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The Unwanted Worker

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Captain Vancouver View Drop Down
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    Posted: 04 Jun 2013 at 11:18
The recent thread on the world fifty years from now got me thinking about the subject of employment. It seems to me that unemployment is the elephant in the room that no politician has the nerve to mention. To do so would then require a massive rethink of how we do society, from the bottom up, including how wealth is distributed. Imagine that in an environment where just raising taxes four percentage points (only on the uber rich) causes a firestorm in the US.

As we become more efficient, we tend to need less workers. Of course, some here might point out that as some industries have dried up in terms of employment, new ones have been created, with new positions. I think it is arguable though that the tendency has been in one direction: away from masses of workers pouring into factories in the morning, and towards a few highly skilled specialists writing software, or doing similar tasks.

Globalization has transferred work from the developed world to the less developed, such as China and India. Yet even these countries are in a mortal struggle to provide enough jobs for their populations, enough at least to ward of civil discord.

Perhaps more significantly, digitalization has eliminated the need for masses of workers, in an increasing category of industries. What seemed outside the capability of software yesterday is increasingly on the drawing board for tomorrow. 

What to do? Spain reportedly has a youth unemployment rate of about 50%. In some countries, the true extent of the problem can be masked by figures that don't include those hanging on with part time, poverty wages, or have dropped out, and are hanging on by the most precarious means. It seems unlikely we could roll back the tide of computerization and technological change, even if this was so desired. On the other hand, how long are millions of educated youth going to sit around on the dole, or perhaps not even have that, and watch life go by?

It's not that society, overall, isn't doing well. GDP has been going up, even in the EU. So wealth is there, but it seems to me the way we look at the whole business of work, and value produced in society, is going to need a complete reanalysis. 

"....To articulate the core of his argument, McAfee draws from the concept of exponential growth patterns. The numbers at the beginning of any exponential curve (1+2+4+8+16….etc) are easy to comprehend. It isn’t until later in the progression that intuition breaks down and human imagination is outstripped by the explosive growth in the doubling pattern. With regards to the digitization of labor, McAfee argues that we may have just entered the “knee” of the curve; the portion of the growth pattern characterized by massive acceleration...."





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Zagros View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Jun 2013 at 20:04
This is a timely post, another factor people need to consider is increased automation not only in manual industry but ambitions to push automation into traditionally soft skilled labour areas that require human thinking. The way technology is going with advances in fields such as AI, this is not just a possibility but a reality already which will proliferate and penetrate more deeply into what we consider to be work for humans in the future.   As an example, I've worked on ontological semantic models in insurance with the aim of automising a claims handling case mgmt system, which will conceivably require less and less human input.
"There was glory in pissing, Corabb decided as he watched the stream curve out and make that familiar but unique sound as it hit the ground." So true.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Parnell Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Jun 2013 at 04:15
I talking about this in the 2063 thread to a certain extent. I think we should embrace technology and all of the labour saving measures that we can possibly create. Ludditism and preventing the future has never done anyone any good.

The cold, hard fact is that there are too few jobs for so many people. Many of the new jobs in the new industries will be highly specialised roles, for brainy people. Most people are not brainy.

Industrial jobs bring stability, purpose and camaraderie in people's lives. When the worker's interests are served by virtuous unions, they can expect reasonable pay and conditions in return for doing a relatively unskilled job. Since deindustrialisation in the west started happening in the 70s, entire communities have underwent wrenching, often soul destroying change. The bulwark of the local community - the steel factory, coal mine or sawmill have all but disappeared. Many of these people have had no real alternative but to go on the dole. A business park opens up in their neighbourhood, but its the highly educated migrants from wealthier parts of the country that take the good jobs. Ultimately, they are doomed to a cycle of unemployment.

It is no coincidence that alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide, violent crime and general thievery is rampant in these areas.

The solution, in my opinion, is a 15 hour working week (maybe for a transitional period a 25 hour week could be introduced). Anything more than that and the employer needs to pay double time. The market would very quickly find a way to take on more people for less hours. Wages would eventually stabilise at a more realistic rate. It is a cruel paradox. Capitalists need well paid workers so that they can consume the products they produce. Yet capitalists want to pay the least amount possible. Get around this problem by creating full employment. People would have more free time. The family would strengthen, society would begin to function, and people would have meaning in their lives again.

The technology and wealth we have on this planet is testament to the fact that our lives need not be nasty, brutish and short. As technology improves, and as fewer workers are needed, it seems to me quite insane to persist with the nonsense idea that we all need to work 40 hours per week. In the mid 19th century most working people did 60-70 hours per week. The trade union movement changed that. Economics played a part too - there was no justification for such long hours in the face of consistently high unemployment. Its about time we the people took our lives back from faceless corporatism, which ultimately couldn't give a flying f**k about the great mass of humanity.
http://xkcd.com/15/



Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it. ~George Bernard Shaw
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Zagros View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Jun 2013 at 06:08
[quote]The technology and wealth we have on this planet is testament to the fact that our lives need not be nasty, brutish and short[\quote]

I'm glad you think so too. But our shadowy corporate rulers obviously don't. Money comes before lives. There's more than enough food in the world to feed everyone. Children are dying in droves for lack of basic medicines that cost a tuppence their lives obviously aren't worth.

We are heading for an unprecedented global collapse in this generation or the next.

Tell you what will be growth industries - security, increased media manipulation and perception control initiatives - to protect the few from the many.

Edited by Zagros - 05 Jun 2013 at 06:09
"There was glory in pissing, Corabb decided as he watched the stream curve out and make that familiar but unique sound as it hit the ground." So true.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Captain Vancouver Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Jun 2013 at 12:10
The polarization of wealth today is, I think, and indicator of how new technology has diffused through the economy with little oversight; with little thought of the global consequences of such change. Some that have been quick to jump on the bandwagon, regardless of personal merit, have often done well. Others, through no fault of their own, have not.
 
Today the forces of the right are ascendent, and maintaining the image of a 50's style, manufacturing economy, with all hands needed at their work stations, plays well for them. It presents the idea that all could have jobs if they really wanted them, and so let them compete- and hopefully drive down wages, benefits, working conditions, and environmental standards. This paradigm is a benefit to the employer and investor, but not the average worker. What is amazing today is that this can be pulled off in public, with a large segment of the population voting in free elections against themselves.
 
It wasn't long ago that automation was thought to be only realistically viable in factories, and perhaps a few other select applications. Today, we are looking at automation on a vast scale, as Zagros has indicated. Some of the last industries that employ large amounts of people are the financial and transportation sectors. Yet these are today on the cutting edge of computer control.
 
It's curious, and a little disheartening, to think that some of the great labour/ civil rights battles of the 20th century may have to be re-fought again in the 21st.
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