Saturday, July 28, 2012

Is Capitalism Working Itself Out of a Job?

Years ago, a guy that worked on the Apollo program said, "Then finally, after all that work, we put a man on the moon. Then what happened? They fired us all. Yep, all that effort and we just worked ourselves out of a job."

Our current economy has decided that it no longer needs ~25% of our country's population. (Lazy bastards!) That is in addition to the (I'm guessing here) approx 10% of (300+M) that never had employment. What we have left over has been outsourced to China/India or "insourced" from Mexico.

Meanwhile, the relentless march to "reduce labor costs" marches on. Google and others are working hard to create driverless cars. Airports are just starting "self-check" kiosks where the only person you interact with is at the TSA patdown. Retail stores are continuing to push "self checkout" (see any grocery store or Home Depot checkout line). We've long-since replaced our TV news anchors with robots, now computers are generating the copy, much like the CEOs of Fox and MSNBC.

Once automated car technology hits taxis and 18-wheelers, tens of thousands will be unemployed. These folks are going to just grab a degree and join a biotech startup as a reseach scientist either. We are transitioning to a "service" economy, yet we're rapidly approaching a point where we'll only be servicing robots. The job market for that role will probably be as large as the current one for elevator service people.

So, my previous question on this topic was: "What does a society do with 200M people for whom there is not only little work, but little work that needs to be done? Once the house-cleaning robot is invented, even the Mexican immigrants will be screwed (again). People that wish to dismiss the question fall back on vague promises of the future (i.e. "We'll innovate") How many Silicon Valley tech firms do you know of that are working to create technology that requires *more people*?

So here is my question: Will Capitalism eventually be so successful that it works itself out of job? 200M people (that's just in the US) aren't going to just return peacefully to dust without a *lot* of help.

"Help" could be the traditional approach (war, mass killings, etc.) or the "Star Trek" approach... known amongst conservative types as "Socialism". The anti-socialist members of society will continue to get more and more agitated as more and more tax money goes to social programs. Do we tell these uber-capitalists to stop bitching, get a haircut and "Go make a job"? Likely we'll continue on the same course we have been.

We've entered into an historic time. I believe we have entered into the next stage of human social evolution: the period of No Work to be Had. What say ye?