more "crewmen" sure, but most of them are there to provide hotel services for the passengers rather than to sail the ship.


If our dishwasher took 3 hours to run, I'd be wondering whether she'd fallen asleep.

(Me, I'm quite keen on one of these new-fangled electro-mechanical items, and I'm perfectly capable of running the one at work, but herself prefers to hand wash crockery.)

On the other hand, hand-washing clothes is one task that is not about to happen round here. Ironing, yes, she's happy to stand the ironing board in front of the TV and watch a recent episode of Castle or whatever. But hand-washing clothes is a task that used to take a lot of time.

(Want a good way to reduce household work? A device that can reliably iron clothes: I cordially hate having to iron.)

The other major household task that I can think of that has disappeared is looking after the fires. If you look at what a typical tweenie used to do, an Edwardian household could well end up using one person nearly full time keeping the grates cleared of ashes and cinders and the fires from going out. Central heating is a major time saver, even wood or coal fired versions, and for those with 'set a timer, set a thermostat' options, it's a task that has just about vanished.

Cooking is pretty much an optional task - it's been perfectly possible to got out to eat for centuries now (assuming you're in range of an eatery), and microwave convenience foods mean that those who don't go out can also eat with little work input. But it's also quite possible to spend quite a bit of your time on it, particularly if you start with basic ingredients — for instance, the chicken risotto we had last night first involved stripping the easy meat from a carcase and then making a stock with the remainder.

My understanding is that containerization has cut the cost of international freight so savagely that even if energy costs tripled, permanently, in many cases it'd still be cost-effective to manufacture goods in the cheapest labour regime and ship them around the world to consumers.

Yes, pretty much. Also, note that the transportation network is inexorably moving to tap those sources of cheap labor, just as if they were an untapped range of ore or virgin forest. The most inaccessible source of very cheap labor is probably the Great Lakes of Africa, but there's been a little burst of items from Rwanda recently on New York City shelves.

And once that cheap labor is priced out, we will not see it again, barring the destruction of the current political system. You probably heard this from him directly, but Paul Krugman has been talking about China's Arthur Lewis turning point. Lewis was the original development economist -- he originally wanted to be an engineer, but there were no jobs for black engineers at the time in St. Lucia -- who wondered what happened when the "unlimited" cheap labor ran out. Pretty soon, we'll be talking about the world's Arthur Lewis moment.


I've been working on a story, about a young man in a 1930s England which is spiralling into Fascism. Fairly promptly, there's a dead Secret Policeman, and he has to start running. But where does he run to?

I decided he gets onto one of the last few tall ships running between Europe and Australia. In those days they were a dirt cheap carrier of bulk cargo that wasn't time critical. They didn't just carry grain, they didn't just run to Australia. They would leave Australia, and the record they left behind was that they were sailing to "Falmouth, for orders." The cargo could be traded in transit, but they didn't carry wireless.

Thing is, those ships were carrying 28 crew on a 6000 DWT ship. The Panama Canal, when the new locks are complete, will be able to hand 120000 DWT ships. Sail technology will have to be very different.


Another take on a lot of these issues can be found in Neill Stephensons "The diamond age". For a description

What is interesting in this future is the essentially tribal nature of the worlds societies, based not so much on economic as on moral/religious//political/filial principles. This system is quite unstable, but a (maybe laissez faire WTO/IMF like) Common Economic Policy based on property rights provides a kind of glue to hold the economy together.

This seems to be a not unlikely future given the steady weakening of the nation states. It is also more in line with the fundamental human propensity to cluster along ethnic/religious lines, not along economic lines. In other words, for most of human history economics was second to morality and religion. In this more fragmented world this will probably be true again.

Given that it is a nanotechnology/replicator society free stuff/food is provided for everyone on a very basic level. Work seems to be a matter of choice, out of moral principle or to gain status or be better off. Inequality is widespead, as can be expected. What seems to be missing is education. And this might provide a kind of missing link. We have a strong tendency to project the current educated western wordl into the future. But why, in a world where there is no need anymore for people to work on the scale we are used to now, would we want to educate people who don't need to work? Some basic skills would be more than enough to entertain yourself and survive. Added bonus, no education, no understanding of society. Given plenty of free/almost free entertainment this would probably be a quite stable world. Education would probably be available for those who want it (MOOC's?) but not mandatory.


When I can see a computer lay down a highway or build computers completely independent of appliance/human labour.

E.S. Holmans, retired registered nurse


Given a society where
A) Not working was no longer stigmatized and
B) there existed a Guaranteed Income, and
C) perhaps only 15-20% of the population needs to work, and
D) assuming most remaining jobs require high specialization/education:

How does that society determine who has to work?

Is it extra income, or prestige, that provides the incentive?

Do lots of people work, but part-time? I.e., a redefining of what "full" employment means?

What do non-workers do with their time? Cultural output? Significant focus in the education system on fostering creative output? There would be an enormously increased demand for it, given the free time...

Would scientific advancement stagnate? It takes a long time to become an expert in something, and we'd need far fewer experts, so there might be fewer people working on the edge of field, pushing back the boundaries.


Charlie @ 93
Yes, even here, the authorities have FINALY twigged to the idea of electric traction for railways (!)
And, their efficieny is gaining - I'm very familiar with the junction of the Dortmund-Ems & Mitelland-Kanals. There the Land & Federal guverments are gearing themselves up to enlarge the reamining locks down to Ems, in line with other places to take 3000-tonne barges, since the edge over rail with the existing 2000-tonne size is diminishing (!) Good place to hold a folk-rock festival too!

Bellinghman @ 98
Trouble with going out to eat - apart from possible expense is: It probably won't be as good as your home-produced cooking. Exception: - modes where it is better mass-produced, or is a specialist genre that you are not too familiar with. In my case, extreme S-Indian Vegetarian food falls into both those categories, so I'm cruelly forced to go to Diwana, or somwehere similar.
And, of course, if you know what you're doing, not only will it taste better, but it will be better for you. Making sure that where your suppiers source their products from is important too.

Antonia T T @ 100
Ah, you've been reading Eric Newby have you? [ "The Last Grain Race" ]
And the sail technology will only be different in that each of the "ropes" will each be connected to a computer-controlled motor, & some very careful design.


Forgive me for riding into the middle of a hundred-plus thread on a white elephant, but...

Convincing people of the inherent moral rightness of a basic income is far simpler until you're faced with the question of who exactly is going to pay for it. Opponents of it feel like the proponents see the state as some kind of nebulous entity in charge of money, rather than an instrument of the people themselves and thus only redistributing money that the people have already earned. Outside of a limited number of exceptions in the form of resource-exporting states.

Thus, a basic income is by necessity redistribution of taxes on value that someone within the same state had to create at some point. The lack of a guaranteed basic income is an excellent incentive for people to go out and create value. In fact, the justification for socialist policies such as income supplements in the form of social housing (most relevant to the UK) etc. is that people who are underpaid, are creating disproportionately more value for their employer than they are compensated for, that gap is the employer's extra profit, which gets taxed by the state, and is returned to the workers who generated it. Obviously an imperfect and wasteful system, but better than nothing.

It could then be argued that a moderately socially conscious First World, developed country is *already* living in a basic income situation: menial employment gives people enough money to not literally starve or die of exposure, and anything above that requires additional contribution and value creation.

All of this, of course, is based on the assumption that people ought to be working and contributing, and that the basic income ought not be a sustainably comfortable life. This may not be an axiom for everyone.


Machine vision and dexterity is getting to the point where I expect automation of fiddly stuff like picking easily bruised veg on uneven terrain will be automated, maybe not in 5 years but probably well underway in 10. Anything that can take a beating is already being harvested by machines.


You're correct, for that period, and for a tramper. They carried extra crew for cargo handling. I had the grain, tea and wool trades in mind, not least because no-one is going to (un)load a 40 foot ISO box without a suitable crane so I didn't need to include cargo hands in the crew!


Another thing... It's a point that Charlie himself has made in various contexts - the world is changing at a faster pace than ever before, and the people alive today are some of the first generations to retire in a significantly different world from the one they left school in. The post-industrial economy, where an endeavor's productivity and value creation is decoupled from the direct number of people laboring at it, is half a century old or so. Isn't there a reasonable chance that there is a solution - some technocratic balance of taxation, national unity, social consciousness and flex-time - that will arise and spread, and that it's only this generation and maybe one after it that will be seriously displaced by the productivity gap?


And lo, ye cast your questions unto the roiling waves of internet, and Google did provide!

Of course, the question of "completely independent" is vague. Humans can still be involved in oversight of the automated system, but not nearly as many, reducing necessary "Human Capital" (what an awful, awful term) by an order of magnitude. Some endeavors more, some less.

For roads, take a look at this:

Computers made by computers has been going on for a while:


>and rely on taxing corporations for the bulk of the money to pay for the 'dole'

Ah, but if a large share of the population is on the basic income, then who's generating the corporations' taxable income? (On the assumption, again, that general ideas of inherent human decency will drive up the basic income to above starvation-and-exposure-avoidance level.)

I'm not against socially conscious policies in themselves, I just feel like any discussion on how to spend money ought to follow a discussion on how to make that money, not precede it...


"This means more actual people working at nursing homes, care facilities, kindergardens, maintenance jobs, teachers, instructors, mentors, social workers - all doing things that could be mercilessly "optimized" but we now actually choose to give back into the hands of caring people."

Certainly. And all those people will be paid out of surplus productivity generated by... people being compensated much higher in absolute numbers, no?

And how do you incentivize a person to go into the often unpleasant job of nursing home attendant? Social cachet on its own is hardly sufficient, and any ideas of reputation-based cryptocurrency ultimately reduce down to "well that's sort of what money does already".


"There should be no jobs at all, or at least as few as possible, that are monotonous, demeaning & subservient, that's what the automation is for!"

Hear hear.

Now, how do we go about it?


"One is of course Banks' Culture utopia"

Yet the people worth portraying within the Culture are the ones who do work, and there's a strong implication that the majority of society either works at something or creates art (and that human-created items are considered more worthwhile, for subjective sentimental reasons, than machine-created ones). I'd also point out that the Culture depends on a class of disproportionately productive citizens with a massive sense of social conscience, the Minds. In fact, in at least one book, there is a drone (admittedly not a Culture citizen, but one from a presumably equiv-tech society) working off its Incurred Generational Debt - the cost of it having been created - before it gets to go off and pursue its own interests.


True, for values of "people who are worth portraying" that reflect the ones who have stories that are likely to be interesting to the reader.


Hi Georges,

You know, I read that article, and at first decided that containerization/globalization wasn't an explainer of Charlie's pattern. Then I noticed that deregulation of containers happened in the late 1970s and early 1980s, at about the same time Walmart took off.

AFAIK, the deregulation part was allowing containers with more than one type of merchandise in them to be shipped, and that's in the article and its links too.

I think this is a perfectly reasonable thing to debate, whether automation or globalization better explains the pattern Charlie noted. The issue is that it leads to very different conclusions. If its automation, Charlie's scenario is right. If its globalization of manufacturing, then we've got capital chasing down cheap production no matter what. If wages fall in the US in the latter situation, it won't mean the end of manufacturing. Rather, it means that companies will sell cheaper (read: shoddy) merchandise, just as they did a century ago and still do in most parts of the world.


Yeah, Fiji water.

I'd note that bulk airline shipping has dropped radically from where it was a decade ago. This will impact things like cut flowers and "fresh" produce from the opposite hemisphere, and may explain why the locavore movement has taken off (tasteless, out-of-season, expensive fruit and veggies doesn't sell so well).

Granted that shipping costs can triple and still make the system work, the next crisis we're likely to see in the system is loss of weather satellites. Deep ocean weather forecasting is critical to container shipping right now, and right now we're losing weather satellites as old birds die and are not replaced (here's looking at you, Congress. Excellent job).

I'm not sophisticated enough about the insurance industry to say how higher insurance rates might affect costs, but they will make just-in-time manufacturing a lot more expensive.

I'd also point out that railways and other infrastructure aren't being rebuilt all that fast either. I'm not sure how one factors in the trillions in infrastructural repairs needed in the US. But, again, the point is that the whole thing runs on cheap shipping. Absent that, we don't necessarily have to worry about abundance.

As for untapped markets of cheap labor, one wonders whether Iraq, Syria, Somalia, and North Korea will join the pool in the future, as Myanmar is now. Assuming shipping costs stay low, we could see a global industrial ecosystem that starts with massive disturbance (aka failed-state type war), followed by decades of rebuilding, powered by factories moving in to take advantage of the misery by exploiting workers. Once they've rebuilt to some level of dignity, the factories leave, setting up a condition of endemic poverty that, in due course, leads to massive unrest again some decades later.

Hmmm. Looks like there's a way for investors to get rich at every stage of the cycle, so long as they didn't invest in the infrastructure and don't have to pay cleanup costs. Fascinating.


the next crisis we're likely to see in the system is loss of weather satellites

The US government isn't the only organization in the weathersat business. In fact, as the USA's relative advantage erodes further from its current 25% share of planetary GDP to something closer to the 5% its population represents (note: this assumes the rest of the planet reaches development equilibrium) other folks are likely to take up the slack. The US currently has a lead due to needing meteosats to cover for its substantial navy: the civilian utility is just a fringe benefit. But the cost of raising those birds is coming down.

As for untapped markets of cheap labor, one wonders whether Iraq, Syria, Somalia, and North Korea will join the pool in the future,

They're too small to make a difference.

What's really going to prove a game-changer is sub-Saharan Africa. Africa overall is growing at 6-7% per year, and sub-Saharan Africa is (a) experiencing a population bubble, and (b) growing faster economically. Some projections forecast 3-4Bn people there by the turn of the century. That's a huge amount of human capital, and it isn't going to exist unless they get a handle on their environmental and food production headaches, which in turn implies education and skills.

Quite possibly, by 2113 sub-Saharan Africa is going to be to the global economy what China is today (minus the monolithic government).


Talking about a society where production of goods is essentially authomated, there's also to deal with the consequences of the ownership of means of production.

Those that are the owners of a substantial capital at the beginning of the last stage of the process are going to acquire an essentially unshakable advantage against any other people, as they will enjoy an increasingly bigger share of the additional value of the goods they produce, to use some old-fashioned political language....

It could quickly lead to a static feudalistic 3 tier state (capital owners, people with some still valuable skill, "unwashed masses"), and this even in case of some welfare reform to keep the unemplyed moderately satisfied and pacified.
A basic guaranteed income does not help in any way to avoid this scenario, it could even make it more static.

This is dangerous because at that point the elites would not really *need* the masses as anything apart something to feel superior to.

Add to that the fact that with a technology sufficient to reduce the fully employed people to a few percent even military and police work could be drastically authomated, as we're already starting to see, and that if history tell us something, the higher the social distance between the powerfull and powerless the less human the powerless is perceived, and lastly add to that dwindling natural resources, and you've the recipe for some pretty scary scenarios.

If we don't start to really change the basic economical paradigm while people still matters, I feel there're serious risks of very bad things happening.

I don't pretend to have (I don't know if they exists at all!) any easy recipe for this... for sure any sufficiently radical reform to address these things is going to be fought tooth and nail by those that have a lot to gain from the continuation of current policies...

One throw away SFnal idea (I don't pretend it to be practical...): direct online democracy, with people *paid* to get an education (on law and politics and any other topic), attend online political meetings, discussions, etc. etc and then express their vote.

Contrary to ancient democracy, property of means of production could disqualify you from vote, as could getting some kind of public office.

You could try to (even legally) buy votes, but this would not be tax deductable...

I guess it could lead to a lot of interesting chaos...:p


"The current employment participation rate in the USA is around 58%, and dropping steadily."
Where did you get these figures from? I picked up similar numbers from an earlier comment you made many months ago and tried to verify it,

You know when Charlie and David Brooks are saying the same thing something is up.

DB used 59% last week when talking about how the economy of the US is going through a structural change where many jobs will never come back as they will no longer exist even if the industries rebound.


India just put a new weather satellite, Insat-3D into geosynchronous orbit courtesy of an Ariane launch last month. India is also planning their own GPS-type positioning system designed to cover India and the region around it using seven geosynch and geostationary birds which spend all of their time over India rather than in 12-hour ball-of-yarn orbits covering the entire planet like Navstar, GLONASS, Galileo and Baidu.

Launches are cheap and birds are getting cheaper thanks to standardised buses and chassis built around commodity power, control and environmental modules rather than every satellite being a handbuilt one-off.


Good point about Sub-Saharan Africa. Looks like they're starting to repeat the 19th Century history of Europe, with the major advantage of not having cousins in power in most of the capitals (cf. WWI).

This is one part of the world where, theoretically, climate change may provide a few benefits: one prediction is that the Sahel (southern edge of the Sahara) should green up. Unfortunately, Kalahari dune fields are predicted to become hotter and drier, leading to more active dunes that may favor nomadic pastoralism over current ranching. In general, this suggests a lot of northward migration.

Of course, deforestation in the Congo is (along with deforestation in the Amazon) one of those Not Good Things, but if there's development in the area, I'm pretty sure I know what happens next. Unfortunately.


At least in the West, change is rather slower than it was before. The world of 1960 seems fairly familiar, just a less sophisticated version of our own. In 1900, farming was the most common occupation and animal power was more common than electricity.


andrei.tuch @ 108
the world is changing at a faster pace than ever before, and the people alive today are some of the first generations to retire in a significantly different world from the one they left school in.
Not even wrong.
My mother was born in 1905, my father in 1911, died 1994.
Aircraft? Very, very occasionally
Fastest speed? About 100mph
Telecoms reach? Cables
83 years later ... man had been to the moon, TV images instantly beamed around the planet, the Internet is already in operation, fastset speed to transport people over mach 1
Don't believe you.

fuzzyillogic @ 118
& others further up...
There is sa serious problem here, that has only been peripherally addressed.
If 95% of the economy is under the control of the 0.1% & they are doing very nicely, thank you, & everyone else is on close-to-basic or in servitude or starving ... then where does the 0.1%'s income come from?
They can't sell stuff to the poverty-stricken masses, can they, because the latter have no money?
They too have to profit from "added value" - now where is that added value going to come from if there's nothing being spent by everyone else?
Sitting on a vast pile of cash is all very well, but it will still need replenishing - even they can see that.
Now, where is that replenishment going to come from, if the 95%+ are impoverished?


Heinlein took a look at such a society (though he threw in legal duelling and genetics and the like) in BEYOND THIS HORIZON (and in his first, not published till just a few years back novel, whose name escapes me at this moment). Turns out that a lot of people get bored and figure out ways to work anyway, but mostly at what they want, since they'll eat anyway. And though it wasn't in the book, I hypothesize that there would be unregistered trade in sexual favors, alcohol, guns, and drugs, judging by having Good Friends in Low Places.


Money have no worth by itself, it does have worth only as a mean to achieve a goal, be it acquiring luxuries or power.

Once you can produce any luxury you want without relying on workers, the only reason to keep workers around is to feel superior to them, and for this a small number of servants is more than enough.

Getting rid of the 99,9% would even be a mean to free resources that masses would "waste" by their very existence, like beautiful places where to build their beautiful mega-villas and so on.


Regarding weather satellites, there are about 300 operational geosynchronous satellites right now, nearly evenly divided around the globe. If there started to be money in the business, over the following ten years you'd see each new one come with a single-role 4-10 kg meteorological package.

Low altitude atmospheric sounding is pretty specialized payload / orbit, but not entirely... the low altitude commercial imaging birds could add that payload, as could Iridium.

Unless we lose the ability to launch new birds, this one has a self-correcting feature...


Regarding the "production seeks cheap labor" - this is true, but one of the things that it's enabled is that as new labor markets are opened up, they are (slowly) being brought up to western standards of minimum worker compensation and treatment. There are some industries that take longer to catch on than others - clothing being the predominant one right now - but all of the Foxconn labor issues, all the other stories one sees if one looks around, we're pushing our expectations out, not just subcontracting button pushing.

Even without inherent political reform, this is having serious social effects.

Globalization isn't ALL bad...


There are some industries that take longer to catch on than others - clothing being the predominant one right now

Clothing manufacture turns out to be ridiculously difficult to automate. Mostly because it involves bonding fabric. It's not too hard to automate weaving (mild sarcasm), but that's an edge case: making rectangular extrusions using straight thread. Stuff that involves 3D manifolds made out of soft stuff that tends to crease is generally not easily automated -- I believe glass fibre and carbon fibre manufacture has a similar problem (it tends to be done largely by hand).

I suspect some time in the next 3-30 years someone determined will make a breakthrough in the robotic handling of fabric, at which point the bottom will drop out of the piece-work labour market. But it's going to be a black swan event when it happens: right now labour in places like Bangladesh is so cheap that there's little pressure to pay for the R&D it's going to take to robotize those sewing machines.


Modern meteo satellites are multispectral in half a dozen quite narrow bands returning data on air, sea and land surface temperature, humidity etc. A simple small instrument on an existing comms satellite bird won't return the sort of data expected or required by today's meteorologists or to the resolution needed given the distance it has to orbit at. There's also the problems of servicing the instruments with power, coolant, command and control, data bandwidth etc. which all eat into the bird's operational budget and which the commercial operators will be reluctant to make space for.

The Indian meteorological satellite I mentioned in my previous post, Insat-3D was about 2 tonnes in LEO (probably a bit over a tonne once it reaches GEO after expending much of its LEO fuel load). Its total functionality could not easily be replicated by several smaller sensors on a number of adjacent satellites.


I suspect some time in the next 3-30 years someone determined will make a breakthrough in the robotic handling of fabric, at which point the bottom will drop out of the piece-work labour market.

There was some progress last year but I've not heard much since then:

Robotic sewing machines would be really disruptive technology. Aside from decimating a large percentage of the cheap-labour powered clothes manufacturing industry (a lot will probably remain untouched for a while like shoe making and other non-sewed items) the supply chain will shrink as well. Why stock thousands of items when you can display a room full of manikins displaying different styles, have your customers scan items they like on their smartphones and relax in your trendy coffee shop whilst the army of robot sewers in the back make versions of the purchases perfectly tailored to the customer?


Without wanting to take away from your main point, a certain subset has long been automated: hosiery. But technically speaking, those are knitted rather than woven.

I was once in a Leicester stocking factory (they also made tights, basically by cutting and stitching pairs of extra-length stockings), and what was quite stunning was seeing what is effectively a variable-diameter cylinder, with variable-density fabric, being knitted so fast you cannot see the needles, all you can see is the steady growth of the stocking from a silver mist.

They had one older machine that wasn't quite as fast - an actual Jaquard-loom style machine, complete with the wooden cards. That was what they used for the late Queen Mother's hosiery. Primitive machine, but able to do both the shapes and the patterning required.


"Yet the people worth portraying within the Culture are the ones who do work"

That might not be a useful metric for judging this topic-- Most people right now do not lead lives that are "worth portraying" as a vehicle of entertainment in a novel. A generally happy & balanced life without too much conflict is something most people would want, but would make for very boring entertainment. Dystopias in general probably make for more potentially interesting stories than frictionless utopias.

Bank's Culture can provide fuel for thought experiments on this topic whether or not deconstructive analysis determines that the average person in Culture had a boring live.


Convergence. No one will bother with the R&D to replace Bangladeshi workers but one day someone will notice it's not that hard to retrofit something like
marvelous designer for manufacturing, much like no one set out to make today's mobile phones into digital swiss army knives.


I'm reminded by Gregory Clark's "A Farewell to Alms" that automation (motor vehicles) displaced the horse so effectively that no amount of cost reduction could compensate. Horses as draft animals dwindled.

Sometimes I wonder whether some social groups would like that to happen to the poor or unemployed. Enacting legislation to reduce the social safety net seems to reinforce that, although keeping people afraid and thus wage increases very low might be a more charitable explanation.

Economists have always assumed that society can adjust to automation changes. It was certainly true when desktop computers started making inroads in the early 1980's that this was true. More education and retraining was a key ingredient, a mantra used today.

But there is a limit? If automation displaces jobs too quickly, can any individual afford to rapidly retrain/reeducate when the lifetime value of that education falls as the pace quickens? And if retraining requires ever more "preparedness" (i.e. cognitive abilities), are we approaching limits that make this impossible to achieve for most of the population?

Thinking about how to transition to a more communitarian social/economic, it seems to me that we need the productivity gains of the increasingly deepening capital of industry to be redistributed.
How you do this in a global economy with different laws is problematic.

I do hope the solution isn't dwindling people (through war, disease, starvation...)


I'm not sure if you found this eventually, but if you want to take a really deep dive into U.S. economic data over time, you can't do better than the Federal Reserve's FRED system (Federal Reserve Economic Data). They track a huge number of detailed statistics and they're searchable online. Invaluable.


Turns out that a lot of people get bored and figure out ways to work anyway, but mostly at what they want, since they'll eat anyway.

Examples of this (other than bootlegging,etc.) already exist. For example, one of my hobbies is restoring vacuum tube (valve) electronics. While I'm around the same age as OGH, perhaps the majority of my contemporaries in the hobby are older, retired people, with sufficient resources (capital, pension income...) that they do not need to work. Nevertheless, a surprisingly large fraction of them do, either by way of trade (repairing stuff for others) or commerce (buying stuff cheap, restoring it and selling it at a profit).

This leads me to suspect that there are probably other retired people, with other interests, who do likewise. Examining the behaviour of the comfortably retired yet economically active might well provide some useful insights that may be generalisable across a wider population.


Serendipity rules!

Remarkably, just as this conversation turns to replacement work & societal changes, I come across another reference in the always-interesting "Spitalfileds Life" blog.
[ I find it interesting, because I'm part-Huguenot, & that means Spitalfileds 1685 -> onwards ]
Start here - read it all?
It contains a presciently apposite quote on our discussion topic, as well: What was once labelled as delinquency is now seen as making a good deal. The world has caught up with the East End and we are all Arthur Daleys now.


Most of the "Criminal" (War on Drugs victim) class would be happy if they could sit around getting high and playing on the x-Box all day.

I think so, too. Among the practical difficulties is that many people in power do not believe that unemployed neds "deserve" this - to the point that they are willing and even eager to spend five times as much keeping them locked up in cages without either pot or video games.

Having spent several years working in a convenience store, I'm ready to see the cheaper alternative. Some of my customers liked alcohol far too much and were unemployable in almost any conceivable job due to addiction, insanity, or general stupidity. (Any one of these factors is enough; too many of them qualified for multiple categories.) What can you do with such people? Cutting their government benefits just means they'll steal what they want, often with secondary damages; it is cheaper and less troublesome to simply give them something and let them stagger off into the bushes.

But the lower classes must be seen to suffer for their pittance. Some politicians appear to view human misery as an end in itself.


s-s @ 138
Those politicians are almost all devout christians (or muslimes, too in this country)
OF COURSE "human misery is an end in itself"
That's what the consolation-&-blackmail of religion is for, after all.
This is a very old & very unpleasant story.


The solution has been around for decades -- a negative income tax.

Or if you prefer consumption taxes, you can do a negative version of that too.

Simply replace all social benfit/welfare programs from pensions to unemployment insurance to medical care with a monthly stipend. Then either tax the stipend or the services/goods people buy with it.

As your supplemental income above the stipend rises, the amount of tax you pays goes up. At a certain point the two become even, and past that people are paying into the system.

Of course, you would have to get rid of all of the special tax loopholes, credits, progressive rates, and social programs that politicians bribe their voters with, so they'll probably never pass it.


Echoing other commenters, use FRED.
This is the data you're looking for:


The book you are thinking about is "For Us, The Living" :,_The_Living:_A_Comedy_of_Customs

The appendix lays out a system that I've always found attractive (from wikipedia):

1. A required end to fractional reserve banking. Banks must always have a 100% reserve for any loan they give out.

2. New money is printed only by the government, and then, only enough to counteract the natural deflation that would occur in a system without fractional reserve banking.

3. The government uses this money (and only this money), divided among all of its necessary roles. Any extra is divided evenly among citizens and businesses that over-produce, to offset the loss of not selling their over-production (the government buying the over-production for its own use, which can be bought by citizens later if they so desire at the same price.)

4.Goods bought by the government are later sold by the government (or used by it), and normal governmental services (such as postage) are sold. These goods and services provide the standard backing for the currency, similar to how gold is used to back the gold standard.


Well, may be my previous answer wasn't the best one I ever formulated. What I was mean to say, is that even if we look at the immediate effects of computers (I would put a wider frame and talk about computers rather then the automation) on jobs market there will be a number of them. Such as,

The bad part:
1) Jobs wiped out with products became obsolete (think of wire phones and paper newspapers)
2) Jobs wiped out by the automation implemented

The good part:
1) Jobs created by entirely new products (think of smartphones etc) appeared
2) Jobs created to support the automation (this part indeed should cost less then jobs cost in the same industry before the automation was implemented)
3) New jobs created because the computers made production of some goods or services cheaper which in turn made those products profitable enough to start to produce them (this is where all Long Tail lays, for example, or genome sequencing, for another one).

The bottomline of this effects superimposed: nobody in this world is able to compute it. Nor can I of course, so it is OK for me if you (or Poul) say that the bad part _may_ outweigh the good one on some limited segment of space and time. But narrowing the frame to the single effect, taking it as final and only truth and build the whole theory out of it is completely different thing.


It's an issue that has gotten a lot of attention in economics circles. The developed world at large has been up against it, in one form or another, for quite a while ...

It's not so long ago that most of the population had to work full time to generate enough food and agricultural stuff (cotton, wool, wood, leather ...) to keep people alive. Now a much smaller workforce is dedicated to agriculture - and can oversupply the food demand without much trouble.

When we still had most of the population doing agriculture, we might have thought that getting the same output, with a tiny fraction of the workforce, would mean permanent unemployment and impoverishment for most of the population ... and in fact it did mean unemployment and impoverishment for a lot of people, and it would have really sucked to be one of the farmers who found themselves to be surplus to requirements.

But over the longer term, it turned out there were a few other things we could do, when all those people weren't kept busy tilling the soil. Making cars, airplanes, television sets, radios, refrigerators, smartphones, generation after generation of computers and software, movies, TV shows, science fiction novels, modern drugs, network routers, weather satellites ... and that's just the Goods, leaving out the Services.

So it's probably going to be a while before we really run out of things for people to do. We'll just keep raising our expectations for how much economic production we want.

The trick, I'd argue, is to make that transition of finding valuable new stuff to do, as smoothly as painlessly as possible. Already the levels of unemployment and under-utilization of productive capacity are high enough to help float a lot of the hype we hear about "innovation". And even though most of the hype is just hype, it's true that we're going to need a lot more of that innovation.


Sorry for the long form reply. Nojay wrote:
"Modern meteo satellites are multispectral in half a dozen quite narrow bands returning data on air, sea and land surface temperature, humidity etc. A simple small instrument on an existing comms satellite bird won't return the sort of data expected or required by today's meteorologists or to the resolution needed given the distance it has to orbit at. There's also the problems of servicing the instruments with power, coolant, command and control, data bandwidth etc. which all eat into the bird's operational budget and which the commercial operators will be reluctant to make space for.

The Indian meteorological satellite I mentioned in my previous post, Insat-3D was about 2 tonnes in LEO (probably a bit over a tonne once it reaches GEO after expending much of its LEO fuel load). Its total functionality could not easily be replicated by several smaller sensors on a number of adjacent satellites."

Just as a disclaimer, I am a spacecraft / aerospace design engineer (not full time, but at professional level).

There are two discrete problems - geosynchronous data, and low earth orbit data.

For GEO instruments, there are a very few uses for which the co-located instruments matter. For most of them, you just need good enough pointing data to be able to correlate and overlay the data points from distributed sensor networks. With GPS from GEO orbit, which is above the GPS constellation but still catches useful data, you can get good enough orientation. The basic comsat payloads don't need to be quite as precisely aimed but GPS will tell you where you're aimed with each frame. I've talked this through with meteo people and sensors people and no big deal (lots of specific detail effort, but not worse than any normal mission, just a little different).

The GEO Meteo birds have more bus development cost in general than the cost of leasing the mass and power and heat budget on someone else's comsat. Trust me, the loaded lifetime cost of a GEO Meteo bird per instrument is calculable and has been calculated, including satellite and operations and launch costs. And can be compared to comsat payload capacity leasing or purchase for those spacecraft lifetimes. The business case is complicated and isn't what has been done for 50+ years, which is why it's not just all shifted over already. But the economics point one way and the data gathering will probably be equivalent, so I suspect it's going to flip that way entirely in the not too distant future.

For LEO birds, there are some more complications; some of the data there DO matter if they're gathered from the same platform at the same time, with sounding instruments of various sorts and some of the multispectral work that needs very tight resolution at discrete altitudes and the like.

Iridium (for example) could host SOME of that work without blinking an eye at it, in the same manner and at the same cost advantages vs dedicated birds that we see for Geosynchronous.

The ones that really need multiple instruments on the same platform, it's tougher. They probably need enough mass and power to displace a primary payload. At which point it's a question of whether it's "design a whole new bird", "buy someone's bus and use it for your payloads", or "give up the capability". There has been a tendency to increase the capability over time, with mostly custom spacecraft, and a few off-the-shelf buses used (with some limitations and restrictions on instrumentation customization based on the bus existing configuration).


Charlie wrote:
(clothing hard)
"Stuff that involves 3D manifolds made out of soft stuff that tends to crease is generally not easily automated -- I believe glass fibre and carbon fibre manufacture has a similar problem (it tends to be done largely by hand)."

There is a big market now for automated tow placement machines for carbon fiber; but it's taken decades to get there, in which it was all done by hand for 3-D shapes, and a lot of 3-D structures were made out of assembled segments of (automatically produced) flat composite sandwich structure plates.

The first hints were with pressure vessels, where the automated winding patterns turned out to be fairly tractable leading to kevlar and then carbon fiber air bottles and pressure vessels taking over certain markets, now showing up as replacing pressure vessels in aircraft and spacecraft as well.

Steel and aluminum are far cheaper if your total weight doesn't matter, but if it does the specific performance for automated composite tanks is astoundingly better.


Pressure vessels are usually standardized and produced in large numbers. Their production is amenable to automation.

Aircraft structures... when you might need two dozen of a particular part, with delivery spread out over two or three years, laying up the panels by hand will probably be the cheapest way... until some other demand (like standardized tanks) takes the hit for most of the development cost.


I think it's fair to point out, this is the pointy end of the total employment spectrum we're looking at with aerospace composites.

The greater challenge of consumer clothing will make a huge worldwide impact when it's automated, be that by weaving or by fabric cut/place/sew by robot.

The point I made earlier that jobs export to a lot of places brought money and western expectations to a lot of places (and thus did some good, along with the bad conditions in some other employers) may be a phenomenon which is being short-circuited by technology. If the evolution is job -> outsource -> automate, then automation may catch up even in hard fields before the jobs propogate far.

Asia's gotten a big leg up this way, with that cycle working for them; is Africa going to have a chance, or is it going to be the undiscovered country left out by business cycle bad luck?


It may be that the Lump of Labor model is wrong under past conditions but correct under some conditions. Whether or not it is fallacious is a question that should be determined empirically instead of from theory.

There are sound reasons to believe that per-capita demand for goods and services cannot increase without bounds: there are only 24 hours in a day, you can't be in more than one place at once, and anything that the body uses will kill you before you can consume an unbounded quantity of it. This is even before considering supply-side limits to growth.

If economic demand per capita has any upper bound, the only way the Lump of Labor stays a fallacy is if consumers continually shift their consumption toward fresh labor-intensive goods and services as automation advances and workers adapt just as rapidly. In reality there is unmet demand for Stross books, not so much for books written by everyone who happens to land in the unemployment line. If someone prefers an extra hour of leisure to an extra hour of earning-and-consuming-the-latest-thing, watch out; the lump will shrink.


The "Lump of labor" is a fallacy spread by the MBA agents of the 1%; Even in Fast Food it doesn't really work that way, you do have to TRAIN people minimally or it does not work.

And Dishwashing? It turns out I have turned into the responsible party at my Church for community dinners. Someone has to collect the dirty plates (Busboys) (we get people to bus their own tables), then sort and properly load them for batch processing in a commercial dishwasher (my main task).

Then they (clean dishware) has to be properly stored in the correct place so it is available for the next use. (Pause in my "work" to point new volunteer help at the right cabinets....)

It's not a complex task, but it's not something subject to automation. And I am not NEAR as fast as the people you find doing it on the back side of a major Hotel or Banquet operation.

Why everything is disposable plastic or paper in the Fast Food model. the Garbage Miners of the 25th Century will be so grateful we stored up all those goodies for them...

We have some Mentally Disabled people that come around for dinner. They want to help, but in the Kitchen they just get in the way, you have to supervise them to get them to set the tables (pre dinner) correctly.


'and in fact it did mean unemployment and impoverishment for a lot of people, and it would have really sucked to be one of the farmers who found themselves to be surplus to requirements'
No, it didn't. In the first place improvements in agricultural productivity were gradual, piecemeal and took place over centuries. Farming was still labour intensive down to 1950. In the second place, population growth and the absorbtion of that growth into industry provided a vastly expanded market for agricultural products. Population growth soon outstripped local supply. Importation of agricultural product over long distances was the major cause of rural decline.


I think most of the wage stagnation and unemployment of the uncredentialed (I do not think of these people as unskilled) is due to the free trade set up we have. The uncredentialed must compete worldwide, which leads to a leveling of wages worldwide with upward pressure on a poor country's wages and down ward pressure on a wealthy country's wages.

Up until recently, knowledge workers, have been exempt from this competition protected by their credentialing requirements and the lack of facility for knowledge transmission. This is changing and soon they will see downward pressure on their income. Not all knowledge jobs will find themselves in competition with poorer countries, but I assume the educated will switch from those fields with declining incomes to other fields thereby putting a downward pressure on all income.

This, I think, will help uncredentialed workers in two ways:

i) The economy will be able to expand more before running out of knowledge workers, thereby providing more employment for the uncredentialed.

ii) With the professional classes suffering from declining or stagnant incomes, there will be a much broader outcry at the situation and maybe something will be done about it.

Around 2060, if the world doesn't go entirely pair-shaped between now and then, China will be middle class, most of South-East Asia will be middle class, large chucks of Indian and Africa will be middle class, and most of South America will be middle-class. At this point, there will be such a huge demand for cheap labor worldwide that there will be strong upward pressure on wages everywhere. Until then, with our current system, the direction of things isn't good.

I don't think that automation on its own is a problem. Under market conditions, if a job is automated and there is competition, this will drive down the cost, freeing up income for other goods and services. If the new good or service is automated, then the same thing will happen. And there is one class of job that cannot be automated by a robot. That is a job that requires you to be a human being. If you replace soccer player with robots, not a lot of people will follow the game because people want to watch humans play soccer not robots. On a more mundane level, people won't have their hair cut by robots (unless they are a Marine) because you don't go to a hairdresser just to have your hair shortened. You go there, in part, to be fussed over by a person, and any robot that can make you feel as if you are being fussed over by a person is a "person." If there is a fixed total workforce or one that is slowly growing with an upward pressure on wages, then money saved on automated products will be spent elsewhere creating new jobs. (Please note the caveats stated in this paragraph and how, in the developed world, this situation does not apply at the moment.)

Plenty of work to can be created to go around in a healthy economy, but in general, as a country becomes wealthier, people forgo income for leisure so the average hours worked each week decline. (In Europe, of those that work, Germany has the one of the fewest average of hours worked per year while Greece has the most.)


The uncredentialed must compete worldwide, which leads to a leveling of wages worldwide with upward pressure on a poor country's wages and down ward pressure on a wealthy country's wages.

This is the current conventional wisdom, but the problem can be more accurately described as an increase in the size of the potential labor pool without a corresponding increase in the demand for goods. The result is, effectively, an effective decrease in demand and a slow spiral of labor-wage induced depression, especially in—but not limited to—developed countries.

The gap between productive potential (potential GDPs) and demand is the sum of economic rents taken through the mechanism of enforcing and exploiting the lower wage expectations of developing countries and the declining expectations and negotiating power in developed countries. If those wage expectations were able to rise (along with better negotiating positions), there wouldn't be a multi-generational delay of recovery.

There is nothing inevitable about our current crappy situation.


It's interesting what has been said this week by the Bank of England, an official indication of the factors which will lead to interest rate increases. Some are the standard bad things, such as excessive inflation. What caught the headlines was that that they thought the country needed about three quarters of a million new jobs, over three years before they could increase base rates. That's more than three times the rate of new jobs that we've been getting.

Apart from any assurance to the markets, about interest rates, it's a challenge to the government


@andrew wilmer. Sorry thats rubbish, there has been a big increase in demand from developing countries. They are not all exporting to the West. As a countries wealth increase, different parts of it's population passes different income levels. So, when a a cohort start earning a certain income they will start buying consumer goods, such as detergent or baby formula. A higher stage triggers a massive growth in consumer electronics, such as fridges and washing machines to air conditioners. At about $5,000 mass car ownership starts to take off etc.

China's dependence on overseas markets is declining as it's massive internal market takes off. As India China and Brazil industrialise they add massively to the total size of the global economy. The cuntries that come after are much smaller and their rise will cause less disuption because not only are they smaller but as a percentage of the total global economy they will be even smaller.


In this context, I was skimming National Geographic in the doctor's waiting room the other day. One of their articles was claimin that the area around the has sustaiend 20% compount growth PA since 2006.


The current solution to unemployment in the US seems to be putting poor people in prison. But in the long run it's proving to be too expensive.


I suspect some time in the next 3-30 years someone determined will make a breakthrough in the robotic handling of fabric, at which point the bottom will drop out of the piece-work labour market. But it's going to be a black swan event when it happens: right now labour in places like Bangladesh is so cheap that there's little pressure to pay for the R&D it's going to take to robotize those sewing machines.

I think the road to robotic sewing will be laid by robotic laundry. Ironing and folding of clothes suffers from the same problems as sewing (3-D manifolds made of soft stuff), and the potential market (households) is enormously greater.


I'm not sure it's entirely true it's too expensive. Although I'm long way outside the system and far from an expert, it's certainly presented as a system which makes a large profit for those running the prisons. That implies it could be run more cheaply - at the cost of lower profits of course. That might be horribly a horribly unamerican thing to say but then I'm not an American.


Current Solution? ... Alas that isn’t altogether ... True? Or so it appears to me.

I am English and even given my Scots ancestry I'm ever so cautious about commenting on the Country Next Door. How much more wary must I be when remarking upon the Strangeness that is the US of American States ...and this despite the fact that I have watched all of " The West Wing " and bought a book that purports to explain how the US of Avian States Government is Laid Out and managed in Washington POTUS office with photos thereof ... and so I'm ever so reluctant ..on a scale of, OH! No, Come on, they Just Can’t do That Can They? .. to comment But ..I read this following linked book many years ago and if you haven’t then perhaps you should? ...

40 years old and still fresh as a ....err, very fresh thing? Albeit very gruesome indeed. The only difference that I can see between Now and Then is that Now we have Lots of reality TV on American Prisons/Law Enforcement and so the Business has extended into the Entertainment Business.

Over here in the UK lots and lots of TV Sat channel and multi ground based channel TV is based upon Emergency/Police/Imprisonment/Hospital etc Stuff and I’d swear that whilst I was channel hpping the other night when I couldn’t sleep I came upon a TV Reality Thingy that was set in Death Row in an American Prison ..possibly set in Texas ..wot is it about Texas that they are so keen on killing people ? Whatever it is the Texans do appear, to an outsider, to have HUGE influence on the US of A.

This must make sense mustn’t it?


@155 "Sorry thats rubbish, there has been a big increase in demand from developing countries. They are not all exporting to the West."

I was very clearly talking about per/unit of productivity and the share of income as it's distributed, not in absolute terms. Don't use the word "rubbish" when you can't be bothered to read something in the first place.

There is a time lag, which I mentioned and which you explicate redundantly (durable goods at the $5000 "takeoff" level), but the divergence in inequality based in the politically-enforced global imbalance of power away from labor is so much larger as an effect that your argument is essentially irrelevant. Not rubbish, maybe, I'm not going to toss that word around at this moment.

Regarding BIC, the "smaller countries" which follow them are Africa which will dwarf BIC in both economic and population growth and will maintain for decades the problem of inequality flowing directly from the power of economic rentiers over labor. This will necessitate a solution to the problem of unequal power in the labor market, unequal power in public discourse about the social contract, and unequal power in politics in administering the welfare state.


wot is it about Texas that they are so keen on killing people ?

Imagine yourself surrounded by Texans and you'll start to understand.


Imagine yourself surrounded by Texas in August and you'll understand.


Hey, look at that! Willow Garage's PR2 general-purpose robot folding towels.

There are more customers for laundry robots, but there's more capital availability for clothes-manufacturing ones; the price of the first commercially available manufacturing robot will matter a lot less than the savings it allows. There's also a lot of already developed tech in the automated clothes manufacturing field.
That said, costs in clothes manufacturing are so small anyway that the big impulses to automation are likely to be avoiding customer outrage at sweatshops or cutting time-to-market, so you may well be right.


Imagine yourself surrounded by Texas in August and you'll understand.

This is why I am not going to the worldcon (LoneStarCon) in San Antonio this month.

(That, and what's happening to the worldcon program, but that's another matter.)

UPDATE: I am winding down after Nine Worlds in London. We made it as far as Leicester before my car caught fire; this has made our relaxing cross-country road trip just slightly less pleasant than intended ...

(Yes, the car is repairable. Yes, I suspect it is attributable to negligence on the part of a company who did some work on it 300 miles before combustion commenced. I may be taking action against them. I know that when I get the car back, with a new air conditioning compressor pump, it will have a new name: "Dreamliner".)


Car air-con? WIth the horrible poisonous, environementally-unfriendly freon-mix in it?
Or the slightly not-quite so nasy mix I'm told they use now?
Says he, whose ait-con consists,apart from openable windows, of two neat flaps, in front of the driver & front-seat passenger, that open by a direct-operating lever? [ Fewer things to go worng ... ]


Your views on car aircon might be changed slightly if you had friends or relatives with hay fever.


Greg, I just drove 400 miles due south. In sunny summer weather. Sitting behind a gigantic slab of greenhouse glass.

That's what you need aircon for. (That, or if you live somewhere uninhabitable like Arizona or Texas or Italy.)


The amount of glass in a 300Tdi LWB isn't small, either ....
Opening the front-flaps enables a cooling breeze ....
Especially if I have the sliding window behind the "normal" back-seats opened one or two notches.
[ Front screen, front door windows, rear door windows, two panes on each side (one an openeable slider) along extra 6 seats/load area, rear door window, "porthole" in roof ] quite a lot of glass!


Opening the front-flaps enables a cooling breeze ....
...which is directly proportional to vehicle airspeed, and may contain any or all of pollen grains, small insects, and raindrops.


Ah, but Land-Rover have thought of that ...
there's a mesh grille under the flap, so no "inseck" or large objects. Open one small notch doesn't let rain in, either, unless you are going over 50mph &/or it is really bucketing down.
One small point - normally on an M-way almost all the other cars go zooming past me at my approx 68-70 mph cruising speed. Unless it rains, & even more so if it rains heavily. My view height is at least 1'6" / 45cm higher-up than all the other car drivers & often more than that - my eye-line when driving is higher than when I'm standing on the pavement, next to the car ...
So, lots less spray in my vision - suddeny I'm passing almost everything. Having good 4WD and chunky water-cutting tyres helps as well, of course.


Got all this way...and no-one's mentioned Judge Dredd? The whole premise for Judge Dredd is that Mega-City One has a population in excess of 10 billion people, and an employment rate of less than 1%... And even then, those included in the "employed" can be working as little as a half-shift a week.
So 2000AD was all over this, back in 1977 :D
That said, they served only to highlight the problem. I think we can all agree that Mega-Cities and Judges are not the solution...


Pollen grains - See earlier comment about hay fever sufferers. You'd need oiled cotton, filter foam or paper to keep those out, and they're all notorious for working badly when wet.
Small insects - We're talking 2mm wingspan so not wasps or the like!
Otherwise - Note that my earlier comment referenced airspeed, and the unlikelyhood of making a 400 mile trip on English motorway without hitting a traffic jam at some point!


The question here may be about how many of Charlie's readers actually read 2000AD (never mind reading it for JD). I didn't, and see it as more significant for how many British artists and writers learnt their craft their than for anything it published itself.


I am aware enough of Judge Dredd.

I note the strip started before Maggie Thatcher was elected, though I can see how the Thatcherite memes were around in politics before the election. I don't remember clearly enough. But I wouldn't be surprised at David Cameron having wet dreams about Judge Anderson, and I'm sure some elements of the comic's development were driven by the Eighties.

I preferred The Ballad of Halo Jones.


" I am aware enough of Judge Dredd.

I note the strip started before Maggie Thatcher was elected,..."

Though perhaps not before the time that John Wayne funded and stared in “The Green Berets”?

“The Green Berets is a 1968 American war film featuring John Wayne, George Takei, David Janssen, Jim Hutton and Aldo Ray, nominally based on the eponymous 1965 book by Robin Moore, though the screenplay has little relation to the book.

Thematically, The Green Berets is strongly anti-communist and pro-Saigon. It was produced in 1968, at the height of American involvement in the Vietnam War, the same year as the Tet offensive against the largest cities in South Vietnam. John Wayne was prompted by the anti-war atmosphere and social discontent in the U.S. to make this film in countering that. He requested and obtained full military co-operation and matériel from President Johnson. To please the Pentagon who were attempting to prosecute Robin Moore for revealing classified information, Wayne bought Moore out for $35,000 and 5 percent of undefined profits of the film.[2] "

Just look at those Square Jawed and Ever So Heroic Anti Commie Publicity photos ...Pure Judge Dread... the Archetypical Hero of the American political right wing nuts? Certainly the precursor to the Judge even as Clint Eastwoods “Man with No Name " was taking shape in the then latest incarnation of the Western. And yet...I have friends who consider themselves to be socialists who just Love Judge Dread and the Clint Eastwood Movies. Mind you they are Men! And Thus ever so Macho and Square Jawed!!And Thus Judge Dread. Life in the Past is so much simpler in the future ..After all the " Colt Peacemaker " of the Western Movies does become the "The Lawgiver" in Judge Dread ..".. judge Dredd is the 1995 feature film adaptation of the comic book character, who first appeared in comic strips in the British science fiction anthology "2000 AD". Sylvester Stallone stars as Dredd, a "Street Judge" who is authorized in a future world to pass "judgment" upon criminals with his special firearm known as "The Lawgiver" so thats all right then. Shoot first and ask - morally ambiguous - questions later eh?


Arnold - Judge Dredd was definitely taking the mickey out of the square jawed heroes of the cinema.


Children of Arnold's sort sometimes make me feel horribly old.

Thing is, John Wayne is sometimes more subtle an actor than he is given credit for, but I don't rate him as a producer/director. And The Green Berets sits very firmly in the pattern of the post-WW2 war movie. The movies made during the war were much more the soldiers and sailors, and post-war the emphasis shifted to the officers. The Green Berets has a cast-list packed with officers. But in other ways it is a wartime movie: it just ignores the ordinary soldiers, the conscripts, and follows the heroic officers having fun while so many nameless others die around them.

It's not that the Americans couldn't make an honest war movie, but directors such as Lewis Milestone were the exception.


We've been over this before, I find it depressing people can think Dredd is anything but satire.

Sure it's 35 years worth of comics from a multiplicity of authors so you can find pretty much any variation of tone and theme in there somewhere but honestly if your left wing friends like Dredd it's probably more because they have a sense of fucking humour rather than being male.

Oh and last year's Dredd starring Karl Urban is a far better adaptation than the Stallone flop. He doesn't take the helmet off.


"...immiserated" Fantastic verb, that :-)

Have a search for "The rise of the warrior cop" - Schneier, and others, have some interesting thoughts on the militarization of police forces.


"Children of Arnold's sort sometimes make me feel horribly old. "

Well now...that’s,er, very .. generous?.. of you.

Actually I'm 64 years 6 months and a bit old Antonia.

I'm old enough to be named after an uncle who was killed in Operation Market Garden in World War 2, whilst my Grandfather volunteered to join the Durham Light Infantry at the commencement of World War 1 and fought with the Durham Light Infantry until the end of the War To End all wars. Oh, and another of my uncles survived having three ships sunk under him.

So I will admit to being a bit ambivalent towards war movies but I do watch them and did see " The Green Berets " when it first came out and I personaly found it utterly repulsive, which was a fairly commonplace opinion at the time although I gather that it did do pretty well at the box-office.


ARNOLD & others
( btw I'm 67 & I had 2 unlces in WWI - neither even injured )
Eastwood is interesting.
After the Leone films, he started making his own & the character is strangely sympathetic. He gives (especially the minor ones) "villains" a chance, he most emphatically is not shoot-first-&ask-questions-afterward. WHhich makes the final, inevitable showdowns that usually follow, that much scarier.

Which reminds me, I'm told that the new "Lone Ranger" contains many tributes to Leone & also sends ths "manifest destiny/american dream" right up into orbit in shreds.
Which is why, it is thought, it will continue to bomb in the USA & do well outside.
I will almost certainly go to see it.


#175 .. 179.

#175 specifically. Oh I agree that Halo Jones is much better than Dredd (and than fair chunks of the other stuff that's been republished).
As to "wet dreams about Judge Anderson"; How much of that is due to her intended resemblance to Debbie Harry of period rather than the politics of the scenario?

#176 - It is possible to view The Green Berets as a hymn to the USian Paras rather than pro-Saigon, anti-commie propoganda.

#177 and 179 - Again, you have to have actually read it to find the satire rather than just the fascism!



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