2010-05-11

dispelling a few myths

I found this in a comment on youtube:


One negative of capitalism is it requires cyclical consumption, corps have to reproduce the same junk over and over with minor changes just to keep it going.
Another is 'technological unemployment', meaning machines take jobs and there are NO replacements. So everyone without work is just supposed to die.
The[se] are INHERENT problems that can not be fixed by changing the curency or controlling the government.


On cyclical consumption: while it does often seem as though this is what's happening, it doesn't have to be this way. If we the consumers want a washing machine that just does the job without all the bells and whistles, and lasts a long time, then there's a market for it and a smart company will produce it -- and in so doing outsell the company that's producing the overfancy hunk of junk. True, there are certain kinds of products -- trendy clothing, for example -- that do seem to go around and around in circles. But it's optional to participate in these markets. You can opt out and wear whatever you find at the local rummage sale for 2 bucks, or for Spitalfields Market in London for 2 pounds, like me! The option to not participate in ridiculousness is one part of the wonders of a free society.

On technological unemployment: this reminds me very much of Manna by Marshall Brain. The robots are taking all of our jobs! It does seem plausible on the surface -- if all the jobs are done by robots than what's left for us to do to earn money?

There's actually nothing to be afraid of; technological unemployment is actually a wonderful thing! It's one of myavorite things to think about because I get all warm and fuzzy inside. One way to approach this is to look at history. How about the washing machine? At some point in history, it was somebody's job to wash the clothes. Nowadays it only takes a few minutes to throw them in the washer; so that job is now gone, replaced by laundromat tycoons and good old GE. And yet disaster was averted and those people put out of work have managed to find other jobs. And now everyone's standard of living has gone up because we are free to, if we wish, use the laundry machine instead of washing by hand. (It's important that it's optional to use the laundry machine -- to satisfy those that long for a simpler life, of which there are many, we must allow for the fact that sometimes simple manual labor tasks provide for deeply satisfying work. This is part of the argument for low taxes, but I digress.)

How does this work? The reason you're getting confused is because you're looking at the economy in a static fashion. As if the demand for goods and services today is roughly the same as what it'll be in 50 years. However, these things change over time; how many people in the 1890s were employed by Hollywood? What was at that time a futuristic technological luxury is now a commonplace commodity with an entire industry to support it which employs thousands if not millions of people.

Another way to think about it: forget about jobs and money. Just think about a bunch of humans milling about the earth trying to have a good time. In one scenario, some of the humans spend day in and day out as bank tellers: handing people cash and punching some buttons on a computer. Then someone invents the ATM and those humans no longer have to hand people the cash, they are free to do other things (like invent new ATM-like devices! Or take up cricket.) Net, the world is surely better off with the ATM than without, all other things equal.

So fear not! There will be new opportunities for all; and they'll be more and more creative as technological improvements take care of the less-fun jobs.

(cross-posted at freedomislove.org)

No comments:

Post a Comment