Re: 1929 deja vu

From: Charlie (
Date: Thu Apr 27 2000 - 02:49:05 MDT

On Wed, Apr 26, 2000 at 04:12:56PM -0700, Zero Powers wrote:
> >
> >Tell me, if cheap and easy nuclear fusion magically became possible
> >today, and within a few months most everybody had a fusion plant in
> >their back yard, what do you think would happen to the economy?
> Power would become cheap and lots of people (power co. employees) would
> probably become unemployed. What has that to do with health or happiness?
For the power company employees, lots: they'll have less money, they're
certainly not going to be happy (the majority who are compliant with
the dominant live-to-work meme, that is), and unhappy/poor people have
worse health.

Moreover, there's the sector of the economy that serviced their
occupation- specific lifestyles (I dunno; fabricating and selling overalls
and hard-hats?). They're going to be unhappy, too.

Shutting down an obsolescent industry has health/happiness implications
for a lot of people. Doesn't mean it isn't in the best interests of
society as a whole -- the direct effects are short-term, or at worst
last for a generation -- but in the short term it's something to be wary
about. (That's one of the reasons Margaret Thatcher is widely hated
in the UK. That something needed doing about the state-run industries
isn't a bone of contention today; but the action she took was so brutal,
and affected so many people directly, that it's had lasting effects on
the whole of British society, effects that are still felt two decades
later. Bad effects.)

> >How
> >about if nanotech became magically possible today? I'll tell you: the
> >economy would go into a major depression for a good 3-10 years. You are
> >talking about making obsolete a whole economy almost overnight.
> Not even. The economy would undergo a radical shift, but that is not the
> same as a depresssion. OK, so lots of people in the business of making
> things lose their jobs. So what? As long as you buy your near anything box
> before you get laid off, who needs a job?
The trouble is, you assume people would buy their near-anything boxen before
being laid off. You also assume "who needs a job?" As Luther said, "the
Devil makes work for idle hands". There's a dominant social meme, which at
our current level of technological development we need, to the effect that
work is _good_ for you. (I don't want to call it the protestant work ethic,
because it isn't protestant-only; it's ubiquitous.) The corollary is
subliminally accepted; there's something wrong with people who _don't_ work,
even if the reason they're not working is that their skills have been rendered
obsolete overnight and they're not smart/flexible enough to re-train in
anything that's still useful.

The result of a move to a high-unemployment post-nano society is going to be
a massive surge in social disorder, mental illness, and any number of other
undesirable things -- unless we do something to mop up the labour pool of
un-retrainables by giving them something to do that makes them feel needed.
And I figure nanotech near-anything boxes are likely to show up a bit before
intelligence augmentation techniques, and be much more socially acceptable,
so we can't simply turn our unretrainables into retrainable geniuses.

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