Continuing with my ongoing look at the "end of work," here's a short video from Derek Thompson at The Atlantic (Thanks to Ethan Gach for pointing this out to us):
Watch at TheAtlantic.com.
As someone immersed in reading about this right now, this video kind of pissed me off. First, the images from sci-fi movies and the music and his whole manner trivialize the issue. Clearly, the story is supposed to get you, the affluent Atlantic web viewer to think about your job and how of course no robot could do it any time soon. This entirely misses the point: while yes, were there true artificial intelligence there'd be the whole singularity mess to deal with, that's not the problem right now and for the foreseeable future. Of course we need people to manage the machines now, and there are many tasks that require dexterity and people skills and other things that robots don't have, so yes, there will be work for people to do. But even now, because of revolutions that have already occurred, there are nowhere near enough jobs for the number of people looking for them. Whether the unemployment rate in the U.S. is on its way down or not, the world economy has literally millions of people whom the job system can't accommodate, even with globalization whereby American and multi-national companies can basically hire from anywhere in the world. No amount of retraining the displaced is going to make the numbers add up.
Thompson's response here to Russell's question re. why we haven't lowered the workweek by now is that the energy freed up by past technological advances has in turn enabled more advances, which has raised the standard of living. While this is true, such advances account for only a fraction of the time spent by people's continued long hours of working.
To think that we need not worry about the job shortage because 100% of jobs won't be going away any time soon is to not understand the issue. To think that advances in productivity always on the whole create wealth such that enough of this goes back into creating more business opportunities that will employ anywhere near the number of people whose jobs have been made obsolete by the advances is simply unjustified. When Thompson does finally admit that technology may well eventually run us out of work, he sees that as an exciting time of wonder and the unknown and not as something that economist-types like himself should be actually planning for through policy advocation. The issue is not just about luddites being alarmist and brave technologists willing to bite the bullet and face the challenge of the unknown. Stopping technology is neither possible nor desirable, and dealing with the known problems already caused by technological progress (along with globalization and other things), we'd be in a better position to deal with job loss as it gets worse.
For a more realistic take on this issue which still exhibits a distinct lack of imagination, check out this 2012 story from Frank Koller from the PBS Newshour:
Watch Man vs. Machine: Will Human Workers Become Obsolete? on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.
The conflict is for most of this story cast as "can we stop technology from displacing jobs?" (and answering "no"), so therefore we have to figure out some way to help those who have been "left behind" by the new economy, and the way to do that is more education so we can all be more effective technocrats. My god, there's an engineer shortage at some of these tech companies, so therefore with improved math training we can somehow get several million people up and ready to compete for those couple of thousand (hundred?) jobs!
For another take on the problem, let's look at this article by Robert Solow on the Huffington post (from 7/28/13):
Are you afraid of asteroids hitting earth? No? Then why would you worry about the end of work?
The belief and fear that automation and mechanization are about to make most human labor obsolete, and thus create unavoidable mass unemployment, seems always to be simmering below the surface, like a passive volcano. It erupts, predictably, every time our economy goes through a period of prolonged, high unemployment.
Apparently there was some uproar about the end of labor in the 90s (Rifkin's book was a part of this.), but then the economy picked back up so we didn't worry about it, but now we're in a recession again, and nearly the whole of concern about this issue is about whether right now we've hit a point where the jobs that went away aren't returning. I see this as somewhat beside the point; it would be great, and give us more time to make preparatory policy decisions, if Solow is right:
One reason is that there are approximately as many reasons to expect the pace of economically effective technological change to slow down as to accelerate. Another reason is that even the advanced economies of the world seem to be some distance from satiation with goods and services. And most of the world's people live at a level of income and consumption far below what the advanced economies have already achieved. Even a poorly managed world economy should welcome a large increase in productivity given the good use that could be made of a large increase in total output.
Solow is saying that so long as the world is not yet satiated with goods and services (and could we EVER be?), then there will be market opportunities, which means jobs. However, Solow adds:
I hesitate to mention it, because it would require more competent economic management than we get, but most workers would be glad to have more leisure if their material standard of living were to improve simultaneously. Dramatic increase in productivity, from automation and robots, would make that possible.
Yes, the increase in productivity would make that possible, but as Richard Freeman points out on the PBS video, what is more likely is that you'd have a technological elite pumping out products with little need for labor beyond themselves and most of the people with no economic way then to get money to afford such products. If paradise were enabled right now by technology, without an openness to new ways to structure the job system or at least to distribute money and/or goods outside of the job system, most of us would starve in paradise.
Solow is aware of this "polarization," which the engineers in the PBS video describe as the digital divide. He adds to this other reasons to be concerned about the gap between rich and poor that have little to do with technology:
There is some evidence, though far from definitive, that market processes are allocating an increasing share of national income to income from property or capital and a smaller share to income from work. This development, like polarization, contributes to worsening income inequality.
So what does Solow recommend?
Redistributive policy is a technical possibility, but the political track record does not suggest that it is a likely outcome. An alternative worth thinking about is some kind of democratization of capital by means other than redistribution. This could come about through the accumulation of claims to real capital by public social security funds, perhaps via special mutual funds.
So Solow recognizes that current economic patterns (whether or not they are chiefly the result of technology, though he admits that's certainly part of it) have left many shafted, and recognizes that something needs to be done to fix this, but sees this as an issue about serving the poor, not about fixing the job system, which doesn't seem to be on his radar. He may cast this as a matter of political reality--that it's going to be easier to drive Congress to address the needs of real people in dire straits now than to do something proactive and more significant that would help us all in the long run--but I think both legislative steps are equally unlikely at this point.
Jim McNeely says
I am speculating, for a moment, that perhaps the problem is that centers of value are shifting from physical to digital assets, but we still live in a Lockean state of nature in regard to purely digital assets. We are increasingly shifting things that were once physical creative assets such as books, musical recordings, magazines, movies, as well as the manufacture of physical goods through the use of 3d printers, to digital domains. The main assets of most large companies are not the things they are able to manufacture, but their intellectual properties. However, we have not derived a workable or sustainable system of private ownership as pertains to digital assets, so no workable digital economy has become possible. So people are working more and more to produce digital assets for which there is really no possible economic benefit, or they are simply not working at all because physical assets are largely going digital. Much more here if interested: http://rethinkthweb.blogspot.com/2010/01/lockean-moment.html
John Dodge says
Really enjoyed reading this. I wrote a paper on technological unemployment for my masters last year – specifically the “productivity paradox”. A term that appeared first in the early 70s to describe increases in productivity due to technology leading to economic stagnation. Unemployment is only part of the issue – a symptom maybe? Interestingly, the productivity paradox has been declared resolved several times, while some claim it’s still here. Alan Greenspan for example said it was resolved in the early 90’s simply by saying the old ways of measuring productivity are no longer accurate – mind you, new ways were never introduced. For further reading/watching I’d like to point you in the direction of this book review: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2011/03/freaks_geeks_and_gdp.html
And although it’s not directly related, I’d check out Adam Curtis’ documentary Century of the Self for an account of why the world will never be “satiated with goods and services” – it’s steeped in Freud. Thanks!
Bruce Adam says
When I hear talk of technology taking jobs, it tends to take the form that all the dumb work now gets done by machines. This leads to a demand for more education, as if more of us might become above average in employability.
As I see it, the advances in technology have taken not the dumb jobs , but the white collar jobs. Computers can’t mop floors or wipe arses yet. Most of the manual and menial work is relatively unaffected by the computer age.
I see an epidemic of unemployable , white collar , victims of technology, furiously creating jobs for themselves as teachers , with the false promise that buying further education with borrowed money will lead to employment. It’s a crock.
I agree, but think of menial work like cashiers, etc.
I’m looking for a debate The Atlantic hosted a couple years ago, which I’ll post if I can find it. In the mean time, I’ll link the 2013 debate schedule: http://intelligencesquaredus.org/debates/upcoming-debates.
It seems to me any community that is transitioning to a knowledge-based economic system, might like to study the San Francisco Bay Area. I’d like to understand how a vertical traditional institutional model would work with the horizontal models used with this transition.
Also, I wonder if we (U.S.) are putting all our eggs in one basket , that being a country whose banking on becoming more specialized in any given field of study. It really is quite fascinating, to me, how much work and planning goes into civic engineering in a given community. Engineering is another area that interests me, as technology is driving change at a unbelievable rate of speed. This must be a consideration planning – how much planning is realistic in the year 2013?
My understanding about alternative forms of energy is it’s a market that is being hindered in the U.S. because China is dominating that market. GE’s plans to build a plant and manufacture solar-power panels has been abandoned. Sadly, I read another article on the effects of the down cline of manufacturing in Erie. This effects more than ‘mom-and pop’ small businesses. It effects middle management–white collar–(a concern expressed by Bruce) and more specialized fields, i.e. our health care professionals, which includes dentists because of the decrease in private insurance plans and small business vendors.
(On a side: Am I the only one who posts economic woes re a specific community?)
“A part of the Chicago Ideas Week, this debate is the first Intelligence Squared U.S. debate to be held live in Chicago. The herd mentality that assumes college is the only path to reaching one’s full potential is under fire. Student loan debt has surpassed credit card debt, unemployment for those with bachelor’s degrees is at an all-time high, and entrepreneurs like the founders of Facebook and Microsoft prove that extraordinary success is possible without it. But recent studies show that college is economically beneficial even to those whose jobs don’t require it. Is it still the best way to ensure social mobility, or is America’s love affair with higher education unjustified?”
For: Peter Thiel and Charles Murray
Against: Vivek Wadhwa and Henry Bienen
Not to worry…
“Nationwide, the grants total more than $67 million which will flow to 105 organizations. Some recipients include colleges, universities and nonprofit entities.”
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/health/healthcare-exchange/Pennsylvania_to_get_27_million_to_help_navigate_the_federal_health_care_law.html#Orzc34U1T7TFCjEF.99
Isn’t this speaker touching on brand personality and attachment styles used by marketing? Would Noam Chomsky’s research be common knowledge by, say, a given developmental psychologist?
there is a nascent field of neuro/behavioral economics but it certainly isn’t widespread, on the psychoanalytic/Hegelian end see:
So Johns Hopkins and Columbia WOULD be familiar with Chomsky, yes?
Thanks for linking the video. Is this critique ‘Complexity as Capture: Neoliberalism and Communicative’ also a mode utilized in the growing field of cognitive science: “Cognitive scientists will oftentimes use scientific methods such as modeling or simulation in order to achieve their objectives”?
I would doubt if academic psychologists (if that’s who you are asking about) know much if anything of Chomsky’s recent work, but as they are all scrambling for research dollars they may well be branching out into economics/advertising, certainly private companies have been long hiring their own researchers (I’m ignorant about but very curious about the new work that quants are doing with algorithms in areas like market researching for tv projects and such), there is increasing use by the Hegelian Lacanians of neuroscience but I don’t think that neuroscientists are paying Zizek and co. any attention, many of us from more phenomenological backgrounds have been working with lab folks for years but really on more basic issues of attention/perception/orientation, the leaps needed to jump to the complexities of economic activity are fairly new and frankly often pretty rash. Tho there is a growing market desire for all of it, do you know:
My original question I entertained (which anyone can join in entertaining) is “Engineering is another area that interests me, as technology is driving change at a unbelievable rate of speed. This must be a consideration planning – how much planning is realistic in the year 2013?” The more I think about it with the additional material you have provided this would include social engineering and my thinking is the social sciences–all branches.
My understanding is similar simulations that are used in the economic and financial fields are models used in the social sciences. I quote:
“Cognitive science is a truly interdisciplinary field that involves the knowledge and practices of a host of different studies including psychology, philosophy, neuroscience, computer science, linguistics, robotics, biology and logic. Simply put, cognitive science is the study of the capabilities of the mind and the processes that support such capabilities. Among the questions that cognitive scientists seek to answer are: What is thinking and under what circumstances is it instantiated? Can computers think? What are the primary elements of cognitive processes? What are the mechanisms of cognitive processes? What are the relations and interactions between cognition and the physical apparatus?
Cognitive scientists will oftentimes use scientific methods such as modeling or simulation in order to achieve their objectives. The scientists then perform empirical studies so as to review the models they have developed based on the different parts of cognition. Among the fundamental aspects that they focus on are the mechanisms that affect the acquiring and processing of data, since these mechanisms are directly related to cognition as seen in the areas of recognition, perception, comprehension, reasoning, language comprehension, problem solving, imagination and memory. There are a number of accomplishments credited to cognitive science. Some examples are behavioral finance and risk perception, as well as new theories relating to persuasion and coercion.”
No I have never heard of bloggingheads. I just recently discovered I had access to probably thirty top notch research links for two years.
So, with this in mind (my own ignorance to access of information) and re my original question when it comes to economic democracy what exactly is the different re the distribution of power?
I think the podcast I posted addresses the ethical questions.
ah, I thought you were asking about developmental psychology, on the lab/research end the neuroscience isn’t really all that advanced yet (tho there is some serious money for basic research being promised by govts in the US and Europe) and really just starting to have some broad-stroke impact on clinical medical interventions, some in cognitive science and social psychology haven’t let this stop them from speculating about a wide variety of social affairs but since the causality remains a real black box it would be very hard to say what impacts interventions/engineering might have and why. Of course that has never stopped folks on the commercial and government end from throwing this stuff at the public.
I was asking that too reflecting on what perplexed me at a time. Have you heard of Naked Capitalism? I’m sorry (laughing) but this continuing saga with Bitcoin is interesting, in that, their currency is excepted by Germany, which perplexes me even more that a leading German liberation theologian wouldn’t feel confident to comment on economic woes (current revolutions as mentioned in the blog) in Argentina and Brazil.
Thanks and I’ll checkout the book.
I’m sorry I thought you said you have a private clinical practice. Maybe your specialization isn’t psychology and I should have clarified. Jodi Dean completed her PhD at Columbia, whose scholarly studies of interest include Political Theory, Digital Media and Politics, Poststructuralism and Psychoanalysis, Neoliberalism and consumerism, Cultural Studies, and Feminist Theory (http://campus.hws.edu/academic/popup.asp?id=118).
It seem a bit of a stretch (for my imagination anyway) that the social sciences–cognitive science being one of those fields–is a recent phenomena ‘branching out for funds’ that utilize similar models (simulations) that are used by the financial sector in reference to all reading and viewing material you have provided. So, when it comes to economic democracy what exactly is the different re the distribution of power?
hard to follow these threads, I am an existential analyst in private practice these days and Jodi is a political science prof. so not sure how that ties in with the various branches of academic psychology or why you seem to be characterizing cog-sci as you do above, but that aside what is the question you are posing about economics, democracy, and power?
In reference to the RS article, I read President Obama’s personal mission letter yesterday, also having an understanding of Barry Swartz research (Paradox of Choice). Obama’s language is disturbing to me “a better bargain for the middle class”. What is this bargain junk when we are talking about adult enrolments re the effects of normal aging with a family, mortgage, etc.
I’m disappointed but respect the economist representing Penn State re regional economic health, who had the decency to be real with the community and laborers. I wish this would have taken place two years ago for these people. I do think we can be optimistic and work for a solution even though we have a lot on our plates. And, I am pro America with all our political blunders.
I’m really not looking forward to finishing my degree and wish this wasn’t the case.
David Mershon says
I’m happy to see this issue being examined at all, but I think that by focusing on the materialistic, economic aspects of this issue is doing a disservice to the deeper ethical questions raised here. That is, if machines really were able to do most or all of the work that people needed done, would we be able to live purposeful, meaningful lives in such a situation? If not, would destroying the machines in order to make ourselves feel more productive be the right thing to do?
I should be clear that I don’t think we are anywhere near the point where people won’t have any productive work to do, and we may never be. But I can imagine a near-future scenario where the world simply can’t accommodate any more advanced, interesting jobs, and the majority of the population will have to either be employed or provided for though socialism, or be employed as domestic servants, or other occupations that we in the developed world tend to think of as demeaning or otherwise unpleasant.
A podcast asking ethical questions: http://americamagazine.org/media/podcasts/ethics-brain-initiative
Daniel Horne says
Jason Stable says
Hey was just about to post a link to that article.. which the Baffler sent me a link to – “bullshit jobs” catches the eye. David Graeber also had an interesting Baffler essay on present day technology’s stark contrast with glowing futureland visions of mid-20th century America.
I apologize, Mark, for messing up my replies/threads in this blog.
“Stopping technology is neither possible nor desirable, and dealing with the known problems already caused by technological progress (along with globalization and other things), we’d be in a better position to deal with job loss as it gets worse.”
Something that China excels in, with their eastern philosophical traditions–Confucius, Daoism and Buddhism–,is a completely foreign idea of ‘branding’ and ‘marketing’ which is a large portion of a business marketing budget. I think this is an area that we could learn more about.
It needs to be said that education is problematic not only in the U.S. but China as well.
from a sociological perspective it would be very hard to say, post-cultural-revolution, how those various religious traditions might still be part (or not) of the psyches of various (so many people/locations/variables) Chinese peoples, the recent attempts by the govt there to engineer various religious institutions is fascinating and not well studied, also interesting to see how the Roman Catholic Church has negotiated having some presence there and how this might change (and will the new pope call off the witch-hunt against liberation theologians!).
“(and will the new pope call off the witch-hunt against liberation theologians!).”
I wasn’t aware that Pope Francis is on a witch-hunt against liberation theologians. This is a critique raised by Wendland-Cook Professor of Constructive Theology, Joerg Rieger, in Chapter 4: Globalization, Theology, and Soft Power. And, I disagree with his critique about Schleiermacher, but Rieger is a German so I think it’s fair play.
the witch-hunt isn’t his but that of that old rabid anti-marxist (and now saint!) John-Paul and his “holy” inquisitor Ratzinger. my Jesuit comrades don’t exactly have glowing reports about the new pope in terms of his own history in relation to liberation movements but he seems to be showing a kinder/gentler face of orthodoxy to date, that said the US nuns aren’t holding their breathes, isn’t Rieger a protestant, can’t imagine that he is on the papal radar, hell even the Methodist bishops don’t seem to pay him any mind as they happily pushing their Purpose-Driven™ agendas…
I’ve always thought of JPII and Ratzinger more in terms of anti-communism, but I could be wrong. As for the sacrament of holy orders (priesthood and nuns/sisters) I think Catholic women religious are divided on this one, and veering off topic (respectfully).
Oh, yes, Joerg Rieger and John Dominic Crossan would most assuredly be on the Vatican’s radar.
“…, also interesting to see how the Roman Catholic Church has negotiated having some presence there and how this might change.” I think it’s interesting too and another question I’m entertaining:
“Finally, it is important to consider the ways in which religions have, for thousands of years, functioned as agents of globalization and transnational civil exchange. Operating both within and beyond the structures of military conflict, economic transaction and cultural exchange, religious beliefs and practices continue to exert influence as non-government actors on the Chinese scene. Particularly salient in this regard are Buddhism, Islam and Christianity, all of which are profoundly implicated in the basic question of the Chinese state’s ability to maintain sovereignty over its geographic borders. Whether it is the Muslims in Xinjiang, Buddhists in Tibet, or Roman Catholics throughout China, these transnational religious movements are clearly seen by the state as inhibiting its ability to govern its own people. Religious movements act as a boundary, and thus a zone of conflict, between the individual religious practitioner and the apparatus of the state. The conflict between the Vatican and Beijing over who has the authority to appoint Roman Catholic Bishops, or the conflict between Dharamsala and Beijing over what procedures will be used to identify the next Dalai Lama, are in both cases seen by Beijing as a conflict over state sovereignty. They reflect, albeit on a much grander, geo-political level, the same issues that Johnson highlights in the story regarding the dedication ceremony to the Jade Emperor: whose values have authoritative meaning in this specific space?”
don’t think that figures of speech like religions (or “movements”) have the kind of literal existence to act as agents (or boundaries) in the world, and what are “beliefs” if not human actions?
But as to what/who will play an author-itiative role (and how they get established) in these always evolving (and multifaceted ) events is worth paying a close eye on and one hopes that there will be some extended actual on the ground research done and not just armchair speculations but these are the glory days of punditry…
Not sure, myself, but I thought that was a thought provoking essay with many lessons to draw on. I just really enjoyed the article.