When the future comes, what are we all going to do with it?

Last week I wrote about whether or not we really needed economic growth, and I claimed that the central problems facing our economy and our society were not about the size, scale, or growth of our economy, but rather about some deeper, undisclosed set of problems. This week I am trying, haphazardly and tentatively, to work through what those problems might look like. Also to predict the future.

For example, an economist looking at the big picture might ask why splitting the atom hasn't unlocked the key to our glorious communist future?

For example, an economist looking at the big picture might ask why splitting the atom hasn’t unlocked the key to our glorious communist future?

One of the things that bothers me about economics—both in its academic guise as a social science discipline and its neoliberal political guise as a quasi-religious faith in which bankers and CEOs serve as high priests—is its general failure to talk about what it’s for. Historians have a whole subfield, historiography, dedicated to how and why we write history. But because the economy is so self-evidently important to the fabric of our society, economists get a kind of pass. Economics is important because the economy is important. But what is the point of the economy, anyway? Is it possible to not have an economy? If the answer is no, than what is it about the concept of an “economy” that makes it an inevitable feature of human society? Why is the discipline of economics structured the way it is? Of course, those questions are scary because they lead to even harder questions about why the economy itself is structured the way it is.

I’m not saying I have answers to these questions. Still, it seems like economists, policy makers, and politicians love to fight over the hows—how does the economy run, how does it work, and the most specific whys: why this policy, why that policy—but are terrified to confront big picture questions: why is our economy arranged the way it is arranged, what is it accomplishing for who, and would we set it up that way again if we had to start over?

Even within the constrained context of neoliberal thought, economists, politicians, and business elites seem unwilling to ask even the most obvious of difficult questions. (Note: I define neoliberalism very broadly, and somewhat reflexively, as our society’s governing consensus with regard to global capital, sovereignty, and power-structures.)

In Which I Seem like I Will Get to the Point, but Don’t

science-fiction-cover-1934-granger

One might go so far as to say that neoliberalism itself is The Mightiest Machine!

This blog post is about the central problems facing Western style capitalism within the terms that neoliberalism has set for itself.  That means I’m disregarding global warming, which neoliberalism has sidelined, since it obviously has nothing to do with free trade or markets (with the exception of various weak-willed efforts to promote cap-and-trade, a market based solution to a problem that only a true ideologue would see as about markets.) Global warming is fundamentally not saleable, scalable, tradeable, or commodifiable—you can’t package and sell a disruption to the balance of nature any more than you can package and sell an earthquake. 

I’m also not talking about structural violence or civil crisis such as mass-incarceration, colonialism, or the military industrial complex. These are all things that neoliberals have basically accepted as natural and inevitable features of the world, either due to a dramatic failure of imagination, or because they have a personal stake in those institutions and power structures.

Setting all of the violence and senselessness of modernity aside, what remains so hard to understand is why our nation’s elites, and the economists that serve as their high priests, refuse to confront what appears to me to be the central problem facing the global economy, even on their own narrow terms.

In Which I Start to Get to the Point, Finally

DavidBrooks200

This is actually what I look like.

With all the panache of a young David Brooks, I have dubbed this problem the “making things” problem. What is the making things problem?  In the distant past, most people made a living by growing food.  This, after all, was what you needed to do if you wanted to wake up tomorrow morning and eat breakfast. Food production was centered around local communities, within which food and labor were generally distributed among neighbors and family members.

Mind you, I don’t mean to make this out as a perfect system, or some kind of pre-industrial paradise.  For one thing, there was no television, and I really like television. And because you relied on your immediate community for everything you needed, a natural disaster like a drought could do in your whole family. This was not some better, more natural way—it was just the basic, essential way that was. People grew food, interacted closely with the land, and relied on their immediate community for support when necessary.

Upon this model rested feudal systems, tribal systems, city states, proto-nation states, empires, religious hierarchies, trade caravans, social classes, gender roles, laws, and rules—goods were distributed all around the world (albeit very slowly). So I am not trying to say things were simple. But it was a very, very different kind of economy than what we got after the second industrial revolution.

What we got was a making-things economy. Farmers had become so productive that most people didn’t need to farm anymore. To a few people, it probably seemed stupid to farm when other farmers were making plenty of food. Most people, though, probably liked farming, or at least knew no other way. They stopped farming when other people decided it was stupid for them to be farming, and kicked them off their land (read: enclosure in England, read also: free trade agreements that make small-scale farming uneconomical for poor countries by insisting, in the name of “fairness,” that they trade on an equal footing with rich countries—which incidentally, became rich colonies by colonizing the poor countries oh…less than a century ago, but I’m not even going to go there).

Anyways, the economy we created was one in which people made shit. In exchange for making shit, citizens of wealthy countries got food, shelter, recreation, and healthcare (money made this trade easier, but it was not what they were getting, nor what they needed—it was and remains no more than the highly useful medium of exchange standing between ten hours in a factory and dinner on the table at the end of ten hours in a factory.)

Building the economy around making shit made sense, because a) we got more shit, and god knows people love their plastic crap, b) it came mixed in with modern education, sanitation, electricity, healthcare, and participatory democracy in a bundle of changes which almost certainly could not have been unbundled, and c) every (white, male, able) body who was willing to work their asses off got a half-way decent life for themselves, or at least their children—at least after they fought for said privilege and organized themselves into unions.

Obviously, I’m referring to those science fiction writers who weren’t busy imagining the richly literary encounters between buxom ladies and tentacled space worms…

But now, something fundamental is changing. The science fiction writers of the mid 20th century predicted this change. In fact, many believed it was eminent. Perhaps, in a sad twist of fate, this is one reason it is so neglected by more “serious” people now. In 2013, we don’t really need people to make shit anymore, because we have robots that can make shit.

A lot of liberals and neoliberals and people in general don’t see this happening—what they think has happened is that manufacturing has moved overseas because of free trade agreements and globalization. And that has happened, and it wasn’t inevitable, and it wasn’t necessarily a good idea. But so far as I can tell, this overseas shift of manufacturing from places like Michigan to places like Bangladesh is a sort of giant global-history MacGuffin.

It’s true that workers who don’t have rights, fair wages, environmental restrictions providing them with clean water and air, modern economies providing them with access to credit, and decent housing and healthcare, can make a T-shirt (or an iphone) a hell of a lot cheaper than a North American can. But people seem to believe that manufacturing will work in these countries the same way it worked in the United States—worker’s rights will improve, things will get better, the country will develop, wealth will be generated, and the third world will eventually rise to be like the first world, while the first world will by then be far ahead due to its mysterious “knowledge-based” economy.

I don’t think it will work that way. Cheap labor in poor countries under miserable conditions may be cheaper than hiring American workers. It may also be cheaper than robots and total mechanization. But, as the mechanization and modernization of manufacturing in America has demonstrated, manufacturing will never again lead to good jobs under a free market system, because only by mistreating workers can humans compete with machines. When the workers get restless, as they have at Foxconn, to take one example, corporations will not only improve conditions (as Foxconn may or may not be doing)—they will also make plans to replace most of their human employees with humanoid robots (as Foxconn is definitely doing.)

To me, this begs a rather large question—the one that everybody is ignoring. When the future arrives (and I believe that it is very, very close), and machines can supply all the things that humans could possibly ever want, what is everybody going to do? 

Mechanization does not have to be a curse. The coming robot revolution, and I truly believe it will be a robot revolution in something very close to the 1950s pulp-fiction sense, should be a blessing. It should mean wealth, leisure, freedom, and dignity for ever more human beings—eventually all human beings.  It should free us to pursue the things we truly love, like art, like love, like family, in place of the things we tolerate, like working in factories and office towers. This is the question that I see glaring back at me when I try to think about the problems facing our economy taken on it’s own terms—discounting humanitarianism, ecology, and structural violence—just money, trade, and straightforward metrics, just like the neoliberals like it.

I wonder whether or not we need leaders and thinkers who can figure out a long term plan for the future, and who have the courage to start implementing it. This is what the corporations, futurists, and government workers who spent the Great Depression planning in detail for the highways, suburbs, and consumer goods they were going to start making in the post-war era did. Or do we need some kind of grass-roots response? An insurrection, or a movement?

if-science-fiction-magazine-1953-cover

This is an astoundingly literal depiction of the future I imagine in the last paragraph.

Our generation is not going to look like the Baby Boomer generation part 2—that ship has already sailed. And I doubt that it will be a future in which steady technological advance provides jobs enough for all—we can’t all design the next iPhone, although in the 20th-century-model economy we might have all helped to build them. Maybe the future will include tariff barriers that help people stick with the jobs they have now while the world figures out what’s coming next, rather than throwing millions of peoples into slums in the name of “globalization” and capitalist progress—but I’m not counting on it.

And maybe the robot revolution will mean that people, secure in their computer and machine-supported ability to have all the cool shit they can imagine, will go back to farming and crafts work and other traditional human occupations—not because they have to, but because they want to?

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64 Responses to When the future comes, what are we all going to do with it?

  1. History of Capitalism says:

    Are you arguing that we have a post-making things economy? It is precisely the problem that we make too many things. Since the Great Depression it has been an issue of dissipating our ongoing crisis of overproduction. The face of American imperialism is actually rarely about “taking things” like strategic resources (read: oil) but is instead about opening new markets for our products. Going along with this, the “robot revolution” is nothing new. The history of capitalism is the history of machines obsoleting people and displacing laborers. Don’t forget the early protests against capitalism which were not just about land use (Enclosures, etc) but about humans being obsoleted, aka the well-known stories about rioting against threshing machines in the Anglo context or the legendary Saboteurs in the Francophone context.

    • orkinpod says:

      Yes, I think I agree with this. One of the things which is striking about these changes is that they are re-invigorating a very Marxist way of understanding capitalism, centered around capital, production, and labor instead of markets and money. But when I say post-making things I don’t mean there won’t be things, just that people won’t be making them. I don’t think making fewer things is a solution to this problem – although it may be a solution to the ecological problems which this post sidestepped.

      I think the question of opening markets is complicated, because I believe that the interests of capital (to be mobile, to have access to all markets from all places) are often opposed to those of governments (to stimulate their own economies by opening up markets for their goods specifically.) The intertwining of economic and political power in the current world order has created a kind of clusterfuck, in my opinion. And of course there’s the whole question of psychology. I don’t think we went to war in Iraq, to take one example, for oil, or to secure markets. Those things were on the table, but ultimately the decisions were made on the basis of irrational psychological and social impulses and ideas.

      These conversations get so enormously complicated so quickly, I can hardly keep my head straight…

      • History of Capitalism says:

        Ah, right, it is always wise to remember that people generally don’t make good decisions, which is an important note for any type of conspiratorial conjecture about “why” markets or governments or capital choose to do things.

        Yes! This intertwining is part of where traditional Marxian analysis fails. Capital’s ability to act in its own interests in an era of rapid communication, travel and shipping allow it to discipline nations that don’t pander to it, whereas Marx still lodges it as a tactic for increasing the wealth of nations. Similarly, I think Marx also can’t really address where we are at now in part because it is precisely rentier behavior that we are seeing so much of. Finance capitalism is a real thing and it is extremely strange if you step back in time and try to imagine the future.

        Anyway, my thoughts on Marx are unsurprisingly, given the topic of my blog, quite fraught. I recently read the Grundrisse for the first time (made me more amenable to him) and I have been meaning to vent my frustration with the 18th Brumaire for a while, so I have a lot to say on this matter that really exceeds your comments section.

        Anyway, cool blog! Sorry if I sounded totally aggro in my original comment, I just have so many feels about capitalism.

        • History of Capitalism says:

          Sorry, upon rereading I should have said “and its actuality is extremely strange if you step back…”

  2. Al says:

    long live Capitalism! Enjoyed the post.

  3. Really interesting post and a novel take on economics. The rise of the machines (as they are dramatically called) is an issue that is gaining more ground and has the power to reshape how we view economics. Only time will tell how it turns out.

  4. matt says:

    This is interesting. Thanks.

  5. halfbakedlog says:

    So will the manufacturers of robots be the new high priests? When only robots make robots, will they take over the priesthood? If people aren’t needed for work, how will they get food, shelter, and other shit? Perhaps by a clearinghouse (potential new source of power and corruption). People may go back to farming, art and other occupations for the pleasure of it. Also they may become motivated to only eat, sleep, and incessantly watch a screen (television, computer, etc.) Maybe that has already happened. Things change, but stay the same.

    Nostalgia for the 1950’s – good for whites only.
    Early unionism – good for whites only.
    They should be equally damned?

    • orkinpod says:

      Well, I tend to think, in a very Marxism-inflected way, that robots simply represent a new kind of capital, making it possible for those who control the “means of production” to consolidate their power and resources further at the expense of workers. So, and perhaps this is narrow minded of me, but I don’t think that robots will change the way capitalism functions, or who is in power – only make the situation increasingly unequal, until it reaches a level of instability or unrest where unpredictable things start to happen and things fall apart.

      How do people get food, shelter, and all their other shit? They get it from clearinghouses now. Work is used to judge who should have access to what to a degree, but in a very unpredictable and incoherent way – some people work very hard and get very little in return, others the opposite. If people aren’t needed for work, goods will be distributed on some other principle, and it goes without saying that power and corruption will accrue around it, just as they have around our worker/consumer model.

      As for the screens, I’m not at all worried. I’m quite convinced that people who aren’t utterly exhausted from jobs they hate/tolerate like nothing more than going outside, running around, and making things. And anyways, as knowledge production moves from the page to the screen, people spend more and more time with their screens, but the knowledge remains equally useful. I see no real difference between reading a novel and watching a TV show – one increases visual literacy, the other regular old literacy. Both are immersive, entertaining, and imbued with meaning.

      • halfbakedlog says:

        To me, television is a comforting background noise, and the pain and violence in some movies can be unbearable (I watch few). In books I have nearly found a spiritual thing which I lack and desire (against all reason). Screens and books are very diverse to me.

        • orkinpod says:

          i use television in a similar way, and I also avoid many movies because I find violence upsetting (sometimes it feels like it’s just the two of us on that one…) But I think that it is as possible for television and movies to fulfill a spiritual role as it is for books to be prurient or irrelevant. After all, Dickens was once considered morally questionable entertainment, and television is still in its infancy as an art form, relatively speaking…

  6. Well only two things are guaranteed in this life one is death and the other is change. Who knows whats to come? You have a very well written article and I enjoyed reading it. Congrats on being freshly pressed. Thanks for sharing. Angelia @ http://dixielandcountry.com

  7. Eagle Tech says:

    I think the real question is: how will money be handled? When we don’t need to go to work to “make shit,” because robots are making it all, how will humans, “make money?” In the end, it doesn’t really matter much if robots make things or people do. All that matters is can people sustain themselves, and can they do it if they aren’t earning money. If we change our view of “money” then robots making things may not be such a bad thing after all. But this will require rehashing the way the global economy works, and that may be difficult and turbulent, but ultimately necessary.

    • orkinpod says:

      I completely agree. And I suspect that the global economy, like any other edifice built up by humans, will either change, or be changed, with time. The question is, how to minimize the turbulence…

  8. tituswu says:

    I wouldn’t like it if robots took away jobs. If they did, this would just make the human overpopulation issue even worse. And besides, we need people to do jobs so people can have good work ethics.

  9. mbayryamali says:

    I don’t like reading for economics and I never read, but this post caught my attention and I quite enjoyed reading it!

  10. Reblogged this on New American Gospel! and commented:
    — J.W.

  11. armenia4ever says:

    This is a fascinating post. If all the menial jobs and even higher end such as trade related occupations become done by robots, what will we do with our time?

    Some jobs will always acquire a human touch, and I dont think more mechanized labor to take over certain occupations will change that.

    If technology has taught us one things, its that it creates new jobs we never thought would exist, be needed, ect. today. Our economy today functions on one simple truth: the exchange of labor. That’s all money itself is – and exchange of our labor. I suggest that in the future we will find new occupations with which we will exchange said labor.

    My head is spinning a bit as there are some vast implications that would occur with mechanized dominance of low end labor.

    • orkinpod says:

      One development I can imagine would be that people develop a strong bias towards human-made products and services, rejecting perfectly good mechanical alternatives. This would probably happen on a cultural level; people probably wouldn’t even think about the economic impacts.

      I agree that people will probably always exchange their labor somehow or other. But the weird thing about work is that almost everything people do could be characterized as work. Writing can be work, reading can be work – creating knowledge, consuming knowledge, making things, destroying things, killing people, caring for people – all are work. But we have lots of arbitrary lines about who’s work can be exchanged for what. I blog for free. I also write at my job. I read for fun, and for work. I cook dinner – that’s necessary labor – but I don’t get paid. But sometimes I pay other people to cook dinner. Sometimes I get paid for work I do with social capital or praise instead of money. Sometimes my job is really fun.

      I guess this is similar to what you’re saying – people will find new ways to work and exchange labor. But our current economic order leaves a lot of people behind. I fear that new orders will leave even more people behind, if we’re not careful.

  12. bernasvibe says:

    @”secure in their computer and machine-supported ability to have all the cool shit they can imagine, will go back to farming and crafts work and other traditional human occupations—not because they have to, but because they want to?..”
    >I think this is exactly what society is going to eventually gear towards..For mankind to survive it will! People need human interaction, warmth shared..to progress forward. No different than a flower or plant; needs sunshine to flourish. Hopefully society figures this out soon..

  13. Interesting… i enjoyed this one

  14. Allison Connell says:

    Agreed… so interesting.

  15. Marcela Cava Balsa says:

    We’re the robots of the present time

  16. we’re all going to be unemployed as every job will either be done by a computer/robot or a small amount of legally and easily manipulated people.
    how politicians and purveyors of big business havent been dragged into the streets and beaten half to death i’ll never understand.
    thanks

  17. eric wignes says:

    I’ve already felt it; i’m a 25 who started college four years ago when i realized i couldn’t get anything other than service/ hospitality jobs. I’m a workhorse who would be much more at home producing something and being judged by my level of effort and ability. that was not my experience though; now days people don’t care so much about your effort/ ability so much as they care about wheathter they like and and if you play social politics.

    you had an excellent point saying (paraphrase) that we don’t depend on each other or share with each other. personally i think thats the most fundamental difference between now and any other time that we’re witnessing. and it’s tearing us apart. people don’t survive with each and share their resources with each other then we don’t see each other as family; we no longer pass each other going down the block as and see a brother or even a neighbor. we see a competetor.
    maybe this is why we’ve become so disconnected?

    we’ve gotta look at the cup as half full though; technology does come full circle; look at us sharing ideas with each other. look at things like engineers without borders- life becomes so easy for us we turn to helping each other because we’re no longer so preoccupied with our own survival. corporations like that foxcom or whatever you mentioned do have bad motives a lot of the time i’m sure, but they serve their purpose in the overall scheme of things; let them have their money and power. why? because like work, money and power don’t mean what they used to mean.

    thanks for the post brother.

    • “…now days people don’t care so much about your effort/ ability so much as they care about wheathter they like and and if you play social politics…”

      This is an effect of the “information economy.” Since one of the products of any organization in the information economy is the message they put out, workers who produce a “pure message” (by their looks, way of talking, ability to create harmony in the group, etc.) are highly valued. Workers who produce well are less valued, as the “product” is actually a secondary product in the information economy.

    • orkinpod says:

      Thanks for the comment!

      And I definitely think that technology has a lot of potential for liberation as well. The internet is an incredible thing, and it’s not like the economy we’re replacing is so fantastic for everyone, as you demonstrate.

  18. I think the Future is already here and it doesn’t seem to like us very much.

  19. Carole Ramke says:

    I think many people are beginning to realize that big-ag, big-pharma, big banks, etc, never did care about them very much. Some are turning to growing their own nutritious food, staying healthy without medications, staying out of debt, home schooling, starting their own businesses and relying more on local products and services. Perhaps they will find more enjoyable ways to spend their time than watching TV commercials, sitting in cubicles or standing in lines.

  20. Ella Haining says:

    love this one.. Enjoyed reading your post..

  21. jimceastman says:

    I agree with you. We really have to care about future generation. I hope that everything turn out well in regard with the uncertainty problems we are facing in economy, employment, political and new technologies. You have a quite interesting post indeed!. Congratulations for being in FP!

  22. Eyagee says:

    Sadly, the big questions were asked, people would have the knowledge of how money works and as oft quoted Henry Ford says “If the people knew how money worked, there’d be a revolution overnight”. , for one, welcome our new robot masters! 🙂

  23. Eyagee says:

    Reblogged this on Stuff Found and commented:
    All hail our new robot masters!

  24. Pingback: Robots ‘R Us (?) | The First Gates

  25. Yogic Nature says:

    This is brilliant…

    I have a few thoughts coming into mind from an international Development degree a few years ago…. Ofcourse the word development in itself is arbitrary, yet it is automatically taken to mean of the industrial/economic kind right? We (even if subconsciously) mean, development of for example GDP when we refer to development.
    Have you read Charles Eisensteins book “Sacred Economy”? One definition of economy, is “the management of _ under a time of scarcity” …Scarcity the elephant in the room here. The farce of having “enough jobs”,and of what kind of jobs we’re creating, and importantly, WHY…

    “Doctors and medicine become necessary when people create a sickly environment. Formal schooling has no intrinsic value, but becomes necessary when humanity creates a condition in which one must become “educated” to get along…To the extent that trees deviate from their natural form, pruning and insect extermination become necessary; to the extent that human society separates itself from a life close to nature, schooling becomes necessary. In nature, formal schooling has no function.”
    (Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution)

    Understanding some of the roots of our “Education” system today, also offers vital insights to where we are today, and how we got here:

    JOhn Gatto Taylor (a teacher for 30 years) and Ivan Illich write very good critiques on education as well.

    Patricia Fara wrote an excellent book called “Science: a four thousand year history” in it she says for eg:
    “Until very recently Eurocentrism dominated Angl-American history of science. In wishful
    thinking versions of the past, science leads to Absolute Truth – and moreover, it started in
    Europe. Now that the entire globe is electronically interlinked, science is seen as the summit
    of achievement and the outcome of American/European genius.
    Such self-congratulation takes little account of the possibility that other cultures may
    have chosen other approaches to life, not because their finest scholars were stupid
    [or ‘primitive’] , but because they had different opinions about what is important.
    In any case more science does not necessarily always produce better answers.”

    A friend of mine recently wrote the following on the challenging civilisation blog on the parallels between agriculture and “civilisation” … Here is one quote from it:
    “Paradoxically, the very achievements of civilized man have been the most important factors in the downfall of civilizations.”
    http://challengingciv.blogspot.ie/2013/01/an-exploration-of-parallels-between.html

    Yes, growing ones own food is becoming more and more important and is a powerful political statement, along with something very empowering and enjoyable that one can do 🙂

    I think it is also important to realise man’s dichotomous separation of himself and nature in the advent of civilisation as we know it to be today. This is synonmous with agriculture and the domestication of animals, deforestation, slavery, domination and manipulation of the “natural world” and the beginning of living beyond ones’ “means”. While this is around 10,000 years ago, this is a more recent – and alarming but insightful – quote:

    “Slavery is the first step toward civilisation. In order to develop it is necessary that things should be better for some and much worse for others, then those who are better off can develop at the expense of others.” (Alexander Herzen, 1812-1870)
    Aristotle also said similar things on keeping slaves and on their essential role in “household management.”

    On our ‘well meaning’ “Aid” & more:
    Well worth the look.

    This is almost a post in itself, so I’ll stop. Happy reading and further insights to you! 🙂

    Last but not least, this is a must see: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=alan+watts+stop+trying+to+change+the+world&oq=alan+watts+s&gs_l=youtube.1.1.0l10.1170.8640.0.10059.21.14.7.0.0.0.154.1550.5j9.14.0…0.0…1ac.1.TMVANNt6BKU

  26. The Great Surge says:

    outstanding post, I loved it

  27. Reblogged this on Big Blue Dot Y'all and commented:
    “I wonder whether or not we need leaders and thinkers who can figure out a long term plan for the future, and who have the courage to start implementing it.”
    The leaders are there — I just wonder if there is a growth infrastructure there to support them as they grow into their roles. In my experience, most American corporations do the opposite. They squash innovation, creativity and leadership because it threatens the status quo.
    Good thoughtful read.

  28. G. Olivo says:

    Interesting post.

  29. Liz says:

    Reblogged this on Grace Rules Weblog and commented:
    This is one of the most interesting things I have ever read regarding the “economy”. This is certainly food for thought.

  30. Divine Cartomancy says:

    If this post does not get you thinking nothing will!

  31. In the early ’80s, I built what grew to be a medium size ($350 Million/annum) semiconductor IC design and mfg co.

    Not long into it, large companies were moving to offshore assembly houses, which drove up the costs for U.S. based assembly firms because the demand was rapidly diminishing. Within a couple of years, an entire industry was gone (same happened to memory chips/suppliers/mfgs etc, for different reasons – Japanese government funded dumping).

    The offshore assembly started out as mostly poorly trained operators doing less than acceptable quality work, to world-class quality on manual machines…then replaced by robotic chip-placement and bonding machines, etc.

    Like all other companies in the industry, we were forced to use off-shore, subcontract assemblers or go out of business and lose all jobs rather than only a portion.

    Wasn’t long before we were also doing our test in other facilities, rinse and repeat. Made it to 3.5K employees before we too were consumed by the march of “progress.”

    Even back then, in the 80’s, we were wondering where this all ends. We could see a time in the not-too-distant future, when there would be little for most people to do. Jobs wouldn’t just be scarce, they wouldn’t be needed because of mechanization.

    For over thirty years, many of us have been trying to figure out what to do with all the people who are no longer needed to grow an economy…

  32. Fred says:

    Great post! You’ve got a new fan. It is amazing that industry leaders and politicians are not taking greater strides to fix these problems. It affects them too. If no one has money, no one buys the CEO’s product. If people are miserable, the politician gets voted out.

    I try to make a call for action on my own site, because we really need someone in power to start coming up with answers about how to employ the people technology has rendered obsolete.

    http://fredmoutran.wordpress.com/2013/03/23/how-do-we-tech-proof-our-economy/

  33. Z says:

    While your post has valid points, I think you’re unaware of the ideological trap you’ve fallen into. Here’s what this is. The trap is the idea that the previous age marked a time of simplicity and stability, and that the current generation became ” too modernized”–maybe, even somewhat corrupted. And the last point may or may not be true.

    People tend to impose some kind of “ideal” narrative onto the past without looking at its inherent contradictions. For example, some understand the 1950s to be the Norman Rockwell, Leave it to Beaver phase when, actually, it was a period of intense anxiety as American society faced the real threat of Nuclear Annihilation, and as gender roles underwent serious changes with Soldiers returning home to independent, working wives. America experienced an existential crisis mirrored in the growth of popularity in psychology (with books like the Lonely Crowd), and a “domestic” crisis exemplified in science fiction movies like The Incredible Shrinking Man. The post- war male population were sorting out their notions of Masculinity– which I contend is always changing.

    So every decade undergoes some form of change; at no one point history has anyone ever said of their temporal milieu, “Wow, nothing going on now”. Finally, as to your robots, I’m not worried because there will always be reactions against harmful enterprises (here’s looking at you Occupy Wall Street)– even underground ones like in The Matrix and Terminator 3/(4?).

    Orkin, you unfairly discount younger generations. At no other time in history thus far have people entered college , receiving University-level educations. Placing the Baby Boomers on a pedestal is a mistake too because, well, they are the ones running the government and economy, vis-a-vis the corporate machine.

    • orkinpod says:

      Thanks for the comment. It’s not often that I get accused of idealizing the past – but in this post I think it’s a fair complaint. That said, I do think that in the United States the mid-20th century, and the Baby Boomer generation, have been a time of unprecedented and unusual economic stability. Social stability, not so much. I don’t think the boomers are on a pedestal. I think the boomers are (understandably) deluded – they think the world will keep being essentially like the world they’ve long lived in, which is to say, basically stable economically, but unstable socially. Basically stable politically in the US, but unstable in the rest of the world. But these are false assumptions – there’s no reason it has to stay that way.

      As for discounting younger generations – I don’t see any reason why younger generations, simply by being well educated or driven or anything else, will make the economic changes which the world will face as it continues developing and changing and growing and inventing things any less disruptive. I’m reasonably sure the world will find a way, I just think it will be messy. I think it would be best if we started rethinking how to make our values and aims as a society into a reality, lest the future go in a direction we’d rather avoid.

      Finally, I too believe that some humans will always find ways to resist, to stand up for what is right and true. This can be a source of hope in the darkest of times. But just because Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo showed incredible courage doesn’t make a Dirty War any easier to bear – particularly if you or your family are the ones being tortured.

  34. gloghome says:

    interesting thoughts! Thanks!

  35. Pingback: When the future comes, what are we all going to do with it? | HYDROGEN...

  36. Joel Cole says:

    Reblogged this on Xbox live codes Generator and commented:
    this got me thinking… hmmmmm

  37. Keith Hummel says:

    good point…. however the future goes humans can never be leveled by robots…. i think….

  38. robots are just robots… humans make the robots.. it’s as simple as that… 🙂

  39. Carole Ramke says:

    I think you and the followers of your blog would like to know about the Citizen Hearing for Disclosure which was held in Washington DC last week, but totally ignored by the mainstream media. A presidential briefing was sent to Obama four years ago but was also ignored–hence the need for world citizens to educate themselves and take action against the crimes being committed against humanity. Here is the briefing document:
    http://www.disclosureproject.org/docs/obama/obama-briefing-introduction.pdf

    For information on what is wrong with our economy and financial systems, there is a video on the internet — The Money Masters.

  40. Pingback: Robots ‘R Us, installment 2 | The First Gates

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