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Do we need to get poorer?

by the stormy present Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 09:39:34 AM EST

In this comment on this diary, Metatone said this:

High end employs less people. This is a problem that someone needs to actually address. Maybe there is no alternative but for us, as a whole to get poorer, but we should be managing this decline, else the resulting inequalities between a "skilled elite" and an "unskilled (and largely unemployed) mass" are going to be problematic.

...and Migeru wanted to talk about it some more. Actually, so do I.

Metatone's comment clicked with something I'd been thinking about a lot over the last few days, and while sitting in a coffee shop the other day sucking down a vast amount of caffeine, I jotted down several pages of notes toward a rant on migration and policy that I haven't gotten around to actually writing up yet.

So in the meantime, here's some stuff to chew on.


I'm not sure when I'll have time to write up my rant, which is regardless on a different topic, and I'm the furthest thing from an economist, so this is intended to be a jumping-off point for discussion, not a policy treatise. In reading it over, it seems wildly incoherent even to me, so I apologize for that, but hopefully y'all can take it someplace better in the comments. Somewhere, in the stew of things I've been thinking about, fits this paragraph from a profile of Tariq Ramadan in this week's New York Times Magazine:

“Western Muslims and the Future of Islam” throws some light on Ramadan’s idea of “Islamic socialism,” an ideology, combining religious principles with anticapitalist, anti-imperialist politics, that goes back to the time of the Russian Revolution. (Libya’s strongman, Muammar el-Qaddafi, is one who claims to rule according to these principles.) The murderous tyranny to be resisted, in Ramadan’s book, is “the northern model of development,” which means that “a billion and a half human beings live in comfort because almost four billion do not have the means to survive.” For Ramadan, global capitalism, promoted by such institutions as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, is the “abode of war” (alam al-harb), for “when faced with neoliberal economics, the message of Islam offers no way out but resistance.”

To be a sworn enemy of capitalism does not mean you are a communist, a fascist, a religious fundamentalist or indeed an anti-Semite, but it is something these otherwise disparate groups frequently have in common. Advocating a revolt against Western materialism on the basis of superior spiritual values is an old project, which has had many fathers but has never been particularly friendly to liberal democracy. Ramadan’s brand of Islamic socialism, promoted with such media-friendly vitality, in conferences, interviews, books, talks, sermons and lectures, has won him a variety of new friends, especially in Britain and France.

Now, I don't particularly want to talk about Tariq Ramadan himself (not at this point, anyway, but probably later), but about this idea of the "northern model of development," connected to Metatone's comment about the evolving gap between skilled/unskilled, elite/unemployed. (I'm oversimplifying, I know.)

In another comment on nanne's diary, Migeru said this:

My interpretation of that (backed by some anecdotal evidence from press articles online) is that the Spanish leatherworking industry is dying off, except for high-end, high-quality manufacturing for major brands, and that the low-price range manufacturers are moving their operations abroad in an attempt to cut their labour costs to compete with China.

This is a point that is often made about Germany, but it seems to be true for al of the European productive economy, and it is that cheap labour abroad is forcing european producers to concentrate on high-quality, high-value-added, high-margin, low-volume products. Germany's capital goods are usually the prime example of this, but I think organic food and high-quality leatherworking can also follow the same pattern. There is still room for products made in europe, but they are in niche markets.

In the US, outsourcing seems to have hollowed out entire inductrial sectors to the point that not even the high-end manufacturing or even the design are carried out in the US any longer, just the branding. I am concern about Europe's ability to retain some manufacturing base in the sectors that are now being outsourced, because without contact with manufacturing one quickly loses the expertise necessary for doing the high-end stuff, or the design.

.

I'm currently reading The Cave by the Portuguese Nobel Prize winner (and possibly the world's best living novelist) Jose Saramago. It's an allegorical novel, like much of Saramago's work, and is (so far, I'm only 60 pages into it) a harsh critique of much of our contemporary retail/consumer/corporate/centralized society.

The novel -- and this is not intended to be a book review, but like I said, it's what's on my mind -- centers on a potter (ceramacist, I think, is the "elite" term) who lives and works in a rural village and trucks his handmade plates and crockery into the city every week for sale at The Center, a vast, windowless complex that my sibling the city planner would refer to as "mixed-use," in that the 48-story building is both residential (the windows are fixed shut, can't have any suicides, that would look bad) and commercial (although Cipriano, the potter-protagonist, dares not actually go in to wander around and look at how his wares are displayed, out of certainty that he will be "escorted" from the building by security if he is clearly not buying anything).

(That paragraph I just wrote, in its length and comma-riddled form, could in fact be seen as a tribute to Saramago's writing style.... Let's think of it that way so I don't have to revise it, ok?)

In the world of the book, Cipriano and other (traditionally) skilled specialists are utterly dependent upon the "modern market" that is The Center, upon the whims of its buyers and its intrusive security apparatus. The world outside The City and The Center is poor and desperate, filled with factories and farms who sell their wares to The City and especially The Center. The City is surrounded by a band of squatter settlements filled with would-be hijackers who might actually be decent people but who lack a whole lot of other options, who keep being displaced for The City (and who knows, maybe The Center) to expand. Perhaps the police stage a car-burning to create a pretext to raid the place. Who knows.

In other words, it's a lot like a lot of places I know. It's a lot like where I grew up, in fact. I might have worked at a bookstore in The Center when I was 16.

But I digress. The point is the world's two classes: one less-skilled and poor and/or unemployed, the other more-skilled and rich(er).

Because I would submit that this is already the case; we have two worlds, one clamoring for entry to the other, the latter building ever-higher walls to keep the former out, and we have not managed this decline at all.

So, assuming that most people here fall into the set of people living in comfort, rather than the set of people without the means to survive, this is the question: As our economies transform and specialize, do we have to get poorer in order to change this?

I may not be understanding the question correctly, and if not, someone should feel free to set me straight.

Your thoughts?

Display:
My first non-open-thread FP story.  Er, I mean that someone else didn't FP.

I think I've run out of firsts now.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 09:47:02 AM EST
Thank you for putting this together, stormy,  and a thought provoking topic, at that. And yes, you are out of firsts...onwards!!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:11:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It looks to me that what's really happening is a redistribution of the rich people across the globe. A rich middle class forming the top 10% of all countries with a poor 90%.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 09:53:46 AM EST
But even being in the top 10% doesn't make you rich in America these days.  (And it damned sure doesn't make you rich in Britain.  I'm amazed people survive on less there.)  That would be, if I remember correctly, about $100k/year, which is certainly nothing to sniff at (I certainly wouldn't turn it down if it were someday offered to me), but not a whole hell of a lot of money when you get right down to it.  The real, almost unimaginable growth has taken place among the top 1%, and even the top 1/10th of that 1%.  Being at the bottom of that top 10% will get you a fairly nice house in a fairly nice neighborhood, -- good schools, no violent crime, maybe even an actual yard if you're in a city, etc -- but it's hardly Gates-league income these days, especially if you're in one of the big cities (where you're more likely to earn that level of income).

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:07:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Being at the bottom of that top 10% will get you a fairly nice house in a fairly nice neighborhood, -- good schools, no violent crime, maybe even an actual yard if you're in a city, etc

I think it's very common for people in developed countries to fail to realize exactly how rich that lifestyle you describe is, compared to the vast majority of humankind.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:13:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I can't remember where I saw it (probably someone here will), but there was a tool someone once posted where you put in your yearly salary, and you got back at what percentile you are in the world's wealth. As I recall, most all (if not all) of us here at ET fall in the top 99 percentile...which was prety shocking to me, as I have only been able to work part time the last 2.5 years. So "poor" in the West, is fairly well off in much of the East and South...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:18:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But that shouldn't be shocking.  We've had quite a head start, after all.  Now the folks in South and East Asia are starting to catch up.  It's similar to Europe's sprint back in line with the US after the devastation of WWII, except that, in our day, the process will be slower (far more people, less initial human capital).

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:25:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The phrase "We've had quite a head start, after all" bears deconstructing.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:38:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What do you mean?

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:44:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Who's "we"? When did the "start" happen? Where does the "head start" come from?

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:51:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"We" being the industrialized -- "developed" is probably a better description given the increasingly-post-industrial nature of our economies these days -- countries.  The start begins with the industrial revolution, meaning that Britain, for example, had a few hundred years' head start on China in development.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:59:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So what happened before the industrial revolution?

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 11:01:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What do you mean?

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 11:15:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There was no economic history before that?

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 11:18:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sure, but we know what economic history was before that.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 11:21:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And that has no influence on the "head start".

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 11:23:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Riches begin with theft. About 5000 years ago it started.
by bil on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 12:55:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
For the modern times, I would bet on the Renaissance with the "free" money of South America...!

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman
by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Sat Feb 24th, 2007 at 05:03:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not exactly a win-lose zero-sum game, but until we stop spending insanely on armaments and troop support and SUVs and plastotrash, we'll be zero sum on wages and living standards.

Don't worry about yourself. If you have access to a computer, either yours or a rental, you'll come out OK, so it's all right to fight for equality.

Every Chines and Indian isn't going to have a Mercedes, or even a Daihatsu, but transit will be better, basic food affordable, water drinkable, doctors accessible, and the Internet universal. Travel will be slow and expensive, housing basic, clothing simple.

No big problems. No need for military service, except in UN peacekeeping forces.

And so on. I figure a real income worldwide at about five to eight thousand Euros, family of four, with universal free basic health care, housing, internet, and so on.

I think it can work. Carbon consumption and pollution way down.

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!

by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Sat Mar 3rd, 2007 at 04:57:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Probably almost everyone in the US has an income that is significant from a global perspective. That doesn't stop real third world poverty from affecting the US. The comparison is flawed at some level.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 11:29:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, no doubt about it.  But you could say the same thing about people earning $30k/year.  A person in that income bracket is more likely than not to own his/her own home (think about 55-60% of people at that level typically do in the states), own a car, have a computer with the internet, etc -- almost infinitely wealthier than the working-class guy in China.  I'm just trying to say that we tend to, I think, overestimate what being in the top 10% means at times.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:21:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, but you're not poor on 100K, are you? (Is that a household or individual figure, BTW?) The bourgeoisie need the petit bourgeoisie to look after them: not everyone else can be poor.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:18:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No clue if it's household or individual.  You're certainly not poor at $100k/year.  To say that anyone is would be absurd, obviously.  You're quite comfortable, but you're nowhere near the point at which you can say, "I can have anything I want," in this day and age.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:22:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But if you're at the point where 90% of the people think you can have anything you want...

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:26:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sure, but, if you polled people, they would like tell you that the family at the bottom of the top 10% was making far more than $100k.  Most folks who haven't had the luxury of reading the stats are quite surprised by how low it is, in my experience.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:31:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Because people are simultaneously in denial about how poor they are and how wealthy they are, depending on the context.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:37:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Because we're comparing ourselves to different levels of (real) income and wealth by class when we look across the globe.  The working-class guy in Omaha, poor though he may be by American standards, is still a hell of a lot wealthier than the working-class guy in Beijing.  The former, without question, owns a car, a television, -- that sort of stuff -- and is about 50/50 on owning his own home.  The latter is working in a sweatshop during an industrial revolution and living what is, of course, an incredibly tough life.  Fast-forward a hundred years, and the differences, while existing, will be nowhere near as many, and not even close to the same degree.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:43:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There's also the difference between "I am wealthy because I can have anything I want" and "I am wealthy because I can have anything I could posibly want".

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:53:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Surely much of the denial springs from the gap between 'I am wealthy because I have everything I need' and 'I am wealthy because I have everything I want'?
by Sassafras on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 02:07:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Fast-forward a hundred years, and the differences, while existing, will be nowhere near as many, and not even close to the same degree.

You think?  Because I suspect the opposite.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:53:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As the good ex-economist he is, Drew does believe in relaxation towards general economic equilibrium.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:56:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hey, I didn't spend four years of my life making A's in college only to have my title stolen from me.  Don't lump me in with the finance and business administration crowd.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 11:01:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's possible, I guess, but not at all probable.  What we're seeing right now is convergence -- that is, countries like China taking advantage of their enormous labor pools and gradually catching up via the import of our knowledge.  (That import is why productivity growth is so high in China right now.  That, along with its massive low-skill, underemployed labor pool, is what is driving the stunning growth rates -- that combination of underutilized capacity and increasing knowledge.)  Eventually, whether it's twenty years down the road or two hundred years, China will catch up to us.  It will become developed, meaning that it will move close to capacity in the way America and Europe have, at which point economic improvement becomes a game of productivity growth.  By that time, my sense is that regions like Africa will probably be roughly at the point that China is at today, but that's just a crystal-ball sort of guess, obviously, and, not being in possession of a crystal ball, that prediction should, of course, be taken with the proper quantity of salt.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 11:11:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is the rising tide in China lifting all boats?

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 11:14:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would submit that if our own post-industrial societies have more (and more?) sinking boats, it might be unreasonable to expect a unformly buoyant Chinese flotilla.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 11:18:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, of course not, and it would be silly to claim that this was the case.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 11:20:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Then how does claiming that China's aggregate figures will approach the US' address the question of inequality in the global distribution of wealth?

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 11:21:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The economy is not a system existing unto itself.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 01:01:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In Spain you can get all day with 20 k$/year..a nd handsomly.. a superluxury perosn.

Actually, if y ou do not have a car.. youc an have otherwise superluxury life with 15 k$/year. Believe me.. Ihave had it.

And in Israel is actually with much mroe less...

I have realized that normal statistics do nto reflect accurately the purchase power of a person. Each country and local stuff need its own comparison.

IN any case.. I do not doubt that with 15k$/year you would be really poor in some areas of New York...but then you do not live there.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 02:00:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Metatone envisions a separation between a "skilled elite" and an "unskilled and mostly unemployed underclass". One could equally well see an "employed skilled elite", an "underemployed skilled elite", and an "unemployed, unskilled underclass" emerging, and in fact one source of social tension in Spain right now is the large number of underemployed college-educated young people, and also skilled victims of ageism and outsourcing.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:12:09 AM EST
Right, and I think that's happening both on the local/national levels in the "rich world" and on the global level, with the gap between the two (or three) fueling a rise in migration (or attempted migration, which can have deadly results).
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:16:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
an "underemployed skilled elite"

I mean underemployed, skilled middle class.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:17:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe it would be helpful at looking at this process as symplifying life. I guess no one wants to become poorer. But a volontary reduction of things would be a good idea, in my opinion. Life is much easier with less things to take care of. But it would also help to distribute things more equally. I think we would have enough  of most things for almost everyone, if it would not be greedily hoarded by a small greedy group of our society.

Good thing that you are bringing up this discussion.

by Fran on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:24:00 AM EST
I often (not as often as I should, though) marvel at how much I have, especially compared to so many others.  And I think that's the hard question -- how much would I be willing to give up if it would allow for a more just distribution of wealth?  Would I be willing to buy fewer sweaters, silly shoes, silver necklaces, music recordings, DVDs, books?  These are the luxuries in my life, and I'm sure I have many more things that I don't even think of as luxuries but which clearly are.  (Or at least it would be clear to those without them that they're luxuries.)

But would my having less really help distribute things more equitably?  I don't think so, not inherently.  It might make me feel better.  But me (or us, individually) having less stuff wouldn't necessarily mean that other people would have more, it would just mean there's less difference between us.  Maybe that's would be good, and I'd certainly be interested in arguments making that case.  But I would rather find an answer that actually makes lives better for those at the bottom.  If that answer would involve me having less, I'm all for it.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 12:09:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you live with less, you perhaps support the rich less. And perhaps this will help everybody. As long as we continue to support the political agenda of the rich with consumerist buying habits, so long will they be in power. And perhaps no longer than that.
by bil on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 12:53:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am not sure any more that's the right way to put it. The fact is [cue in Keynes] that we don't know how to run an economy that is not demand-driven, hence consumerism.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 01:42:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Is what we've got, in fact, running? Isn't that what we are discussing? That it's not running? Or at least not running in a way that satisfies the higher aspirations of humankind? Which may at this point include survival.
by bil on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 03:17:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree, but we don't know wny better. If we don't consume, we get another recession like in the 1930's. That's the best of our understanding of how to "run" our economic system. It sucks.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 05:29:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
consumption

can we distinguish between commodities and equities, when we discuss domestic investment strategies? i'd say they represent different types of "demand", each starving consumers in ways consumers can't control.

there is no linkage between commodity and equity in fiscal policy anymore, is there?

commodity market making, processing, and distribution are centralized events far removed from consumers. since the collapse at bretton woods, paper and central bank lending rates (to purchase derivatives) dominate measures of national "wealth". G(x) nations meet to coordinate monetary policy -- military investments.

is it too fantastic to admit that the free market is or always has been an multinational command-economy? that the same planning disaters produced by the soviets and maoists are thinly veiled by 24/7 info and cryptic commentaries?

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 07:59:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Half of the "luxuries" in your life are necessary cultural items. What's more, they are cultural items which will soon be taken out of the capitalist economy.

The trend to publish exclusively on the internet is only going to increase until some day soon there will no longer exist any publishing 'industry'. When that day comes, we will all be richer for it, even as this industry's contribution to the GDP disappears.

This diary raises some good points about consumerism and elitism, but there is no context to them. It raises points in a vacuum of possibilities. Even the evolution of the present system is not understood well enough to discuss any of the points intelligently.

To remedy this lack of comprehension, reading Michael Goldhaber's numerous essays on The Attention Economy provides the beginnings of a solution. Which must be understood in the context of the increasing automation of everything. An increasing automation which must be viewed as both irreversible and morally good.

Without understanding present and future reality, there can be no meaningful discussion.

by richardk (richard kulisz gmail) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 04:07:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd have to agree that, when considering even mid-term futures, increasing automation of everything absolutely must be discussed.

After all, the only reason there is a huge pool of unemployed, unskilled laborers in the developed countries to begin with is automation - those people all used to be gainfully employed pulling weeds and threading spindles and whatnot.

It's sort of hard to imagine what the structure of the economy would be when there are no non-managerial jobs in the entire manufacturing and agricultural sector.  

by Zwackus on Tue Feb 6th, 2007 at 07:27:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually it's fairly easy if you've bothered to read some post-scarcity science-fiction. Not much of it around unfortunately but Elf Sternberg does an excellent job of it.

One of your misconceptions though is that managerial jobs will not be automated. Marshall Brain wrote the story Manna on the supposition that managerial jobs would be the first to be automated.

There is no technical barrier to the automation of the entire economy. Resource extraction has already been extensively automated. So has agriculture (which employs a vanishingly small fraction of people) and most of manufacturing. So has large infrastructure construction and maintenance. So has maritime shipping and rail transport. And either USPS or Fedex recently automated their entire tracking / routing chain, leaving only physical packing and delivery.

Professional services such as legal aid, medical diagnoses and medical laboratory work are also being automated. So are clerks (ATMs, self-checkout, internet) as well as real estate agents (craigslist). Even art is being automated (Brian Eno, Spore's Will Wright, many others).

Managerial services are overripe to be automated (a computer can hardly do worse than the negative contribution managers usually provide) or at least autonomized (Semco provides an excellent model of this).

The next sector to die of automation will almost certainly be either small scale construction (eg, housing) or publishing (books, movies, newscasts, journals, everything). The last to be automated will surely be design, process engineering, and research & development.

The material goods economy is slowly but inevitably moving towards a communist model. Countries open towards communism will survive the transition while countries ideologically opposed to it will perish.

The next stage of evolution of the economy is towards attention-scarcity (again I point to Michael Goldberg's The Attention Economy). Beyond this there will only remain purpose-scarcity.

by richardk (richard kulisz gmail) on Tue Feb 6th, 2007 at 11:36:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've read some of that stuff.  What I meant when I said "hard to imagine" wasn't "I simply cannot conceive of how anything would work," but rather "I have trouble imagining the whole system not collapsing in an Apocolyptic fireball before making some sort of meaningful transition."

As far as management jobs being automated, you are entirely right - presuming that we finally figure out how to make good AI.  We'll probably do it, but who knows, maybe it will turn out to be simply impossible.  I don't know, and nobody will know for sure unless it actually happens.  

I do wonder, though, if management jobs would ever be fully automated, even if possible, simply because there are people out there who like having and exercising power.  Certainly they would be, if possible, were there competitive pressures in place or whatnot, but in the sort of "transition to communism" situation you describe, those pressures would sort of be non-existent.

by Zwackus on Wed Feb 7th, 2007 at 08:24:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think my comment would fit here. Fran

If you look at the things that really make you happy ...well (me) they are not that energy expensive.

Actually, you do not need that much clothes.. or that much so and so..

You just need a good flat (which actually it turns out that the more efficiente hte better)..and some culture-relation item (phones or internet conenction or activities or books)

I think the key component to get poorer are cars and chemichals...

I am absolutely rich in every field just becuase I do not have to pay a car. I can afford very high quality  ,very low-chemciahl food, I can afford to go to discos, restaurants as much as I want.: I can travel by train as much as I want...and just the right maount of clothes...and I do not earn that much money actually

And regarding chemichals, I just do not need boxes and boxes... and I have to use it because some parts of the supermarket like fruit areas force me.. I just do not need them..

So I am not so sure we would need to be much poorer to make living sustainable... not that sure.. if you take out the car and take public transport,a nd take out chemichals as much as you can..

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 01:55:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You may be interested in this book:
The Winner-Take-All Society by Robert Frank

Frank has also written about the relationship between relative wealth and happiness.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 11:25:24 AM EST
thanks for this great diary, stormy.

where did you grow up?

the relative value of money dependent on geography...fascinating.

having lived with the poor in many cultures, i see very clearly that money does not bring heart-happiness.

my job has me working on the ultra-rich often, and sometimes the tip alone is more than a chinese factory worker earns a week.

this does not sit well with me, but....

as needs must....tension is tension, money is money is money to buy what you need so they leave you alone in peace with yer internet connection!

we are trained to value money above all, as it is the most fungible form of energy around, yet.....having it does not make the whole world work better, just as parts may suffer, some may flower if one has less money to be envied for...

i find an energetic elegance in seeing how much i can reprogram myself to be content with little, brainwashed as i am!

first to judge my own success by status symbols and consumer-power, later by my own gut feeling that while we were being told how fortunate we were (and we are!), something was fundamentally terribly wrong with the picture as it was presented to me, growing up clueless in europe during the 60's.

when what madison avenue named the 'hippy' movement came along, i was ripe for re-education.

and even thogh there was a lot of tragic waste during those years, to hard drugs mostly, and terrorism in the 70's, there was also a kernel of good judgement, imo, that encouraged me to trust my gut and look for answers to my deepest questions 'out of the box'.

and what a box it was, now i can see it from the outside...

and yes, getting financially poorer may well be on the cards for many of us, but maybe we'll find a kind of solidarity we have largely forgotten in our mad race to 'make it'.

and maybe, looking back, we'll feel richer unhooking ourselves from a value system that has waste and corruption written right into its dna, and find satisfaction in different, healthier ways, like co-operation rather than childish competition.

if i didn't think we were capable of doing this eventually, i'd just roll over and give it all up...

what else is worth believing in?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 12:04:03 PM EST
I actually grew up in a lot of places, but the shopping mall in question was in a large, faceless suburb of a major East Coast metropolitan area.  If I remember the quote correctly, nature writer Bill McKibben once described the area something like this:  "as devoid of quirky regional character as anywhere on Earth."  Which I thought was pretty accurate.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 12:17:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
IMHO, hippie movement and political activism in Europe in the sixties and seventies plus travelling to the East and South (and not exactly as a tourist) gave a sort of immunity to consumerism to some of the people who grow at that time.

I actually have chosen to be poorer in the sense that I could have a job at some company and make more money instead of being a freelancer and my own boss.

Like kcurie, I do not own a car. Here public transportation is good enough, even if you live, like me, 40 km from the city. This evening I was in Barcelona and it was raining and after 8.30 there are less trains running and I had to wait like 40 minutes for the train and for a moment I thought whether I should buy a car. But as soon as the train started to move and I picked up my reading of Amin Maalouf "Origines" (Prix Mediterranée 2004), the idea of wanting a car suddenly seemed so ridiculous...

So I think I prefer to be richer in time and poorer in money or things...

by amanda2006 on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 07:38:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
At one time in my life my wife and I ran a mom and pop manufacturing company - making baking mixes for the health food market. We did a little thought experiement - a what if.

What if we cornered the entire market of Quebec? Well that would probably double our size. Our total employment would go from 2 to 2 1/2 with that 1/2 person needed for demostrations/sales

So if we increased by the same amount again, caputring all of Canada?

Well - we invest in packaging equipment and stop using machines that could be found in any third world country. We also hire another 1/2 of a person in the sales end of things.

So let us assume that we swollow the US - and are now about 5 times bigger still. What does the employment situation look like? We would need to add 2 people to do manufacturing as we would no longer be able to do it ourselves. We might need a thrid person to assist with various warehouse type work. 1 person for a billing/collections department. Sales would also need to grow with perhaps 3 additional people.

To summerise

Current Size - 2 staff
doubling  - 2 1/2 staf
trippling - 3 staff
15 x increase - 10 staff

Look at it this way - with the same efficiency that we originally started with - up to 30 people could be employed.

As far as I can tell, large scale capitalism has nothing to do with creation of jobs - well not quite - it destroys jobs and concentrates wealth. The anarchist critique of Communism - that it is state Capitalism starts to sound reasonable. At some level there is no practical difference between Capitalism and Communism when a multinatinals grow large enough.

I find myself disagreeing with the standard definitions of "what is Capitalism". These definitions talk about efficiency and cost. My impression is effeciency is not directly a part of Capitalism at all, but rather creativity, flexability, and the ability to take risks. What we have is not Capitialism, but the remenents of Capitalism.

Another thing we discovered when manufacturing baking mixes was that sections of the Canadian economy were dead - they were controlled by nationals and multinationals and it was not possible to bring new products to market in them. The main stream food industry seemd to fit the bill. We needed speciality chocolate chips. We were unable to get them in Canada. Eventually we found a company from California in the health food industry - not the main food industry who was able to supply us with the chocolate chips we wanted.

That's not completely true - Kraft was willing to supply us. I don't remember the exact amount but the figure 20 tonnes seems to be in my head. The most we ever used at one time was, I believe, about 1/2 of a tonne.

It's not that multinationals are particularly nasty either. We had some bad experiences with mid sized companies. But Ault Foods (a division of Kraft) was willing to bend over backwards to supply us. We were talking to their sales rep about purchasing a skid of milk powder. That their sales rep had the time to even speak to us was surprising. That they were willing to sell such small quantities was even more so.

No I don't think we need to get poorer. I think that life styles will change. I think that we need more government understanding and control of businesses.


aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 12:22:44 PM EST
What you say about efficiencies brings to mind something that has been floating around in my head for a while.

Economists and whatnot always talk about efficiencies, market efficiency and whatnot, and at every turn it seems this entails fewer people working.  One conclusion to draw from this is that the survival of people in general depends upon in-efficiency.  The more efficient the system, the more it keeps its money to itself, without distributing it to the various people who, you know, need to live and all.

Economic in-efficiency makes mom and pop stores possible, makes small communities possible, makes retail diversity possible.  In-efficiency gives people jobs.

Considerings it's always the big actors arguing that we need to get more efficient, to introduce market efficiencies and whatnot, is almost reason enough to oppose "efficiency," but thinking about it in these terms makes the whole concept utterly diabolic.

by Zwackus on Tue Feb 6th, 2007 at 07:36:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I spend a lot of time deconstructing the Efficiency Meme.

The essential question is "efficient at what?" or, to put it another way, what input is being minimised while output is being maintained or increased, in order for the system to be described as "efficient"?  When capitalists run the world (which is where we are now), labour is regarded as the most troublesome and expensive input (slavery being illegal these days, too bad eh), and thus it is always the one to be minimised (though minimising quality ingredients and replacing them with cheap adulterants is always on the cards).

In the capitalist's ideal world there would be no labour -- labour costs would be Zero.  But of course there would then be no market, except for a handful of other capitalists all selling to each other, like the old joke about the Irish village (possibly a sneering English colonialist joke, now that I reflect on it -- my apologies to our Irish readers if this is the case) so poor that they had to make a living taking in each other's laundry.

Capitalism has never "created" jobs.  It has Enclosed land and other resources so as to force displaced peasants into abject dependence on a money economy (primarily by creating food and housing scarcity), then tried to minimise the amount paid to those ex-peasants and to minimise the number of peons needed to operate the factory.  It has tried in every case to displace the artisan with the machine, to reduce the number of people-hours needed to do things;  in short, to make people worth less and things worth more.

In some cases this has its beneficial aspects;  machines have replaced some of the most dirty and dangerous and skill-less jobs and reduced a certain amount of suffering among indentured and slave labour.  OTOH machine owners have also enslaved machine operators, devalued artefacts that were once made with pride (and the pride of workmanship is an essential experience of human culture and meaning -- destroying it is no minor vandalism), exterminated entire realms of cultural knowledge and skill, and produced an accelerating deskilling, incompetence, and deepening dependence on machine products.  So that now, as most of us have experienced for ourselves, we have sales clerks who cannot do the basic math of making change for customers if the power goes out and the electronic cash register stops working, children (nay, adults as well) who honestly think that milk exists only in cardboard cartons and fish are flat frozen pale things you find in a freezer case, etc.

When we throw away a piece of clothing because it has a small tear or flaw, rather than fixing it, two processes are at work:  its cheapness has devalued it to the point where it's not worth any time or effort to fix it, which is wasteful;  and our disinterest in fixing it means that we never learn the skills for fixing things and hence are dependent on cheapness for any sense of security in our lives.  The cheapness and the devaluation and the deskilling and the dependency are a synergistic system of their own.

If we regarded "efficiency" as "producing the greatest amount of truly useful and necessary stuff with the least input of nonrenewable energy and the most equitable distribution of stuff to where it is needed," the current system is grossly inefficient.  It produces great gluts of useless stuff that concentrates where it is least needed, and impoverishes billions in the process while wasting irreplaceable fossil energy galore.

If we regard "efficiency" as "making most people as happy as possible" then I think we can look around at suicide rates and antidepressant manufacture and consumption and say that industrialism in its "highest" form, in the affluent West, does not seem to be making much headway.

If we regarded "efficiency" as "conducing best to the health of biotic infrastructure and hence the maintenance of human cultures over long time periods, maintaining the maximum robustness of biotic infrastructure against random hazard," then we would be looking at its exact opposite.  We are in the business of creating newer and better hazards and destroying infrastructure.

If we regarded "efficiency" as "proceeding as rapidly as possible towards the exhaustion of all biotic systems and the crash of our civilisation" then we'd probably be doing pretty well :-)  maybe that's really the object of the exercise... one has to wonder sometimes whether humans in the mass, like cells in the individual, are programmed for apoptosis.

Before we decide if a system is "efficient" we have to decide what it is set up to do, what its inputs and outputs are, and which inputs are being minimised to maximise which output.  To a rentier capitalist, a business is "efficient" if its labour costs are suppressed to the minimum and the profit raked off for the rentier's pockets is being increased to the maximum.  This hasn't any necessary relation (other than a probable negative correlation) to cultural or biotic wealth, human happiness, prospects for longterm viability, etc.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun Feb 11th, 2007 at 04:54:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In 1870, the average income in the world's richest country was about nine times greater than that in the world's poorest country. By 1990 it was forty-five times greater.

In 2006, the world's 793 billionaires held combined wealth of $2.6 trillion. (If liquidated in 2006), this wealth could have hired the poorest half of the world's workers -- the 1.4 billion workers who earn a few dollars a day -- for almost two years.

Between 1977 and 1996, the weight of the average American cheeseburger grew over 25 percent, and the volume of the average soft drink grew more than 50 percent. About 40 percent of the world's population now lacks sufficient water for basic sanitation and hygiene, and nearly one out of every five people does not have enough to drink.

Between 2000 and the beginning of 2005, China's daily oil imports soared 140 percent. Saudi Arabia, has pumped a total of 46 billion barrels of oil in the past 17 years, without admitting to any decrease in its stated reserve figure of about 260 billion barrels.

Since 1950, industrialized fishing has reduced the total mass of large fish in the world's oceans by 90 percent. The atmosphere's level of carbon dioxide is the highest in 650,000 years.

(foootnote)

The accumulation of (theoretical) wealth and power in an ever-shrinking elite, as a product of the destruction of (actual) resources and systems necessary to sustain life.  That is what finance capitalism with its ruling fantasy of "value creation" is efficient -- murderously, psychopathically efficient -- at.


The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue Feb 13th, 2007 at 03:34:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hem, hem. Busy day today and certainly I wasn't prepared for my small little statement to be thrust into such a glaring light of examination. I will clarify what I had in mind later on, when I've done some more work.

For now, stormy, I thought you might find this of interest since you're building some ranting on migration:

http://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/2007/02/optimal_migrati.html

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 01:15:26 PM EST
Hmmmm.  A very interesting approach.  Thanks for that link.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 01:47:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am not comfortable with the usage of the word "poor" in this thread.  Everyone is talking about ownership of things, things they want (let alone things they need) as some kind of indicator of poverty (the condition of being poor.)  I think this illustrates a misunderstanding of what poverty, being poor, means, though I think you all do understand, so maybe a wrong turn in the conversation is a better explanation...

From Wikipedia:

One third of deaths - some 18 million people a year or 50,000 per day - are due to poverty-related causes. That's 270 million people since 1990, the majority women and children, roughly equal to the population of the US.

Every year nearly 11 million children die before their fifth birthday.

In 2001, 1.1 billion people had consumption levels below $1 a day and 2.7 billion lived on less than $2 a day

800 million people go to bed hungry every day.

And perhaps more relevant to my concern:

The World Bank's "Voices of the Poor" [12], based on research with over 20,000 poor people in 23 countries, identifies a range of factors which poor people consider elements of poverty. Most important are those necessary for material well-being, especially food. Many others relate to social rather than material issues.

precarious livelihoods
excluded locations
gender relationships
problems in social relationships
lack of security
abuse by those in power
dis-empowering institutions
limited capabilities, and
weak community organizations.

To answer your question "do we have to get poorer in order to change this?" No, but being poor(er) is not the same as having less/not as nice stuff.  Perhaps we do have to dramatically reassess our needs and create a better understanding of what poverty and wealth are.  And buy less stuff.  And redistribute wealth.  But that need not precipitate our poverty.

Also worth noting, a growing number, at least in America, who are wealthy by most of the world's standards and who have a lot of stuff, are experiencing the psychology of poverty and several of the accompanying factors listed above due to lack of affordable healthcare.  Poverty is about freedom more than about posessions.  And being sick and unable to get treatment or being in overwhelming debt as a result of illness does in fact take away a person's freedom in a way that taking away their stuff does not.

Also, I have one more gripe.  All this talk about unskilled masses.  You are referring to a certain set of skills.  People all over the world living in poverty have skills; we just don't value them because they don't efficiently make someone somewhere gobs of money.  You may argue that they are outdated, but farming, raising families, teaching, being an artisan, community leader, etc etc etc require a lot more skill than we are acknowledging.  They just are not boons to capitalism.  And many jobs which are require hardly any skill at all.  Though certain skills are required for certain employment, "skill" and "employment" are not implicitly connected.

OK, I don't mean to derail this otherwise interesting conversation.  I was just perplexed by what I was reading...  

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 02:44:47 PM EST
Really. Excellent. Comment.

Derail the conversation?  No.  That's right to the heart of the matter.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 02:49:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you.  

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire
by p------- on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 05:34:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well.. it ismore like that I think people here assumed the framwork of storm, where poor means "less number of things" in western mythology.

In thi ssense, poor is a good adjective.. the problems is maybe that we use the same word for two (or even three) completely different things.

You can count. We missuse poor for miserable (lack of food,, shelter, clothes and very basic health-care assistance like sanitation, clean water...).

then we also mean poor for, the lower class in apoor society, which are not miserable but they do nto have relevant power and could live in culturally-depressing lives (violence, structure depression...)

You can also mean poor by "less than the average".. like in first-world countries. there, each country is a world so to speak... and the real measure of poverty should be compered with the lower classes of poor countries. And it is not alwasy easy to c ompare.

then we also use poor for people who are actually rich in their environment and culture.. they just do not have th enotions of being poor and stillw e label them as such.

And finally, we also have poverty of "items".. or the fact that some poeple can not have all whata middle-class or consumerism or, more properly speaking, middle status factors.

I think storm was using this last use of the word. He may correct me.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 05:15:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To tell you the truth, I wasn't actually thinking of items, I was thinking more in terms of Tariq Ramadan's quote regarding comfort v. lacking the means to survive.  But in the context of the quotes from nanne's diary, which do have to do with means of production and goods, it perhaps made sense that it was interpreted as referring to things.  And perhaps the key lies in noting the difference in the way the concept of "poverty" is perceived.  We do not all define poverty or wealth in the same way, whether it's our own or that of others.  One of the biggest adjustments for me in moving to Africa was getting used to being thought of (and treated) as a rich person.

p.s.... I'm a she.  No worries, happens a lot.  ;-)

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 05:43:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Je je

the he is the spanish way to put everything on the male version as you may know.

I write always "he" no matter the sex of the other peson except when I think about it carefully...

and if I am not sure or I am not suppose to know I just use the spanish "he"...j ejejjee

:)

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Tue Feb 6th, 2007 at 06:57:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Perhaps I am obsessed with Celebrity Big Brother as useful forensic snapshot of W*stern society. But then, how do dogs and snakes know that an earthquake is coming?

The pig ignorant non-celebrity at the center of it all - a Ms Jade Goody, the quintessential chav - has earned 8 million pounds (please read that again) in commercial endorsements since first appearing in the 'ordinary' version of Big Brother. It may be that she will not get any more endorsements (after the bullying furore), and perhaps 60% or more went to the 'advisers' for her 'career'. But even if she kept 10% it is obscene.

But the greater obscenity is that no-one in the media has questioned her right to earn such ridiculous amounts of spondulex. And no-one has questioned the fabric of a society that would allow such a thing. The irony is, that the so-called 'winner' of the competition - a C-list Bollywood actress - will almost certainly go on to gain endorsements even more obscene that the 8 million smackers of the Chav. She is already slated to appear opposite Hugh Grant in a movie being rush-written at this very moment.

Yes, she is beautiful, has poise, is intelligent and so on - in total contrast to her would-be nemesis - but the obscenity is not mitigated by these qualities. The whole system is corrupted.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Feb 6th, 2007 at 01:23:03 AM EST
good summary. sven.

the popularity of these 'reality' shows is one of the saddest developments in public entertainment since the colosseum and wild animals eating people as public spectacle.

i suspect socio-anthropologists will be watching these shows in a century or two as the apotheosis of narcissism, a soul-nadir.

here in italy they are very big as well, and quite apart from the intellectual vacuity and the petty preening and pecking, there is a very disturbing undertow of alienating cruelty that seems to tug the worst out of people.

ever see that english quiz show where the (barely) female compere acts like a gestapo interrogator?

that used to make me squirm and reach for the remote, but was mild in comparison.

the mc for the american idol show delights in coldly stripping people of their fondest illusions, and it's lapped up over there.

my horrified conclusion from the success of this type of social phenomenon is that it caters almost exclusively to vanity and sadism, with a strong dash of sociopathic groupthink.

combine a fishbowl and a pressure cooker, and what do you get?

ladle liberally with filthy lucre, and serve steaming....

yuck!

 

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Feb 6th, 2007 at 03:30:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks.

I have often provoked audiences with the question 'Why do you work?', but never suggested that the alternative was mindless entertainment. The alternative is to be creative, cooperative and compassionate.

Sociopathic is the right word..

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Feb 6th, 2007 at 04:01:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Random musings:

The end of cheap oil may slow down the flight of capital & jobs to developing countries, thus also slowing the inflow of cheap throwaway consumer culture goods.

The question is, will this happen fast enough for at least some countries to retain some of their local skilled labor.

What is happening now is not only a huge national outsourcing of capital and work, but skill and embedded knowledge (much of what is slow to regain from books).

In that sense (loss of knowledge/know-how) we are already poorer in some sense and becoming more so, as we lose our skills for basic work.

Now, do we really have to become poorer (in terms of wealth & material well-being)? Statistics would seem to say, that on the average ("mean") no, but on the median yes. Wealth in industrialized countries has been piling up on the 5% elite and the middle-class is starting to shrink in various countries (USA being perhaps most advanced in this regard).

Now is this trend deplorable? It depends on how the wealth is distributed and what moral standards one subscribes to.

Personally I think that we only CAN afford to become poorer and that we SHOULD become poorer, at least on material consumption terms, in industrialized countries.

This is only to slow down our combined "soil erosion + lack of ground water resources + global warming" fiasco, which is slowly, but steadily spreading. Of course there are other reasons, but this is just one.

Now, can we become richer because of this? Again, I think this depends on morals and values especially. What do we value and what do we hold dear?

If it's that three car, two house and lots of excess money to burn scenario, then most of us run the risk of becoming poorer.

If it's something else we value, then we actually have options.

rgds,
 SamuM

PS www.gapminder.org

by SamuM on Tue Feb 6th, 2007 at 02:45:27 AM EST
If we talk about poverty in terms of economic wealth, the only real obstacle to this is resource availability. Unfortunately it's also a very real problem. With our current consumption pattern we are already extracting resources from our planet and destroying resources through the effect of our consumption to an extent that is greater than our planet can support on the long and maybe even medium term.

If we want a more just distribution of wealth across the globe, this means that we either need to become much more efficient through enhanced efficiency in production and a shift in the pattern of consumption ('factor 4' and 'factor 10' approaches), or that we settle for a level of economic wealth of at least 4 times less than we have in the US, Japan and rich Western European states.

Any other approach will lead to a collapse as we will have destroyed the base of the economic system. Pace speculation about a singularity, I don't think that the pace of technological innovation is enough to allow the base to significantly expand beyond the earth before this collapse happens.

The other problems can all be overcome without decreasing our material wealth. The principle that high end employs less people only really holds in manufacturing plus the related logistics and we need to shift from product consumption to service consumption at any rate.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Feb 7th, 2007 at 08:01:36 AM EST
we are getting poorer.

less topsoil.  fewer trees.  less oxygen in the air we breathe.  less potable water.  major fish species almost gone.  biodiversity vanishing daily.  lakes shrinking, rivers drying, deserts expanding.  coral reefs dying.  and a great big sucking sound in the background as we slurp up the last of the fossil crack on which our unhinged civilisation binges.

we are getting poorer, every single day.

we are very nearly bankrupt.

as I said on another thread, no bribe that industrialism has offered me in terms of toys, entertainments, baubles and delusions can compensate me for the utter poverty which approaches fast, or make me feel like anything other than an unfortunate poor relation compared to, say, my grandparents (despite their lack of cash they lived well by fishing and farming).

the question is not, "should we get poorer," but "how can we stop the death spiral of technomass replacing biomass, before we are completely impoverished?"

you can't eat an iPhone.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun Feb 11th, 2007 at 04:26:57 PM EST
Don't worry:  We will.  

The Fates are kind.
by Gaianne on Sun Feb 11th, 2007 at 06:38:28 PM EST


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