Sunday, April 10, 2011

Automation, Job-Growth and Current Events

One of the purposes of this blog is as a living laboratory of ideas on how the future may look. Another is coming up with ideas about solutions, either collectively implemented, or individual actions that one may take to try and prepare a better life for oneself. For example, a lot of people in under-water mortgages or drowning in student loan debt while unable to find a job probably just bought the standard lines doled out by those on top, that is, they didn't ask skeptical questions. If they had, they would have realized that both systems are, in essence, scams, and that the people on top use them to take you to the cleaners, and so have a vested interest in making them seem legit.

But back to our topic. One of the posits as outlined in the What are People Good For? series is that unemployment is now a permanent condition for most of humanity, due to the economic forces that we've unleashed. Among the reasons we are led to believe that this is not the case are:

1. Artificial bubbles just to generate economic activity, along with baroque financial games.
2. Society is so complex it needs endless paperwork to do anything (public and private sectors), leading to a useless bureaucracy.
3. Socially negative or harmful activities, like gambling and advertising.
4. Monetizing everything, that is turning everything we do into a market transaction.
5. Endless entertainments.
6. Statistics are cooked.
7. The unemployed are blamed for their own predicament.

...and many more. Is this good or bad? Really, I don't care - it just is, and that's what we care about on this blog. I'll have more to say in detail about this later. As I said in the article, there are four horsemen of the labor apocalypse, which are:

1. outsourcing
2. automation
3. immigration (insourcing)
4. overpopulation (which makes the above possible)

We'll also cover these in more detail. For now, I want to turn attention to some ramifications of this in the real world. There's been a lot of discussion about the Budget Proposal put forward by Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. While there is much to criticise in this proposal, I will focus just on the part that is relevant to the essay - the unemployment projections. Paul Krugman called attention to some of the fuzzy math in this proposal, including some pretty eyebrow-raising projections about the nation's future employment picture:

So Ryan is claiming that unemployment will plunge right away; that by 2015 it will be down to the levels at the peak of the 1990s boom (and far below anything achieved under the sainted Ronald Reagan); and that by 2021 it will be below 3 percent, a level we haven’t seen in more than half a century. Right.

Yes, that's right, the proposal touted by the Republicans and ballyhooed by the punditocracy (at least some of them) called for unemployment ten years hence to be ... wait for it...lower than in 1950! Yes, 1950, when the world had maybe six computers and we had half our current population (and next to no illegal immigration). China had just been unified under the Communist party and was still mostly agrarian, Germany Japan still lay in ruins, the third world was mostly subsistence farmers, Latin America was extensively banana republics, India was just three years into self-rule, and England would continue to ration food throughout the decade. Yup, unemployment will be much lower than it was then. In fact, this was so outrageous, the Republican literally scrubbed the offending numbers from the document. If this number is so outrageous, how can we trust anything else about this proposal? How can we trust anyone who takes this proposal seriously?

So there's the level of political debate in our country. Believe it or not, the republicans aren't stupid. They know these numbers are total bullshit, but since they are a movement not a party, their followers will listen to anything they say without question. It is clear that they do not care about unemployment at all, only increasing profits to corporate America, with endless scapegoats about why their ideas don't work (regulations, unions, Communists, out-of-wedlock births, etc.). Seriously, is there any other major country where one of it's major parties is actively trying to make most of its citizens worse off?

Most of their sham philosophy that they dole out to their followers says that if taxes are eliminated, it will be immediately reinvested in jobs (rather than profits). Of course, those jobs could be anywhere, American corporations are multinational, after all. But still, the corporate income tax has been falling as a share of Federal tax revenue since the 1980's, made up by payroll taxes on workers. Why is there a jobs crisis at all? Companies like GE already pay nothing. How many more jobs can they create? Are we going to tax workers to pay the corporations to create the jobs they need? This is absurd.

The Democrats at least try and use legitimate data, but they are little different from the Republicans. Both parties are there to preserve corporate capitalism, not to make our lives better. It's time we realized that. Remember, the head of Obama's "jobs council" is the head of GE, the company that pays no income taxes and is one of the major outsourcers of corporate America.

It's no secret where Mr. Ryan expects his job growth to occur:
http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2011/04/not-exactly-the-job-growth-we-were-looking-for.html

P.S. While doing research for another article I came across an article by Richard Heinberg where he discusses the work of Mats Larsson. Larsson has said very convincingly what I believe to be true, namely:

"Our human ability to invent genuinely new activities is probably limited, and most recent inventions have consisted merely of finding ways to speed up activities that humans have been performing for a very long time—communicating, transporting themselves and their goods, trading, and manufacturing. These processes can only be taken to the limits where things can be done at almost no time and at a very low cost, and we are fast approaching those limits."

The article is here, and it's a must-read. It's definitely affected my view of things.

P.P.S. --> and see this. Some good comments here.

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