Friday, October 24, 2008


Lately, I've been changing what question I ask people for more information. I used to ask them what the worst problem in the world was. Most of what came up were sociological problems that can't be solved with chemistry, machines, or anything I know anything about.

So now I've been asking people what task they'd most like see done automatically. Surprisingly, rather than list household annoyances, most people named things that were aspects of their jobs.

Would doing these things automatically take these jobs away, or lower their pay?


Cairnarvon said...

If we wanted to, we could easily live in a post-scarcity type of society, with guaranteed minimum income and a relatively high de facto standard of living even for people who choose not to be employed, which would render the point moot. The problem is just that it's hard to convince people to implement it, because everyone's afraid they'll end up supporting people poorer/lazier than they (which is painful bullshit), and because people don't understand what ``social contract'' means, and because few people have even heard of post-scarcity economics.

This is more of a problem in the US, of course, which doesn't even have free public health care, than it is in the civilised West, but it's still quite out of reach even for Europe.
Most of the EU has a shortage of unskilled labor (hence the recent accession of Poland, which is full of unskilled laborers because of shit education and poverty), and most of that is jobs that could easily be replaced entirely with machines. People don't, though, because they're afraid that'll drive up unemployment, without realising that that doesn't even matter, because we already have very robust social safety nets that are in no danger of spiraling out of control. We're halfway there and we don't even realise it.

themadengineer said...

I'm not entirely convinced it's possible. If nothing else, energy and material resources are the choke-points. Work never happens for free, energy doesn't just magically come from nowhere, and automated machines aren't going to do any good if there's no metal to build them with.

Yes, assuming that everything is automated, quick-fabs can generate anything of interest, a cheap form of energy is found, and so on, Belgium would become a Star-trek-esque society in which employment was unnecessary, and only artists, engineers, and service people such as doctors could get work anyway.

The United States, on the other hand, would quickly decay into a serfdom of only doctors and lawyers succeeding and getting cheap goods while other people were forced to live on meager welfare, which gets reduced every year on the grounds that people collecting it are "lazy." Some people genuinely are lazy here, and think that work is a painfully unfair imposition of the world, which doesn't help matters.

The United State's program could only succeed if some sort of Conservation Core were publicly paid for that gave people bullshit work to do and a salary to purchase fab-made goods. Hopefully socially useful tasks would be accomplished in the process, such as development of infrastructure, or super-cheap public housing.

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