Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Just Transition to Robot Labor

The robots are coming. Human manual labor is about to be replaced on a scale and level of detail which will surpass even the original industrial revolution. There will be economic displacement. There will also be productivity gains on net, but there will be winners and losers in this technology revolution. Our present laws are woefully unprepared to make this transition a just and socially stable one.

Right now our laws are skewed to favor purchasing a robot over hiring a worker. Robots don't require matching social security or Medicare contributions from the employer. Their costs can be depreciated, often at an accelerated rate. They are a capital asset of the company, increasing its book value. They don't unionize, demand safer working conditions, or sue. If I am running a large company and I have a choice between adding robots or adding human workers, it's a no brainer. And more and more employers will have that choice.

This is all a part of the giant shift between gaining wealth by working capital vs. gaining wealth by selling labor. The accelerating trend is for capital to replace labor. The far left says that the answer is a government provided "basic guaranteed income". I think that is a terrible solution, but some solution is going to be needed, such as this one.

In the meantime the public policy goal should be to ease the economic shock of the transition. That is, that should be the goal if public policy in America was still interested in the welfare of the public at large. What I suspect will happen is that the laws will be fashioned so that the economic gains from robotics are concentrated as much as possible in the hands of those who are on top now. That seems to be the goal of most recent laws.

This will be done in the name of the free market by salesmen posing as economists funded by those on top now. They will give examples from the 101 textbooks as if these simplistic models could really account for the rapidity of technological change; without any public policy accommodation; without regard for the fact that existing laws (as outlined above) already have a government thumb on the scale regarding the choice of human workers vs. robots. They will cheer for "free market solutions" as if we actually had a free market. There is government intervention everywhere in our economy, telling us what we must buy, telling us what features our products and services must have, and subsidizing government favorites while erecting barriers to competition. This is what government does every day at the demands of some of the very same entities whose spokesmen cry "free market" when a regulation which does not benefit them is proposed!

Not that I am opposed to the free market. In many ways I only wish we had one! I don't want to stop the free market, just regulate the displacement caused by technological change to a sustainable level so that the whole system does not break down. There will be opponents who are truly ant-free market. Some will try to block the use of this growing technology in an effort to keep things the same. But things don't stay the same and if America does not move on we will find that the rest of the world will. The goal should be to use public policy to integrate new technology into our lives, not ban it.

At any rate we are talking about a net productivity gain here which could be very liberating for humanity. Or it could be debilitating for humanity. For example, if those on top continue to game the system to reap a disproportionate share of the gains of changes to law or tech while all the economic losses due to displacement hurt everyone else. We could wind up with a top one tenth of one percent with all the capital, a few well paid professionals to service them in jobs the robots can't do (yet), and the bulk of humanity being turned into "useless eaters". Even if most of us wanted to work for $1 an hour, the facilities of the future will be designed to be staffed by robots, not people. What do you do with five billion people who have no way to earn a living?

I suggest a transition period, maybe a generation, or maybe two, where flexible automated labor (robots) have special rules for corporate capital ownership (these restrictions would not apply to individuals who owned robots for either private or business use). There would be no prohibition on their manufacture or use, only on their ownership by corporations. During this period robots could only be owned by small corporations whose stockholders were actual humans. Corporations could not own stock in these corporations. As a localist, I favor this restriction for all corporations. Corporations are creations of government and as such by nature are an intervention of government in the free market. Therefore restrictions on them are not the same as restrictions on the free market, but rather government regulating creatures of its own making.

These corporations would be for the purpose of leasing robots to other businesses. Companies which wished to have robots do their work would rent them, not buy them. And they would rent them from companies which would be owned by the kind of people who would have formerly been workers! So then this would very much be like the worker renting their own labor out to the company.

These special robot-owning corporations would have to be structured so that there was a cap that any one person could own, perhaps two percent of common stock or one percent for the larger firms. Big banks could not buy the stock. GM could not buy the stock. Bill Gates could not sweep in and buy it all. The kind of people who get access to the stock are the same kind of people whose jobs would be taken by the robots. They could buy it for a relative bargain, given that all the big money of those players closest to the printing press would be frozen out. In this way the economic displacement of automation could be mitigated. Instead of the gains all going to the capital holders and the losses all going to the labor sellers, we can transition out to the brightest possible future. One in which the replacement of human labor by automation leads to winners without losers.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Culture of Self-Censorship

The writer Simon Louvish once told the story of a group of Soviets touring the United States before the age of glasnost. After reading the newspapers and watching TV, they were amazed to find that, on the big issues, all the opinions were the same. "In our country," they said, "to get that result we have a dictatorship, we imprison people, we tear out their fingernails. Here you have none of that. So what's your secret? How do you do it?" (Quoted, John Pilger, Tell Me No Lies, Random House, 2004, p.9)
I have an ongoing suspicion that America is not really a free society anymore, but that our rulers find it useful for us to believe that it is. We work harder, and fight harder, for the system if we believe it is giving us "freedom". If we tried to actually do anything which would seriously challenge the system, we learn that the "rights" we thought we had were only there until we tried to use them.

In my home state of Arkansas for example, we have the right to run for public office as independents. It is still on the books that we can and for minor offices we do. But one year eleven of us filed for seats in the state legislature as independents. The result was a flurry of legislation which moved the goal-posts and made it harder to qualify for the ballot that way. The system likes people to access the ballot for offices that matter via large centrally directed organizations- that they can watch/bribe/capture/threaten.

We are still in court over one law they made in 2013 that had already been ruled unconstitutional four times previously. If we "win" the lawsuit it is very likely that all they will have to do is change the law back until the next time federal judges are not looking. In the meantime, they have taken other measures to tamp down unauthorized liberty. You have certain rights under the law- unless you have the effrontery to try and actually exercise them. They are there to make you think you are free, not so you can actually exercise that freedom.

I guess I am not too far on this one from songwriter Frank Zappa who once said...

“The illusion of freedom will continue as long as it's profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain, they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move the tables and chairs out of the way and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theater.”
It is an uncomfortable thought that we are not really free. That is one reason why most of us avoid trying to test those limits, even if we are unhappy with the system as it is. But I am not just talking about civil politics.  For example, I was in an amenable discussion with a young lady who works in immunology. She thinks that it has been proven that vaccines (during pregnancy or in the first 26 months) do not contribute to autism. I am convinced that for people with a certain genetic predisposition, it can. During the discussion I mentioned the story of a CDC whistle blower- a Dr. Thompson.

Thompson said when their data showed a link between vaccines and autism for certain groups they brought a trash can to the meeting room and put it in the middle of the room. Then they threw away all their papers with the inconvenient data on it. He kept some on the sly. You can read Thompson's quote in a Forbes article here, though the rest of the article is on spin over-drive trying to explain it away.

When I quoted that event she strongly denied that there was any pressure on them to alter their findings and that they had the freedom to study any question that they could show had merit. I could tell the insinuation made her indignant so I changed tack. But notice that Dr. Thompson did not say that they were pressured from above either. They did not have to be. They self-censored. They knew what acceptable results were supposed to look like, they knew what the "respectable" position in their sub-culture was on the vaccine-autism link. When the data put them in the position of discovering something on the wrong side of that line they felt the pressure to destroy the evidence- at least what they could- and become "respectable" again.

The people running this theater do not have to pull anyone's fingernails out anymore. I think they will if it comes to that, after all our government has shed a lot of blood lately, but they don't have to. All they have to do is encourage group identity rather than individual confidence and integrity. Then they use various means including the media to let members of the sub-culture know what the "correct" opinions are for their groups. Insecure people want to fit into their chosen group, so they jump over each other to confirm what are supposed to be the group biases. Their sense of self-worth is (improperly) tied into membership in these groups.

So for example, people at CNN did not have to be threatened in order to talk up Obama and Clinton and bad-mouth Donald Trump. The folks at FOX did not have to be threatened to say bad things about Hillary Clinton. Members of those sub-cultures can indignantly protest that no one is censoring their "news" coverage. But that is part of the illusion, No one has to censor them to do those things because the cultural expectations have been set and they will censor themselves to ingratiate themselves to that culture.

To start back on the road to real freedom we need to begin within ourselves. We need to have self-worth and integrity derived from our love of the truth rather than our membership in some group. We need confidence and integrity in the face of a society full of manipulated sub-cultures. We need to have a love of real freedom over slavery which is disguised as freedom to keep the slaves invested in the very system which controls them. Not by pulling their fingernails out, but by methods which are less direct and thus more effective.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Early Genesis, The Revealed Cosmology

If anybody has wondered why my blogging pace has slowed down, it is because my book-writing pace was picking up! The result is the most important book I have ever written, or could ever hope to write. The two books on localism as a political philosophy only have the potential to change the world. Genesis, the Revealed Cosmology has the potential to change people's view of God.

Print Version.