TECHNOLOGICAL TROUBLE FOR LABOR PRODUCTIVITY

TECHNOLOGICAL TROUBLE FOR LABOR PRODUCTIVITY

Amid the last election cycle, both Senator Sanders (D-VT) and President Trump made pledges to "bring the jobs home," and Senator Sanders pressed for a $15.00/hour minimum wage. I couldn't help but think, amid all the mudslinging that accompanies American elections these days, that everyone seemed to be missing something: labor productivity, as a measure in economic calculation, was going to drop rather dramatically as technology simply eliminated some jobs, and created new ones, and - as Catherine Austin Fitts and I have often discussed in our interviews - human productivity, in such seldom-measured areas as artistic creativity - which we both think will become increasingly monetized at a small entrepreneurial level simply out of sheer financial and economic necessity - is an important and overlooked area of economic modeling. And we both think it will become a crucially important factor in years to come.

The point was brought home to me during a recent trip to a large international retail chain. Making my few purchases, I wound my way to the checkout aisles, only to find none of the human aisles were open. Only a self-check-out aisle, with a dozen such self-check-out-lanes, was opened, being presided over by one human "cashier-technician", for want of a better expression. Admittedly, Mr. Trump appears to be sincere in his promise to re-shore jobs, and thus far at least some of these require skilled positions. But the vast amount of jobs in the USA as elsewhere consist of jobs not requiring much skill, and this will be a long-term problem that, as yet, and in my opinion, we've seen no deep long-term thought or planning being dedicated to, on either side of the political aisle. And that's a problem that is not going to go away, regardless of the good intentions of either side. Consider the implications of this very short article, with accompanying picture, from Zero Hedge:

Dear Bernie, Meet the "Big Mac ATM" That Will Replace All Of Your $15 Per Hour Fast Food Workers

A "Big Mac" ATM, place your order, insert money or card, out pops the Big Mac. In other words, even the current "storefront" operations, with their comparatively large overheads, are on the way out: why have a convenience store, when a couple of automated gas pumps(which we already have) and a couple of Pizza-Burger soft-drink dispensing ATMS will do the job? Why have Borders, with its expensive bookshelves, floor space, and overhead, when one can order the books from a big warehouse called Amazon, and fuel the coffers of Bezos who in turn fuels the coffers of all sorts of political agendas one might find objectionable? Just start your own ATM-internet of things business, and fatten your own coffers and contribute to your own political causes. (In other words, while at present all these developments favor the political left, ultimately, they will be profoundly leveling; technology will change the political culture as much as the economic and social one. This isn't something that just Senator Sanders has to address, it's something that Mr. Trump does as well).

This still does not address the fundamental economic and financial long-term planning that must be done if we are to manage this transition period with as few bumps as possible(and by manage I do not wish to imply that only centralized planned solutions are the direction to go). What is to be done with all the displaced cashiers and burger flippers? Obviously, a burger ATM will still have to be serviced: burgers  and bills and coins will still need to be inserted, tills emptied and tallied, but one semi-skilled person can service several such machines. What about the rest? Government sponsored retraining programs? Student loans? That might have worked in the past, but as the German finance minister Wolfgang Schaueble has pointed out, the debt-growth model is over; there's no solution that is not a reform. And there's an almost complete lack of discussion of long term strategies and solutions, particularly at local and regional levels, which is where I personally think the discussion needs to be. The Washington or Brussels one-size-fits-all solution hasn't been working too well. San Bernardino or Knoxville or Magdeburg or Lyons know what's better for their localities far more than do think tanks and planners in Washington or Brussels. Adding more student loans to "retrain" a workforce for a quickly evolving situation does not seem to be very promising. As Catherine and I have discussed, one method, but surely not the only one, is going to be a massive expansion of human, rather than labor, productivity, the arts being a prime example of this, but there are other areas as well. To put all this as country simple as possible: technology is driving a decrease of labor productivity at a time when governments can no longer subsidize, through welfare and entitlement programs, what will be a burgeoning leisure class, for we're seeing the emergence of something else unprecedented in human history: that leisure class is expanding far beyond the bounds of the upper class. It is now spreading to engulf the lower classes and former labor class, which will be forced, I suspect, by sheer financial and economic necessity, to monetize other areas of creativity.

This is a case of "you tell me"... and it's a discussion we all need to start having among ourselves and our local and regional leaders, from Warsaw to San Diego to Manila and Perth.

See you on the flip side...

15 thoughts on “TECHNOLOGICAL TROUBLE FOR LABOR PRODUCTIVITY”

  1. Primarily we need to address the central bank debt model.

    After that I think we need to address what corporations are to be. If they continue to function as mechanisms to only transfer wealth to the shareholders, the human workers and the community will suffer as neither are necessary. I think we need to charter corporations to serve the community and workers. If they pollute, pillage, use machines for labor or abuse the community, they wont be chartered. Something along those lines. There is no reason a corporation cannot be a technology used for the benefit of all instead of the benefit of the few.

  2. Joseph we’re on the same page with this. I’ve felt all throughout this election that none of the candidates were talking about solutions regarding the robotization and automation of many many jobs that were once done by humans. A good video to watch is called “Humans Need Not Apply”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Pq-S557XQU
    This industrial revolution is unlike any other that has happened. In the past new jobs were created that replaced the old obsolete ones. For example, the buggy whip operators of horse carriages could work at a new assembly line making Ford’s Model T or recently typewriter repair technicians could find employment repairing computers. Of course I’m generalizing to make a point but this robot and computer automation is a different animal. The computers and robots are even replacing highly skilled labor such as lawyers, surgeons, researchers and software designers to name a few (again I’m somewhat generalizing to make a point) in addition to low skilled hamburger flippers. Look at my own small business. My business many years ago needed to hire a bookkeeper, accountant and often go to a printing company to do the invoices and service reports. Now with accounting software and a cheap laser printer I don’t need the above services. Of course you need someone to make the printer and computer but even these are getting more and more automated.

    So let’s take this automation and robotization to its extreme and let’s imagine all tedious labor being taken over by robots. This would include all physical labor and even skilled labor like surgery. You would now only have a tiny percentage of the population involved in value added labor (technicians, psychiatrists, etc.). With 90% of the population no longer needed regarding productive labor, what is to be done? Will the 90% just be considered redundant and a waste of time to be tossed into the garbage. Who would buy the products that the robots would make. The robots? Only the 10%? This situation would be totally in opposition to Henry Ford’s idea of wanting his assembly workers to make enough money to buy his cars. Would there be enough singers, composers, artists, writers, actors and other creative people among the 90% to sustain their living. The 90% would need to make their living off of the 10% who are employed. I think there would be a catastrophic situation in the world if this trend is not addressed.

  3. Time to gear up for zapatismo in cyberspace & electronic disobedience
    We have entered a new dynamic of automation and globalization enabled by information technologies that raises a new intensity towards a dynamic corporate capitalistic form of fascism- its drive to simultaneously draw people into wage labor and expel them as superfluous in, or under employed; making labor available to capital on a planetary scale; a drive towards development of adept automation algorithmic software that renders such labor redundant. This class warfare is all about digital capital’s making of a planetary working class tasked with working itself out of a job, tooling relentlessly to develop a system of robots and networks, network robots and robot networks, for which the human is ultimately surplus to requirements , on a fatal trajectory at once dramatized and protested in self immolation of Bouazizi, the death leaps of Foxconn workers & other political suicides , in the revolts of 2008 to 2017. It is about a global proletariat caught up in a cybernetic vortex.

    1. Those who control the political process prosper from those very policies that bring about social abandonment & human destruction.
      Privatization believes that any form of work together as a community is anti-American.
      Poverty is a deserved condition.
      The centrality of all these nefarious policies is that of the commercial media that underpins it.

      1. Power continually gazes upon society as inmates w/in its grid of control, whose prisons begin well outside its gates. In fact, from the moment you leave your home[w/technology, it may well be as soon as the moment you open your eyes; and it can be pushed back even further than your awakening].

    2. insightful and bordering on poetic Robert
      And Poetry is what is missing
      if even in the pyre of our digital immolation
      there is no flame
      of love
      nor cultivation with life.
      if but to mock by the clever nerds
      Gates is a trillionaire
      now that is absurd.

  4. The eight hundred pound gorilla in this is slavery. The irony is that Christian-Islamic societies are based on slavery and secular non religious societies are base on it too. What the so call capitalist wiseguys don’t seem to get or ignore is that a worker is also a customer. The economy they speak of is more a ecologic system until our stupid elites realize this it’s damnation full speed ahead.

  5. First the Big Mac ATM is not a new idea, or a new excuse for not paying people. I’m surprised that ZH fell for this line of “thinking”.

    Even if the Big Mac ATM exists, or Amazon replaces every single standalone bookstore, someone has to fill the ATM with meat, and check the gas lines, or in the Amazon warehouse fill the orders.

    It remains unconscionable that Amazon thinks it can get away with paying warehouse workers (not office workers in Seattle) poverty wages.

    Something changed in the last 35 years, and it’s not simply productivity. In the past, Sears had a huge warehouse system, and people weren’t starving on those wages. And in the 1970s there was technology that would have been very new and different if looked at from the 1930.

    So this entire ZH piece, and the essay on which it is based, is a case of misdirection. It’s an excuse for keeping workers poor and desperate.

    McDonald’s jobs don’t pay much either, nor are they only held by 20 year olds for 6 months.

    There are people who avoid using Amazon and McDonald’s and Walmart because of the abusive labor practice these companies engage in.

    1. Or put differently:

      In 1910 it sure took longer to make a car than it did in 1940, but that car from 1940 is far more advanced technologically, and many technologies unheard of in 1910 were used to build that 1940 car.

      What’s changed? What’s ZH completely ignoring?

    2. You make a good point Lost based on information from my nephew who worked for Amazon last summer to earn money for college, and who is the only one in the family with a bright scientific mind. Needless to say, a person does what he/she needs to do to get by, and in Joseph’s case he stayed on working overtime, etc. to earn as much as he could since college expenses are getting out of hand. db

      1. Don B:

        Right, they (Amazon in this case) keep workers desperate for over time, or promotion to full time, or assistant manager.

        Target, Walmart, McDonald’s, KFC, Chipoltle all pull this garbage.

        The likes of the Apple Store and Starbucks are significantly better, but still play similar games that simply would have been uncommon at a big employer (outside of Walmart) in 1975.

        The famous counter example from 2017 is of course Costco, they pay everyone a real wage with real benefits. And Costco makes plenty of money.

        This “technology did it” excuse is complete bull dung, there were massive changes in machining technology for engines and gearboxes in the 1960s (proto robots), but still people were paid a living wage in those factories.

        ZH is pushing the “let’s keep most everyone desperate” line that libertarians like so much.

    3. It’s time to vote for the future we want with our dollars. But first we have to end the fed’s ability to hand out endless money to keep the slavers and their too big to jail corporations in business despite their lack of real production, sales of new products, and benefit to the rest of society. Once the insiders and governments are forced to suffer the backlash of forcing austerity on their customers and citizens they will start planning for a type of future that sustains both the workers and the slavers more fairly. I like old fashion restuarants so I will not eat at any of these robotic substitutes with their computer and lab grown meat substitutes. I like to control my own transportation so I will not buy a self-driving vehicle. Class war is brewing no matter how you slice it. The power structure knows this and is trying to pit us against each other instead of them not realizing all their doing is flaming the flames their way even bigger and faster.

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