A Challenge To All Extropians/Free Marketeers

Tony Belding (tlbelding@htcomp.net)
Mon, 27 Apr 1998 19:58:49 -0600

Paul Hughes <planetp@aci.net> wrote:

PH> 1) Is there a single field which is intrinsically safe from automation
PH> in the course of the next 20-30 years? If you can think of more fields,
PH> please elaborate.

I don't know about the timeframe of 20-30 years, but I *hope* it will be
possible to replace all jobs with automation in the coming decades. This is
exactly what I meant when I started the whole "Abolition of Work" thread.

PH> 2) Are these remaining fields if any, sufficient to employ the majority
PH> of humanity? If not, what will the rest of humanity do in order to
PH> survive?

Obviously they will have to sell some other economic resources instead of
labor. According to economic theory, all economic resources fall into these
categories: land, labor, capital, and entrepreneurial ability.

Whenever jobs are replaced by automation, it means capital is being
substituted for labor. What we're facing is the transition from a
labor-oriented economy to a capital-oriented economy. So, the ideal solution
would be for the displaced workers to become capitalists: owners of the
machines that took their jobs. (Of course, there's a certain gap between this
ideal situation and reality.)

PH> 3) For those who are unemployed and do not have sufficient investment
PH> income, is death the inevitable result? If not, how will they survive?

It's a sticky problem. The problem with a capital-oriented economy, as Marx
observed, is that capital tends to aggregate in the hands of a few. In a
labor-oriented economy there's a certain democratizing effect, since each
worker is limited to providing one man-year of labor per year. If you need
more labor, you must hire more workers, thus spreading the economic benefits.
In a capital-oriented economy you can go to Chase-Manhattan and get all the
capital you need in one stop. The more capital you have, the easier it is for
you to sell it: tycoons prosper, others may fare poorly.

The government might have to step in and forcibly redistribute wealth in some
manner. Heaven forbid! Certainly we should try to avoid that outcome if at
all possible. I don't know what the answer is. I wrote an essay on this
subject a few years back. I'll see if I can dig that up and possibly post it

I remember vaguely that I had a debate on this subject with another fellow. I
was pleased to discover somebody who saw the problem as clearly as I did, but
puzzled that he came to a completely different view of how to solve it. He
wanted a socialistic system where the government would set up a huge
investment fund, and everybody would be forced to own some number of shares in
it. The fund would be managed by an elected committee. I was repulsed, and
came back with a plan that reduced the role of government and kept more
economic decision-making dispersed, in the hands of the people.
Unfortunately, I no longer remember anything about how *my* plan worked!

PH> 4) Will most people alive today be able to save enough before their jobs
PH> become automated?

It probably depends on how hard they try. Hardly anybody today sees this
change coming: most people aren't saving *any* money. They're in debt!

PH> 5) If how much money one has saved is the the key to surviving
PH> automation, does this not portend very badly for young people who have
PH> had less time to save for their forced retirement? If this is true,
PH> does this mean that the future is going to be populated almost entirely
PH> of rich and old people and their children?

If there are too many people without the resources to make a living by other
means, there will be political pressure to do /something/ about it. Just
consider the absurd redistribution-of-wealth programs that are kept alive
today with far less reason, such as Social Security!

   Tony Belding