jsburbidge: (Default)
[personal profile] jsburbidge
One of the causes bandied about for the current wave of political malaise is the loss of jobs which frequently gets blamed on immigration but on closer examination is generally more a result of the automation of manufacturing and other unskilled labour tasks. There is, however, some evidence that the drivers behind Trump's increase in the working class vote were more to do with identity and change in culture than with having become actually poorer. The two are not incompatible: even keeping up economically in a context where older types of labour are being eliminated on a wholesale basis is to be living in the centre of a storm of change.

We are already seeing political strain as an older (but not really very old) social and political model governing labour and the organization of one's life starts to give under the stresses of the post-modern, internetworked, world.

If I were a politician or a civil servant, this would be at the top of my list of concerns (along with climate change and how to handle the collapse of the petroleum bubble), because we're soon going to move into utterly unprecedented territory (barring some disaster which moves us somewhere unprecedented even faster.)

From an Atlantic article on a study estimating the near future effects of automation:

"Still, the authors estimate that almost all large American metropolitan areas may lose more than 55 percent of their current jobs because of automation in the next two decades."

(https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/05/the-parts-of-america-most-susceptible-to-automation/525168/ ).

Even if that's off by 30% (which would mean only 37% of jobs to be lost), it's massive. Even taking into account that some of the lost jobs will be replaced by new ones (probably in low-level IT support), it's massive. Barricades-in-the-streets massive, if you're a politician.

These figures assume, by the way, that society as a whole will remain at least as well off. The job losses result from gains in productivity. (Other unrelated factors may cut into our surpluses - crop failures from climate change, major earthquakes (overdue), costs associated with mass migration - but let's just consider this on its own for a bit.)

The first big issue is the distribution of wealth, requiring a considerable increase in the welfare state and almost certainly a minimum guaranteed income. Along with this problem comes that of preventing profit-taking via rents. (If the general minimum income rises then, absent controls, the amount of available money to extract from tenants rises as well; this is like the one-time jump in house prices which benefitted existing owners when middle-class families switched from typically being based on one income to bring based on two.) Purely practical considerations will require a far more economically interventionist government.

Secondly, a shift in how people define who they are becomes critical. A very few generations ago, everyone wanted to be leisured, and even the working classes aimed at as much leisure as possible (work for the minimum needed to live and take the rest of the week off, essentially). It took much indoctrination via advertising to create our society of workers who want so much they work as hard as they can. In a world where much of what many people can "do" will be on a volunteer basis, or very, very part-time this sort of self-identification through work fails in many cases.

The assumption that everyone defines themself by what they do is much older than the Twentieth Century, but it was limited to the Second and Third Estates ("knight", "gentleman", and "baron" weren't what one does so much as pure statuses), which is why we have so many last names like Smith, Webster, and Farmer. (It's actually a bit more complex with those names, as they originated as nicknames to distinguish this Thomas from that Thomas, and the range of differentiators went well beyond what one did. For that matter, Thomas is a pure nickname itself, being the Aramaic for "twin". It's still true that identifiers like "Nick Bottom the Weaver" go back well before the modern period.)

If large swathes of the population become either jobless or involuntarily displaced into another job because the jobs they once had no longer exist as a category there will be even more reaction against, to put it generally, changing times. Deracinated voters may not move in the direction of Trumpism or the easy xenophobia represented by Brexit, but they are unlikely to continue to back a centrist, don't-rock-the-boat-too-much, "standard" political party, unless the polities within which they live are visibly taking some sort of realistic action to deal with the shifts.

One corollary of this is that we should worry not so much about Trump and May but what comes after, when their promises fail to come through for their followers and things continue to get worse (from that point of view).

Date: 2017-05-15 03:21 pm (UTC)
graydon: (Default)
From: [personal profile] graydon
I think it's pretty obvious from current politics that the overclass knows this level of automation is coming, has been planning on that basis for a good long while now, welcomes it, and fully intends to do everything in its power to arrange for the poor to die rather than accept anything that resembles an obligation to pay taxes.

The CEO is an autocrat; supreme sole autocrat, in their context, and that's why people want to be CEO. Given the number of people referring to political leaders "as the CEO of country", I expect that we're getting a general collapse of the legitimacy of government. For example, the institution of the TFSA program in Canada is nakedly an assertion that taxation is illegitimate, and thus government. Most of the CPC leadership candidates are campaigning on very large tax cuts. This is partly memetic contamination from the US, and partly deeply racist in a purely homegrown sense, but it's also the expectation that this is how you become wealthy, by which most people mean prosperous; government is (in their understanding) how you become less prosperous.

It really doesn't matter how factual something like that is; if people believe it, they will act like it's true. (Even if now is a very bad time for that particular set of falsehoods.)

Date: 2017-05-18 06:02 am (UTC)
graydon: (Default)
From: [personal profile] graydon
Oh, certainly if I was an ambitious politician or any kind of functionary of the current power structure I'd be very nervous; the future is going to be disjunct from the present in increasingly large ways. I don't think they're especially predictable ways.

I've been getting a lot of leadership election materials from the CPC; I don't really know where to put the line between incompetence and malice. For instance, the assertion that only the private sector produces and government consumes and this is why government must be small.

There's... well, the private sector never produces core innovations; the private sector can't do critically necessary things like establish a currency; stability of trade (from suppressing pirates on up); education; health care; the rule of law; and I'm sure I've forgotten some. (And that "enforceable contracts" and "the rule of law" might not be the same thing, at that.)

At some point, ignorance becomes willful; it's sort of a Ayn Rand/entrepreneurial virtue cosplay more than it's an engagement with an actual economy. (I'm skipping the possible remarks about the utility of austerity and the confusion between "taxes are too high" and "wages are too low".) There's certainly a very active refusal to engage with climate change.

So I think it's something a bit different from Harper's dead-eyed determination to impose an inability to get out of the resource trap, but I don't think it's a simple case of not being able to do anything you're not thinking about -- if wealth is virtue, the poor are not worth saving, and you can get a lot of flailing around before someone outright says that and there's general relief at the reduction in cognitive dissonance -- so much as it's a determination to stay in a particular cognitive box.

I mean, it is a scary future. But it's the future we've got.

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