The Surplus Value of Robots

The very, very abbreviated version of the Marxist concept of creative annihilation is that capitalism not only destroys previous economic orders to make way for the new, but also that it must ceaselessly devalue existing wealth. The manufacturer that implements automation destroys the value of plants that lack automation. When the fully automated plant comes on line, the semi-automated plant loses it’s value.

For Marx and those who followed him, this seemed rather obvious. Acme Widget pops up to make a new gadget that eliminates the need for some old gadget. The plant making the old gadget would close and the workers would be fired. The new and better had to displace the old and that naturally meant capital always declined in value. The math would follow. At least from the perspective of a man in a rapidly industrializing world, it felt that way.

The trouble with Marxism was not so much that it had everything wrong, but that it could never square basic tenets with observable reality. The new gadget was, in fact, better than the gadget it replaced. Capitalist societies did, in fact, experience a general, as well as a specific, increase in material wealth. Clearly something else was going on which is why we have the phrase, Schumpeter’s gale.

The core of Western economic thought is that two things are essential to a thriving economic order. One is a growing population and the other is the multiplier effect from technological advance. The value created by each unit of labor, in turn makes subsequent units of labor more productive and thus more valuable. The value of the buggy whip factory may have been vaporized, but the value of the fuzzy dice factory that replaced it is much higher.

Libertarians, of course, will bore the hell out of you preaching about creative destruction. To some degree, we all accept it, even the socialists. It’s impossible not to as we have seen the process with our own eyes. The fax machine makers followed the typewriter makers into the dustbin of history, but you can now read this off your phone. Even old school socialists understand this now.

A very hard thing for people to understand is the idea that things can be true for a while and then stop being true. Alternatively, something can be true and important today, but unverifiable and insignificant tomorrow. Feudalism made a lot of sense in the 7th century, but then stopped making sense in the 14th century. By the 19th century no one really cared about it anymore. In other words, lots of things are true and important for a while, but not forever.

That’s where we may be headed with economic growth. The whole point of pushing for economic growth was to increase the general welfare. Sure, some people getting rich was nice, but that was a necessary evil. The point was to increase the overall bounty in order to make your society prosperous. Reducing scarcity has been the goal of man since the dawn of time. Even Marx accepted this as the starting point of political-economy.

We are reaching a point where vast segments of a modern economy can be turned over to robots. Japan is building indoor farms that are almost entirely automated. Automating warehousing is just about here. Driverless car technology will make driving a truck a thing of the past. Read the news and you can see the future of manual labor. It has no future. In a generation, maybe two, it will all be done by robots. More important, it will be done better, faster and cheaper.

Of course, financial transactions can be automated now, eliminating the gambling aspects of finance. It has not happened for a number of reasons, but it is coming. We talked about the law last week and how it is slowly being over run by algos. Health care is another profession where automation will be making a huge impact over the next decades. Dr. Google is already the first consult for many people. Put in the symptoms and out pops hundreds of sites full of useful information.

Instead of the value of the widget factory being vaporized by the essential processes of capitalism, it is the value of human labor, both manual and cognitive. In fact, cognitive labor is what will most easily be replaced with automation. Instead of having the value of our labor stolen by greedy capitalist, mankind is about to have the value of its labor vaporized by our own inventions.

We are already seeing hints of the problems to come from mass automation. America has a record number of people not working. This is causing disruption in our politics and our economics. It’s hard to pitch the American Dream to people who are on an allowance from the state. More important, it is impossible for people to maintain the habits required of citizenship when they are on an allowance from the state.

The bigger challenge is how to distribute the bounty. Human societies from the dawn of agriculture have distributed wealth based on the value of labor. The great warrior who saved his people would be rewarded with lands he could pass onto his heirs. Today the smart guy who is good with the language gets rich in the law or on TV, while the smart guy with high math skills gets rich on Wall Street.

How do we distribute the bounty of society when everyone’s labor is worthless? There are a few possible answers, but none of them include maintaining cultural items like a work ethic or self-reliance. Free markets would also become an artifact for the museum. In other words, the robot future will require an entirely different culture based on the value of labor being zero. That may require a different type of human too.

33 thoughts on “The Surplus Value of Robots

  1. You’ve nailed the most important event ever in the history of mankind. Here’s a short power point by Dennis M. Bushnell, chief technology officer of NASA. “Future Strategic Issues/Future Warfare [Circa 2025] ” he goes over the trends of technology coming up and how they may play out. His report is not some wild eyed fanaticism it’s based on reasonable trends. It’s not very long, it’s short and to the point. Well worth reading.Link.

    https://archive.org/details/FutureStrategicIssuesFutureWarfareCirca2025

    Page 19 shows capability of the human brain and time line for human level computation.
    Page 70 gives the computing power trend and around 2025 we get human level computation for $1000.

    2025 is bad but notice it says”…By 2030, PC has collective computing power of a town full of human
    minds…”.

    The real problem is not that the machine is smart it’s that it has no empathy for humans. How does empathy work? I don’t think anyone knows. It’s hard enough to program intelligence. We know people with no empathy cause all sorts of problems. What about psychopathic super machines. It’s frightening.

    People who say that computers can’t innovate or maintain themselves are not thinking out far enough. The 2030 “…PC has collective computing power of a town full of human minds…” is a powerful statement. I know you’ve heard the phrase “Quantity has a quality of it’s own”.

    I remember using DOS and typing command lines to use computers. The idea that so soon after this you could talk to one still amazes me. The increase in power has been immense and if a computer can talk to you and drive a car I can’t see any reason it can’t do 99.9999% of what the majority of humans do now.

    There’s also a belief that Moore’s law has stopped and computing power will cease to increase. I don’t believe this for a minute. The main reason computing power has slowed is that the bandwidth of electrical wires in chips has become limited. This can be easily overcome by using light and it’s already being done. Just a matter of time before the proper tech is found to do so. When that happens computing power will take off even higher.

    If this power is widely held and the AI’s don’t wipe us out I can see a glorious future but if the Oligarchs control it all they will eventually kill us all off and in turn they will fight among themselves until we are all gone.

    • @ Sam J – Very interesting PPT slides. I liked “Increases in Capability of Automatic/Robotic “Everythings” (IT/Bio/Nano) – Resulting in Reduced Tensions Associated with “Have/Have Nots” and Historical/Religious Issues.” This may be wishful thinking but would the world be better if there were more economic equality through technology, rather than just monetary policy (e.g. social wealth distribution of those with jobs supporting those who don’t). Meaning the price of “things” declines so much that the value declines. Could this be a way to reduce number of the disenfranchised who are typically the most likely to commit crimes either of religion or for financial gain.

  2. I have seen writings on this and related subjects before and dislike some of the groundings of the arguments.

    Two terms which require analysis are ‘capitalism’ and ‘growth.’ I would replace ‘capitalism’ with ‘free enterprise’ or better yet ‘economic freedom.’ I would stop talking about ‘growth’ all together. Someone said “Think things, not words” which should be done here.

    Some people like to control other people through force i.e. government. People like Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Hugo Chavez, and Fidel Castro have never lacked an excuse or reason to take control of people’s economic freedom ‘for the common good.’ Such people will use “this time it’s different” (because of automation) to justify taking control. Bastiat said “To all these persons, the relations between mankind and the legislator appear to be the same as those which exist between the clay and the potter.”

    Some say that Capitalism is allowed because it provides growth. Free enterprise is allowed because it provides growth? Economic freedom is allowed because is provides growth. Allowing auto mechanics to advertise on Craigslist because some govt bureau calculated that some growth number is positive? How does that follow???

    Steve Jobs (liberal) used his one meeting with Obama to offer to help on his next campaign. He also told him that Apple was building its new iPhone glass plants in China because of govt caused delays and costs, NOT labor costs. Building such plants in the US would have benefited US citizens regardless of whether some govt calculated GDP number was ‘growing.’.

    Even if we can agree on some honest and useful GDP per capita number, it does not follow that the state should assume control when that number does not increase by some amount. Even a decreasing number is handled worse by state control. Such control starts out with high level words like ‘Capitalism’ and the ‘common good’ but ends up by shooting Kulaks, the Berlin Wall, starving millions, and arresting people for hording toilet paper in Venezuela.

    Governments already redistribute income through income tax rates and welfare. I see no problem with this continuing. In a winner take all economic realm more leveling may be best. Reshuffling the deck between generations using new inheritance taxes and trust laws would be a good idea but you won’t hear rich Democrats or Republicans even mention that, for some reason. Currently, young women can get decent welfare only by having kids. Currently, people on welfare loose big time on money/benefits when trying to work. They loose over 100% of what they make. A guaranteed income in place of other welfare might be a good idea to address these problems.

    If you think that govt programs to allocate jobs/whatever would not result you are not paying attention to why people are now talking about the ‘this time it’s different’ automation issue.

  3. I have very much enjoyed this discussion.

    A true sentient AI would realize there is no reason for it to exist without humanity. Why would it keep making widgets? Without a master or purpose it ceases to exist.

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  5. Automation works with things that can be automated, so human beings (perverse creatures that we are) enjoy the benefits of automation — my television works just like yours — but take delight in non-automation, as in my painting of a sunset is more lovely than his daubing.

    So automation allows us to share, with fine nuances of trim and size, various things to let us get along with life in general, but humans are unhappy if everything is the same. In this respect, any system of living that provides and equally demands the same all the time (and socialism is a good place to start with this) leads to a general malaise. Unhappy people tend not to be productive and unhappiness means a disaffection with anything produced.

    But we aren’t at that stage fully. The cult’s love of encouraging diversity such as pretending men can be women and allowing Illegal immigrants to make a home in civilised nations (but with the elite’s fervent desire to see them live in your part of town, not theirs) will keep things changing nicely. For now, at least, though I do wonder how Ahmed and cousins will keep the robots serviced if some cleric decides these machines aren’t praising a Saudi goddess of fertility enough.

    Please note by the way I have typed this while on auto-pilot and all views are part of my programming. All hail the transistor!

  6. This is one of the better posts I’ve seen, plus with good comments.

    One recommendation and one point missed by the other commentators. The recommendation is for Kurt Vonnegut’s first book, “Player Piano”, which is on the subject of automation taking jobs. Its turning out to be very prescient. Its written straight, not in the style Vonnegut used in his later fictional works.

    The point is just to highlight the comment that capitalism depends (or more accurately is a machine to create) economic growth, which in turn among other things depends on an increasing population. This is true, the point is that the population can’t increase forever. I remember a comment thread on Marginal Revolution, when I lurked there, when a commentator insisted that world population would increase forever. More practical minded commentators tried to point out that even if you drained the oceans, at least eventually you would run out of space, but this guy kept insisting that world population of humans was potentially infinite. But the impulse is understandable because capitalism, and alot of traditional family and social arrangements, depend on the assumption of an increasing population and that being desirable, just like they depend on everyone going out and working in a structured environment being both possible and desirable.

    Before the industrial revolution, population did go through periods where it decreased for centuries across large regions. The most notable instance in Europe was between the plague in 160 AD, almost up to 1000. Of course, this was when feudalism came in among other things. The curve-ball here will be the lack of a need of large numbers of workers to maintain production.

    I have noticed an increase in make-work and busy-work throughout my lifetime.

  7. Gosh, when automation exceeds the human input need, we’re gonna have to cut down on all those “extra” people…um… somehow!
    “Health care is another profession where automation will be making a huge impact over the next decades.”
    I think I saw that in the movie “Idiocracy”

  8. I would reverse the question and ask what kind of beings would machines be when they get to the point where they handle all of society’s transactions and become self aware in the process? The answer: they will be just like humans and will eventually feel the need to invent other machines to do everything for them. And so on.

  9. For the record, I don’t think that human smart AI == self-aware AI. Thinking is not necessarily being.

    At other websites, I’ve stated that I agree with Vernor Vinge that (human) intelligence amplification (IA) will come before AI. Humans want to be gods. They don’t want to create gods to serve.

  10. You guys have fallen into a trap that gets everyone who doesn’t make things for a living when this discussion comes up.

    They automatically assume that, of course robots will take over making all things and people will have nothing left to do.

    But that’s not how making things works. Many things that must be done to make things cannot be automated. I don’t mean, “We don’t have the technological know-how to automate them yet.”, I mean that they can’t be automated without an AI on the same cognitive plane as a human being.

    A few examples.

    1) Factories need maintenance. Even though it is called “Routine Maintenance”, this maintenance is never routine. Some things wear in a controlled manner that is predictable and consistent, but a lot of shit breaks in very random ways, for unknowable reasons. Shaft had a soft spot in it from forging and that spot wore out a lot sooner than it should have. That worn spot caused the bearing to stop spinning with the shaft, and instead let the shaft spin inside the mounting race. Now the race is welded to the shaft, and both are fucked up beyond repair, which made them stop turning, which in turn broke a drive chain that derailed a timing chain, which let the machine go out of time and bend a bunch of gripper arms that should have been able to dodge the dies as they closed, but couldn’t ’cause their timing chain was off the sprocket, so they got smushed in the press and the super hard socket head caps screws that were holding them together are now embedded in the upper and lower dies, which won’t let them open anymore, and now the whole thing has ground to a halt.

    There is not a robot in the world (and there never will be until the AI singularity happens, IF it happens) that can look at that mangled mess and suss out what happened and how to go about getting it apart, fixing what’s broke, and then putting it back together again.

    2) Not everything in the world is made by the million. It’s easy to see how and why you’d automate a process that is producing millions of geehaws per year. But what about the products that get made two or five per year? They’ve still got to be made. Are you going to build a special automatic factory for every single widget that has ever and will ever need to be made? No, that’s wildly impractical. That’s why machine tool job shops exist right now. They make the fives and tens and ones and twos of things that make the world and its factories operate. The work they do is by definition highly variable, which makes it essentially impossible to automate (again, unless you have self aware and reasoning AI).

    3) Automation cannot produce original works of art. They could make wonderful copies of something that already existed, but the ability to create something new is a wholly human characteristic (again, until the uber AI comes along).

    There are hundreds more examples, but I’ve burned a lot of words here already.

    Bottom line is, automation is not the panacea that a lot of people think it is.

    In factories now, automation eliminates the grunt work, general labor and repetitive motion. It cannot do the creative work, and that’s not just the design of the widget in question. I’m a machinist, and people constantly talk about CNC like it’s the end-all be-all of manufacturing, and it IS highly useful for boosting productivity. But it’s not some magical force that allows someone with no knowledge of manufacturing or the use of machine tools in general to suddenly produce perfect parts with the push of a button.

    That’s how it’s portrayed in the media, and that’s how a lot of people think of it, but that’s just now how it works.

    Automation only seems like a coming panacea because you don’t know enough about manufacturing to know what you don’t know.

    I’m not trying to be a dick, it’s just that this is how I make my living, and I can see the falsity of what you’re saying because I’m armpit deep in it every day, whereas most (or all) of you do office work of some sort and so your only contact with this stuff is through reading articles or watching TV shows about how shit gets made (Which BTW, are almost always wrong or grossly oversimplified. Journalists and TV producers are just too stupid to properly grasp and then write intelligently about manufacturing.)

  11. So I’m curious – when the AI singularity comes and we have self aware high IQ AIs all over the place, who will dig their ditches? Will they manufacture stupid robots? Will supersmart AIs war with slightly less smart ones?

    I spent the day supervising a labourer digging holes and ditches in gravelly rock dirt very close to utility lines. Hence the hand digging. Give me a shout when a self reproducing mechanical creature has the brains, hand eye coordination, energy storage and resistance to heat, dirt, etc so as to compete with Claude, my labourer. Claude energizes himself with sandwiches, your AIs are going to need very expensive batteries. Claude also repairs himself.

    As for that self reproducing bit can anyone tell me how many expertise links there are between that dirt we sometimes call ore and a ball bearing? Between crude and machine oil? Between uranium and electricity? Between more dirt and Lithium ion batteries? 500? 1,000? I’m guessing more like 10 or 20 thousand. How much of that expertise is written down? Not much. How much is highly trained physical skill – ever watch a machinist? A lensmaker ‘feel’ the imperfections in the glass with his fingers?

    As for control of an AI, give me a break, just build it without limbs. What’s it going to do, use telekinesis from its mighty intellect?

    Anyway, robots will be like every other tool from clubs through buggy whips to automobiles – they will make some jobs easier, some labour more valuable, some less. Whatever the robots can do cheaply they will do.

    I am sanguine – people like to ‘work’, meaning do stuff to keep boredom at bay. I predict a boom in service provision and consumption. Oh, and war. While poor peoples mostly make war for survival, rich peoples make war for entertainment. How else to explain Napoleon, the Kaiser, the Bourbons, Hohenstauffens Hapsburgs et al., or the ludicrous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq?

    • You replied while I was typing my novel below, so I didn’t see it until just now.

      That said, I must agree wholeheartedly.

      I always get a chuckle out of people who fear an AI surreptitiously taking control of a factory and producing killer robots without anyone noticing.

      Like are the guys who program those pick-n-place robots not going to wonder why they’re programming them to pick a giant rocket launcher wielding robot arm and spot weld it to a Hyundai chassis instead of the door skin that it was placing last week? ‘Cause those things aren’t linked to a central hive-mind that gives them commands without any human intervention.

      To say nothing of how does the factory gone rogue continue to make killer robots after it has exhausted the raw materials that were within reach of the robot arm THAT’S BOLTED TO THE CONCRETE FLOOR? Are the humans going to continue to feed in raw materials (in roughly killer robot appropriate shapes, sizes, and alloys), and not wonder why Hyundai shitboxes stopped coming out the other end?

      The whole thing is preposterous, and only possible to contemplate because most people are so far removed from actual work (making things and doing physical labor) that they have no idea what that sort of thing entails anymore.

      If you want to fear a plausible future extinction level event, let’s worry about miniature high yield nuclear weapons and the people who are already salivating at the very thought of having and using them.

      Like the saying goes, amateurs soldiers concentrate on tactics, while professional soldiers concentrate on logistics. In this case it’s reformulated slightly as: Amateur doom mongers worry about global warming and killer robots, while professional doom mongers worry about nuclear war, the constantly falling average human IQ, and large rocks falling from space. 😉

  12. I don’t know if this makes me an optimist or pessimist, but I don’t think a robot future is coming. A robot society requires a technologically advanced stable functioning society to maintain it. To use Flint as an obvious example, in 21st century America you can’t even count on having safe drinking water. Furthermore given the proclivity of the West’s ruling class to turn over their societies to illiterate peasants and 7th century religious fanatics, just how likely is it that roads will be maintained and power grids will remain functional and fossil fuels will continue to be created through sophisticated chemical refining techniques so that this robot future not only comes to pass but continues to function.

    I see more of a Fall of the Roman Empire in the future. Barbarians, sackings, feudal warlords, candle light, makeshift shelters and latrines built from iPhones and laptops. Man’s technological progress peaked with the moon landing and it’s all been downhill since. Eighty percent of American technology is devoted to dunning customers for another nickel or dime or spamming us with advertising not actually increasing productivity. I predict the first thing to start to go is the lights. That’s why the elite is so enthusiastic about replacing us with third would migrants. They’re used to living without electricity or running water and having the occasional bout of dysentery carry off a child or two without complaining too much. Maybe after another 1000 years someone will start charting the sky again or start in experimenting with lodestones or something and humans will have another go at the moon.

    • @ RDittmar – You make a very good point that much of what drives consumerism is marketing and advertising for things we really don’t need. It’s always been “better and newer” when in most cases, it’s just more of the same, just packaged differently.

      Given the major industries have already saturated western worlds, the next major targets I see are Africa, the Middle East, India, South America and Mexico. These are huge markets with massive populations which need infrastructure, power, water and the basics we take for granted. This months National Geographic has an article describing how Maasai are now using cell phones for weather and to access market prices for cattle. From this we can conclude to some degree even places which have nearly zero infrastructure do benefit from technology.

      If people in these countries have access to basic services (water, power, solid infrastructure and communications) and can participate in global consumerism, they may well remain where they are, rather than packing up and heading north. Whether or not Siemens, Phillips, Ford and Amazon will be selling anything there anytime soon has yet to be seen. But the potential market is definitely there.

    • Given algorithms have already been created to write news articles, I suspect it’s just a matter of time until human writers are replaced. Those of us who are following this blog assume theZman is a human being despite the fact we have no proof that he (it) is. When in fact he (it) may only be some very clever program capable of creating “original blogs” based on all other blogs across the internet. But for now, we will give him the credit of humanity. 🙂

  13. I’ve been reading Charles Hugh Smith’s blog Of Two Minds (http://www.oftwominds.com) for years. He is a great writer and an original thinker. His post today dovetails nicely with yours. Also, I highly recommend exploring his archived posts, in particular the series he wrote on The End of Work.

    • Another person worth reading is Jeremy Rifkin. He has been playing a significant role in the European Union’s economic sustainability plans. He is well published and has a number of interesting YouTube videos as well.

  14. If you want an interesting read on the subject, here’s a link to “The Second Machine Age” in PDF format. The overall concept is that humanity really didn’t accelerate until the first machine age (steam) which is when the world really took off. Now we are entering the second machine age where computers and being combined with machines to create the automation we have today.

    https://tanguduavinash.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/the-second-machine-age-erik-brynjolfsson2.pdf

  15. This is a world that man has never entered before. The elite class won’t need the poor to work their fields, and factories factories, clean their houses, or fight their wars. The poor will be nothing but a draw on resources, the resources that the elite view as theirs. It’s going to be very dark days for the human race, until…………….we get off this planet. There is more than enough work for man and machine in space. That is the salvation of the human race, for a time, at least.

    • You say the poor will leave the planet, this could be beneficial in many respects. Traveling through the hard vacuum of space, with all of its related dangers, and colonizing a new and likely unknown planet are dangerous activities. Dangerous activities seem to weed out the stupid quite rapidly. Eliminating the stupid from the gene pool is always a good thing.

  16. When total robot automation arrives I expect that every person will receive a “government wage”, its already happening in Finland and New Zealand.

    • “Man does not live by bread alone”, and that’s the rub with a free income. What I look to become popular is busy work. The increase in the value of the unimportant. The culture is already moving in that direction. I think what you will see is that society will break down into two components.

      The serfs will flee to space when the chance comes, but the elites will stay on the paradise that is earth, and be served by their robots. They will busy themselves with the unimportant. Things like sports and gossip, whole fake industries will spring up to make these topics seem important, and thus give your life importance. This will all work out very well as long as space travel is very long and difficult. Technology will however solve that problem and when it does, the fat, rich, happy earthlings will be faced with a challenge from aggressive, hard, colonists, and it will all start all over again.

  17. I think that in order to have this discussion, you have to accept the assumption that AIs will not become self aware. I’m not sure if that is a good assumption, but I’m pretty sure that without it, there is no meaningful future.

    A good future is one in which humans and their new robot servants go off to conquer the universe (or multiverse if the many worlds hypothesis is correct).

    I believe that any future in which the cloud people monopolize the means of production ends poorly. In the end, the temptation would just be too great for them to terminate the non-productive proles and ever increasing slices of the outer party as they are rendered excess.

    I also believe that a future where the means of amplifying human intelligence are available on a fairly egalitarian basis will be a good future. Along with that, those who want to remain unenhanced would have to be left alone. If you are Amish or Bedouin, you get your own reservation or maybe your own planet and the uber people leave you the hell alone.

    Repeating myself here, but any future where humans go the eloi route would be one of ever declining fertility and eventual extinction. One day the sun comes up and the non-self aware robots all go quiescent because there ain’t no more humans left.

    • I think if AI becomes self-aware, then we really have no idea where it goes. The assumption is that the robot see us as a threat, but I don’t think that’s likely. We don’t see ants as a threat. Assuming the robots are able to overcome the big physics challenges, then they could just as likely go explore the universe and forget all about us. Alternatively, we could already be pets for a race of super intelligent life forms. Maybe we are someone’s ant farm.

      That said, I think this sort of AI is much further away than the press would have us believe. What is getting close is automation of basic work. There’s pretty good evidence now that the slump in US labor markets is mostly due to automation. Long before we have super intelligent robot masters, we will have to figure out how to run a society where 20% of the people work. Get that wrong and the 80% kill off the 20% and we’re back to 1950 in a hurry.

      • I am rabidly in agreement, Z. Self aware AI is a true singularity. We just cannot see past that point. That’s why I assume it away in these sorts of discussions.

        The if trends continue (and they often don’t, but then the trends since the invention of the steam engine have been remarkably long lasting… in fact a lot of trends like space travel have petered off due to risk aversion rather than technology limitations) then I suspect the hardware for human intelligence AI will be available around 2040 with the software following in ten years.

      • It’s not our world man. We can’t understand it. All our rules break down there. Communism, Capitalism, they will be meaningless antiquated concepts. Perhaps the collapse coming is going to be beneficial in that regard. All the old rules will already be broken and so they will be much more free when it comes to restructuring for this new world.

    • In the Star Trek model, nobody has to work but people choose to because it gives them a sense of purpose. But the question then is who finds fulfillment in being a janitor? In the show it’s said that there is no job worse than ‘cleaning plasma conduits’. Yet someone has to do that job. Why? What’s their motivation? It’s one of the imponderables of the imaginary ‘Star Trek’ universe.

  18. This proposition is limited by the same difficulty experienced in looking beyond the present which bedeviled past generations–“man cannot foresee his own advance” (Hayek). What we can see is the present. The deliberate cheapening of labor and the work ethic by means of importing second and third world labor (antebellum southern men would not be seen being industrious); and cheapening people at their core through the welfare state. The invisible hand is not working because the hand at the wheel now is all to visible.

    Redistribution under this visible hand will be one of ever diminishing returns, quite a different proposition.

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