REAL WORLD EVENT DISCUSSIONS

The price of automation

POSTED BY: SIGNYM
UPDATED: Wednesday, August 12, 2020 08:19
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Monday, July 27, 2020 8:39 PM

SIGNYM

I believe in solving problems, not sharing them.


Buffer Overflow: the Ghastly Future of Work

Fred Reed • July 13, 2020



A common topic around the web is whether automation will drastically increase unemployment. The usual scholarly answer is only a bit, and conservatives often insist that new jobs will always be found. Actually, automation has already created much joblessness. It continues to do so. We don’t notice because we have disguised the unemployment.

Consider. In 1850, everybody worked. In England, children notoriously were sweated in mines and factories and, in America, worked on their parents’ farms.

Then child labor laws took kids off the labor market, keeping them from competing with adults. Compulsory high school removed adolescents perfectly capable of doing many jobs of adults. College now keeps millions more in, usually, economically pointless idleness. We have over three million people in prisons. Large numbers live on welfare. The government factors none of these into the unemployment stats. If it did, the unemployment numbers would rise sharply.

Then there is makework. A great many governmental workers do little or nothing of use. This amounts to paid unemployment. Sometimes this unemployment is distributed: A hundred workers do useful work that thirty could do. Then there is the military. It produces nothing and, since the US has no military enemies, amounts to more paid unemployment. The arms industry uses more multitudes in building things of no use, such as ever more intercontinental nuclear bombers. For engineers, this is marginally more dignified than digging holes and filling them in. It is as much a jobs program as the Depression-era CCC.

Another phenomenon we see is the disimportantification (patent applied for) of work. In 1850, work done was genuinely important: growing food, without which we tend to be dead and not of much use in an economy. Then the farms automated and everybody went to work in factories, making cars and refrigerators. These were pretty important, but not as important as food. You can’t eat a refrigerator. Then the factories automated or went away and people became massage therapists, nail salon operators, psychologists, sociologists, consultants, or diversity counselors. Others ran massage parlors, restaurants, gymnasiums, or cutesy-wootsy boutiques selling unbearable kitsch. They were employed, but in occupations of ever-increasing triviality. We have gone from feeding people to rubbing their backs. How far can this go?

This buffering of the unemployed seems to be reaching its limits. In principle I suppose we might encourage our less and less literate college populations to become post-docs in Victims’ Studies, or to engage in the proliferation of ever more glorious aircraft carriers. Sooner or later, though, the pointlessness would become too obvious.

A recent event, laboraly speaking, was the eruption of women and immigrants into the labor market. The women had been buffered at home as housewives and mothers. Now, reasonably enough, they wanted to be biochemists and useless lawyers, like men. The immigrants had been in Mexico. Now they weren’t, and they wanted jobs.

What happens when you throw onto the labor market millions of Mexicans who cannot be buffered and women who do not want to be rebuffered? Easy. The oversupply drives wages down. The Mexicans do for five dollars an hour what had been done by whites for twenty. Women got generally the same pay as men, and did the jobs as well as men. But there were lots lots of them, which gave employers a negotiating advantage.

Wages went down. Some of the decline took the form of loss of benefits, so it didn’t always look like a pay cut. Retirement went away. Workers were turned into “independent contractors” meaning on their own for medical care and so on. Soon it took two people to maintain a family, not one as before. Now people live paycheck to paycheck, maxed out on credit cards, with no savings and little hope. This has produced joblessness, deplorables, Donald Trump, and riots.

Note that automation has ripple effects both upstream and downstream of the loss of jobs reported in the press. When a big newspaper goes all-digital, Weyerhauser sells fewer trees to make wood pulp, the newsprint factories lose orders, the truckers who drove the newsprint to the paper become redundant (as the Brits say), the pressmen get laid off who run and maintain the big four-color web-offset presses, the company that makes the presses lose orders, the people who delivered the papers to your door step lose their jobs, and so on.

Various considerations come into play here, methinks. Software and robots do not buy stuff. Today businesses will automate because the saving in wages raises profits. An aging population buys less stuff than a young one. If the population stabilizes or shrinks, there goes the demand for new houses, suburbs, roads to the, and shopping centers.

I read over and over of the young living in their parents’ basements because they can’t find jobs, or jobs paying enough for them to buy houses and start families, of people who will never be able to retire. Humanity being what it is, we won’t see this coming and somehow prepare for it.

Them is today’s cheery thoughts. Next time we will speak of the joys of bubonic plague, said to be hiding in Central Asia and ready to spring. Oh good.

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Monday, July 27, 2020 9:47 PM

6IXSTRINGJACK

[/i]


Wages in America have remained stagnant since the late 90's, despite inflation doubling the price of goods and services roughly every 20 years. There are a lot of reasons for that. Automation is definitely one of them. Outsourcing work, both goods and services, is another one. Buying cheap shit goods and replacing them when they break instead of buying built to last versions that have become to pricey to even make in the US is another. Immigration, illegal and otherwise is yet another.

As for automation...

There isn't too much under the sun that can't eventually be automated eventually.

Even maintenance and R&D for better automation can eventually be automated.

Do Right, Be Right. :)

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Monday, July 27, 2020 9:50 PM

1KIKI

Goodbye, kind world (George Monbiot) - In common with all those generations which have contemplated catastrophe, we appear to be incapable of understanding what confronts us.


AFAIK what's mostly driving automation is the drive to increase profit. Absent the profit motive, except for automating to reduce work that's hazardous or difficult, it shouldn't necessarily replace all human effort.

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Friday, July 31, 2020 1:55 PM

JEWELSTAITEFAN


I worked at the Postal Service.

The largest Union in the world is the American Postal Workers Union. I believe the 2nd and 3rd are the Mailhandlers Union and the National Association of Letter Carriers.

the Service tried hard to automate their processes, and spearheaded Optical Character Recognition, etc.
A clerk can sort about 750 pieces of mail per hour (3 trays, or 6 feet). The machines sorted up to 43,000 per hour, and 38,000 was substandard.

The APWU contract had restrictions on whether the Service could purchase more machines. The Service was required to show that all costs of the machine (parts, maintenance, operation, machine purchase cost, etc) would be less than 80% or the costs of the manual labor.
So what was the Union's solution when the Service wanted more production from the clerks? They told the clerks to SLOW DOWN. Thus making the formula even easier to replace everybody with machines.

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Monday, August 3, 2020 3:29 AM

SIGNYM

I believe in solving problems, not sharing them.


The point is that there is no point to automation. There's no real need, no "driver" that makes automation an inevitable necessity.

The only "driver" for automation is the profit motive, and automation in our current economy only benefits the elites who profit from automation. Absent that, we would be able to control and amount and pace of automation.

Granted, nobody wants to till a 100-acre wheat field with a pair of oxen and a plow, just as nobody want to hand-harvest grain with a scythe or buck hay bales onto a truck or weave a 100-ft bolt of cloth by hand. But we can scale back our machinery, use less fuel, make jobs more interesting and meaingful (and plentiful). It would mean, tho, that people might actually have to WORK five hours a day. Is work so terrible?

-----------
Pity would be no more,
If we did not MAKE men poor - William Blake

#WEARAMASK

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Monday, August 3, 2020 7:26 AM

SECOND

The Joss Whedon script for Serenity, where Wash lives, is Serenity-190pages.pdf at www.mediafire.com/folder/1uwh75oa407q8/Firefly


Quote:

Originally posted by SIGNYM:
The point is that there is no point to automation. There's no real need, no "driver" that makes automation an inevitable necessity.

The only "driver" for automation is the profit motive, and automation in our current economy only benefits the elites who profit from automation. Absent that, we would be able to control and amount and pace of automation.

Who is "we" in that sentence? Is it the switchboard operator, elevator operator, and the milkmaid? Milking machines should be outlawed to recreate lost jobs!

Milkmaid
Nola Naturals
Part-time · $30 one time
Description
Local Raw milk dairy. We have been in production for almost 6 years and service 3 counties. Super flexible part time position CASH paying job. Must live with in a half hour of Howard CO. And Have some kind of livestock experience and be able to lift 50#'s. Position is for milking and feeding. Waiver to be signed.
272 W Zabrisky Ln, Howard, Colorado 81233
www.facebook.com/job_opening/279021309428393/



The Joss Whedon script for Serenity, where Wash lives, is Serenity-190pages.pdf at www.mediafire.com/folder/1uwh75oa407q8/Firefly

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Monday, August 3, 2020 7:43 PM

JEWELSTAITEFAN


Quote:

Originally posted by JEWELSTAITEFAN:
I worked at the Postal Service.

The largest Union in the world is the American Postal Workers Union. I believe the 2nd and 3rd are the Mailhandlers Union and the National Association of Letter Carriers.

the Service tried hard to automate their processes, and spearheaded Optical Character Recognition, etc.
A clerk can sort about 750 pieces of mail per hour (3 trays, or 6 feet). The machines sorted up to 43,000 per hour, and 38,000 was substandard.

The APWU contract had restrictions on whether the Service could purchase more machines. The Service was required to show that all costs of the machine (parts, maintenance, operation, machine purchase cost, etc) would be less than 80% or the costs of the manual labor.
So what was the Union's solution when the Service wanted more production from the clerks? They told the clerks to SLOW DOWN. Thus making the formula even easier to replace everybody with machines.

I'm sorry, I had meant to post of the Footprint impact, but didn't get to it.

The footprint required for these automation machines to perform Delivery Point Sequencing (or Dual Pass Sortation, which is the same function) is between 1/50th and 1/200th of the floor space needed (depending upon the detail of application) to do it all manually, without consideration for the amount of time required (1/1200th).
So that means smaller buildings, less utilities, etc. Some of the facilities are "lights out" plants, which have no clerks or operators, and only Maintenance personnel enter the building.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2020 8:19 AM

SECOND

The Joss Whedon script for Serenity, where Wash lives, is Serenity-190pages.pdf at www.mediafire.com/folder/1uwh75oa407q8/Firefly


In 1930 the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that, within a century, advances in productivity would allow inhabitants of developed countries to maintain a decent standard of living while working 15 hours a week. If that prediction now looks laughable, it failed for reasons that Bertrand Russell, mathematician, foresaw.

Recalling the famous example of the pin factory that Adam Smith used to explain the division of labour, Russell imagined a new technology that will halve the amount of time it takes to make a pin. If the market for pins is already saturated, what will happen?

In a sane world, Russell thought, the factory would simply halve working hours, maintaining the same wages but greatly increasing the time that the workers could devote to the joys of leisure. But, as Russell observed, this rarely happens. Instead, the factory owner will opt to keep half the workers on the same hours and lay off the rest. The gains from the advances of technology will be realised not as an expansion of leisure but rather as drudgery for some and jobless destitution for others, with the savings enjoyed only by the winner, the factory owner.

Looking back over the past century, we can see Russell’s predictions borne out.

More at www.newstatesman.com/2020/08/why-bertrand-russells-argument-idleness-m
ore-relevant-ever


The Joss Whedon script for Serenity, where Wash lives, is Serenity-190pages.pdf at www.mediafire.com/folder/1uwh75oa407q8/Firefly

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