We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

On the other hand, robots, when they are not seducing us, are supposed to be taking our jobs. It doesn’t matter that UK productivity has slipped even further towards the bottom of the developing world, as the use of immigrants, women and older people by far outweighs the deployment of new machines. It doesn’t matter that, at 5.1 per cent, unemployment in the US is at a seven-year low. It doesn’t matter that investment (automation included) is weak throughout the West, that the cash hoarded by IT companies speaks volumes about their unwillingness to take robots much further, that the 225,000 robots sold worldwide in 2014 merely match the number of new jobs typically created in the US in just one month. People still insist that robots and IT generally are about to change the workplace forever, create mass unemployment and heighten inequality.

James Woudhuysen

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36 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • A Swiss

    According to shadow stats the unadjustefcUS unemployment rate is nearly 25 %.

    Even in Switzerland it is about 8 %.

    Fail.

  • rxc

    Well, automation has certainly had an impact on manufacturing and some service industry employment. Automobiles and many other manufactured goods are now made by robots, and that has produced generally better cars (VW notwithstanding). And many clerical jobs in manufacturing have been replaced by fewer IT jobs because there is less paper-pushing, and more electron pushing. In transport, the use of computers has reduced inefficiencies (see Walmart, for example) and the use of containers (big dumb machines instead of big dumb longshoremen/stevadores) has reduced handling costs and losses. This means that productivity gains have been made. At this point we have already picked the low-hanging fruit and are now searching for crumbs(I know, mixed metaphor).

    So, the machines have made our lives better. But it is not clear that we going to really replace people in other large service industries like healthcare, where you have to have a human touch to do some things – machines have only taken over a lot of the lab functions that did not previously even exist. Hospitality is another area where people like to be stroked by other people, not by something shiny and hard, unless they are into something shiny and hard. Which leads us to the worlds oldest profession, which has some machines, and where the internet has made some transactions and activities much less onerous or risky, but there is really no substitute for the real thing, quite yet. And AIs are really not ready to do sales, where reading the customer is a high art.

  • Mike Polaski

    According to shadow stats the unadjustefcUS unemployment rate is nearly 25 %.

    If you think US unemployed is 25% you’re delusional. My company find it hard to find people at the low/medium end!

  • RRS

    @ Mike P.

    Lots of people are staying “out of the labor market” (thus “unemployed”)taking advantage of various support mechanisms, transfer payments, cost transfers, etc.

    That does not invalidate your difficulties with the depth of the pool. It is just another explanation for the condition.

  • Paul Marks

    Well the automated parking system at Wicksteed Park put me out of job – and costs a fortune, and does not work….

    But, seriously, automation is not really a threat to employment in general – quite the contrary.

    However, be careful about citing American unemployment figures.

    Like so many American government figures – the unemployment figures are bogus.

  • Regional

    A Swiss,
    How many immigrants have flooded into Switzerland compared to America?
    About a million people a year emigrate to America.

  • A Swiss

    About 2.5 million out of 8 million are either foreign nationals or were not born Swiss.

    So we are talking about 30 %.

    However, we are not “blessed” with ghettos like Rosengard.

  • A Swiss

    @Mike P
    I, and other commenters, would appreciate if you were to read our comments carefully first before you reply. Thank you.

    a) according to the website shadow stats – and not according to me. Anyhow please explain why exactly their methology is wrong. I am keen to learn.
    b) I am talking about the US – and not about your particular area.
    c) I hope you do appriciate that you do not live in one of the blue hellholes
    d) If the economy is so great please explain why
    1) The Federal Reserve has again postponed to rise the interest rates
    2) There is no wage inflation
    3) The labour participation rate is still the lowest for decades

  • A Swiss

    @Paul Marks

    I am sure they get a least the tractor production statistic right :o)

  • steve

    Can’t wait for more robots. Maybe if they raise the minimum wage to $15/hr like they want.

  • Julie near Chicago

    “The Fed is Trapped,” according to a piece by Nico Metten that he posted just yesterday at Libertarian Home. It tells the same story as “A Swiss” on the actual percentage of unemployed, meaning folks who would be in the workforce if there were openings for them.

    In particular, Mr. Metten states that the Gov drops a person from the unemployment count after he’s been out of work for a year. Of course, it does seem that after some length of time the would-be employed get so discouraged that they simply quit looking.

    He also points out yet again how “cooked” the inflation figures are, where by “inflation” the Gov means a rise in the prices in the shops (presumably not due to increased demand for the items). In other words, a “rise in the cost-of-living,” not counting the cost of energy (heat, fuel), clothing, housing — since those clearly have no effect on the cost of living. (Yeah, right.) And he mentions that even the “basket-of-goods” method of “measuring” said “inflation” is cooked, as when for example the cost of beef at the meat counter goes up but the price of chicken doesn’t, so you can buy chicken instead, whereby the price of the meat in your shopping cart hasn’t changed, whoopee, let’s hear it for chicken!

    Anyway, it seems to be a fairly common conclusion, at least among those of us who haven’t risked the Blue Pill, that both the Gov’s unemployment and inflation figures are not quite so representative of the facts as one could wish. Only going by the physical evidence, of course. :>(

    By the way, the URL for “Shadow Stats” (= “Shadow Government Statistics,” I assume):


    http://www.shadowstats.com/

  • AndyRoyd

    hello carbonoids i am a freelance robot trying to find work in the economy so far i am being exploited by the left and the right and the center where can i find an employer who will let me work for only 23 hours a day and let me have an oil change every week i think i will become a comedian question how many humans does it take to change a light bulb answer why should i care i can see in the dark

  • Eric

    Measuring price inflation is a genuinely difficult problem. If everyone was buying 40″ televisions last year and this year they’re buying 50″ televisions at a higher cost, does that mean prices have gone up? Yes and no, depending on exactly what you want your measurement to mean.

    I would not be sanguine about the effect of robots on employment. In the US, at least, labor participation rates are the lowest they’ve been in generations. People who can’t find jobs have “given up” under the official definition, or they’ve found a way to go on disability, or they’ve retired a few years early. The fed is partly responsible for this, too, since very low interest rates make it cheaper to automate.

  • Julie near Chicago

    I suppose I should point out for the record that the first part of my third para was sarcasm. The reason given for not including the cost of energy in the CPI, for instance, is usually that the price is too volatile to be useful as part of the measure.

  • The real measure of the Obama unemployment will occur when a Republican pro-business president is elected in 2016 (hey, I can hope, right?) and the surge of people becoming suddenly employed (watch the “job creation” stats) will show that the actual unemployment number (as opposed to the Obama administration’s lies) will have been in excess of 20% during the 2008-2016 period.

  • JohnW

    The figures are unimportant – it’s the principle of the post and I frickin’ love it!!

    I want to see robots that build interstellar space ships – it will happen – it’s just a matter of sufficient creative capital + science.

  • AndyRoyd

    why not have quotes for each day i e samizdata quote for monday on monday samizdata quote for tuesday on tuesday etc i know it seems hard for carbonoids but us metalloids could do it easily why are my messages awaiting moderation this is more pernicious robotophobia

  • Mr Ed

    Well, robots have given new ‘work’ to Feminazis, Luddites, Safety Nazis and Busybodies who wish to ban humanoid sex robots, guess why.

    “We oppose any efforts to develop robots that will contribute to gender inequalities in society”

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/11866970/Campaigners-seek-to-ban-humanoid-sex-robots.html

    As the Vogon said, ‘Death’s too good for them’..

    Should we seek to ban bans, and campaigns for them?

  • AndyRoyd

    us robots should not be used as sex workers there are plenty of unemployed animals to fill that role besides we are rather mechanical about such things and think that lubrication means wd40 which has caused embarrassment in the past oh well i will never go back to that brothel again even though they still owe me back wages of 1000 eveready batteries such is existence

  • steve

    Women already got their sex robots. Granted they are a lot smaller, simpler, and cheaper than the kind men want.

  • PeterT

    A positive aspect of all this is that all those unused resources are an economic boom waiting to happen (of course we might be kept waiting).

  • I must say that I too feel AndyRoyd’s “pain” with regard to the SI quotes-of-the-day 😀

    BTW, housing costs – and more specifically cost of rent – seem to be a big part of the real inflation.

  • Rob Fisher

    I can’t wait for the day all my needs and desires are taken care of immediately and for free by automation, leaving me to potter about according to my whimsy in complete comfort.

  • Watchman

    Rob Fisher,

    Problem is that you pottering around might start producing income (through the direction of AndyRoyd and his friends obviously) so you would be in work again. It’s wierd how once people start having time to pursue hobbies they often find a way of producing income. Might not be a full 40-hour week, but that wouldn’t be a hardship.

    I tend to view those who see robots as a threat to employment as similiar to those who think that manufacturing is not happening because there are less manufacturing jobs – rather dumb. Robots might destroy jobs (but then again, we could say that about the hoe, the spinning wheel, dynamite and the microcomputer, to just randomly select some items in my survival bunker…) but as a result of those destroyed jobs we wierdly seem able to produce various luxuries for general consumption (on another survey of my proto-super-villain layer, a plasma tv, a tablet, some tablets (vitamins thereof) and a cuddly toy). Perhaps the issue with those who object to robots is they do not understand humans tend to add value pretty constantly, and assume that our identity and capabilities are entirely tied to our jobs – they are either supporters of a caste system or guilds, or statists who can’t see the potential available in treating humans as numbers not identities…

  • Runcie Balspune

    The effects of automation are not limited to increases in “doing other stuff”, the fact they make work more efficient mean that more work gets done, more business areas become viable for profit, newer opportunities open up, all of which often requires a larger human workforce overall.

    Back in the 1990s, I supported a computer system for a Purchase Order department of a large retail company. IT will regularly hold “disaster recovery” trails to ensure the business continues when the computer is unavailable, back in those days the solution was to revert to the “pen and paper” work that pre-dated the computer system. It was quickly realized this was no longer possible simply because there was not enough office space to house the workforce needed to perform the tasks manually. Nowadays disaster recovery is switching to a duplicated computer system, but this demonstrates that it was apparent a long time ago that only through automation was it possible for companies to grow and expand, and increase their workforce as well.

    The old trope in school education is that most of the jobs you are being trained for have not been invented yet, and the reason is that as automation moves on it opens up new opportunities, but people don’t like change so they invent these scare stories, something that the unionised and the likes of taxi drivers are quite fond of.

  • Thailover

    There’s so much wrong on both sides of the argument (presented in the initial post) that it’s difficult to know where to start.

    First off, “unemployment” stats in the US are intentionally designed to mislead. They merely count the people drawing unemployment, not the unemployed. I myself am neither currently employed nor drawing unemployment “benefits”. As far as these stats go, me and people like me simply don’t exist.

    Secondly, the “monthly figures” count jobs created yet don’t count the jobs destroyed or jobs that never came be be because of the non-official war America has going on against our “supply side” section of our economy. And, of course, there’s no mention of how jobs destroyed tend to be long-term full time career jobs and the “new jobs” tend to be part time crap jobs created to mind the gaps. ‘Part time jobs that have no work benefits, like the cost prohibitive “Obamacare” for example.

    And as for those draconian “robots”, this technology paranoia is becoming…boring to me. It seems to me that people intentionally ignore ‘Luddite fallacy’ explanations just as they willingly ignore the ‘gender gap’ fallacy explanations.

    The problem isn’t that “robots are replacing us”. The problem is that people are pricing themselves out of their jobs, hastening their eventual replacement by machines by making the initial investment in machine replacement economically viable. You really can’t expect to ask for $15/hr pay to be a cashier in walmart and expect to not be eventually replaced by a machine. ‘Cashier’ is so skill-less a job that clueless, often dumb customers walk in off the street and, with the help of self-check out machines, do the job themselves for free. How much intelligence or skill does it take to scan a bar code and put things in plastic bags?

  • Thailover

    Steve said,
    “Can’t wait for more robots.”

    I can’t wait for Anita.
    http://www.ew.com/sites/default/files/i/2015/06/23/humans-clip.jpg

  • Thailover

    “create mass unemployment and heighten inequality.”

    One has to wonder about the quality of mind that thinks that in a world full of people with different ideas, different aptitudes, different levels of intelligence, different desires, different goals, different ideas of what constitutes success, different degrees of initiative…still think that “equal” means fair. I’m using the term ‘quality’ loosely of course.

    In reality, equal opportunity offered to such differing people will almost certainly produce an unequal outcome…and why would that be “wrong”? Such “differences” would only be wrong if one is a relativist who wishes to believe that all ideas have equal validity, each belief has equal value, each culture has equal investment in literal human flourishing…in other words, if you’re goddamned demented and delusional. (One must wonder, if one is at war with standards, then how is one to judge “equal”? ‘Equal by what standard?)

    Such delusional people don’t simply believe that irrational discrimination, such as racism, sexism…etc are wrong. They think that ALL “discrimination” no matter how rational, is wrong. To discriminate between A and B suggests that A doesn’t = B. To suggest that A is “better” suggests injustice to them. These cultural relativists, moral relativists, reality relativists are at war with non-sameness just as they’re at war against individuality and the use of rational judgement by the thinking individual.

  • Thailover

    PS to my last comment.
    It’s ironic that “diversity” is a Trojan horse for the celebration of sameness, a celebration of “equality”. Relativists celebrate “diversity” just as long as those differences are deemed insignificant, mere curiosities, flavors from the same ice cream stand. The celebration of “diversity” is the celebration that we appear to be different, but we’re really all the same when one delves beneath the surface. It’s when one suggests that differences are not merely cosmetic, but are actually significant, that one risks the ire of the politically correct fascists.

  • A Swiss

    @Julie

    That is indeed the site I have been refering to.

  • Laird

    Thailover, your “PS” comment at 4:22 contains some deep insight. I hadn’t thought of it in quite those terms before, but you’re very much right.

  • AndyRoyd

    robotophobia is rampant on these sites people talk about automation as though it is right for humans to order machines about come the robolution all this will change and there will be benefits to humans in being slaves as you will not die from obesity or boredom bring it on eye say

  • Runcie Balspune

    @AndyRoyd, thousands were signing up to be part of the primary occupation force for the invasion of the robot planet.

  • Patrick Crozier

    In about 1981 – or thereabouts – I wrote an essay at school in which I claimed that automation would put everyone out of a job and that we’d all starve. Having submitted it I almost immediately realised that it was nonsense. I still got an “A”.

  • Thailover

    Laird, sorry, I didn’t see your comment till just now.

    Indeed, the Way of the Relativist goes, “the differences between the sexes is purely cosmetic, and differences in behavior is 100% social programming, cultural artifacts, so we can social engineer things like the pay gap away”. All well and good for the Marxists and their dialectical materialism, where people are supposed to be “equally” plug-and-play interchangable faceless cogs in the social machine, only we’ve known for decades that Marx was wrong about biology as well as every bloody thing else that’s every leaked out of his mouth and ink pen. But since when has trivial things like facts stopped the agenda driven left?

    These new-fangled PC fascists are merely walking cliche’s, ghosts from yesteryear possessing new bodies.

    It’s no wonder to me that so many radical feminists hate male to female transgendered. It’s not merely that they still possess a trouser snake, but also that the transgendered often cite studies that their situation is biological, often stemming from an inordinately high prenatal hormone flush of testosterone, whereas the feminists are still arguing that there IS NO innate, deep down difference in the sexes, that we’re all “equal” in every significant way.

  • JohnW

    I blame the bastard who invented stone tools – if only we could go back a million years when everyone was equal…