Wealth Inequality — a collection nexus

The solution to growing inequality of wealth and the eventual replacement of most work by automation is simple. But it’s easiest to imagine with a little scenario set 50 years from now.

Imagine when robots make robots.

Imagine an IBM Watson artilect (artificial intellect) within a generally capable automaton that can do ANY manual labor, from cleaning, delivery, agriculture, horticulture, construction, mining, culinary, elder care, teaching, animal husbandry — you name it, if it takes an IQ of ~ 80 to ~110 and requires the manipulation of stuff — this robot will do it. But not only that — this robot is being built-by-other-robots. Humans, or approximately 95% of them — as we know them are COMPLETELY redundant.

What then?

Well, obviously the humans that are now useless, except as vehicles for end product and service consumption — the whole reason all these robots are necessary in the first place — should /share/ in the benefit that this technology has been created for the top species of the planet. Share in the “profits” of the production of the automation age. Share in the benefits, the ultra-high standard of living, share in the health and luxury and leisure that full automation of all work has provided.

Right now little to no sharing is occurring. The bottom 90% of workers, of income earners, are not earning their portion of what all of this technological advancement is creating. Only the top 10% of capitalists are gaining in today’s world economy. If everyone earned a portion of what the conversion to an automated world will produce — then everyone will have the wealth to spend to keep the economic machine humming.

Without equality of wealth, the only way forward is revolt and revolution.

22 thoughts on “Wealth Inequality — a collection nexus

  1. bloomberg.com
    The 50 Richest Americans Are Worth as Much as the Poorest 165 Million
    By Ben Steverman and Alexandre Tanzi
    6-7 minutes

    The 50 richest Americans now hold almost as much wealth as half of the U.S., as Covid-19 transforms the economy in ways that have disproportionately rewarded a small class of billionaires.

    New data from the U.S. Federal Reserve, a comprehensive look at U.S. wealth through the first half of 2020, show stark disparities by race, age and class. While the top 1% of Americans have a combined net worth of $34.2 trillion, the poorest 50% — about 165 million people — hold just $2.08 trillion, or 1.9% of all household wealth.

    The 50 richest people in the country, meanwhile, are worth almost $2 trillion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, up $339 billion from the beginning of 2020.

    Wealth Surge

    Covid-19 has exacerbated inequality in the U.S., with job losses falling heavily on low-wage service workers and the virus disproportionately infecting and killing people of color. Meanwhile, many upper-middle class professionals are working from home, watching their retirement accounts rise in value after the U.S. Treasury and Fed pumped stimulus into the economy and markets.

    Another key reason for the wealth disparity is that the vast majority of Americans aren’t benefiting from rising stock prices. The bottom 90%’s exposure to the stock market has been dropping for almost two decades. Since peaking at 21.4% in 2002, upper middle class Americans have seen a 10 percentage point decline in their equity interest in companies. A similar pattern is seen among the bottom half.

    The wealthiest 1% own more than 50% of the equity in corporations and in mutual fund shares, the Fed data show. The next 9% of the wealthiest own more than a third of equity positions — meaning that the top 10% of Americans hold more than 88% of shares.

    Equity Stakes

    The Fed data also show that the Millennial generation, born between 1981 and 1996, control just 4.6% of U.S. wealth even though they are the largest in the workforce with 72 million members. And the share of the pie held by Black Americans is the same size it was 30 years ago.

    Like the country as a whole, young Americans’ wealth is concentrated in just a few hands. Three Millennials — Facebook Inc. co-founders Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz, along with Walmart Inc. heir Lukas Walton — personally control one out of every $40 held by their generational cohort.

    “The pandemic is further widening divides in wealth and economic mobility,” Fed Chair Jerome Powell said Tuesday, warning that the country’s recovery will weaken without more government aid. “A long period of unnecessarily slow progress could continue to exacerbate existing disparities in our economy.”

    A few hours after his address, President Donald Trump told negotiators to halt talks with Congressional Democrats on another relief package until after the November election.
    Tech Fortunes

    Those whose fortunes are tied to tech companies — which profited from the shift of work, shopping, entertainment and socializing online — have been among the biggest beneficiaries of the Covid-19 economy. Leading the way is Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. His fortune, the world’s biggest, has jumped 64% in 2020 to $188.5 billion. On Wednesday alone, Bezos added more than $5 billion to his net worth.

    White Americans hold 83.9% of the nation’s wealth, compared with 4.1% for Black households, the data show. While White Americans’ share of the total has dropped somewhat as the nation becomes more diverse, Black people hold the same percentage as in 1990.

    Of the 25 richest Americans, only one is not White — Eric Yuan, the chief executive officer of Zoom Video Communications Inc., whose fortune has risen almost seven-fold this year to $24.2 billion.

    Baby Boomers hold the majority of U.S. wealth, with $59.6 trillion, twice Generation X’s $28.5 trillion and more than 10 times Millennials’ $5.2 trillion.

    The Fed data show that Gen X, those born between 1965 and 1980, has made some progress building wealth in recent years, doubling their collective net worth since mid-2016.

    U.S. Generational Wealth

    It’s not unusual for younger age groups to be significantly poorer than their elders. Even so, Millennials remain far behind where previous generations were at the same age. In 1989, when the median Boomer was 34, the generation controlled more than 21% of U.S. wealth. To match that, Millennials, with a median age of 32 now, will need to quadruple their wealth share over the next couple of years.

    Young and lower-income workers got a glimmer of hope in recent years as median wages started to rise faster than inflation. But this year a spike in unemployment threatens to derail this progress, returning the U.S. to the trend of the past few decades, when wealth has flowed steadily to the top.

    U.S. Wealth Distribution

    The Fed estimates the top 10% of U.S. households hold 69% of the country’s wealth, or $77.3 trillion, up from 60.9% share at the end of the 1980s. The very richest Americans are almost entirely responsible for that gain. The top 1% held 30.5% of U.S. wealth in June, up from 23.7% in late 1989. The bottom half’s share, meanwhile, has fallen from 3.6% to 1.9%.

    — With assistance by Tom Maloney


  2. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/08/virtual-reality-religion-robots-sapiens-book

    “Most jobs that exist today might disappear within decades. As artificial intelligence outperforms humans in more and more tasks, it will replace humans in more and more jobs. Many new professions are likely to appear: virtual-world designers, for example. But such professions will probably require more creativity and flexibility, and it is unclear whether 40-year-old unemployed taxi drivers or insurance agents will be able to reinvent themselves as virtual-world designers (try to imagine a virtual world created by an insurance agent!). And even if the ex-insurance agent somehow makes the transition into a virtual-world designer, the pace of progress is such that within another decade he might have to reinvent himself yet again.

    The crucial problem isn’t creating new jobs. The crucial problem is creating new jobs that humans perform better than algorithms. Consequently, by 2050 a new class of people might emerge – the useless class. People who are not just unemployed, but unemployable.

    The same technology that renders humans useless might also make it feasible to feed and support the unemployable masses through some scheme of universal basic income. The real problem will then be to keep the masses occupied and content. People must engage in purposeful activities, or they go crazy. So what will the useless class do all day?

    By 2050 a new class of people might emerge – the useless class. People who are not just unemployed, but unemployable
    One answer might be computer games. Economically redundant people might spend increasing amounts of time within 3D virtual reality worlds, which would provide them with far more excitement and emotional engagement than the “real world” outside. This, in fact, is a very old solution. For thousands of years, billions of people have found meaning in playing virtual reality games. In the past, we have called these virtual reality games “religions”.

    What is a religion if not a big virtual reality game played by millions of people together? Religions like Islam and Christianity invent imaginary laws, such as “don’t eat pork”, “repeat the same prayers a set number of times each day”, “don’t have sex with somebody from your own gender”, and so forth. These laws exist only in the human imagination. No natural law requires the repetition of magical formulas and no natural law forbids homosexuality or eating pork. Muslims and Christians go through life trying to gain points in their favorite virtual reality game. If you pray every day, you get points. If you forget to pray, you lose points. If by the end of your life you gain enough points, then after you die you go to the next level of the game (aka Heaven).

    As religions show us, the virtual reality need not be encased inside an isolated box. Rather, it can be superimposed on the physical reality. In the past this was done with the human imagination and with sacred books, and in the 21st century it can be done with smartphones.

    Some time ago I went with my six-year-old nephew Matan to hunt for Pokémon. As we walked down the street, Matan kept looking at his smartphone, which enabled him to spot Pokémon all around us. I didn’t see any Pokémon at all, because I didn’t carry a smartphone. Then we saw two others kids on the street who were hunting the same Pokémon, and we almost got into a fight with them. It struck me how similar the situation was to the conflict between Jews and Muslims about the holy city of Jerusalem. When you look at the objective reality of Jerusalem, all you see are stones and buildings. There is no holiness anywhere. But when you look through the medium of smartbooks (such as the Bible and Qur’an), you see holy places and angels everywhere..

    You gain points with new cars and vacations abroad. If you have more points than everybody else, you won the game
    The idea of finding meaning in life by playing virtual reality games is of course common not just to religions, but also to secular ideologies and lifestyles. Consumerism too is a virtual reality game. You gain points by acquiring new cars, buying expensive brands, and taking vacations abroad, and if you have more points than everybody else, you tell yourself you won the game.

    You might object that people really enjoy their cars and vacations. That’s certainly true. But the religious really enjoy praying and performing ceremonies and my nephew really enjoys hunting Pokémon. In the end, the real action always takes place inside the human brain. Does it matter whether the neurons are stimulated by observing pixels on a computer screen, by looking outside the windows of a Caribbean resort, or by seeing heaven in our mind’s eyes? In all cases, the meaning we ascribe to what we see is generated by our own minds. It is not really “out there”. To the best of our scientific knowledge, human life has no meaning. The meaning of life is always a fictional story created by us humans.

    In his groundbreaking essay, Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight (1973), the anthropologist Clifford Geertz describes how on the island of Bali, people spent much time and money betting on cockfights. The betting and the fights involved elaborate rituals, and the outcomes had substantial impact on the social, economic and political standing of both players and spectators.

    The new status symbol: it’s not what you spend – it’s how hard you work
    The cockfights were so important to the Balinese, that when the Indonesian government declared the practice illegal, people ignored the law and risked arrest and hefty fines. For the Balinese, cockfights were “deep play” – a made-up game that is invested with so much meaning that it becomes reality. A Balinese anthropologist could arguably have written similar essays on football in Argentina or Judaism in Israel.

    Indeed, one particularly interesting section of Israeli society provides a unique laboratory for how to live a contented life in a post-work world. In Israel, a significant percentage of ultra-orthodox Jewish men never work. They spend their entire lives studying holy scriptures and performing religion rituals. They and their families don’t starve to death partly because the wives often work, and partly because the government provides them with generous subsidies. Though they usually live in poverty, government support means that they never lack for the basic necessities of life.

    That’s universal basic income in action. Though they are poor and never work, in survey after survey these ultra-orthodox Jewish men report higher levels of life-satisfaction than any other section of Israeli society. In global surveys of life satisfaction, Israel is almost always at the very top, thanks in part to the contribution of these unemployed deep players.

    You don’t need to go all the way to Israel to see the world of post-work. If you have at home a teenage son who likes computer games, you can conduct your own experiment. Provide him with a minimum subsidy of coke and pizza, and then remove all demands for work and all parental supervision. The likely outcome is that he will remain in his room for days, glued to the screen. He won’t do any homework or housework, will skip school, skip meals, and even skip showers and sleep. Yet he is unlikely to suffer from boredom or a sense of purposelessness. At least not in the short-term.

    Robots won’t just take our jobs – they’ll make the rich even richer
    Hence virtual realities are likely to be key to providing meaning to the useless class of the post-work world. Maybe these virtual realities will be generated inside computers. Maybe they will be generated outside computers, in the shape of new religions and ideologies. Maybe it will be a combination of the two. The possibilities are endless, and nobody knows for sure what kind of deep plays will engage us in 2050.

    In any case, the end of work will not necessarily mean the end of meaning, because meaning is generated by imagining rather than by working. Work is essential for meaning only according to some ideologies and lifestyles. Eighteenth-century English country squires, present-day ultra-orthodox Jews, and children in all cultures and eras have found a lot of interest and meaning in life even without working. People in 2050 will probably be able to play deeper games and to construct more complex virtual worlds than in any previous time in history.

    But what about truth? What about reality? Do we really want to live in a world in which billions of people are immersed in fantasies, pursuing make-believe goals and obeying imaginary laws? Well, like it or not, that’s the world we have been living in for thousands of years already.”


  3. https://thinkgrowth.org/silicon-valley-is-right-our-jobs-are-already-disappearing-c1634350b3d8

    Stephen Hawking says that “we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity” and that the “rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining.”
    Sam Hinkie, the smartest man in sports and a Stanford grad, asks, “How are you preparing your kids for a life with 60% unemployment?”
    Sam Altman, the head of Y Combinator, is so convinced that we’re going to need to figure out new ways of providing people with a means to live that he’s giving ~$20k each to 1,000 people in Oakland for a year just to see what they do with their new jobless income.
    Literally the smartest people in the world think an unprecedented wave of job destruction is coming with the development of artificial intelligence, robotics, software and automation. My friends in Silicon Valley have read the Second Machine Age and Rise of the Robots and they see a wave coming.
    The White House published a report last month that reinforced this view. Some of the headline stats:
    83% of the jobs where people make less than $20 per hour will be subject to automation or replacement.
    Between 9% and 47% of jobs are in danger of being made irrelevant due to technological change, with the worst threats falling among the less educated.
    Between 2.2 and 3.1 million car, bus and truck driving jobs in the U.S. will be eliminated by the advent of self-driving vehicles.

    Source: Executive Office of the President of the United States; Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy; December 2016
    Read that last sentence again: we’re confident that between 2 and 3 million Americans who drive vehicles for a living will lose their jobs in the next fifteen years. Self-driving cars are the most obvious job-destroying technology, but there are similar innovations ahead that will dislocate cashiers, fast food workers, customer service representatives, groundskeepers and many many others in a few short years. How many of these people will be readily employable elsewhere?
    Okay, you’re thinking. But isn’t this all still in the somewhat distant future, since unemployment is only 4.6% according to the headlines? Actually, automation has already eliminated about 4 million manufacturing jobs in the U.S. since 2000. And instead of finding new jobs, a lot of those people left the workforce and didn’t come back. The U.S. labor force plummeted by about 10 million during the same period, down to levels not seen in decades. The labor participation rate is now at only 62.7%, a rate right below El Salvador and right above the Ukraine:

    Each 1 percent decline in the labor participation rate equates to approximately 2.5 million Americans dropping out. The number of working-age Americans who aren’t in the workforce has surged to a record 95 million, up almost 500,000 in the last month alone, with many of these being factory workers.
    Yes, there are 95 million working-age Americans no longer in the workforce. The Great Displacement is already here and is set to accelerate.
    High rates of unemployment are linked to higher rates of substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, depression and just about every other social ill. Despair, basically. Note the recent spike in drug and opioid overdoses in the U.S. If you care about communities and our way of life, you care about people having jobs. This is the most pressing economic and social issue of our time.
    Our economy is evolving in ways that will make it more and more difficult for people with lower levels of education to find jobs and support themselves.
    It’s a boiling pot getting hotter one degree at a time. And we’re the frog.
    I run an organization, Venture for America, with the mission of helping to create 100,000 U.S. jobs by 2025. We do this by helping growth companies access talent and training the next generation of entrepreneurs. We are taking some of the strongest young people in the country and saying, “Hey, use your talents to do some good and build businesses in Detroit, Birmingham, Baltimore, New Orleans, Cleveland, Philadelphia or some other U.S. city that could use a boost.” We’ve had some incredible success stories with people building multi-million dollar businesses that have hired dozens or even hundreds of people, including some low-skilled manufacturing workers.
    We’ve trained over 500 aspiring entrepreneurs to work in eighteen cities around the U.S., and are now recruiting executives from Silicon Valley companies who want to help. We saw the decline in American entrepreneurship in markets around the country and resolved to do something about it.
    I’m proud of everything that we do. But I feel increasingly like we’re working on islands of relative prosperity that are shrinking beneath our feet.
    Every business will hire the very best people it can find — particularly startups. When our entrepreneurs start companies and expand, they generally aren’t hiring the down-on-his-or-her-luck-marginal-worker-in-need-of-a-break. They’re hiring the strongest contributors with the right mix of qualities to help an early-stage company succeed. The majority of the startup jobs that we’re helping to create essentially require a college degree. That excludes 68 percent of the population right there. And some of these companies are lifting further inefficiencies out of the system — reducing jobs in other places even while hiring its own new workers.
    I’m reminded of a scene in The Hard Things about Hard Things, when Ben Horowitz meets with his two lieutenants. He says to one of them, “You’re going to do everything in your power to make this deal work.” Then he turns to the other and says, “Even if he does everything right, it’s probably not going to work. Your job is to fix it.”
    That’s where we’re at. Unprecedented things are happening in real-time and starting to wreak havoc on lives and communities around the country, particularly on those least able to adapt and adjust.

    We should do all we can to reduce the worst effects of the Great Displacement — it should be the driving priority of government and non-profits for the foreseeable future. We should invest in education, job training, apprenticeships, relocation, entrepreneurship, matching people to opportunities, tax incentives to hire — anything to help make hiring and retaining workers appealing.
    And then we should assume that, for millions of people, it’s not going to work. Uber is going to get rid of its drivers as soon as it can. Its job is not to hire lots of people — its job is to move customers around as efficiently as possible.
    One programmer, Labib Rahman, said to me recently that “any responsible technologist has to be for providing people a universal basic income to make ends meet.” He knows what’s coming.
    Before long, we’re going to have to rethink the relationship between work and being able to feed yourself. And then figure out how to convey the psychic and social benefits of work in other ways.
    It’s one reason why what Sam Altman is doing in Oakland is so fascinating and important. He’s basically piloting what the government should be doing so there will be relevant data when the need is too pressing to ignore. Many of my friends think that people will just chill out if you give them free money. I tend to think they’ll make the most of it and try to better themselves and their future. Sam is going to find out for all of us.
    Will our jobless future look more like Star Trek or Mad Max? If you squint a little, you can see which way we’re headed.
    As William Gibson says, “The future is already here — it’s just unevenly distributed.” The future of automation and job loss is right now.


  4. https://theoutline.com/post/1316/fourth-industrial-revolution-developing-economies

    “A World Bank report found that two-thirds of all jobs in the developing world face being automated out of existence, although the rate that this will happen is uncertain and “depends on the the pace of technological disruption.” Moreover, despite Western fears of the coming robo-apocalypse, the report also notes that the “share of occupations that could experience significant automation is actually higher in developing countries than in more advanced ones, where many of these jobs have already disappeared.””


  5. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/03/30/were-so-unprepared-for-the-robot-apocalypse

    “Acemoglu and Restrepo say that every industrial robot eliminated about three manufacturing positions, plus three more jobs from around town.”

    Economists have long argued that automation, not trade, is responsible for the bulk of the six million jobs shed by the manufacturing sector over the last 25 years. Now, they have a put a precise figure on some of the losses.

    Industrial robots alone have eliminated up to 670,000 American jobs between 1990 and 2007, according to new research from MIT’s Daron Acemoglu and Boston University’s Pascual Restrepo.

    The number is stunning on the face of it, and many have interpreted the study as an indictment of technological change — a sign that “robots are winning the race for American jobs.” But the bigger takeaway is that the nation has been ill-equipped to deal with the upheaval caused by automation.

    The researchers estimate that half of the job losses resulted from robots directly replacing workers. The rest of the jobs disappeared from elsewhere in the local community. It seems that after a factory sheds workers, that economic pain reverberates, triggering further unemployment at, say, the grocery store or the neighborhood car dealership.

    In a way, this is surprising. Economists understand that automation has costs, but they have largely emphasized the benefits: Machines makes things cheaper, and they free up workers to do other jobs. For instance, 41 percent of Americans were farmers a century ago, but thanks to tractors and mechanical harvesters, only 2 percent work in the agriculture today. The rest of us now can now aspire to be programmers or anesthesiologists or DJs or drone pilots.

    The latest study reveals that for manufacturing workers, the process of adjusting to technological change has been much slower and more painful than most experts thought. “We were looking at a span of 20 years, so in that timeframe, you would expect that manufacturing workers would be able to find other employment,” Restrepo said. Instead, not only did the factory jobs vanish, but other local jobs disappeared too. Acemoglu and Restrepo say that every industrial robot eliminated about three manufacturing positions, plus three more jobs from around town.

    If we are to make it through the next wave of automation, which is predicted to upend even more industries, we may have to rethink our policies about work and education — and learn from the industries that have coped the best.

    Their research from Acemoglu and Restrepo joins the work of David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson, who have shown that the harms of trade with China were similarly concentrated in certain communities. The laid-off manufacturing workers couldn’t quickly find new jobs, so the economic pain lingered in their neighborhoods. Experts still believe that trade and automation can benefit Americans overall, contributing to lower prices and creating new kinds of jobs. But this evidence draws attention to the losers — the dislocated factory workers who just can’t bounce back.

    The United States does have a program to retrain workers who lost their jobs to overseas competition, but research shows that most of them turn to other parts of the government safety net, such as Social Security, disability benefits and Medicaid. None of these efforts, though, seem to be doing enough for communities that have lost their manufacturing bases, where people have reduced earnings for the rest of their lives.

    Perhaps that much was obvious. After all, anecdotes about the Rust Belt abound. But the new findings bolster the conclusion that these economic dislocations are not brief setbacks, but can hurt areas for an entire generation.

    Acemoglu and Restrepo’s paper is also notable for its specificity. It has been difficult to pinpoint the impacts of technology on employment, in part because the effects have been so widespread. “When economists talk about automation, we’re actually talking about a bunch of stuff — we’re talking about capital, software, machinery, robots, artificial intelligence,” Restrepo said.

    Many of these changes are invisible, or at least taken for granted, which is why false narratives persist, like the idea that trade with China caused the vast majority of job losses in the past decade. It’s harder to villainize Microsoft Word, or the robotic welders that have quietly replaced humans in many car factories.

    How do we even know that automation is a big part of the story at all? A key bit of evidence is that, despite the massive layoffs, American manufacturers are making more stuff than ever. Factories have become vastly more productive. Many factors contributed to these changes and Acemoglu and Restrepo focused on one in particular — the rise of the industrial robot.

    These are what people typically envision as robots — the autonomous sleds that carry parts across the factory floor, or the programmable arms that can weld, paint and even operate heavy machinery. The researchers obtained new data on the spread of this new technology, which is what enabled them to estimate how many jobs it displaced. Theirs is not a full accounting of the costs of automation, but a precise look at one component of this trend.

    Since industrial robots still represent just a fraction of what we think of as automation, the claim that they caused 670,000 lost jobs is all the more surprising. As the researchers mention, some consultants believe that the number of industrial robots will quadruple in the next decade, which could mean millions more displaced manufacturing workers.

    Restrepo is the first to concede that his research focuses on mostly the debit column. The benefits from robots — and from technological advancement in general — are even harder to measure, and it’s a matter that many economists are still sanguine about.

    In the past, machines did automate many jobs out of existence, but new technology always created new opportunities — new kinds of desires, and new kinds of jobs to fulfill them. The recent anxieties about technological change are hardly new: Writing in the 1930s, the economist Maynard Keynes counseled patience, promising that any jobs lost to technology marked only a “temporary phase of maladjustment.”

    The question, now, is what to do if the period of “maladjustment” that lasts decades, or possibly a lifetime, as the latest evidence suggests. Some say the time is nigh for a universal basic income. Bill Gates recently offered another provocative suggestion: Perhaps robots should pay taxes to compensate the workers that they replace.

    Another lesson from history is that humans may have to become more flexible. America’s transformation from an agricultural nation to a manufacturing nation didn’t happen by accident, says Michael Chui, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute who studies automation trends. “For people to go from working on the farm to working in factories, we greatly increased the educational attainment of the country over that time,” he said. “Our leaders made intentional decisions that made those changes possible.”

    Some workers have weathered the strains of automation better than others. The number of jobs in finance, for instance, has continued to climb in recent decades, despite computers taking over many tasks, from filing papers, conducting research or even executing trades. Computerization displaced some people, but also created new kinds of work — jobs for programmers and people who sift through terabytes of financial data. In this case, automation amplified opportunities for people with advanced skills and talents.

    Even in auto manufacturing, an industry that has been the poster child for robots displacing workers, there are signs of new opportunity. Ron Harbour, an analyst at Oliver Wyman, says that many of the most automated factories these days actually require more human labor to produce a car. That’s because cars themselves have become more complex, with things like powered seats and side airbags, and entertainment systems and backup cameras.

    “There’s actually more work required of a plant today than ever before, so the labor hours have actually gone up a little bit,” he said. “The plants have made significant productivity improvements, but that has been offset by increasing complexity of the process. There’s just more work.”

    The latest auto jobs are not the same as the old auto jobs, of course. These days, plants are seeking more robot technicians than assembly line welders. But this illustrates the hope that someday there will be more than enough work for both humans and robots and artificial intelligence routines, as long as we are prepared for it to look different than we’re used to. We just have to muddle through the meanwhile.


  6. http://www.theverge.com/2017/3/28/15086576/robot-jobs-automation-unemployent-us-labor-market


    The fear that automation in the form of robots or artificial intelligence is going to destroy jobs is widespread. But it can be difficult to gauge just how serious to take the threat. Different reports offer different estimations of how many jobs will be lost, while politicians and economists argue that technology creates as many jobs as it destroys, maintaining an equilibrium in employment over the long run.

    But is this really true? A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research aims to add some solid numbers to the debate, looking at the historical effects of robots on employment in the US. Economists Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo studied the US labor market between 1990 and 2007, looking at employment rates in different areas and industries while controlling for the influence of factors like increased imports from China and the offshoring of jobs.
    “Each new robot in the local workforce means losing 3 to 5.6 jobs”

    They found that each new robot added to the workforce meant the loss of between 3 and 5.6 jobs in the local commuting area. Meanwhile, for each new robot added per 1,000 workers, wages in the surrounding area would fall between 0.25 and 0.5 percent.

    These figures may seem relatively small given some of the apocalyptic rhetoric we hear about automation and jobs, but the study’s definition of a robot is likely more restrictive than most people use. Acemoglu and Restrepo went by the definition of an “industrial robot” as outlined by the International Organization for Standardization, or ISO. These are bots that are “automatically controlled, reprogrammable [and] multipurpose.” Under this definition, something simple like a conveyor belt is not a robot, neither is software like Microsoft Word.
    “Blue-collar jobs are hit worse than other industries”

    It’s also important to remember that these job and wage losses are not distributed evenly among the population. Although the introduction of industrial robots leads to “negative effects [for] essentially all occupations,” some jobs are — expectedly — more fragile than others. Acemoglu and Restrepo write: “Predictably, the major categories experiencing substantial declines are routine manual occupations, blue-collar workers, operators and assembly workers, and machinists and transport workers.” The only jobs not affected were managerial ones.

    Looking at this study, though, the million-dollar question is: what happens next? Are these trends going to hold, or will they get worse?

    Acemoglu and Restrepo note that because there are relatively few industrial robots in the US, the number of jobs lost to them so far has been limited. (They estimate between 360,00 and 670,000 jobs — a decline in employment to population ratio of between a 0.18 and 0.34 percentage points.) “However, if the spread of robots proceeds as expected by experts over the next two decades, the future aggregate implications of the spread of robots could be much more sizable.”

    The spread of industrial robots is one thing; the spread of industrial robots augmented with AI, and of new innovations like self-driving cars (and trucks) is another. Last week, US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said that he wasn’t worried about the effects of AI and automation on employment. “Quite frankly, I’m optimistic. I mean, that’s what creates productivity,” said Mnuchin. That may be true, but this evidence suggests employment still suffers all the same.


  7. View at Medium.com

    “This is a critical point. People ask: if robots are stealing all the jobs then why is employment at record highs? But imagine what would happen if someone unveiled a robot tomorrow which could do the work of 30% of the workforce. Employment wouldn’t fall 30%, because while some of the displaced workers might give up on work and drop out of the labour force, most couldn’t: they need the money. They would seek out other work, glutting HR offices and employment centres and placing downward pressure on the wage companies need to offer to fill a job: until wages fall to such a low level that people do give up on work entirely, drop out of the labour force, and live on whatever family resources they have available, or until it becomes economical to hire people to do very low productivity work — serving as the fifth landscape worker on the household staff of a very rich tech magnate, for example.”


  8. “What’s so bad about wealth without labor? It depends on who owns the wealth. Under capitalism, wages are how workers receive a portion of what they produce. That portion has always been small, relative to the rewards that flow to the owners of capital. And over the past several decades, it’s gotten smaller: the share of the national income that goes to wages has been steadily shrinking, while the share that goes to capital has been growing. Technology has made workers more productive, but the profits have trickled up, not down. Productivity increased by 80.4% between 1973 and 2011, but the real hourly compensation of the median worker went up by only 10.7%.

    As bad as this is, mass automation threatens to make it much worse. If you think inequality is a problem now, imagine a world where the rich can get richer all by themselves. Capital liberated from labor means not merely the end of work, but the end of the wage. And without the wage, workers lose their only access to wealth – not to mention their only means of survival. They also lose their primary source of social power. So long as workers control the point of production, they can shut it down. The strike is still the most effective weapon workers have, even if they rarely use it any more. A fully automated economy would make them not just redundant, but powerless.

    Meanwhile, robotic capital would enable elites to completely secede from society. From private jets to private islands, the rich already devote a great deal of time and expense to insulating themselves from other people. But even the best fortified luxury bunker is tethered to the outside world, so long as capital needs labor to reproduce itself. Mass automation would make it possible to sever this link. Equipped with an infinite supply of workerless wealth, elites could seal themselves off in a gated paradise, leaving the unemployed masses to rot.

    If that scenario isn’t bleak enough, consider the possibility that mass automation could lead not only to the impoverishment of working people, but to their annihilation. In his book Four Futures, Peter Frase speculates that the economically redundant hordes outside the gates would only be tolerated for so long. After all, they might get restless – and that’s a lot of possible pitchforks. “What happens if the masses are dangerous but are no longer a working class, and hence of no value to the rulers?” Frase writes. “Someone will eventually get the idea that it would be better to get rid of them.” He gives this future an appropriately frightening name: “exterminism”, a world defined by the “genocidal war of the rich against the poor”.”



  9. http://evonomics.com/wilkinson-pickett-income-inequality-fix-economy/

    The Science Is In: Greater Equality Makes Societies Healthier
    What matters is where we stand in relation to others in our own society.

    By Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

    Let’s consider the health of two babies born into two different societies. Baby A is born in one of the richest countries in the world, the United States, home to more than half of the world’s billionaires. It is a country that spends somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of the world’s total spending on health care, although it contains less than 5 percent of the world’s population. Spending on drug treatments and hightech scanning equipment is particularly high. Doctors in this country earn almost twice as much as doctors elsewhere and medical care is often described as the best in the world.

    Baby B is born in one of the poorer of the western democracies, Greece, where average income is not much more than half that of the United States. Whereas America spends about $6,000 per person per year on health care, Greece spends less than $3,000. This is in real terms, after taking into account the different costs of medical care. And Greece has six times fewer high-tech scanners per person than the United States.

    Surely Baby B’s chances of a long and healthy life are worse than Baby A’s?

    In fact, Baby A, born in the United States, has a life expectancy of 1.2 years less than Baby B, born in Greece. And Baby A has a 40 percent higher risk of dying in the first year after birth than Baby B. Had Baby B been born in Japan, the contrast would be even bigger: babies born in the United States are twice as likely to die in their first year as babies born in Japan. As in Greece, in Japan average income and average spending on health care are much lower than in the United States.
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    If average levels of income don’t matter (at least in relatively rich, developed countries), and spending on high-tech health care doesn’t make so much difference, what does? We can’t say with certainty, but inequality appears to be a driving force. Greece is not as wealthy as the United States, but in terms of income, it is much more equal—so is Japan. There are now many studies of income inequality and health that compare countries, American states, or other large regions, and the majority of these studies show that more egalitarian societies tend to be healthier.1 This vast literature was given impetus by a study by one of us, on inequality and death rates, published in the British Medical Journal in 1992. In 1996, the editor of that journal, commenting on further studies confirming the link between income inequality and health, wrote:

    The big idea is that what matters in determining mortality and health in a society is less the overall wealth of that society and more how evenly wealth is distributed. The more equally wealth is distributed the better the health of that society

    Inequality is associated with lower life expectancy, higher rates of infant mortality, shorter height, poor self-reported health, low birth weight, AIDS, and depression. Knowing this, we wondered what else inequality might affect. To see whether a host of other problems were more common in more unequal countries, we collected internationally comparable data from dozens of rich countries on health and as many social problems as we could find reliable figures for.* The list we ended up with included:

    level of trust
    mental illness (including drug and alcohol addiction)
    life expectancy and infant mortality
    children’s educational performance
    teenage births
    imprisonment rates
    social mobility

    Occasionally, what appear to be relationships may arise spuriously or by chance. In order to be confident that our findings were sound, we also collected data for the same health and social problems—or as near as we could get to the same—for each of the 50 states of the United States. This allowed us to check whether or not problems were consistently related to inequality in these two independent settings. In short, they were— and strongly so.

    To present the overall picture, we have combined all the health and social-problem data for each country, and separately for each U.S. state, to form an Index of Health and Social Problems for each country and U.S. state. Each item carries the same weight—so, for example, the score for mental health has as much influence on a society’s overall score as the homicide rate or the teenage birth rate. The result is an index showing how common all these health and social problems are in each country and each U.S. state. The higher the score on the Index of Health and Social Problems, the worse things are. (Some items, such as life expectancy, were reverse scored, so that on every measure, higher scores reflect worse outcomes.)

    We start by showing, in Figure 1, that there is a very strong tendency for ill health and social problems to occur less frequently in the more equal countries. With increasing inequality (to the right on the horizontal axis), the score on our Index of Health and Social Problems also increases. Health and social problems are indeed more common in countries with bigger income inequalities. The two are extraordinarily closely related—chance alone would almost never produce a scatter in which countries lined up like this.

    To emphasize that the prevalence of poor health and social problems in rich countries really is related to inequality rather than to average living standards, we show in Figure 2 the same Index of Health and Social Problems, but this time in relation to average incomes (national income per person). It shows that there is no clear trend toward better outcomes in richer countries.

    The evidence from the United States confirms the international picture. Across states, health and social problems are related to income inequality, but not to average income levels.

    It is remarkable that these measures of health and social problems in the two different settings tell so much the same story. The problems in rich countries are not caused by the society not being rich enough (or even being too rich), but by the material differences between people within each society being too big. What matters is where we stand in relation to others in our own society.

    Inequality, not surprisingly, is a powerful social divider, perhaps because we all tend to use differences in living standards as markers of status differences. We tend to choose our friends from among our near equals and have little to do with those much richer or much poorer. Our position in the social hierarchy affects who we see as part of the ingroup and part of the out-group—us and them—thus affecting our ability to identify and empathize with other people.

    The importance of community, social cohesion, and solidarity to human well-being has been demonstrated repeatedly in research showing how beneficial friendship and involvement in community life are to health. Equality comes into the picture as a precondition for getting the other two right. Not only do large inequalities produce problems associated with social differences and the divisive class prejudices that go with them, but they also weaken community life, reduce trust, and increase violence.

    It may seem obvious that problems associated with relative deprivation should be more common in more unequal societies. However, if you ask people why greater equality reduces these problems, the most common assumption is that greater equality helps those at the bottom. The truth is that the vast majority of the population is harmed by greater inequality.

    Across whole populations, rates of mental illness are three times as high in the most unequal societies compared with the least unequal societies. Similarly, in more unequal societies, people are almost ten times as likely to be imprisoned and two or three times as likely to be clinically obese, and murder rates may be many times higher. The reason why these differences are so big is, quite simply, because the effects of inequality are not confined just to the least well-off: instead, they affect the vast majority of the population. For example, as epidemiologist Michael Marmot frequently points out, if you took away all the health problems of the poor, most of the problem of health inequalities would still be untouched. For a more detailed example, let’s take a look at the relationship between inequality and literacy.

    It is often assumed that the desire to raise national standards of performance in fields such as education is quite separate from the desire to reduce educational inequalities within a society. But the truth may be almost the opposite of this. It looks as if the achievement of higher national standards of educational performance may actually depend on reducing the social gradient in educational achievement in each country. Douglas Willms, professor of education at the University of New Brunswick in Canada, has provided striking illustrations of this. In Figure 3 (below), we show the relation between adult literacy scores from the International Adult Literacy Survey and their parents’ level of education—in Finland, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

    This figure suggests that even if your parents are well educated—and so, presumably, of high social status—the country you live in makes some difference to your educational success. But for those lower down the social scale with less well-educated parents, it makes a much larger difference. An important point to note, looking at these four countries, is the steepness of the social gradient—steepest in the United States and the United Kingdom, where inequality is high; flatter in Finland and Belgium, which are more equal. It is also clear that an important influence on the average literacy scores in each of these countries is the steepness of the social gradient. The United States and the United Kingdom have low average scores, pulled down across the social gradient. In contrast, Finland and Belgium have high average scores, pulled up across the social gradient.

    Willms has demonstrated that the pattern shown in Figure 3 holds more widely—internationally among 12 developed countries, as well as among Canadian provinces and U.S. states. The tendency toward divergence also holds; Willms consistently finds larger differences at the bottom of the social gradient than at the top.

    What is most exciting about our research is that it shows that reducing inequality would increase the well-being and quality of life for all of us. Far from being inevitable and unstoppable, the deterioration in social well-being and the quality of social relations in society is reversible. Understanding the effects of inequality means that we suddenly have a policy handle on the well-being of whole societies.

    Politics was once seen as a way of improving people’s social and emotional well-being by changing their economic circumstances. But over the last few decades, the bigger picture seems to have been lost, at least in the United States, the United Kingdom, and several other rich countries in which inequality has increased dramatically. People are now more likely to see psychosocial well-being as dependent on what can be done at the individual level, using cognitive behavioral therapy—one person at a time—or on providing support in early childhood, or on the reassertion of religious or family values. Every problem is seen as needing its own solution—unrelated to others. People are encouraged to exercise, not to have unprotected sex, to say no to drugs, to try to relax, to sort out their work-life balance, and to give their children “quality” time. The only thing that many of these policies do have in common is that they often seem to be based on the belief that the poor need to be taught to be more sensible. The glaringly obvious fact that these problems have common roots in inequality and relative deprivation disappears from view. However, it is now clear that income distribution provides policymakers with a way of improving the psychosocial well-being of whole populations. Politicians have an opportunity to do genuine good.

    Rather than suggesting a particular route or set of policies to narrow income differences, it is probably better to point out that there are many different ways of reaching the same destination. Although the more equal countries often get their greater equality through redistributive taxes and benefits and through a large welfare state, countries like Japan manage to achieve low levels of inequality before taxes and benefits. Japanese differences in gross earnings (before taxes and benefits) are smaller, so there is less need for large-scale redistribution.

    What matters is the level of inequality you finish up with, not how you get it. However, in the data there is also a clear warning for those who want low public expenditure and taxation: if you fail to avoid high inequality, you will need more prisons and more police. You will have to deal with higher rates of mental illness, drug abuse, and every other kind of problem. If keeping taxes and benefits down leads to wider income differences, the ensuing social ills may force you to raise public expenditure to cope.
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    There may be a choice between using public expenditure to keep inequality low, or to cope with social harm where inequality is high. An example of this balance shifting in the wrong direction can be seen in the United States during the period since 1980, when income inequality increased particularly rapidly. During that period, public expenditure on prisons increased six times as fast as public expenditure on higher education, and a number of states have now reached a point where they are spending as much public money on prisons as on higher education.

    Not only would it be preferable to live in societies where money can be spent on education rather than on prisons, but policies to support families—such as providing high-quality, publicly funded preschool—would have meant that many of those in prison would have been working and paying taxes instead of being a burden on public funds.

    Modern societies will depend increasingly on being creative, adaptable, inventive, well-informed, and flexible, able to respond generously to each other and to needs wherever they arise. Those are characteristics not of societies in hock to the rich, in which people are driven by status insecurities, but of populations used to working together and respecting each other as equals.

    This article is excerpted, from The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, published in 2009 by Bloomsbury Press.


  10. “Frase believes that the likelihood our future is a utopia or dystopia comes down to two factors: whether we solve or succumb to the climate crisis, and whether we evolve into a society that is more equal or more hierarchical. Laying out the permutations of these two variables yields Frase’s four futures, each of which is granted its own chapter. All our futures will have robots, says Frase (who acknowledges his thought experiment framework is deliberately reductive). But will they have abundance or scarcity, and will they have equality or hierarchy?”



  11. “Automation is happening, and it will bring substantial benefits to businesses and economies worldwide, but it won’t arrive overnight. A new McKinsey Global Institute report finds realizing automation’s full potential requires people and technology to work hand in hand.”


    “The right level of detail at which to analyze the potential impact of automation is that of individual activities rather than entire occupations. Every occupation includes multiple types of activity, each of which has different requirements for automation. Given currently demonstrated technologies, very few occupations—less than 5 percent—are candidates for full automation. However, almost every occupation has partial automation potential, as a proportion of its activities could be automated. We estimate that about half of all the activities people are paid to do in the world’s workforce could potentially be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technologies. That amounts to almost $16 trillion in wages.”


  12. “Mining company Rio Tinto has 73 of these titans hauling iron ore 24 hours a day at four mines in Australia’s Mars-red northwest corner. At this one, known as West Angelas, the vehicles work alongside robotic rock drilling rigs. The company is also upgrading the locomotives that haul ore hundreds of miles to port—the upgrades will allow the trains to drive themselves, and be loaded and unloaded automatically.

    Rio Tinto intends its automated operations in Australia to preview a more efficient future for all of its mines—one that will also reduce the need for human miners. The rising capabilities and falling costs of robotics technology are allowing mining and oil companies to reimagine the dirty, dangerous business of getting resources out of the ground.

    BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company, is also deploying driverless trucks and drills on iron ore mines in Australia. Suncor, Canada’s largest oil company, has begun testing driverless trucks on oil sands fields in Alberta.”



  13. “Conservative ideology has fought against every positive social change in American history: ending slavery, giving women and blacks the right to vote, stopping child labor, establishing a minimum wage, instilling a 40-hour work week, setting an 8-hour work day, workplace safety regulations, unemployment insurance, workman’s comp, social security, Medicare, integration, interracial marriage, gay marriage, anti-discrimination laws, equal pay for women, Obamacare, global warming, and the list goes on…”



  14. “Paleolithic humans had the answer: share.

    (Suspending my nihilism for a moment here…)

    Our altruistic heritage, ~80k years of it, worked pretty well. Unfortunately, in growing populations, pure altruistic societies tend to break down; greed trumps (ew!) sharing in large populations. Capitalism is a response to this greed, that is, capitalism is greed formalized, standardized, and organized such that the wealth pyramid remained fairly flat while productivity remained relatively low. What didn’t change, however was the distribution of profits of those goods and services produced by the increased productivity.

    A simple extreme example serves here. Imagine the ultimate corporation. It has a CEO, a board of directors, shareholders and a vast network of robots producing a valuable service or good – as a monopoly. And that’s it. All the profits funnel into the owners of the corporation. All overhead (read “workers” here) has been reduced or eliminated. Robots repair robots. Robots mine resources. Robots deliver goods. Robots perform all work. This is ultimate productivity. This is the ultimate corporation.

    That’s where we are headed – albeit slowly. Along the way, if those increasing profits from increasing productivity could be distributed equitably to the entire corporation’s work force, those enriched workers would have been able to start their own wealth pyramids; spawning other pyramids and so on and so forth.

    This didn’t happen. The pyramids became tall and narrow. And continue to do so. The reason for this is that government failed to understand the ultimate goal of a capitalistic corporation – which is – to built the tallest, narrowest pyramid possible.

    You want to change the world? Smoosh the wealth pyramids. Spread them out.

    Corporations are constructs of society. They don’t /have/ to be our masters.”


  15. • Does everyone at least agree that egregious income and wealth inequality exists?
    • How about agreeing that this trend is worsening?
    • That severe inequality is a general bane on society?
    • Lastly, is there consensus on the idea that *some* means of reducing this inequality should be pursued?

    Pretty much “do we agree we have a problem, that it’s a growing problem, and, should we try and fix it?”

    Given the above are all true, is it not in society’s interest to find or develop a path that ameliorates the inequality? From what I’ve read, historically, such inequality generally results in expanding turmoil and often ends in bloody revolt.

    Specifically, do humans have a responsibility to the welfare other humans? Are we our brother’s keeper — to any degree? If this is true is it not society’s role then to enact rules of behavior that support and enforce this responsibility? If we are a true collaborative species, evolved through altruism and mutual support, I do not see how we can not take such a path.


  16. Co-operation vs corporation. Sounds groovy. But hasn’t the world moved too far into the capitalists camp?

    Here’s the fundamental issue with capitalism: money = voice. The more money you have the greater influence you can exhibit. Whether it’s in a political campaign or activist investors or entrenched corporate board members — your money, your investment weighs your voice louder than the rest. This is the basis of a public company. And this is the basis for elevating bottom line above all other concerns.

    Private companies can model votes differently. Co-ops too generally model decision structures more equitably. But public corporations are a fixture in the world today; our corptocracy an ugly reminder of a good idea gone awry. So are there ways to mitigate public corporation hegemony?

    28th Amendment: Corporations are not people
    29th Amendment: Non-sequential term limits for all of Congress
    30th Amendment: Campaign contributions limited to one day’s median worker’s gross wage, per candidate, per annum.


  17. https://www.stlouisfed.org/on-the-economy/2016/may/does-stock-market-impact-income-inequality

    “The increase in income inequality in the 1970s was accompanied, in part, by gains in the stock market. Comovement between stock prices and income inequality results from the fact that gains in the stock market tend to benefit those in the wealthiest portion of the income distribution, who have better access to and higher participation in these asset markets.”


  18. http://qz.com/692115

    2015: “CEOs running the biggest US companies saw their pay increase an average 4.5% last year, putting the median CEO pay package at $10.8 million, according to a report from the Associated Press. At $468,449, the median pay raise alone is more than 10 times the pay of the average American worker.”


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