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  1. #41
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    Or....

    Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll fish 24/7.

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    Semi related....
    I remember reading articles where "futurist'" debated what people would do with all their free time that was brought about by automation and the whole "jetsons flying car" sort of conversations.
    Well....all I will say about the "free time" is I sure havent seen any of it and observing how those who do have an abundance of free time use it....maybe we need less automation and thereby less free time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by toolsteel View Post
    Semi related....
    I remember reading articles where "futurist'" debated what people would do with all their free time that was brought about by automation and the whole "jetsons flying car" sort of conversations.
    Well....all I will say about the "free time" is I sure havent seen any of it and observing how those who do have an abundance of free time use it....maybe we need less automation and thereby less free time.
    so change your circumstances if it bothers you....there is no doubt that a combination of shorter work weeks and automation and technology at home (dishwashers to the vacuum cleaner) have given people in the developed world more free time than at any point in history.

    A few years ago when in China we were driving through really beautiful area of rolling hills and valleys. I asked our guy were people at all into hiking or camping as it seemed an attractive area for it. He didn't get the concept, no one would have free time for things like that, the week was used up trying to survive. Not many three day weekends among the plants I've been to there.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mcgyver View Post
    so change your circumstances if it bothers you....there is no doubt that a combination of shorter work weeks and automation and technology at home (dishwashers to the vacuum cleaner) have given people in the developed world more free time than at any point in history.
    Someone did a study and found that people spend just as much time on housework now as they did in the 1800's. Maybe it's more pleasant - I hate washing clothes by hand - but still, unless you're talking people from an Upron Sinclair novel your claim is incorrect. If anything, people spend more time working now than they did in the past. Too much stuff to support, maybe.

    A few years ago when in China we were driving through really beautiful area of rolling hills and valleys. I asked our guy were people at all into hiking or camping as it seemed an attractive area for it. He didn't get the concept, no one would have free time for things like that, the week was used up trying to survive. Not many three day weekends among the plants I've been to there.
    Absolutely wrong conclusion. And there's a lot of three day weekends - lantern festival and grave-sweeping day that I think of off the top of my head; as I remember there's maybe a dozen national holidays ? Chinese people don't work very hard and there's tons of time off. They just don't like camping and hiking. Eeeeuw, sleep in the woods ? Are you crazy ? There's bugs and stuff out there, and what if a bear eats you ?

    The vast majority of Chinese people are not into that wilderness stuff.

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    I accept you know more about Chinese culture than I do. I'm not much for sleeping woods either, at least since more less resembling an adult. However the article on housework you cite, was that before or after the one on crop circles and alien abductions? I mean come on.

    There is a very easy way to satisfy yourself as to bounty that automation and technology represents for people via the increased the standard of living it has brought. An easy way is looking at real GDP/ capita increases (what we all should measuring the economy on) but the apologists will claim that's all accrued to the rich (BS). Anyway, the way that should satisfy anyone is to find a department store catalogue from say 1900. Next identify an after hourly wage both in 1900 and today - pick a similar trade if you like. Find comparable goods priced today and start expressing the price of each in # of hours pay, 1900 price in hours and today's.

    What you find is that most goods are 10-40x cheaper in terms the hours of work. With goods that are really fussy, high quality custom hand made stuff, obviously automation is less applicable. Even so, they generally are cheaper, say 2-5x as the rest of the makers supply chain is cheaper in terms of hours.

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    Quote Originally Posted by otrlt View Post
    Pete.
    look back on all of your replies to my comments
    Your words acknowledge the fact that you are a novice.
    otrlt.
    look back on all of your replies to everyone's comments
    Your words acknowledge the fact that you are a douche.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mcgyver View Post
    I accept you know more about Chinese culture than I do. I'm not much for sleeping woods either, at least since more less resembling an adult.
    I've had this argument several times, I like the Great Outdoors but there are people who are only happy within walls. Brick or concrete, even, they think wood is too flimsy, might catch fire. Different strokes.

    However the article on housework you cite, was that before or after the one on crop circles and alien abductions? I mean come on.
    It didn't claim that a Rainbow vacuum cleaner wasn't more efficient than a carpet sweeper. What it demonstrated was that work expands to fill time.

    It's true in other areas, too. Once upon a time a few guys with sixth-grade educations would throw a 40' fishing boat together on the beach over a winter. Nowadays people send away for plans, go on the innnernet to discuss it, buy a contractor's saw and a radial arm saw and a big bandsaw with special blades and a bunch of feintools and build a bow shed then ask which is the best finish sander then take eleven years to build a boat that's almost as good ... if they ever finish it at all.

    In theory, you're correct. But in practice it doesn't seem to have made any difference.

    What you find is that most goods are 10-40x cheaper in terms the hours of work.
    What you find is that people have a lot more crap. But with the exception of dentistry and possibly medicine (if you live in Canada and thus can afford it), life overall is no better than it was 500 years ago. The face that launched a thousand ships was just as good in bed in 500 B.C. as she was last week, and probably just as big a nag when she didn't get what she wanted. The things that count haven't changed a bit. All we did was decimate a lot of forests and destroy the world's fish stocks, for nothing.

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    Warning - long post ahead. Easy enough to skip over if you like.

    It takes capital investment to automate stuff. That’s neither good nor bad – just a reality. A billion dollars is table stakes to build a new semiconductor fab or design and tool up a somewhat better or at least newish car model. The broader question about automation is "what sort of things should we be investing in and automating?"

    The ventures that currently attract capital investment are expected to have rapid growth (many percent per year) and high profit margins. There’s little investment in stuff that isn’t expected to grow in demand (say, a product so well designed and durable it would last a customer’s lifetime or a service so effective it only had to be performed once) or have very high benefits but low profits (say, a cheap generic cure for cancer).

    This approach to production and the economy has worked wonderfully for the past 200 years or so – a time when fuels, metals, wood, water, food, fertilizer, sand, cement, and more could be pulled out of the ground for the comparatively minor cost of finding and extracting it --- and no one much worried about what waste ended up in the soil, wells, waterways, oceans, or atmosphere.

    It’s beginning to not always work so well. There's long been conflict between workers and owners arguing over a fair share. Now towns are seeing factories gone, maybe Superfund sites left to clean up. Nations are seeing taxes dodged - and thus schools and infrastructure sometimes left to rot. Even entire economies and the environment are seeing boom and bust. Politically, the right has had its pissed off Tea Party. The left has had its equally pissed off Occupy Wall St. Politicians of both persuasions spend more time raising money from vested interests than serving constituents. Britain wants a Brexit. France has its yellow vests. And immigrants are fleeing messed up countries and economies around the world.


    The corollary of capital investment in automation (today) is that most every dollar of capital investment typically comes with a “call” for increasing inputs of finite resources, places to dump waste, and (often) requires lots of relatively cheap energy. As an example of how investment places a "call" on other resources - an investor in Boeing hopes they produce thousands of planes. A single Boeing 747 sized craft has around a million parts and all manner of exotic metals and materials. Over a lifetime of use it will burn around 500,000,000 gallons of fuel. Through the miracle of combustion each of those carbon atoms (atomic weight around 12) in the fuel will produce near 3x the weight in carbon dioxide (oxygen atomic weight around 16) as waste in the atmosphere. Well over 3 billion pounds of CO2. Eventually, it sort of adds up as one might see with a glance at, say, FlightRadar. That doesn't mean we should never fly or automate anything else. Just that we should know what we're doing and make sure we're getting our money's worth. Where the value added from automation is truly worth all the costs. As a million mile flier on several airlines, I was part of maybe-not-worth-the-costs ethic. Never really knew or thought about it until more recent years. I can still see flying - just not nearly as frequently as American, Delta, United, Southwest etc. might like.

    The rich world is already awash in cool stuff, with more and more of it consigned to landfills. For the first time in history we’re beginning to see the edge of some metaphorical petri dish on a planetary scale.


    There’s also a short term orientation in our economy that urges us to ignore the future to keep the short-term growth and profits rolling. While sustainable resources, robust electric grids, good transportation infrastructure, educated workers, effective government, rule of law, etc. are essential to business – most every captain of industry thinks it’s best if you can avoid paying for them in the short term. Hard to blame them - they’re trapped. If they don’t operate this way, one of their competitors surely will. This isn't a recipe for longer term success. Eventually we have materials shortages, broken electric grids, screwed up transportation, poorly educated prospective workers, corrupt government, rising crime, etc.

    Loss of jobs – the topic of this thread -- is a sort of unintended consequence. Jobs get automated when a machine can do the job better / longer / faster / cheaper. More and more jobs can now be better done by machines, AI, etc. – though the automation also typically adds some jobs for its production and maintenance. We’re a way off from the point of robots repairing and replacing themselves.

    Where this ends is anyone’s guess. “Scenario planning” is one way to try to predict the future. Some credible scenarios:

    1 - We continue to automate the heck out of stuff -- until we can't? The rich (owners of automation) get richer will all those growing “calls” on finite resources. In the past, our every-decade-or-so economic booms and busts haven't been existential threats to most of us. Now? Could be the busts could get worse because of some resource bottleneck(s) affecting multiple sectors. Can't happen? We thought the Great Depression was a one off. The Great Recession blindsided most economists. We did a crappy job of handling what shouldn't have been a particularly threatening pandemic. We're just not all that good at predicting or preparing for the future.

    2- There's pushback against automation (and those who own it)? Luddites don't have a very successful track record. But maybe the richest among us are no longer insulated from home grown or foreign dissent and terrorism? Or maybe the only profits for US companies in a globalized economy are selling luxury goods to an ever-smaller base of customers rich enough to afford them. Thus, the whole thing still winds itself down?

    3 - Other nations start calling more of the shots? It’s not a US-only issue. China’s “belt road” initiative is an attempt to lock up trade and resources throughout much of the developing world so its economy can keep growing fastest – but facing increasing push back. North Korea sees nukes and missiles (literally, calling the shots) as a way to blackmail the rest of the world. Pakistan is busy proliferating fundamentalism and WMD. Russia punches above its economic weight through military and covert means. Seems likely the future isn't in any nation's (US etc.) control -- and conflict might well be on the rise.

    4 - Everything seems near free, until it isn't? Maybe we automate everything - make everything near free - and give millions to billions of people a guaranteed income as some on the left suggest. But, what happens when we still run out of some resource to feed that automated manufacturing? Or if a civilization of couch potatoes (watching "reality" TV, playing mortal kombat video games, and maybe even watching reruns of the "Fall of the Roman Empire") fails to meet some future challenge?

    I’d point out that we have plenty of worthwhile work to be done, from filling potholes to better educating kids. What we don’t have is a business culture that has figured out a way to pay for more of this work. The most important job in the world might be raising kids well. Current economic valuation of this work? Near zero recently - maybe a couple months paid leave of absence in the near future. We may be too busy making sure shareholders get the lion’s share of profits in high growth, highly profitable, easily automated sectors – and failing to reward all the real “investors” in slow growth, low profit, hard-to-automate businesses (raising kids, filling a town’s potholes as they appear) that could gainfully employ millions.


    5 - Nothing much changes, we blunder on? We could just keep having localized collapses, much as we’ve been doing for the past several decades and muddle through. I used to keep every issue of the annual “Fortune 500” listing. Amazing how so many former corporate greats have fallen and been replaced. Periodic collapse, recession, bankruptcy, etc. is actually an optimistic scenario, assuming the future looks much like the past. We'd still have World Wars and armistices, pissed off and happy people, good and evil, recessions and depressions, corrupt and dictatorial leaders, booms and busts, a pandemic now and then. But, no WMD or a war to end all wars as WWI and then WWII were supposed to be. No huge crop failures. No even-worse pandemics. No really pissed off and more capable terrorists. And, of course, still a practically infinite supply of everything 8 billion people might want?

    6 - Western world collapse? Given our greater ability to act (and stupidly act) on a global scale (nukes, pandemics, chemical warfare, species loss, unintended consequences, terrorism, climate change, agriculture collapse having millions flee places like Syria, etc.) we join dozens of earlier great civilizations in collapse – each of which probably thought it would live forever. China now widely predicts (and acts as if) the US is headed to inevitable decline. Others think China faces huge and perhaps existential problems. Europe struggles. Africa is a mess. Much of South and Central American is in agony. Many in the Arab world might wish the Western World would go away.

    7 - Near a dozen down, one more to go? Maybe we join near another dozen hominids (homo erectus, Neanderthals, etc.) in extinction? Not like it hasn’t happened before. Each of those was likely the baddest, smartest living thing in their own time.

    8 - Dark ages 2.0? More likely, we don’t go entirely extinct. We just lose a few billions and try to re-boot civilization? A new "dark ages" is another possible scenario. And, yes, maybe the Dark Ages 1.0 weren't all that bleak.

    9 - A few backup plans mostly save our collective butts? Maybe the usual mix of brilliance and stupidity has us bumbling forward. We do a bit of investment in new infrastructure and energy, suffer some consequences, and somewhat painfully adapt to whatever the new normal becomes. A lot of today’s political divide is between those who think the good times will roll on forever (or have become survivalists feeling bleaker and meaner times are ahead) and those who think having a slightly longer view and a backup plan or two makes sense.

    10 - The good times roll on, saved by high tech? Maybe we luck out and discover some incredible new near-free energy sources (shame about perpetual motion, cold fusion, and free hydrogen from water). Solve that – and there are still prospects -- and our “runway” gets a whole lot longer. And maybe most every family decides to have two kids, population growth stabilizes, and several billion people get a whole lot better at settling their differences short of existential conflict. Then, let the good times roll on.

    Could well be what the future holds is none or all of those ten possibilties. Seems to me we ought to be directing a bit of our "seed corn" (investment for higher productivity) for the challenges that surely lie ahead.

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