Thursday, August 30, 2012

You ain't seen nothing yet

We are headed for a world where most production can be done efficiently without very many people. Either smart machines will do it by themselves, or communications technology will massively raise the scale at which that the best people can practice their trade.

In other words, we are headed for a new gilded age where owners of capital and labor market superstars will be producing a massive chunk of the economic pie. The exact percentage? Shall we say 90?

Our politicians are, as usual, fighting the last war. It's nuts to worry about getting manufacturing jobs back, because as a first approximation, there won't be any in 10-15 years.

I can think of two possible outcomes for the rest of us.

 One is that we are all on the dole, happily chewing qat or plugging into the Matrix of amazing alternate reality experiences available to us.

The other is that we form an army of personal service providers to the ultra rich. I specialize in fingernail care, you focus on toenails. Uncle Chester vacuums out bellybuttons, and so on.

Unless we get fully functional personal assistant robots who can pass the Turing test.

Then it's the Matrix for all of us non-elites.

People, how do you want to spend your time in a world where meaningful work is not really an option for most of us?


John Thacker said...

I find it interesting that "meaningful work" now includes what was dismissed as meaningless factory drudgery decades ago, whereas jobs with lots of human contact are the ones dismissed now.

I think that people will find meaning in whatever they end up doing.

mike shupp said...

My suspicion is that affluent job holders or stock owners will not be eager to pay unemployment to the lower classes, so the ultimate outcome will be civil war or mass starvation. The notion that modern capitalism is vastly superior to old fashioned Marxism will be proclaimed to the very end.

kebko said...

mike shupp: Please show your work.

Anonymous said...

Ideally, ultra-local music, art, and sports/game scenes. Book groups. Extensive and time-consuming socializing, a la the upper classes in a Jane Austen novel.

More likely, drugs, lotteries, porn, and alcohol. Lots and lots of it.

- Thelonious_Nick

JWO said...

Breeding plants.

JWO said...

But you still can't get a good sfogliatelle south of New Jersey. We need more good bakers. We also need gardeners.

Unknown said...

Commenting on blogs.

Norman said...

I'm guessing we'll see a lot more artisanal beer brews and other items where the variety in available products is more important than producing at low cost. Markets where horizontal differentiation trumps vertical differentiation and economies of scale will be where most of the labor ends up. This could also mean that there would be expanded demand for art critics, wine experts, and other people who can help the ultra rich decide where to spend their scarce leisure time.

So I, for one, welcome our new labor market superstar overlords.

Unknown said...

"how do you want to spend your time in a world where meaningful work is not really an option for most of us?"

Blogging on economics...obviously

ChrisA said...

Seems to me that in a world where there is such easy entry into manufacturing returns on capital would be very low. in fact competed to below why bother levels. The only way to be rich in this world would be to have a protected series of rents, such as being a despot , or working for a despot, being a copyright owner of desirable creative work, or being able to originate patentable scientific or engineering concepts. As counters get even cleverer maybe even these rents would disappear. So I doubt we will be working for rich people, because there wont be any in a meaningful sense. I suspect we will fill our lives with meaningless activities such political debates on stupid topics, it always amazes me how heated people can get about trivial issues in politics.