Did the Luddites have it right?

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Did the Luddites have it right?

Postby joemarzen » Thu Jan 26, 2012 4:16 pm

I don't know if this is particularly appropriate for this forum, but, I've been lurking around here all day and you guys seem like an interesting group. I made this comment in regard to a post on another site and I am interested in getting your views on the subject. I thought you guys might have things to say since fear of automation is a fairly prominent historical theme.

...what's really disturbing is that in the coming years increased automation is inevitably going to diminish even low paying jobs in China. I am not a Luddite, but the fact is that automation is arguably the key force driving unemployment and the division of economic classes. There are literally few jobs available, and wealth is concentrated in the owners of the means of production to a unprecedented degree because it's not being paid out as wages. It's the elephant in the room no one wants to discuss. We simply need fewer and fewer humans to do physical labor every year. It won't be long before the consequences of automation really begin to impact white collar jobs as well. For example, a lot of what lawyers and accounts do could be automated already if the correct infrastructure was in place.

This isn't to say there isn't and won't be a lot to do in the world, it's just that there isn't going to be enough profitable stuff for people to do. Reconciling that, redefining what is considered productive and useful human activity will be a revolutionary change for humanity, and it's likely to come in many of our life times. Pushing education isn't going to solve the problem. Among other problems, there will always be a large portion of the population that isn't suited or for whom it isn't practical to to get some sort of specialized degree. What do you do with masses of people that simply have no way of supporting themselves?
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Re: Did the Luddites have it right?

Postby doc_loliday » Thu Jan 26, 2012 4:29 pm

What will the masses do? The same thing they do every time they get too hungry.

A common point raised is that there will always be innovations that will create enough employment for the masses to subsist on.

Doc Stranglelove has a plan. Basically, everybody gets a minimum of free food, housing, healthcare and education. Beyond that if you want any luxuries you have to work. Sounds plausible I suppose. What if the job creators all go to a hidden valley in Colorado though. If this is the case, the population simply will have to decrease.

If technology makes labor obsolete, either there will be a fundamentally different approach to human living or a lot less humans.
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Re: Did the Luddites have it right?

Postby Vox Contra » Thu Jan 26, 2012 5:48 pm

Well what would be if we all followed old King Lud

First of all we’d have to smash all those tractors, harvesters, & sprinkler systems. After all they put millions of farmers out of work.
Then we should tear down all those power lines & smash those infernal light bulbs, just think of all the candle & lantern makers that could be employed.
And the cars, those rumbling exhaust bellowing behemoths must certainly go, then all the farriers, stablemen, and saddle makers can go back to work

Then as we sit starving in the dark, smelling of horse shit; we can all proudly count all the jobs we’ve saved from the cruel and heartless machines and the cold advancement of technology

No… :shakinghead: I think it’s best if we don’t

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Re: Did the Luddites have it right?

Postby PeteB » Thu Jan 26, 2012 5:49 pm

I guess what is interesting about this though is, for capitalism to flourish - people need money. If 'work' is the way people will earn money and there is no work available - who will actually be needing accountants? Lawyers? Anything?

What big multi-nationals want, in my belief - is MORE people with money to sell their product to - it's the only way they can keep growing.


On another note, hate to get too 'sci fi' on this, but looking at it from a longterm of view - I'd assume the system we have in place today will eventually shift into something barely unrecognisable.

All the debate and discussion about pirated digital content I think is just the tip of the iceberg as to what other manufacturers of 'stuff' are going to be dealing with in the future.

I don't know if any of you have read much about 3d printing technologies - but it's pretty amazing what can be done today - and if you consider where printer technology was 30 years ago it's really not so far fetched to imagine what is possible over the next few decades.

So in other words - imagine a world where we can literally 'print' physical physical products. Want a new TV? Print it. What a new set of kitchenware? Print it. Want food? Print it.

Sure - sounds advanced - but who knows what is possible over the next century or so.

What happens when not only do humans not need to be involved in the manufacture of a lot of goods, but the cost approaches zero to create them?

You can't tell me that this sort of technology doesn't at least have a considerable chance of becoming a reality in the next 200 years or so.
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Re: Did the Luddites have it right?

Postby DBTrek » Thu Jan 26, 2012 5:55 pm

doc_loliday wrote:Doc Stranglelove has a plan. Basically, everybody gets a minimum of free food, housing, healthcare and education. Beyond that if you want any luxuries you have to work. Sounds plausible I suppose. What if the job creators all go to a hidden valley in Colorado though. If this is the case, the population simply will have to decrease.


Does he sterilize the non-workers, or have a magic banana tree that drops all the free food needed for the non-workers?
I assume the magic banana tree also comes with a magic house-building monkey . . . if he's not sterilizing the freeloaders.
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Re: Did the Luddites have it right?

Postby boethius » Thu Jan 26, 2012 6:34 pm

The only way Doc's plan works is if you have machines doing all the work--they are the "magic" banana trees ("magic" in the Arthur C. Clarke sense of sufficiently advanced technology).

Basically, all humans will be freeloaders off the machines.

God help us if the machines wise up and decide to sterilize the freeloaders....

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Re: Did the Luddites have it right?

Postby doc_loliday » Thu Jan 26, 2012 6:47 pm

DBTrek wrote:
doc_loliday wrote:Doc Stranglelove has a plan. Basically, everybody gets a minimum of free food, housing, healthcare and education. Beyond that if you want any luxuries you have to work. Sounds plausible I suppose. What if the job creators all go to a hidden valley in Colorado though. If this is the case, the population simply will have to decrease.


Does he sterilize the non-workers, or have a magic banana tree that drops all the free food needed for the non-workers?
I assume the magic banana tree also comes with a magic house-building monkey . . . if he's not sterilizing the freeloaders.
:twisted:



I don't think it would work currently. Too early. But I believe that there isn't enough work to go around already, to support a lifestyle with enough food, shelter, and health care. But I think eventually virtually all labor will be automated. That's not too far fetched an idea based on current trends. If you accept that premise we're probably in a transitional stage.
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Re: Did the Luddites have it right?

Postby Eustace » Sun Jan 29, 2012 12:22 pm

I think we're certainly working towards that stage. There are only so many humans. And there are only so many humans with the financial resources to keep buying new products. And that number of people is, it seems to me, shrinking.

After a certain point we're going to have to do something. What that something is I'm not exactly sure. Whether or not Luddism should be involved in that, well, I hope not. I hope our leaders are more enlightened than to force the working masses to feel as if they have no choice in the matter...

So yeah, probably Luddism...
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Re: Did the Luddites have it right?

Postby ScottZ » Wed Feb 29, 2012 4:56 pm

I have a good friend who strongly believes that all-purpose robotics will be the end of capitalism. Basically, he holds that when robots can do all of the labor, there will be no need for humans to perform the vast majority of work done in a capitalist economy, and the entire system collapses. Then, some other economic system like feudalism or total communism or something new will take its place. He is smarter than me, I admit, but I still disagree. Such an event would be completely counter to what we would expect to happen based upon similar events in the past. Technology has always strengthened capitalism and increased the demand for workers. The concern over the next century should not be a lack of work but too much work being demanded from exploited workers.
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Re: Did the Luddites have it right?

Postby The Mad Zeppelineer » Wed Feb 29, 2012 5:05 pm

I love it when people assume that capitalism is it. The end. We will forever be wage slaves to employers.

I imagine the goat herder from Babylon who cannot imagine a better system than divine rule by powerful warlords.

Capitalism will fade, and necessarily so. At some point, maybe sooner than we think, manual labor is going to become cheaper with robotics. THAT is inevitable. When that happens, everything changes. Either "dystopia here we come!", or we think of something better.
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Re: Did the Luddites have it right?

Postby The Mad Zeppelineer » Wed Feb 29, 2012 5:08 pm

ScottZ wrote: Technology has always strengthened capitalism and increased the demand for workers.


It decimated the US car industry. A single robot does the work there of thousands. Its why our manufacturing output is higher, while manufacturing jobs have been slashed.
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Re: Did the Luddites have it right?

Postby ScottZ » Wed Feb 29, 2012 9:36 pm

Dude, the auto industry is technology. Much of the same technology which makes those scary robots run is the same technology that makes the cars run. Without that technology, there would be no cars to produce.

Also, you wrote...
manual labor is going to become cheaper with robotics. THAT is inevitable.


Yeah, manual labor has always been cheaper than robots. That is why Foxcom uses manual labor exclusively to create iPads. I think you might have meant to write 'manual labor is going to become more expensive than robotics.' That may or may not be the case, but if it is, past trends still indicate that capitalism will be strengthened by all technological progress.

The automobile probably put a lot of teamsters out of work (teamsters means wagon drivers, just to be clear), but that effect was temporary as more workers went to factories to make cars and car parts, drive the trucks full of car parts and other goods, started their own mechanic shops, etc. Back in 1902, there were probably a lot of angry guys predicting that the horseless carriage would be the end of something or another.
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Re: Did the Luddites have it right?

Postby boethius » Thu Mar 01, 2012 7:38 am

The Luddites were right in recognizing that machines would replace people working.

They were wrong in supposing that the solution to that problem was destroying the machines.

The solution is let the machines be our slaves, making all our stuff for us, so we can live lives of luxury and, for those capable of it, learning, art, music, etc... For those not capable of the "higher pleasures", they can watch sports, eat food, and screw.
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Re: Did the Luddites have it right?

Postby The Mad Zeppelineer » Thu Mar 01, 2012 8:20 am

ScottZ wrote:Dude, the auto industry is technology. Much of the same technology which makes those scary robots run is the same technology that makes the cars run. Without that technology, there would be no cars to produce.

Also, you wrote...
manual labor is going to become cheaper with robotics. THAT is inevitable.
I admit its strangely worded, but I think the sentence is clear... :?

Yeah, manual labor has always been cheaper than robots. That is why Foxcom uses manual labor exclusively to create iPads. I think you might have meant to write 'manual labor is going to become more expensive than robotics.' That may or may not be the case, but if it is, past trends still indicate that capitalism will be strengthened by all technological progress.

The automobile probably put a lot of teamsters out of work (teamsters means wagon drivers, just to be clear), but that effect was temporary as more workers went to factories to make cars and car parts, drive the trucks full of car parts and other goods, started their own mechanic shops, etc. Back in 1902, there were probably a lot of angry guys predicting that the horseless carriage would be the end of something or another.




You are not going to win any long term bets betting against technology. And people in China or Africa will not always be satisfied living in slave conditions.
Eventually, you hit go over the tipping point. Smart capable and cheap robotics. Could be 50 years, could be 200. But a change is gonna come.
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Re: Did the Luddites have it right?

Postby Atanamis » Thu Mar 01, 2012 9:47 am

joemarzen wrote:We simply need fewer and fewer humans to do physical labor every year. It won't be long before the consequences of automation really begin to impact white collar jobs as well. For example, a lot of what lawyers and accounts do could be automated already if the correct infrastructure was in place.
The reason we don't employ people in more and more fields is because the costs of production are dropping. We can produce food for far less cost than ever in the past, and the same for manufacturing and other services that become automated. Workers don't HAVE to be as productive in terms of wealth produced if the goods themselves cost less wealth. Today even the homeless have cell phones. Think about that a minute. Cell phones are so cheap that even a person who lives in the street can buy a cheap disposable phone to use. Without technology, whoever could exert the most physical force lived a stark life, and those who could not died if they didn't subserviate themselves to those who could (and often if they did). Comparing life today in any developed country to pre-technology life is simply no comparison, even for the homeless. I'd far rather be homeless in San Francisco today than a peasant in the middle ages or earlier. I'd suggest most people who would say otherwise are ignorant or dishonest.
joemarzen wrote:This isn't to say there isn't and won't be a lot to do in the world, it's just that there isn't going to be enough profitable stuff for people to do. Reconciling that, redefining what is considered productive and useful human activity will be a revolutionary change for humanity, and it's likely to come in many of our life times. Pushing education isn't going to solve the problem. Among other problems, there will always be a large portion of the population that isn't suited or for whom it isn't practical to to get some sort of specialized degree. What do you do with masses of people that simply have no way of supporting themselves?
We may well reach a point where only a small segment of the population "works" to support the rest. A family might have one person in 10 who can provide productive value, but with the cost of living declined so far that person's income might well be able to support the rest. We might see a shift to shorter work weeks. Until the US government mandated 40 hour work weeks during the Depression, there was a consistent drop in the length of the work week since the industrial revolution. We might see a doubling of the work force if we established 20 hours as a full work week. Specialized degrees are NOT the optimal path of education either. Far better would be a greater focus on intricate trade skills through an apprenticeship process. Before too long, all mass production will be fully automated. The main thing left for manual labor will be individualized customizations that aren't cost effective to build into the automated system. You will see a consolidation of the economy around the people who design the machines, program the machines, and own the machines. There are a lot of things I would expect people to continue to prefer done by other people, even if it would be cheaper to have it done by machine. Populations ARE expected to stabilize and then contract, and that will help. Changes are coming, but to assume they will be disastrous is not necessarily reasonable.
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