All: if we're to have non-boring discussion on a hot+divisive topic like this one, please have the restraint to not post anything unless you have something thoughtful to say. Most first reactions are reflexive, i.e. predictable, i.e. uninteresting, i.e. off topic for Hacker News. Repetition is the enemy of curiosity.
A good antidote is to stop and ask yourself if your comment engages at all with anything specific and/or unpredictable in the article. If it doesn't, consider not posting it; odds are you're moving discussion quality in the wrong direction for this particular message board.
Popular uprising can and does occur over these power imbalances - however historically you need a level of animosity from the monied and powerful towards the underclass, and in this era the capital rich have been very innovative at manufacturing consent and quelling, appeasing, or splitting discontent.
I’m reminded of what’s been going on in Iran the past few weeks - one of the most grasping anecdotes is that poor and middle class people are seeing the children of the powerful absolutely flaunting their wealth, driving maseratis and Porsche’s down the streets of Tehran, and spending more on dog food for a month than people make in a year. Those optics (just how rich the rich actually are compared to you) have been hidden from a lot of American society via exclusive neighborhoods and private airports and a general amount of discretion.
We also don’t have discussions around class because our class hierarchy involves a lot of different verticals by virtue of not having only one culture. The elites of the culture that one belongs to look both a lot more attainable, or at least more inclined to interests that align with the rest of the culture.
So instead of the conflict being up the ladders, the conflict happens between different ladders. That’s at least how I view the current political climate.
The linked IPPR report is worth reading. For this crowd, the section on "partial automation" is probably most important. Web dev is... up there... in terms of potential for partial automation.
There are a few important observations that the article and the IPPR report don't stress enough.
1. The jobs most likely to be automated, will be automated using technology that's inaccessible to the employees whose jobs are being destroyed.
This point is often optimistically papered over using observations like "coal miners can go to coding bootcamps!" I know a few truckers and I have no doubt that each of them could go through a relatively short coding academy for web development work if it became a "do or starve" situation. But I doubt that most of them could become much more specialized autonomous vehicle software engineers, either due to raw intellectual ability or -- more often -- due to an inability to make a substantial half-decade investment in retraining (most of these folks would need to (re-)learn a lot of high school algebra).
So just because we're replacing truck drivers with programmers, doesn't mean that the folks displaced by self-driving are somehow getting jobs that were created via the destruction of their prior employment opportunities.
2. "Partial Automation" could mean less hours worked, but is more likely to mean lower pay and more hours worked, and not all "partial automation" is equal. I.e., to destroy trucking as a middle-class profession, you don't need a self-driving truck. You just need to automate enough of the hard stuff so that anyone can learn to drive truck in a week.
I think it's useful to separate the partial automation that de-skills work (level 4 autonomy for trucks) from the partial automation that simply means less equally-skilled work (web dev). The former creates more job opportunities, but turns a middle-class job into a low-class job. The latter just eliminates from middle-class jobs altogether.
At least in the US, the “labor share”--which is the fraction of income that is paid to workers in wages, bonuses, and other compensation--has already been steadily declining. According to the Economic Report of the President (2013) , the labor share fell from 72 percent in 1980 to 60 percent in 2005. Increased automation can only make this problem worse.
I think an interesting thought experiment around this is:
Imagine we could automate literally every job. Even jobs that install, upgrade, and maintain the automation are automated. Any "work" that anyone wants to do is effectively unnecessary and would be considered volunteerism or someone learning and practicing new skills to expand their horizons. There's also artistic work; even if we had "creative AI" that could create music, radio, television (all completely lifelike CGI, of course), etc., there'd surely be a desire from creative people to still do this sort of work because they enjoy it.
Regardless, in this world, no one has a job and therefore no one gets paid. How do people live? Who gets what? Obviously you have to distribute "wealth" (whatever that means in this kind of society) in some manner that is independent of a person's contribution to society, since, by definition, it's not necessary to contribute to society at all. But how do you decide who gets how much? Do you just distribute the fruits of automation entirely equally among every person in the world?
Obviously we're many centuries or millennia away from this scenario, if we even ever get there without destroying ourselves in the process. But I think there needs to be some replacement for people whose jobs get automated away. Since our civilization still requires work in order to progress, I don't think we should just give those people a monthly check and say "have fun not working anymore", but at the very least we need to help these people along until they can find a new, better job. Perhaps companies that eliminate jobs due to automation should be required to pay out some portion of their new profits to employees who lost their jobs for a certain period. Think of it as extended severance pay. Some form of government assistance could also be an option after the terms of the severance pay expire, and could be funded by corporate taxes or simply a new branch of an expanded unemployment insurance program.
IMO, there will always be work that needs doing. Once a particular kind of work becomes worthless another will replace it.
Will the rapid increase in automation cause a "correction" in the labor market? Yup. Will it negatively effect lots of people in the short term? Sure. Will automation destroy the labor market entirely? No.
Even if a majority of jobs were in creating automation you still have to pay those people to automate.
I am wary of the people who feel the need to try and prevent the correction by way of government regulation. That seems like an easy way to create artificial markets like the housing bubble of 2008. At least at the current rate of automation there is not going to be a sudden massive collapse.
Decrying the lack of education of laborers is a bit of a red herring. The Industrial Revolution led to both a rise in standard of living for commoners and education reform (ie expansion of education) .
Off the top of my head, the average education level for women in Lincoln's era was 2nd to 4th grade. They were destined to be homemakers. The world did not think that needed an education. Lincoln's wife had a 12th grade education. She was considered headstrong and difficult. Her own child had her committed to an asylum, iirc. My opinion is that basically her high education caused de facto aberrant behavior for a woman. She had crazy ideas like wanting to make decisions for herself and her era did not tolerate this well.
Now, a woman who drops out of high school is viewed as an uneducated loser who failed to do the minimum. Twelfth grade is considered bare minimum acceptable for a functioning adult in the US today. That expectation apparently grows out of the evils of automation of the Industrial Revolution "taking" jobs. Keep in mind the US school schedule provides spring break for a week and summers off because historically even children were expected -- aka needed -- for planting crops in the spring and tending crops during the summer.
Yes, we need to design good policies that help effectively distribute this new wealth across the population. That kind of goes without saying in my eyes. It is an unprecedented level of wealth. Of course it means we are in new territory requiring new policies.
That does not mean it needs to be framed as a doomsday scenario. Hopefully folks will be proactive about this rather than reactive. Waiting until the peasants are revolting to conclude that maybe your policies are wrong, broken and stupid is the unnecessarily hard path forward.
Since the 2nd derivative of population has been negative for quite some time, maybe this is a good thing?
The current debt-based economy fundamentally depends on stocks going up every time debt increases.
If the interest of individual business is to automate away your workforce but the interest of general society is to increase employment we're at a bit of a crossroads aren't we?
Perhaps Marx was right and it's time to move to a new phase of history.
Isn't the transfer of income from labor to capital a good thing?
risks? We're well down that path, aren't we?
Well that's great. Give everyone an index fund when they are born; by the time they turn 18 they will have their basic income.
Will any policy keep the wolves from eating everything? I don't think so.