Effect of Automation on Future World society

Posted On: Monday - February 27th 2017 8:08PM MST
In Topics: 
  Feminism  The Future

A recent post by Steve Sailer, again on unz.com (we've got a link and review now in the blogroll), entitled "When Work Disappears: Manufacturing Decline and the Falling Marriage-Market Value of Men" is his comment about a study done. The huge decrease in manufacturing jobs in the US was mostly the work of globalist elites in this country, but cannot be wholly reversed due to automation eliminating the need for these jobs in any country.

Though Mr. Sailer and the study were specifically relating this good-job loss to changes in marriage patterns, the comments turned somewhat to the effect of massive continuing automation on society in general. The following comment presented a fairly rosy view of a future, at least for the intelligent professionals thusly:

Increased productivity makes people richer not poorer (because fewer workers are needed). People do not want to work, they want what work gets them. They want something that they can trade to get things they value from other productive people.

Many of the successful doctors in my area have non-working wives who dedicate themselves to child rearing and managing the household. Maybe we will become rich enough as a society that most women can stay home, raise children and enjoy leisure like daytime tennis matches and brunches. With a quarter of the people voluntarily leaving the workforce wages would be higher for those who do work full time.

The last paragraph sounds like the world in a science-fiction story. I did not write that to sound snarky, so let me explain.

Automation and just higher productivity in general of course make the world richer (thought of as an accumulated quantity over time), or at least wealth can be created more cheaply (thought of as a rate)*, this is true. The discussions here and elsewhere about who gets this increase in wealth and/or what governments can/should do to spread out the wealth are getting more interesting and important as we can see the world going toward automation so quickly. Most of what people have to say about ways to equalize the rewards are kind of disgusting to a libertarian. However, there doesn’t seem to be a good free market way out of this because of the amount and type of people in the world and the trends thereof.

Back to the science-fiction story, the future told by optimistic stories, in the 70′s and 80′s, during my enjoyment of this literature, looked more like a sparsely-populated world (along with other worlds we we might want to hang out) where we got around in flying machines, lived in our hand-picked beautiful environments far away from our fellow man until we wanted a change, worked a few hours a day at the work we loved, and worked on cool intellectual projects of all kinds with our copious spare time (due to the automation). It sounded great to me, though I never thought that much of the automation would come in my lifetime. That was wrong on my part. What was wrong on the part of the science-fiction writers however, was one big assumption about the people in this future world.

The future people were all intelligent, and even 50 years ago, one might still rightly assume that the intelligent people would get ahead in the world and produce the bulk of the people of this bright future. Well, I should say “rightly” only if one didn’t see the welfare state and the degradation of the culture coming. This assumption was way, way off. The bulk of the population of this world is not the intelligent and well-educated crowd, we all know that by now.

The commenter's vision of the doctors and other professional’s lives sounds good, but what about the rest of the population. The problem is that lower intelligence people will not make good use of their spare time. I don’t mean just won’t make productive use, I mean, basically, will be up to no good. “Idle hands are the devil’s work”, they say. Or, I guess they can all watch 12 hours of TV a day, eat tasty junk food and just veg-out basically (“bread and circuses”), but I can see that situation devolving into a society of barely-humans at some point. That is, unless the elites of that “society” encouraged in some way (additives in the junk food?) low reproduction to slowly transform society into that in the sci-fi books. Maybe that last thing is the big plan. Possibly this whole post is just nonsense due to an overdose of zerohedge comments.

* Although peak oil aficionados and the like would differ on this with the valid point, and rightly so, that for real manufacturing (not creation of software and intellectual property) and mining and farming, there is no getting around the amount of energy needed for this work. Granted, productivity improvements can mean less energy is wasted in the processes involved, but there is a lower limit.

UPDATE [2/28:] Link to Sailer post on Unz.com fixed.

Buck Turgidson
Tuesday - February 28th 2017 12:45PM MST
'Fracking' is causing our energy production and exports to skyrocket, and gas prices to drop. Remember that ~$5/gallon gas about 10 years ago? 'Fracking' put an end to it. It is going great guns all over the place, esp in Texas. The main disruptions from fracking are the racket and the truck traffic and dust and beat-up roads. Chances of water contamination are very small. There have been some small quakes associated with deepwater injection (disposal of byproduct, not the oil and gas extraction itself). It is a godsend and the people who have developed the tech, materials, process have done phenomenal and very innovative work. They have kept thousands of $$$ in everyone's pocket by cheaper gas, and generated billion$$$$ of tax revenue. The media should be celebrating this but they are stupid morons who can't add and want everyone but themselves living in a hut without power, so they are silent.
Tuesday - February 28th 2017 8:34AM MST
At one time I was heavily... invested? a true believer? concerned? about the Peak Oil issue.

Now though, while I believe it to be a real thing... for the most part, I'm not concerned about it at all.

I'd like to say a few more things about that. Look everyone has heard by now about fracking. When I heard about it, I didn't really think it was important. My thinking was "So what, they get heroic gas flows for a year or two, then these plays peter out at an exponential rate" (maybe not the right term, but the exponent can be negative you know).

The usual clowns get excited on Wall Street, some cool looking roughneck types get rich on a bonanza, but it doesn't matter over the course of even a decade, let alone 50 years or a century.

However it appears that oil is being recovered as well. And that is a game changer. It might never be as convenient, cheap, or as prolific as sinking a pipe into Spindletop in Texas or Angwar in Saudi Arabia. But there are LOTS of plays for tight oil out there. Assloads.

And while I didn't mention it, the US has an amazing gas transportation network. Since almost no other country has anything like this (Russia has some long distance stuff, but nothing like our omnipresent grid effectively), if you find a fracking gas play 2000 miles from anything (like arctic circle or Siberia) that doesn't mean jack. Because while they've tinkered with liquefaction, or processing gas on site (guess it would make sense for a large gas reserve that would last a long time far off the beaten track) into liquid hydrocarbons... well no one has ever really made it work.

(Though I guess... you know we can transport electricity easily now, and relatively speaking gas turbines are cheap and easy to set up. You could literally put a power plant in the middle of nowhere that didn't need cooling water and run a HVDC or even superconducting power line fairly cheaply).

Anyway while no one knows (maybe they have an idea?) how many good fracking sites there are in the world, there are bound to be lots. And it's not just for natural gas anymore.

The other reason I discount Peak Oil as being of any real importance (as opposed to a short term inconvenience or disruption) is that alternative sources of energy are finally viable.

Solar power is real and it is viable now. For the most part. As I said we have effectively solved the problem of how to move electricity around efficiently. The storage problem is still with us, but I tend to think it is not an insoluble problem.

I both solar conversion technology to "improve" (and that is a sticky term to define) at it's typical 5-7% rate per year. As I said this is kinda hard to define, but I feel comfortable saying that you can pick a kilowatt figure you want for a solar setup, and it will cost half as much in about 10 years. We certainly are bumping up against Carnot and practical limits in conversion efficiency, but the manufacturing costs are getting better all the time.

In the end you want batteries though. Not hydropower pumping to elevated reservoirs, compressed air in salt domes, you want batteries. Those seem to improve a few percent a year, but I dunno. My intuition tells me something is possible, including something revolutionary. Even at that as I said they do get better at a fairly linear rate, and it seems they aren't going to run into roadblocks imposed strictly by physical law.

I could mention things like wind power, tidal, hydroelectric but I won't. Pretty much every last good hydro site has already been developed. There just aren't that many left. Even if you want to blast conservation laws, there literally aren't that many good spots left, even in the US with a history of that kind of thing.

Wind power is great, but intermittent. Great Plains, Alaska, there just aren't that many great spots. Will be a definite and fairly expensive niche.

As for nuclear... I am kind of expecting to see fusion in a century before they figure out how to use fission power effectively. (Not that I will live long enough to see fusion probably.)

If the world attempted to supply its energy needs with fission as it exists now, we'd run out of available uranium in around 40 years, let alone allowing for growth in energy usage.

Radioactive materials are decently common on the planet earth. But on the outer part we call home, and have access to? Not so much.

One big thing with this, is it has been 60 years or so now, and we appear to know no more about uranium chemistry and how to process spent fuel than we did when Oppenheimer and Fermi were running around. It really is a once through cycle as of now. Heck we put uranium into anti-tank shells that has been depleted of U-235 (though there is lots of energy theoretically available in each shell).

There are reactor designs around that get us around some of these sorts of things. But show me the money. And before you blame environmentalists, limp dicks, or Democrats (I bet Scoop Jackson loved him some bombs though), consider that while it may not have been the Apollo Project, we have spent an ass load of research time and money over the past 60 years, and probably haven't gone any further than what the aforementioned Fermi could have doodled on a napkin while eating in a restaurant in that time.
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