What’s the purpose of a car that can drive for us, or artificial intelligence that can shoulder 60% of our workload? Is it to allow us to work more hours for even less pay? Or is it to enable us to choose how we work, and to decline any pay/hours we deem insufficient because we’re already earning the incomes that machines aren’t?

I offer it’s that jobs are for machines, and life is for people.

(If you’d have told 20-year-old me that 45-year-old me would be in support of Universal Basic Income, 20-year-old me would have laughed and laughed.)

h/t Chris Carpenter 

View story at Medium.com

38 thoughts on “What’s the purpose of a car that can drive for us, or artificial intelligence that can shoulder 60% of our workload?…

  1. Unless we find our way into a true post scarcity future, there will always, always be jobs for everyone. Shitty jobs for sure, once we’ve plowed enough capital into automation. But we’re not going to stop breeding. We might plateau! But the rest of the world will need to reach our standard of living. But hey, there’s always war.

  2. < ![CDATA[Unless we find our way into a true post scarcity future, there will always, always be jobs for everyone. Shitty jobs for sure, once we've plowed enough capital into automation. But we're not going to stop breeding. We might plateau! But the rest of the world will need to reach our standard of living. But hey, there's always war.]]>

  3. < ![CDATA[In my head, sending everyone $12K seems like a great idea. But then I wonder won't rent and groceries just inflate to take up the slack and redirect the plenty back to the wealthy? How do we prevent that?]]>

  4. Pretty sure I disagree with the “There will always be jobs for everyone” argument. If you get sufficiently good at leveraging labor then labor is no longer your society’s limiting factor in terms of thriving.

    As a for-instance: There have been eras in history where it looked like there would always be enough jobs farming for anyone who wanted to farm … there was never enough food, and there was enough land that turning the “how many farmers do we have?” dial up meant a direct increase in the number of mouths fed, and quality of life.

    That is really, really, really no longer the case. Setting aside questions of distribution (which is a whole huge complicated question with no relevance to production), the amount of labor needed to produce vastly more food than the entire planet needs is only a tiny fraction of said population.

    If ten thousand people walked out into the American heartland and offered their services for backbreaking farm labor, I strongly suspect that the local labor market would be unable to absorb them.

    The point I think the article makes is that all jobs stand to be overshadowed in that way, if not soon then eventually.

  5. < ![CDATA[Pretty sure I disagree with the "There will always be jobs for everyone" argument. If you get sufficiently good at leveraging labor then labor is no longer your society's limiting factor in terms of thriving. As a for-instance: There have been eras in history where it looked like there would always be enough jobs farming for anyone who wanted to farm … there was never enough food, and there was enough land that turning the “how many farmers do we have?” dial up meant a direct increase in the number of mouths fed, and quality of life.
    That is really, really, really no longer the case. Setting aside questions of distribution (which is a whole huge complicated question with no relevance to production), the amount of labor needed to produce vastly more food than the entire planet needs is only a tiny fraction of said population.
    If ten thousand people walked out into the American heartland and offered their services for backbreaking farm labor, I strongly suspect that the local labor market would be unable to absorb them.
    The point I think the article makes is that all jobs stand to be overshadowed in that way, if not soon then eventually.]]>

  6. I think we will continue to find things for people to do, I just worry that the share of people with nothing to do will continue to grow and become a worse problem. Basically all of The Wire is about this problem, about how the country has created surplus people and treats them like unwanted cargo.

  7. < ![CDATA[I think we will continue to find things for people to do, I just worry that the share of people with nothing to do will continue to grow and become a worse problem. Basically all of The Wire is about this problem, about how the country has created surplus people and treats them like unwanted cargo.]]>

  8. Christopher Weeks:  Will Rogers said “Give [money] to the people at the bottom and the people at the top will have it before night, anyhow. But it will at least have passed through the poor fellows hands.”

    I could imagine a worse system than one that said “If you want to really accumulate wealth then you should target affordable services to people on basic income.  They’re where society is pouring the money in.”

  9. < ![CDATA[Christopher Weeks:  Will Rogers said "Give [money] to the people at the bottom and the people at the top will have it before night, anyhow. But it will at least have passed through the poor fellows hands." I could imagine a worse system than one that said "If you want to really accumulate wealth then you should target affordable services to people on basic income.  They’re where society is pouring the money in.”]]>

  10. < ![CDATA[Better to cut working hours than hand out a basic income. While some people are surplus, others are working longer and harder than ever. Cut hours till everybody has a job.]]>

  11. Jeff:  Why better?  I can see a number of ways that lowering hours precipitously (as, indeed, many companies have done by shifting away from full-time employees to part-time) would be a very bad thing.  Sell me on the positives!

  12. < ![CDATA[Jeff:  Why better?  I can see a number of ways that lowering hours precipitously (as, indeed, many companies have done by shifting away from full-time employees to part-time) would be a very bad thing.  Sell me on the positives!]]>

  13. Because ultimately, a UBI scheme, like all welfare schemes under capitalism, accepts that some people will have a job (and be grateful for it, and work their arses off to keep it), and some people will be surplus and maintained by the people who work (at a miserable subsistence level, as with all welfare schemes). 

    Politically, this leads to a situation where those who work resent those who do not (and this helps to divide the working class and keep welfare at a subsistence level). Whereas cutting hours of labour is good for the entire class of workers including the surplus. Obviously that means simultaneously raising wages . This is exactly what happened historically when the working class gained the 40-hour week. Now it’s time to fight for a 30-hour week, or even a 20-hour week. 

    UBI is a capitalist scheme; it’s an attempt to maintain wage labour for some and keep the others in their place (and make them available for the lowest-paid, shittiest jobs). What we really want is for everybody to work less.

  14. < ![CDATA[Because ultimately, a UBI scheme, like all welfare schemes under capitalism, accepts that some people will have a job (and be grateful for it, and work their arses off to keep it), and some people will be surplus and maintained by the people who work (at a miserable subsistence level, as with all welfare schemes).  Politically, this leads to a situation where those who work resent those who do not (and this helps to divide the working class and keep welfare at a subsistence level). Whereas cutting hours of labour is good for the entire class of workers including the surplus. Obviously that means simultaneously raising wages . This is exactly what happened historically when the working class gained the 40-hour week. Now it's time to fight for a 30-hour week, or even a 20-hour week.  UBI is a capitalist scheme; it's an attempt to maintain wage labour for some and keep the others in their place (and make them available for the lowest-paid, shittiest jobs). What we really want is for everybody to work less.]]>

  15. Jeff:  Pretty sure the people who aren’t working would be maintained by the robots.

    I think the end-game here, after all, is for necessary human employment to drop to zero, while the UBI rises ever higher.

    That’s pretty much the natural outgrowth of “technology empowers society to create more, while people work less,” right?

  16. < ![CDATA[Jeff:  Pretty sure the people who aren't working would be maintained by the robots. I think the end-game here, after all, is for necessary human employment to drop to zero, while the UBI rises ever higher.
    That’s pretty much the natural outgrowth of “technology empowers society to create more, while people work less,” right?]]>

  17. I don’t know what you mean by the endgame, but unemployment benefit in this country hasn’t gone up in 15 years and it was always well below the poverty line. I don’t think you’re engaging with my argument.

  18. < ![CDATA[I don't know what you mean by the endgame, but unemployment benefit in this country hasn't gone up in 15 years and it was always well below the poverty line. I don't think you're engaging with my argument.]]>

  19. Jeff:  Well, I’m trying to, but you’ve got these postulates I don’t agree with.  So I hope we can agree that I’m engaging with your argument, even if I don’t grant all of the assumptions that underpin it.

    I’ll totally grant you that the past 15 years (indeed, the past 30 years) have been very bad in terms of real spending-value of the safety net.  That’s absolutely a problem.

    However, I don’t agree that either (a) that local glimpse is a broad description of the history of labor and poverty, or (b) those 30 years are inescapably predictive of the next 30 years (or the next 300).

    On the positive side:  For 30 years, all the (vast) increase in societal productivity has been funneled to the top.  That isn’t always what happens when productivity goes up.  So that’s something that made those years harder than they had to be, and we can do better going forward.  If we can’t, we’re fundamentally screwed as a society, because …

    On the negative side, we haven’t lost very many whole classes of jobs in the past three decades.  So those years have been easier than the next thirty will be.  But if you’d said to the cottage weavers “Look, you just need to reduce your hours, and be paid more for your cloth, obviously!  That way the weaving factories will guarantee that you work less and earn more” you would have been lying.

    The hours-per-week for human long-haul truck drivers isn’t going to go from 80 to 20.  It’s going to go from 80 to ZERO.  In three decades there simply won’t be any jobs in that industry.  Taxi-drivers?  Gone.  Call center operators?  Gone.  Bank tellers?  Already on the way out, gone by then.  Grocery-store stockers and clerks?  Gone.

    And as they’re on their way out, wages for these jobs are not going to rise … they’ll go into free-fall, as prices tend to do when supply vastly outstrips demand.  If you say “Humans can only drive thirty hours a week” it will only speed the adoption of non-human drivers.

    So we need a better transition plan than “Let the cottage-weavers starve, they should have been spending their time learning to build factories!” this time around.  I think a combination of trickle-up economics, reduced hours, and investment in education are a solid approach, but reduced-hours alone seems lacking.

  20. < ![CDATA[Jeff:  Well, I'm trying to, but you've got these postulates I don't agree with.  So I hope we can agree that I'm engaging with your argument, even if I don’t grant all of the assumptions that underpin it.
    I’ll totally grant you that the past 15 years (indeed, the past 30 years) have been very bad in terms of real spending-value of the safety net.  That’s absolutely a problem.
    However, I don’t agree that either (a) that local glimpse is a broad description of the history of labor and poverty, or (b) those 30 years are inescapably predictive of the next 30 years (or the next 300).
    On the positive side:  For 30 years, all the (vast) increase in societal productivity has been funneled to the top.  That isn’t always what happens when productivity goes up.  So that’s something that made those years harder than they had to be, and we can do better going forward.  If we can’t, we’re fundamentally screwed as a society, because …
    On the negative side, we haven’t lost very many whole classes of jobs in the past three decades.  So those years have been easier than the next thirty will be.  But if you’d said to the cottage weavers “Look, you just need to reduce your hours, and be paid more for your cloth, obviously!  That way the weaving factories will guarantee that you work less and earn more” you would have been lying.
    The hours-per-week for human long-haul truck drivers isn’t going to go from 80 to 20.  It’s going to go from 80 to ZERO.  In three decades there simply won’t be any jobs in that industry.  Taxi-drivers?  Gone.  Call center operators?  Gone.  Bank tellers?  Already on the way out, gone by then.  Grocery-store stockers and clerks?  Gone.
    And as they’re on their way out, wages for these jobs are not going to rise … they’ll go into free-fall, as prices tend to do when supply vastly outstrips demand.  If you say “Humans can only drive thirty hours a week” it will only speed the adoption of non-human drivers.
    So we need a better transition plan than “Let the cottage-weavers starve, they should have been spending their time learning to build factories!” this time around.  I think a combination of trickle-up economics, reduced hours, and investment in education are a solid approach, but reduced-hours alone seems lacking.]]>