Robots, productivity, and inequality

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Robots, productivity, and inequality

Postby kurt_w » Thu Apr 19, 2012 3:32 pm

OK, not so much "robots" as automation and technology in general.

Over the next 20-30 years, automation will be increasing exponentially. It's not just factory jobs that fall victim to automation: lots of service and retail jobs get lost, too. So, what does the country look like in 2032 or 2042?

We'll be producing a lot more stuff (where "stuff" includes services) with the same number of people. That leaves at least four obvious scenarios:

    (A) Everybody works a bit less. Say, over time, we drop to a 30-hour work week. In that way, the benefits of automation are dispersed across the population and inequality doesn't increase. This would be a resumption of the pattern from a century ago, as labor and industry dealt with increased productivity by shortening the work week to 40 hours.

    (B) Everybody consumes a bit more. In this scenario, those of us who don't lose our jobs to automation buy more and more personal services -- health care, music lessons, Doggie Daycare, manicures, etc. -- such that the lost jobs in some businesses or industries are made up in others. How would you convince the rich to spend their money (a.k.a. redistributing wealth) rather than saving it? You'd probably need to have economic policies that explicitly penalized savings and promoted consumption.

    (C) A few people own more and more of everything. In this scenario, the ranks of the unemployed or marginally-employed just keep growing. They can't all find work providing services to the "haves" because the "haves" don't need or want to increase their consumption of services fast enough. Instead, the "haves" use their increasing wealth to buy up rent-producing properties, and to outbid the diminishing purchasing power of the "have-nots" for increasingly scarce resources (food, gasoline, etc.)

    (D) Everybody goes on the dole. A few people own 90% of the production in the society. Most of their income gets taken by the government, which gives it to the teeming millions of the unemployed/underemployed. They, in turn, cash their welfare checks, and go out and buy stuff from the robot workers, who return the cash to the 1%, and the cycle repeats itself.
Which of these, or which mix, is most likely? What other options have I missed?

Francis Di Domizio
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Re: Robots, productivity, and inequality

Postby Francis Di Domizio » Thu Apr 19, 2012 5:06 pm

Skynet taking over and wiping out most of humanity?

I'd guess our ability to consume grows with our ability to produce, and we continue to learn nothing about living within our individual means.

End result being something between B & C with maybe a little D mixed in.

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