Sunday, June 30, 2013

We are all Luddites in waiting

For years I have been telling people that increasing technology means increasing the percentage of the workforce who are effectively unemployable in a for-profit task. Some policy wank on a news show had made the point that we could have 0% unemployment overnight by banning farm machinery, and the light went on for me.

And of course, as a SF author, I am pretty certain that technology will continue to grow. Which means that sooner or later, the technological bar of unemployment will be coming for you:
Even a quick scan of the report’s list suggests that some of the victims of disruption will be workers who are currently considered highly skilled, 
Of course, the Luddites already knew this:
So should workers simply be prepared to acquire new skills? The woolworkers of 18th-century Leeds addressed this issue back in 1786: “Who will maintain our families, whilst we undertake the arduous task” of learning a new trade? Also, they asked, what will happen if the new trade, in turn, gets devalued by further technological advance?
Yet I still get Libertarians/Republicans (is there actually a difference any more?) telling that people just need to get mad skillz.

Krugman goes on to make the same point I make: that redistribution is the only possible solution. And of course (as I pointed out earlier) consuming is a necessary job. Somebody has to consume all the stuff that producers produce; otherwise, that produce is worthless. If my stories go unread, they are of no value; and a box of Rolex watches that no one every buys is just as valueless. An entire box car of gold is worthless unless you have someone else who wants it.

The only thing that is valuable in this world is time; people's labor and attention. Writing books is an obvious form of labor; but reading them is a kind of labor, too. I am asking people to give me a part of their lives: to give me the one precious thing that can never be replaced, time. It is not just money I need to engage in my craft; I actually need consumers. And so does every producer, whether they know it or not. All of us owe a debt to the people who make our production possible, by consuming.

The Republibertarians see that mass of consumers as a horde of parasites, completely oblivious to their own symbiotic dependence on them. This is, of course, the primary problem with libertarianism: it simply fails to understand human nature as a collective artifact. The other problem, of course, is that surprisingly soon, that bar of technological unemployablity is going to be on top of them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Check this TED Talks - tech out doing the human

http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_jennings_watson_jeopardy_and_me_the_obsolete_know_it_all.html