Review, Top Stories

The War on Normal People—A Review

A review of The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income is Our Future by Andrew Yang. Hachette Books (April 2018) 305 pages. 

“I am writing from inside the tech bubble to let you know that we are coming for your jobs.”

So begins Andrew Yang’s book, The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income is Our Future. Despite the tagline, this isn’t fundamentally a book about Universal Basic Income (UBI). It’s about the market, and our attitude towards it.

American society has been reorganising over the past few decades. Some business sectors have faded, while others have surged. Importantly, many of the surging sectors are concentrated in a few key regions. This has led to what Yang refers to as “six paths to six places,” meaning that the most qualified college graduates generally choose a career in one of six sectors and in one of six places: finance, consulting, law, technology, medicine, or academia in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, or Washington, DC. All these sectors are highly knowledge-intensive.

The result has been an increasing stratification of American society. The most qualified people leave their hometowns to pursue a career in one of these sectors, while those who remain behind are generally forced into far less attractive sectors such as retail, transportation, and manufacturing. This has led to entirely different climates. People in the right sectors and regions experience a climate of abundance, whole those in the wrong sectors and regions experience a climate of scarcity. Income inequality has risen to historic levels.

Andrew Yang

Now, I suspect this trend is surprising to very few people. (Although some might be taken aback by its severity.) Social commentators have been talking about it for decades. But this is only the beginning of Yang’s story, which brings us to his quote at the beginning of the book. It isn’t simply the case that American society is separating into strata, Yang argues, but that the elites are consciously working to put the rest of society out of work.

The sectors where “normal” people tend to work—administration, retail, food service, transportation, and manufacturing—have high levels of repetitiveness and are highly susceptible to automation. Since competition in these sectors is quite fierce, companies are sooner or later forced to automate to keep up with their competition. Once a single competitor automates, the others must follow. In many cases, automation is not only cheaper, but also produces better products or services. The natural result is, as Yang relates through conversations he’s had with people in the tech industry, a race to make “normal” people redundant.

This is not science fiction, it’s already happening. Millions of jobs have been automated away in the manufacturing sector. Many are disappearing in the retail sector, partly due to in-store self-service and partly due to e-commerce. Next up is the transportation sector, as self-driving technology will soon replace millions of truck drivers. The food service and administration sectors are likewise vulnerable. Even many white-collar jobs will disappear. The Fed categorises 44 percent of all American jobs as routine, which makes them susceptible to automation. A White House report predicted that 83 percent of jobs where people make less than $20 an hour will be subject to automation or replacement.

The effects of automation are self-reinforcing. Once a mall loses its anchor store, it often goes into a death spiral, and many of the large chains with anchor stores are already in bankruptcy or close to it. Of America’s 1,300 malls, analysts predict that 400 will close in the next few years, and 650 more will struggle to stay in business. Similarly, millions of people work in diners and other places that service truck drivers on their trips. When trucks start driving themselves, these jobs will be lost as well. The disappearance of local white-collar jobs to automation in insurance, banking, journalism, and many other sectors will further drain money from local economies.

The consequences have already been severe. A large percentage of manufacturing workers laid off in recent years are now on disability, which has risen dramatically. In some areas, 20 percent of working-age adults are on disability. 59,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2016, up 19 percent from 2015, which was itself a record. For the first time, drug overdoses have surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Suicides are also way up. As a result, life expectancy has decreased for middle-aged white Americans, almost unheard of in a developed country for any group. Marriage rates have decreased dramatically for working-class people, and single parenthood rates have risen. All these things appear tied to economic pressures.

Especially troubling is the effect on young men. Yang reports that: “[a]s of last year, 22 percent of men between the ages of 21 and 30 with less than a bachelor’s degree reported not working at all in the previous year—up from only 9.5 percent in 2000.” Consequently, many more young men are living with their parents than in the past. This coincides with a heavy increase in time spent on video games, and many of them will be unable to enter the workforce later on and will be unable to lead productive and fulfilling lives. Men in 2016 made up only 43 percent of college graduates, and that figure will likely drop below 40 percent in the near future. One in six men of prime age (25-54), are unemployed or out of the workforce. Men seem to be especially reliant on a job as a core part of their identity, so they often become socially detached and nihilistic when unemployed or in dead-end jobs, leading to drug abuse, suicide, and other social dysfunction.

*   *   * 

Given this trend, it’s not surprising that many non-elites feel a certain amount of animosity towards the elites. And as Yang demonstrates through several anecdotes, this animosity is not entirely unjustified. There really is a sense in which elites are working towards the immiseration of regular people by automating away their jobs. This is what Yang provocatively refers to as “the war on normal people.”

If it is a war though, it’s entirely one-sided. Elites go through top colleges together, start companies together, share knowledge through informal networks, and take on complementary jobs as software developers, financiers, consultants, and lawyers. New automations are effectively the products of a wealth of shared knowledge and co-operation. Non-elites, on the other hand, especially those who don’t go to college and live in declining communities, are almost entirely atomised. Union membership has declined significantly, as has participation in other social organisations. Many jobs are temporary. This means that workers have little recourse, or even warning, as their jobs disappear. The power differential between elites and non-elites could hardly be greater.

Yet, as Yang points out, most elites don’t actually want it this way. Studies show that even the wealthiest people are less content when there’s too much inequality in society, and many of Yang’s friends are reluctantly “buying bunkers and escape hatches just in case.” The real problem is ideological. America suffers from market fundamentalism, Yang argues, reflected in a veneration of the notion of meritocracy and an uncritical belief in simplistic economic theories.

This must change, Yang believes, and everyone has a stake in it, even the elites. He describes himself as an “ardent capitalist,” but believes that capitalism must evolve to the next stage. The market is a tool society should use to its advantage, not something it must be a slave to.

He proposes three solutions. First, a UBI of $1,000 a month for every U.S. citizen, paid for by a 10% value-added tax on all goods and services. Second, a new, secondary economy based on time rather than money. Third, a tougher and more vigilant government. These are all interesting suggestions, worthy of discussion. That said, the best part of Yang’s book in my opinion is his description of the problem, which he manages to do in simple and powerful terms. Recognising that there is a problem is half the battle.

For this reason, I think the people who would benefit most from the book are those who are beholden to the kind of market fundamentalism Yang describes. There’s a subset of political commentators and journalists, especially on the centre-right, who fit in that category. Yet a lot of these people are not actually that familiar with the modern economy. They’ll quote John Locke or Adam Smith but are unaware of much of the data Yang presents. Nor are they intimately aware of what’s actually going on in the tech sector, as Yang is.

(And historical contingencies aside, it’s not clear why conservatives should embrace market fundamentalism. Few things are more disruptive than capitalism, and as Yang argues impoverished communities become more atomised as families disintegrate and dysfunctional behaviour increases.)

One can argue that the political centre has collapsed over the past few years precisely because white working-class people have realised that market fundamentalism is harming them. Yang argued as much on a recent podcast with Sam Harris when he said that “the reason why Trump is our president today is because we automated away four million manufacturing jobs in the swing states.”

But Donald Trump’s version of market criticism is not the answer. Import tariffs won’t address the problem, because most of the lost jobs are due to automation, not to sending them abroad. And even the minority of lost jobs that have been sent abroad will be automated away eventually. (Yang describes how a call centre in the Philippines is gradually removing humans from their processes.) All tariffs do is harm the economy by making trade more difficult.

What I like about Yang’s book is that he manages to create a sense that people are in this together. He does point out that blacks and Hispanics earn significantly less on average than whites and Asians and have significantly less wealth—facts he says “make my head and heart hurt”—but he also emphasises how working-class whites are increasingly suffering from this. Likewise, he mentions that women on average have lower income and wealth than men, but he also describes how more and more men are becoming detached from the education system and job market. Even elites have a stake in this, in his view.

That said, Yang’s thesis should not be taken uncritically. He addresses some objections to it in the book and on Harris’s podcast, but this is far from settled science. Many people argue that the market will find a way to produce new jobs, as it did after the industrial revolution. But Yang’s book offers both data and anecdotes in support of a thesis worth taking seriously.

Finally, let me say that this book is entirely focussed on the U.S., so I wouldn’t recommend it to most non-Americans. However, the general issues it raises are relevant for every Western country. In fact, one could argue that the effects could be even more severe, since many of these countries might end up with the worst of both worlds: a bottom segment without the top. The extent to which many Europeans have replaced local media and entertainment with Facebook, YouTube, and Netflix—all located in California—demonstrates how this could eventually play out internationally.

 

Uri Harris is a writer with a MSc in Business and Economics. He can be followed on Twitter @safeortrue

If you liked this article please consider becoming a patron of Quillette

114 Comments

  1. >> The effects of automation are self-reinforcing

    I have three reasons why I’m not worried about “the machines:” Dust, time, and moisture.

    Three things that ELECTRONIC machines can’t handle, are dust, time, and moisture. The ruin all things electronic. And then those breakdowns are “self reinforcing” as all the tech is chained together.

    Think about “modern cars.” What breaks? The electronics. It’s not the oil in the car… it’s the oil pressure SENSOR that breaks. And that sensor needs to be replaced… by a human.

    What about your cell phone… >2 years.

    So… think about infrastructure. As the “elites” push tech into everything… they build in fragility. Who is going to repair the machines? People are.

    Meanwhile… there is resurgence in “blue collar” jobs, and trade schools? Why? Because they are almost “overlooked” markets as everyone rushes to get a college degree so they’ll get “picked first” for a call center job at a tech company.

    The “elites” are the same folks that put 10:1 odds on Hillary. These are some incredible over-confident, and completely foolish people.

    Tech will come. But jobs… aren’t going away anytime soon. It’s incredible tech-fueled hubris to think otherwise.

    • MCA says

      Hi there, 90’s technology. Let me introduce you to polymer “skins” and mineral oil. That’s right, if a robot or machine doesn’t need to rotate continuously (e.g. a robot arm), you can make it immune to both dust and moisture with nothing more than an impermeable, loose plastic bag as a “skin” filledwith mineral oil. Tada, it’s immune to dust and moisture, plus it’s surrounded by lubricant that’s good for heat exchange.

      I literally sand-proofed a robot last year using just $10 worth of plastic sheeting, a heat sealer, and a hot glue gun.

      Next stupid objection.

      • GXL says

        This was a good exchange…would have been better without MCA’s last sentence.

      • John McCormick says

        Ha ha, thanks for the laugh.
        My newbie engineer alert just went off.
        Yeah, that’ll fix it once and for all!

        • John McCormick says

          Actually, by their third year most engineering students have completed their chemistry sequence and have probably had some exposure to materials science and so would have laughed at that also. I offer my apologies to all engineers and engineering students.

          • MCA says

            So, rather than hiding behind snark,care to actually offer a reason this won’t work? Especially it can and does in a variety of systems, and has been employed quite well in the real world?

            The canonical example is as a method of dealing with submerged electronics – by filling the sealed device with mineral oil rather than air, the consequences of pressure differences are greatly mitigated, so the seals don’t face the same forces, as are buoyancy problems.. This is widely used in ROVs, but no principle forbids its use in terrestrial systems to exclude dust as well as water, particularly if the containing system in flexible.

    • foljs says

      > Three things that ELECTRONIC machines can’t handle, are dust, time, and moisture. The ruin all things electronic. And then those breakdowns are “self reinforcing” as all the tech is chained together.

      Even if this was generally true (which is not, there are tons of electronic devices that have been designed to withstand those elements, and have been operating for decades without incident), it is irrelevant.

      Even if electronic devices did need maintenance because “dust, time, and moisture” break or corrode them, that periodic maintenance is much less costly than going back to paying salaries to those employees that those machines replaced.

      And of course requires much fewer people to do it than the jobs that those machines will replace.

      Most electronic devices that die because of “dust, time, and moisture” get that because they were designed lightly (not properly sealed etc) for consumer use, and because their manufacturers have purposefully built them for planned obsolescence (so they can sell more).

      That is not the case with more expensive industrial robots and similar business-level (as opposed to consumer-level) electronics. Cheaper models might be susceptible, but more enterprise-y ones are made to withstand the conditions that they will meet in their operation.

    • @daysofgame Agree fully. I see it as the merely competent will suffer (incompetents already do) and those highly specialized who can see the gaps in the automation and fix them manually will do very well. Also – agree on the blue collar jobs that have been scorned for the last 30 years. I asked the plumber’s apprentice how it could possibly cost $2600 to replace a residential water heater and he smiled and said because he’s in high demand, yep, the old supply and demand paradigm.

  2. Jon says

    Automation is getting more and more sophisticated every year. Initially people thought robots could only replace unskilled process workers in factories. Then we found out software could replace a whole industry like taxis virtually overnight, and self-driving cars with a safety record that far exceeds any human drivers will likely replace the Uber drivers. But we’ve been reassured we’ll still need highly skilled people, like surgeons for example. I’m not so sure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vb79-_hGLkc

    I guess we could all become artists, surely robots will never be able to create art like a human can.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8Iy0p7toeg

    • samu says

      Pretty much every artist I know in my age group has programming skills. Programming robots to do art is actually quite common these days. This doesn’t mean it’s less work or easier. The opposite is true. It takes way more knowledge and time. Creating original work in a medium that is mastered through code and robotics is art as well. The difference is what required mastery of a brush and some paint is now requires mastery of a brush, paint, software stack, hardware stack, …

      I think this example illustrates what is going on. The paradox is that the systems we base our civilization on require an almost unlimited amount of upkeep, meaning there will always be jobs to keep these systems together better than we can manage. So jobs will be plentiful but also insanely complex. Not everybody would want or can do them.

    • dirk says

      Yuval Harari thinks so, robots will create our future art, Jon. And some other figures of him, from a prediction of Frey and Osborne (pg 380 of Homo Deus): taxidrivers 89% obsolete, bar tenders:77%, veterinary assistants: 86%. The ones not evicted: archeologists! And why? because it doesn’t pay to invest in automatisation, because the results (pure science, publications) don’t produce profits.

    • JohnA says

      Hi Jon,

      That’s partly the fallacy of being seduced by what machines can do, without giving due consideration to what they can’t. I’ve been given so many impressive demonstrations of what automation can do over the years, and it always came back to me asking, “Can it do my job?” And after some consideration, it mostly turned out that, no, it could not do my job, or if it did, I would need to insert some manual steps or change my process or product or do some other expensive accommodation.

      The spruikers of the automated utopia underestimate the wonder of the human mind and body. They would say “look at human imperfection!” but human imperfection is our greatest strength. There would be no evolution without imperfection. Look at a Van Gogh painting and wonder whether any perfection could surpass the beauty of Vincent’s imperfection.

      • foljs says

        > The spruikers of the automated utopia underestimate the wonder of the human mind and body.

        The “wonder of the human mind and body” is not required for tons of jobs. Burger flipping, for example, doesn’t take much “wonder”, and if automated, can put of a job millions by itself.

        Ditto for things like retail sales.

        • JohnA says

          McDonald’s hasn’t flipped burgers for years: they cook both sides at once. Even people low down on the IQ scale can do things that robots can’t.

          Jobs are lost to automation and jobs are created by automation. It’s being going on since the Royal Dockyards automated block production back in 1804.

          Just because you can think of things that may or may not be able to be automated doesn’t mean that everything can or should. It’s like some people have woken up and said “hey, lets automate everything!” Wow, how original, people have been on this 24/7 for the last 200 years. If it can be automated it has been automated, as technology improves more will come, but it’s hard work.

  3. DBruce says

    Talking about UBI without talking about LVT is like talking about ketchup without mentioning fries.

    • DBruce says

      .. funding UBI with VAT is robbing Peter to pay Peter.
      Productivity increases always crystallise in land values – thus LVT is the rational and natural way to fund UBI. This has been known for a long time.

  4. Koos kleurvol says

    The (LIE) leftwing intellectual elite: “Soon menial jobs will disappear, we need UBI.”
    Also LIE: ” Americans/Europeans are aging and don’t want to do menial labour, we need immigration”

  5. Joaquim C says

    UBI will lead to complancency and boredomness, for the less skilled.
    UBI is a rich people fancy idea trying to keep them worldview fluffy and cosy, the road to hell is once again paved with good intentions.
    Communism 2.0..

    • foljs says

      > UBI will lead to complancency and boredomness, for the less skilled.

      Not much more is needed, as the alternative is meaningless job just to keep them occupied.

      The key insight is what you do when e.g. 70% of jobs are not needed anymore, and because of automation and AI, new ones don’t emerge to replace them (and we have more than enough “creative” jobs already, so those are not an answer either).

      > the road to hell is once again paved with good intentions.
      Communism 2.0..

      Well, the problem with communism was mass murder and party elites control. Not that people had a guaranteed income.

  6. X. Citoyen says

    For those who aren’t old enough to have experienced previous iterations (e.g., climate change back when it was global warming), here’s the schema for the argument:

    1. Event x is unprecedented in human history.
    2. Look at the shocking data I’ve collected (= selected).
    3. The free market just can’t handle this because (externalities, other dubious explanation)
    4. We need socialism, but it’s not really socialism; it’s an evolution of capitalism. You can trust me because I love capitalism and I love you too.

    Andrew Yang isn’t coming for your job, he’s coming for the same thing his predecessors came for: your liberty in the name of equality.

    • John says

      Yes. This line of thinking goes back to the early industrial age and the Luddites. They smashed the first factory machines because they destroyed traditional occupations. It’s always fear of competition and the unknown that drives the quest for a universal security blanket. And the pendulum then swings toward absolute corruption and waste (e.g., 1970s UK unions and the USSR).

      Can’t we all just moderate and accept that true competition with a moderate degree of security has proven to be most effective for humans? [I know the answer…power corrupts…]

      • TarsTarkas says

        The power loom, the Newcomen engine, locomotives, mechanical harvesters, horseless Carriages, assembly lines, container ships, desktop computers – yes, all these production improvements are going to create a huge and permanent unemployed population whose neediness will drag society to ruin! Not.

    • Good diagnosis and summary. I may just add that the call for strong and vigilant government in addition to the “solution” resembles capitalism with Chinese characteristics.

    • Chester Draws says

      You left out manipulating the data X.

      In this case we are told suicides are “way up” which is exaggeration. Per capita rates are returning to the normal rate after a dip, which is likely at least partly due to better reporting. The US rate isn’t even high.

      Meanwhile the normal people live with a “scarcity” which would be unimaginable wealth not long ago.

      But drama sells.

    • foljs says

      > For those who aren’t old enough to have experienced previous iterations (e.g., climate change back when it was global warming), here’s the schema for the argument:

      That’s a bogus summary.

      Even if you were 100 year old, you wouldn’t be old enough to see the dire consequences of climate change in their full glory.

      So it’s like “they were talking about climate change in the 70s or 80s, and it never happened, so it’s bogus”.

      It’s more like “they were talking about a slow buildup that will take decades to show its full effects, the non observance of which during my lifetime means nothing”.

      • X. Citoyen says

        @foljs

        Being able to distinguish scientific conclusions from political policy and activism is a useful skill—at least, it is if you’re more concerned with thinking clearly than attacking heretics. A further refinement of this skill is being able to recognize when political activists are capitalizing on scientific conclusions to rationalize a political agenda.

        I said nothing about climate science or the consequences of climate change. I summarized the four basic steps for turning contemporary events, concerns, and scientific findings into fodder for one’s political cause, mentioning global warming as an example. The events themselves, whether real events, panics, or scientific findings, may be true, false, or somewhere in between.

    • Lydia says

      Bingo. But he’s smarter and has a better grip on what needs to be done and what will work. This time. (Wink)

    • I don’t think it’s about equality. The percentage of young men who are nihilistic and detached from the economy is growing at an accelerating rate. Family breakdown and social dysfunction is accelerating. It is the stuff of societal breakdown and revolution. It is very real. The 21st century free market is a wealth concentrating machine of extraordinary power. The top 1% have seen their percentage of the worlds wealth grow more to over 50% – up over 10% since 2001. The world’s richest 8 people now have more wealth than the bottom 3,500,000,000 combined.

      Perhaps you don’t like his prescription, what is yours?

    • johntshea says

      Exactly! More taxes and regulations are always the solution demanded by such alarmists.

  7. Correct title: “The war on dumb people.” Objection that previous innovations created new jobs seems unrealistic — this is a different kind of innovation. Universal basic income would create a large welfare underclass.

    • Robert Paulson says

      Agreed, it would create a large welfare class of talentless people we simply don’t need. I believe the answer should be “passive eugenics” achieved by cutting social services and welfare, which will eventually result in these people dying from drugs, malnutrition and miscarriages. They will eventually stop breeding since the men will be too dysfunctional and low-status for women to mate with them. It will be a painful process, but the human race will be stronger once we wipe out the lower half of the IQ distribution.

      • dirk says

        I wonder, talentless? In what?? Serving your coffee? Cutting the tomatoes and cucumber in slices? Driving a car from x to y? Cleaning up your table? Slaughtering chickens, pigs and cows and fishes (and dividing the carcass in nice cuts). Maybe, all this is once done by robots, but it will take time, I will not see it done during my lifetime, I will, in the remaining life I still have to go, be surrounded by an army of waiters, postmen, garbage men, secretaries, police officers, artists, taxi drivers, bus drivers, caissieres ( I love them, never leave without a joke!!), and school teachers. And docter assistants to listen to my complaints.

        • Robert Paulson says

          @dirk

          I think my sarcasm was too subtle. I was mocking those fervent believers in the meritocracy who won the genetic lottery and have no sense of gratitude for it and who have never suffered any setbacks in their life that would allow them to empathize with regular people.

          Such people have no loyalty to their fellow citizens – I was listening to a Q&A with Patrick Deneen, author of “Why Liberalism Failed” where one of the audience members suggested that capitalism was the next stage in human evolution, the implication being that the transformation of the economy into one based on knowledge, intelligence and talent would produce evolutionary pressures that would eventually eliminate those low IQ people, leaving humanity as a whole better off.

          If you base your morals on the market, I can’t think of any arguments against this kind of social Darwinism. If anyone has an argument for why we *shouldn’t* wipe out less intelligent within a scientific or rational framework that is not based on axiomatic principles such as those in religion, I would be interested in hearing it because right now all I can think of is a semi-Christian recourse to the intrinsic value of each person no matter their IQ which needs to be accounted.

          • dirk says

            Of course I got the sarcasm, but wanted to reflect on that talentless, because I am not sure whether the majority of commenters here are much concerned with the under 100 IQ (on some table, concocted by someone,in WEIRD country).

          • MCA says

            What loyalty to my fellow citizens? I’m supposed to feel some sort of deep kinship based on mere geographic proximity to people whom I have little in common?

            If you want to make a claim that humans, globally, have some intrinsic value, sure, go for it, but to suggest that moral concern should be prioritized for those inside an arbitrary set of geographic boundaries is silly.

          • Robert Paulson says

            @MCA

            You heart is too small for your neighbors, but large enough for the whole world? Now that is silly.

          • MCA says

            @Robert Paulsen

            For the cost of helping one of my disadvantaged neighbors improve their life, I can buy enpugh mosquito netting and basic medical supplies to save 100 lives in countries far away. Why should geographic distance factor into that calculation even slightly? Do you really think proximity makes people’s lives worth more?

          • Urusigh says

            Fair warning, I’m answering this strictly flow of consciousness, but this is the free time I have and no one else has even tried to reply.

            A pragmatic argument might simply note that the anxiety, depression, and suicide numbers aren’t only rising for the low IQ members of society, but also for the “best and brightest” at our universities and in the aforementioned top 6 sectors. Simply put, the current track of our society is also placing increasing stress on the “elite” members. Then you look at all the resulting issues around “Inequality” and “Safe Spaces” at institutions that are objectively some of the most equal and safe places in human history… It becomes clear that subjective perception overrules objective reality, as if there’s some hidden principle of conservation of hierarchy and the resulting envy, resentment, and sympathy. The actual degree of difference doesn’t seem to matter much psychologically or emotionally. High IQ may make one more productive in the knowledge economy, but it isn’t immunity to the resulting pathologies.

            It doesn’t improve life for those in the top quartile if you remove the lower quartiles: the remaining people just get divided into a fresh set of quartiles and everyone not in the top bracket envies and resents those who are, while those in the top bracket worry (whether from fear or sympathy) about those who are not. That general principal applies to all sub sets, including IQ. Eliminating the low IQ wouldn’t improve life for those considered “high IQ”, it would make it worse for many of them who would then be, relatively speaking, “low IQ”.

            Bluntly put, humans set values and rank ourselves according to those values, resulting in hierarchy. Our neural systems then reward or punish us in accordance with our relative position and direction of movement within the hierarchy. Cutting out all the people at the bottom just redefines the lowest people left as the new bottom, with all the same resultant problems and pathologies as the old bottom. IQ can’t change that. Study after study shows that high IQ people aren’t any more moral, more wise, or any less biased than those of lower IQ, so society wouldn’t suddenly be more enlightened just because the average math proficiency went up a magnitude.

            So, even if it doesn’t make things better, does it makes things worse to lose the bottom bracket of IQ? Given the history of eugenics, it seems likely. Whatever you think of the moral implications, treating people as expendable objects based on their relative utility has led to the downfall of every society that tried it and the deaths of large percentages of the populace involved. Social trust necessary to society generally can’t coexist with mass murder for long.

            Then you run into the loss of genetic variation. Selecting for rationalists leaves you with a single psychological profile where everyone may be better at cognitive processing (high IQ), but they are also going to share much the same cognitive biases. As the environment changes, there will eventually be a catastrophic circumstance that falls in their blind spot.

            Finally, there’s this: high IQ and the sort of lifestyle currently associated with our “elite” are negatively associated with reproduction. The numbers of children born to such couples are far below the minimum for population replacement. If you eliminate everyone else, our elites will slowly go extinct because they simply don’t have enough children. Indeed, Western culture as a whole is demonstrating this problem.

            Of course, the rationalist will argue that there are necessarily some logical tweaks that can be made to the structure of society to avoid or overcome these problems… but that’s really just a restatement of a premise of rationalism as a philosophy, not a supported conclusion from the facts. The facts right now strongly imply that humanity really does need people who are not particularly bright or rational, because those people do most of the hard work building sustainable culture and populating it with children.

        • Joaquim C says

          ”I wonder, talentless? In what??”
          And also being polite and using a nice deodorant…

      • TarsTarkas says

        Yes, but this large welfare class will vote for those providing the UBI or more UBI. That is the point in promoting UBI, to create a permanent voting majority.

        As for ‘passive eugenics’, I strongly suggest you keep your personal opinions about it to yourself, unless you want to be flamed or banned (I won’t tear you a new one, it’s not my way, but I’m sure many others won’t be so restrained). Using the very specious IQ measurement (which is as much if not more a result of good education than genetics) to base political and immigration decisions on is beyond stupid. If you had had your way back in the past, there would never have been a US of A because the poor and wretched of Europe would have been bred out of existence, when all they needed was a real chance to make it good.

        • Robert Paulson says

          @ TarsTarkas

          I was being sarcastic

          @ MCA

          Sure, if you reduce human relations to monetary transactions, as you seem to have done, but communities are more than monetary transactions. Clicking a “donate” button on paypal is such a shallow conception of “caring” that I wouldn’t even count it since it costs nothing in terms of emotional bonds, which are what communities are built upon.

          I’m curious, would you have the same emotional response to reading a newspaper article about a car accident involving random people in a far away country that you would have to watching your neighbor’s kid getting run over in front of you?

          • MCA says

            @Rob

            So, I should allow people to die because it doesn’t give me the warm fuzzy feelings of local help? Why do my feelings or community bonds matter more than lives? Why does my visceral reaction to an event witnessed make it more or less tragic? Has it occured to you that the purpose of charity isn’t personal emotional rewards, but actually helping?

          • Robert Paulson says

            @ MCA

            You didn’t answer my question and that is a strawman argument and you know it. You are also seriously overestimating your own importance.

          • MCA says

            That you didn’t understand my statement does not make it incorrect, much less a straw man.

            Look at it simply: Bob has $1000 that he wantsto give to charity. That money could pay for a fraction of a college scholarship in the US, or a few dozen or hundred meals for some homeless people in his town. Or it could literally save the lives of 100 people on the other side of the world. Obviously, saving lives is a bigger impact, and Bob only has this $1000, so amy money given to one cause is not given to the other.

            Why should Bob prioritize lesser effects over greater, based only on geographical proximity or emotional reward or personal investment?

            Far fron overestimating my/Bob’s importance, I’m completely dismissing it – Bob’s actions are only judged on outcome, and any consequences for Bob himself are dismissed as irrelevant.

            My point, which you seem determined to avoid addressing, is that people’s moral worth is not contingent upon their geographic distance. This should be self-evident, even if it contradicts our base primate tribal instincts.

          • Peter from Oz says

            I’d just like to ask MCA, what if the money you donated to send a local lad to college put aht lad on the way to finding a way to solve the endemic famines in Africa?

          • Peter from Oz says

            Poor old MCA really hasn’t thought it through. The reason why charity should begin at home is that at home we have some realisation of what our money will do. It will help our local community and thereby help us all. WHo knows if the money sent to Africa will really save lives or whether it will go into the hands of corrupt politicans or NGOs. WHat it will probably do too is prolong the suffering of the poor. What we need to expoert to Africa is the rule of law and respect for private property. The main thing holding Africa back is governments and how hard they make it to start a business

      • Meerkat says

        Before that happens, I suggest that you and the rest of the elites build yourselves some really awesome robotic soldiers, because before they starve to death, those in the lower half of the IQ distribution will break into your house, slit your throat, and raid your kitchen(and quite possibly cannibalize your corpse). They’ll have nothing to lose, and in America, they’re often quite well-armed.

        A far better long-term strategy is to use the very same technological progress that threatens to make most people obsolete to power the Manhattan Project or Apollo program of our age – prenatal genetic engineering to allow us to increase a child’s intelligence to the point where they can engage in the jobs of a modern economy. This could take generations, but seems better than the alternatives.

  8. Robert Paulson says

    I was at a data science meetup recently where truck drivers were described as “obstacles to progress” since they wanted to keep their jobs so they could support their families. I mean, imagine that? Wanting to keep your job to support your family? How dare they! Don’t these peasants know their place? They should be honored to be human sacrifices to Progress!

    • MCA says

      I dare you to repeat the contents of this post to someone whose loved one died because a truck driver fell asleep at the wheel or dodged maintenance requirements or was speeding or even due to simple human error.

      How many deaths are those jobs worth? THAT is what driverless cars mean. They mean no more people killed by drunk drivers, teens texting and driving, or simply the general dumbassery that we all see literally every time we get on the road.

      Even if driverless cars are only 10x as safe (a VAST underestimate even at the current state of technology), every single one of those jobs lost is a trivial price to pay for the lives saved.

      • Robert Paulson says

        Yes, MCA, I am against self-driving cars because I just love watching people get killed by drunk drivers.

        • MCA says

          You use sarcasm because you have no cogent response. You know that there’s no way to justify preserving jobs at the cost of lives.

          • Robert Paulson says

            The reason I didn’t give you a cogent response is because your opener was an absurd emotional attack, not an argument. But if you want one here you go.

            First, if you really want to achieve 0 traffic fatalities, then you would have to ban humans from driving completely. I don’t think that is worth the cost in terms of autonomy. Each time I get into a car, I am taking the risk that I might be killed in a traffic accident. Every other driver on the road does the same, including those who get killed that you mentioned. They knew the risk when the got behind the wheel, and if they didn’t they shouldn’t have been driving.

            The trade off here is between autonomy and safety. You can sacrifice one for the other, but ultimately it comes down between how subjectively you value each. You seem to be willing to give up much more autonomy in the name of safety than I and many others are.

            Second, you are not accounting for lives and the families of those who are displaced by automation. Don’t their families matter too? 41000 people died in traffic fatalities last year [1], compare that to the 7.4 million people involved in the trucking economy [2] (excluding the families and dependents of those people). That is about 180 jobs per 1 traffic death. Now, that ratio is actually far higher when you consider the number from [1] includes all traffic deaths, not just ones caused by truckers. Say, half of those fatalities are caused by truckers, then you end up with about 370 jobs per fatality.

            Ultimately this comes down to a subjective opinion, but there are some numbers. I say its worth it.

            [1] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/14/traffic-deaths-edge-lower-but-2017-stats-paint-worrisome-picture.html

            [2] http://www.trucking.org/News_and_Information_Reports_Industry_Data.aspx

          • MCA says

            Loss of a job isn’t the end of everything for a person. Being killed by in a traffic accident is.

            Lets put your numbers in another context – 3700 people work at X Chemical Co., which unavoidably spews a toxin in the environment which causes 10 deaths due to cancer per year. There’s no way for them to operate at a profit without this pollution. Do you shut them down? Do you accept that by not doing so, those deaths are on your hands too?

            Also, the zero deaths is a strawman. Let’s say every 740 driverless cars save 1 life per year (i.e. they’re twice as safe as humans). Why prevent someone from making that incremental improvement? What gives you the right to prevent other people from making that tradeoff?

          • Robert Paulson says

            I don’t think that 0 is a strawman at all. In fact, its central to this argument. If you are ok with a nonzero number of accidental deaths in exchange for jobs, it then becomes a matter of how many is tolerable and we just disagree on that number.

          • Every comment you’ve made here has been antagonistic. It doesn’t matter how right you are about anything if people don’t want to here your argument.

            You want to know why you help your neighbors first? Because society depends on it. Most people understand this. Some have to learn it the hard way.

      • ga gamba says

        I dare you to repeat the contents of this post to someone whose loved one died because a truck driver fell asleep at the wheel or dodged maintenance requirements or was speeding or even due to simple human error.

        How many deaths are those jobs worth?

        Good grief! I hate this type of reply. The demand for perfection sundae with a dollop of overly emotive whipped cream atop.

        Hmmm… we can play this game in every sector. The National Safety Council reports about 1,200 farmers and farm workers die from a work-related injury annually. “Try telling the family of old MacDonald that food on your table was worth it,” I harrumph. In construction 5,190 workers were killed on the job in 2016. Is your shelter really worth the roofer’s life? Is your need for on-demand electrical power worth the life of one utility line worker?

        This is the same one-______-is-too many gambit the SJW’s play. And it really sucks. It uses shame to bully people into silence.

        • MCA says

          @Rob – It’s impossible for anything to be perfect, so zero errors/fatalities is a pure strawman. And yes, it is about numbers (this applies to ga gamba too). But unless Dr. V. Frankenstein has made some recent advances, it’s a lot easier to get a new job than to bring people back from the dead, so I suspect those numbers need several more zeroes before anyone considers them acceptable.

          @ga gamba – You’re eliding a key difference – that we have technology within our grasp to make those numbers much, much smaller. Nothing is ever perfectly safe, everything comes at a cost, people die all the time. But if there is a feasible mechanism to reduce that cost in lives or injuries, why not take it?

          Let’s use farmers as an example. Everybody has to eat, so we need farmers, and farming can be dangerous. Let’s say someone invents a new tool that prevents one very particular type of farm accident, but costs some jobs. If it costs X jobs and saves Y lives, X would have to be vast before the cost in lives would be acceptable.

          Crucial point – I’m not talking about the current X jobs and Y fatalities, I’m talking about the CHANGE in each, dX and dY.

          • Bill says

            Self-driving vehicles = no fatalities? I dare you to tell that to the family of the woman in AZ killed while crossing the street. See! I can do the same emotional argument even on the same topic!

      • JohnA says

        “Loss of a job isn’t the end of everything for a person.”

        I dare you to repeat this comment someone whose loved one suicided because they lost their job, or became alcoholic, or drug dependant, or criminal, &etc.

        Whether self driving trucks of a national scale are technically and economical feasible is yet to be determined. From my experience, I’ll believe it when I see it.

      • Given the large number of jobs that currently exist in trucking, if they were to be lost overnight, I can assure you that there will be orders of magnitude more loved ones dying from suicide/despair than are currently lost from human error while driving.

        And your safety estimates for driverless cars are incorrect. Progress has stalled as the algorithms have run into the tricky problem of trying to glean the benefits of human anticipation. I’m not saying that it won’t happen, but it’s not as simple as most people think.

  9. Here’s an article by Michael Lind in American Affairs not on the topic of technology but rather on the re-emergence of the idea of class and how it presents political challenges going forward.

    https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2018/05/classless-utopia-versus-class-compromise/

    Consistent with Deneen’s “Why Liberalism Failed,” the solution may be in recognizing that our less gifted fellow countrymen are natural small “r” republicans while our gifted fellow countrymen are natural Whigs, the party of the gentlemen of trade and the professions.

    This divide is ancient and it will always be with us. The solution worked out in the American colonies before the Revolution was that the towns should enjoy enormous autonomy and were the natural sphere of the 40 shilling freeholders while running the economy and provincial and relations with the emerging British was the natural sphere of the gifted involved in trade and the professions.

    Under this arrangement, the town’s elected representatives control of taxation in the legislature and its the local police and the militia ensured that any excesses of the gifted were constrained before they did too much harm.

    A good deal of this was allowed for in the Constitution of 1789 but since 1930, the US Supreme Court has made it a point to eviscerate state and local autonomy.

  10. Fran says

    This sounds like just another ‘the apocalypse is upon us’ book. The psychological term is ‘catastrophizing’.

    Jordan Peterson does not use the term, but he is addressing this mindset, and the good thing is that people are listening to the message: start by getting control over the things you can control. Yes, there will always be people who spend their lives obsessing on what might have been, but it need not be you.

    There is also not much that can be done about ‘dumbness’. Just to mow lawns and do effective weeding seems to require at least an average IQ. Those jobs lost to automation must have been pretty basic and required a great deal of bolt by bolt and nut by nut supervision. On my remote island, there are lots of people on welfare, and the competent manual workers get double the Provincial minimum wage (cash, no taxes). Even the ‘independent’ marijuana growers are the smart ones, taking risks and working consistently, and saving the best seed in the old fashioned sense of the term.

    Sure we started with a lot of advantages. But we forewent holidays in the sun in winter, new cars, eating out and clothes to save for the downpayment on a house, and then scrimped for many years to pay off the morgage and educate children. What you get for free is just welfare and the opportunity to complain about how unfair life is. There is unfairness and things that could be improved about the system, mostly to do with ways to reinforce and reward getting out of poverty. The book apparently has lots of personal stories to prove its point. How about the lineups at the food bank the week before welfare day, and at lottery ticket sellers on welfare day, Bet JP could find a Bible story about that.

    X. Citoyen above got it right – this book is another call to control those who have any level of success in life in the name of helping the helpless.

  11. Susan says

    Please somebody help me out with the cognitive dissonance I continually undergo on this issue. I hear (1) We need more immigrants to do the jobs we don’t want to do and (2) We need UBI because jobs will be disappearing.

    • dirk says

      In Europe, we just had a caucus conference on immigration Susan, we now hope to keep them out by closed camps and agreements on sending the ships back to Africa, even if we could need young people, because we are getting more and more pensionaries and senior invalids. As soon as you are a European national (takes time, not easy), you are entitled to some form of UBI. Luckily, it still is a national case, imagine, something like an international right on UBI (like in the Human Rights on happiness and freedom).
      Immigration is like that climate thing, you better don’t think what is coming ahead (in 5 or 10 yrs), and live the good life of the moment.

    • augustine says

      They are not jobs we don’t want to do, mostly they are jobs we don’t want to do *for a basement level wage*. Assuming a constant job market, we still need unqualified immigration because our native citizens are not keeping up a sustainable rate of reproduction. This idea probably needs some rethinking. Keep an eye on Japan: effectively zero immigration and declining birth rate.

  12. MCA says

    Let’s leave aside the validity and effectiveness of the proposed problem and solutions to ask a deeper question: what’s the endgame here?

    Congratulations, all the people who can’t work in an intellectually demanding profession and for whom there’s not enough trade work have UBI funded by a VAT. Now what? Automation will get better and better, erecting steeper barriers to these folks’ re-entry into work, machines will get more reliable and better, more jobs will be automated, leaving these folks to do what, exactly? What is the future for their grandkids? Thier great grandkids? Aren’t they just pets, a group of creatures we keep and provide for because doing so gives us the warm fuzzies? How many will consent to such an existence?

    I’m not suggesting any particular course of action, just noting that UBI is just a bandaid. What happens long term? Yes, we can’t see the future, but that’s no excuse for not even thinking about long term planning. I can’t see 50 years from now either, but I still save for retirement, even though I could be hit by a bus tomorrow.

    • dirk says

      I don’t get why it should be intellectually demanding, what about farming? Fishing? Nursing? Selling vegetables? Books?

      • Fran says

        Success at these things needs at least average smarts and some motivation.

        • dirk says

          Exactly, that’s what I mean, Fran. And a few more things even.

        • (The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income is Our Future by Andrew Yang. Hachette Books (April 2018) 305 pages. ) SOUNDS LIKE ANDREW HACKED A HATCHETTE JOB.

      • Lydia says

        “I don’t get why it should be intellectually demanding, what about farming? Fishing? Nursing? Selling vegetables? Books?”

        I started thinking about these things after the hurricanes. It was interesting to watch the so called low IQ people around Texas being discussed here rescuing people, fixing things, pumping things, etc, etc. it made me realize that I don’t really know how to do anything in a catastrophy.

        On the other hand, the welfare state, Puerto Rico, seemed to have had little of this sort of “can do’ survival skills and we’re waiting for government to come help them.

    • Bill says

      From a pure economic argument, UBI is an incentive for automation, is it not? The UBI raises the cost of doing business and the natural place to reduce cost is human resource overhead of commoditized positions. So long as the cost to automate is above the cost of the cheapest human labor, automation will not occur. Put in UBI (so higher tax) or higher minimum wages and you’ve raised the payback curve for automation. It held true for oil and fracking. So long as oil was cheap from OPEC, the US oil fields did not compete. Once OPEC jacked up prices to rake in the $$s, the R&D has a break-even/payback curve and fracking became far more cost effective with US oilfields being competitive (creating the OPEC-attempted-trade-war by dropping their oil price to disincentivize domestic exploration/production by pushing their oil production price below that of fracking.

    • peanut gallery says

      I’m looking forward to when posting about political topics online becomes autonomous. Think of all the things I could be doing if I weren’t doing this!

  13. evilhippo says

    “He describes himself as an “ardent capitalist,” but…”

    He is either a comedian, a liar or doesn’t really understand what capitalism is.

  14. Zach Gorham says

    The author should read “Economics in One Lesson” by Henry Hazlit. The argument that more automation will devastate the economy for the working class has literally been made since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Although there are obviously painful adjustments that have to be made in the marketplace when technology advances it is always better to produce things more efficiently in the long run. Producing goods more efficiently will mean that there are more goods to go around with less input costs to produce them. This means that they will be accessible to more and more poor people.

    Do we really want the government to institute another social safety net? How are the ones the are currently in place working out, especially in the United States? Social Security is going to go bankrupt, medicare is under water, and you want another big social safety net? I get tired of hearing “Oh we’ll just put in this little tax increase and that will easily pay for such and such program”. It never turns out that way does it? It is always far more taxation than expected and the programs those taxes fund are far less effective than expected.

    A “market fundamentalist” I may be; but for good reason. The relatively free markets of the western world have produced the greatest advancement in the quality of life in human history. That is not just for the rich either! The poorest of the poor have greatly benefitted as well, and perhaps even more than the rich have.

    I detest the class warfare narrative. It is so hollow. It merely pits people against each other. It masks a lust for power with the illusion of compassion.

    • Alex Russell says

      Many other countries have managed to implement effective social safety net that actually work. Good, competent government is possible, and is exists in many parts of the world.

      I’m not sure why the USA health care system is so expensive, but Canada has a single payer system that in 2004 spent $2,120 per person vs the USA gov spending $2,724 per person for limited coverage. The private system in the USA is much more expensive than the the ‘socialized’ Canadian system. As well, the Canadian system, by all objective measures, has better health outcomes.

      A common problem is people voting for things they want, without voting to pay for them. The USA population seems to be particularly allergic to increasing taxes to pay for government services.

    • augustine says

      “This means that they will be accessible to more and more poor people.”

      Is this concept even related to economics? Merchants don’t care who buys their products. The point is to sell them profitably. Workings of the human heart are in another realm.

    • “The relatively free markets of the western world have produced the greatest advancement in the quality of life in human history. That is not just for the rich either! The poorest of the poor have greatly benefitted as well, and perhaps even more than the rich have.”

      The free market success you refer to has been enabled alongside ~ 20% GDP taxation and generous redistribution programs. They have gone hand in hand. Clearly, there is some optimal, non-zero, level of taxation that works out for the largest group of people. Just think how much better it is for free markets that there are public roads available to all! Many economists argue that it would be even more efficient if we taxed wealth instead of income. Those who are good at allocating capital would barely notice the tax, and those who are poor at it would slowly have their capital put back to work in the free market economy.

  15. Urusigh says

    The author misses a fundamental point that even most “free market fundamentalists” don’t: the market is agnostic to what people value so long as there is a supply and a demand. So long as people value (demand) work, the market will supply it because that is what markets do, match supply to demand.

    Just look a at gym memberships, picking up and putting down heavy objects, to no economically productive purpose, fuels a profitable market sector. Even in tech, coding is highly profitable for some, while comparable work is done by others for open source projects as an expensive hobby. People grow gardens or make pottery at personal expense simply for the experience. Video games continue to grow as a portion of the economy and playing those is the ultimate example of voluntary arbitrary work to no economic purpose. Experience, a sense of accomplishment, and a sense of community, even in a completely artificial context, are goods the market provides according to demand.

    Even if automation doesn’t result in new types of jobs to replace the old ones, two things happen: improved productivity makes the essentials of life more affordable for everyone (likewise for most luxuries, even “poor” people in the West generally have things like a home, indoor plumbing, running hot and cold water, electricity and AC, etc), and more of the old jobs become luxury goods that people simply do as a hobby or even pay to do recreationally. Automation isn’t the end of any work that people find intrinsically satisfying or morally valuable.

    • dirk says

      This is what Harari predicts for the useless class to come (due to automation and AI) . He mentiones drugs and games as the logical solution, as did Orwell once, and the Romans with free bread and games for the underclass. It is also practiced in the zoo, where food is hidden in trees and under stones, to provide some untertainment for the apes. I see here in the park I often walk around small groups of young and fit women, running behind an instructor and doing silly gym. I understand, there even are special sport schools for this, and that it is big money for many (as well an income as a cost). So, future has started already.

    • peanut gallery says

      This comment reminds me that there is a Truck Driving Simulation game where you own a truck and just…. dirve. For hours. The game pumps in real radio stations. People are into weird things….

  16. hamr says

    I see an unfortunate degree of condescention, in some of these comments. Maybe it is a lack of understanding. Maybe it is the POV of many of the commenters. I suggest the latter.
    I am in a industry that cannot be ‘automated’.
    Certain types of automation have eased our labour, but they haven’t increased the quality of the end product very much.
    The automation of the production of the materials have made them marginally less expensive, but this is not benefitting the end user.
    I am not addressing the cost of plastic salad bowls….

  17. A hubris filled book with assumptions that have been countered by people a lot smarter then me. Basically while there will be increased automation there will be other jobs created. BTW there are more job openings rights now then people looking for work. If your not working right now it’s your fault.

  18. Peter det Rampus says

    Did he mention Charles Murray at any point? I hope so, since this sounds like a ripoff and synthesis of Murray’s last four or five books.

  19. BrotherJoe says

    Three issues not addressed: 1. Human needs are infinite => new jobs will fulfill them; 2. No difference between industrial revolution and automation (chimney cleaners did not become powerplant workers); 3. UBI will make every election about increasing UBI ie a majority tyranny

  20. MhbPlus says

    I appreciate that this book is aimed at the USA, and may not take into account the situation elsewhere. However, the dream of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) has been effectively and authoritatively demolished, in Australia, by our Centre for Independent Studies. A lengthy and thorough study established that, even if all other social welfare payments were eliminated, the rise in taxation required to pay for a UBI at any reasonable level would be totally prohibitive.

    I realise that what is proposed is not a rise in income tax, but a tax levied at the point of sale on goods and services. Australia has such a federal tax (the GST, or General Sales Tax), levied at the rate of 10% on almost all goods and services (food and rent are excluded). This is an extraordinarily effective tax, but all attempts to raise it have been a failure, as the Opposition ( a left-leaning party) has made so much play of the regressive nature of such a tax that it has become politically impossible to obtain any rise, let alone the large rise that would be needed to fund a UBI. This does not even take account of the deleterious effect on the level of economic activity that such a large rise in the GST would cause.

    Some economists here have flirted with the idea that the GST should be raised even further, to allow very low income earners to be “compensated” by a special payment, in effect raising the level of UBI paid to the lowest income earners. The arguments in the paragraph above also go, with even greater force, to making this politically and fiscally impossible.

    I do not have sufficient knowledge to do the calculations for the USA, but I would be very surprised if the outcome of such a calculation would be much different from that in Australia. Unfortunately, UBI is a pipe dream, initially attractive in theory, but totally impractical in the face of the hard numbers.

  21. dirk says

    I have lived half of my life in villages where the average income was not more than 1 dollar/person a day. And I found life there very comfortable, not much less ( and in many things even much better) than ours. I wonder what the UBI is going to be, if some international commission is going to decide on it, and don’t make a mistake, we, the few rich westerners, will soon be completely outnumbered by a global flood of poor ( or, if looked at it from non-materialistic ways, rich ones, it all depends).

    • dirk says

      Besides, the UBI has been tried out in a few African villages some 10 yrs ago (because it is easy there, not too expensive, and not difficult to monitor). The result: more small businesses (especially of the women) and a boost due to the increased income and buying power. In short, Lord Keynes was right, but how did he know, being a western economist of more than half century ago?? Is this the universal truth? Or just a local outcome?

  22. Arundo Donax says

    On UBI, let’s look at the numbers. There are 250 million adults in the U.S. Paying all of them $1,000 a month will cost $3 trillion a year. That is more than we now spend on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and national defense combined. If we paid for it by raising federal personal income taxes, they would have to more than double. A 10% VAT on U.S. GDP would not raise enough money to pay for this. The only way to make a UBI work would be to means-test it, which would make it the largest welfare increase in history. There is zero political chance that the US will enact a UBI in any form similar to this now or in the foreseeable future.

  23. DBruce says

    Winston Churchill explained it in 1909 with the anecdote:
    “Some years ago in London there was a toll bar on a bridge across the Thames, and all the working people who lived on the south side of the river had to pay a daily toll of one penny for going and returning from their work. The spectacle of these poor people thus mulcted of so large a proportion of their earnings offended the public con-science, and agitation was set on foot, municipal authorities were roused, and at the cost of the taxpayers, the bridge was freed and the toll removed. All those people who used the bridge were saved sixpence a week, but within a very short time rents on the south side of the river were found to have risen about sixpence a week, or the amount of the toll which had been remitted!”

    “All goes back to the land, and the land owner is able to absorb to himself a share of almost every public and every private benefit, however important or however pitiful those benefits may be.”

    Churchill knew something we have completely forgotten: the ONLY way to ensure that productivity gains go to workers and entrepreneurs is to tax land values and to untax work and business. Churchill was a Georgist.
    UBI only makes sense in the context of the Single Tax.

  24. ROBERT MITCHELL says

    Such constrained thinking and not very imaginative. I would suggest a Black Swan scenario in which the future is never knowable. The premise of elites is always that they are the center of the universe and everyone wishes to be them if they could. People do the best without their authoritarian social engineering.

  25. JohnA says

    “Import tariffs won’t address the problem, because most of the lost jobs are due to automation, not to sending them abroad.”

    This is the lie that won’t go away, in manufacturing, at least. I’ve worked in manufacturing for 40 years and I’ve seen automation introduced in plants, and yes, it reduces jobs, but it creates new ones and new products. We are generally better off for it.

    Yet, I see factories closed and the manufacturing moved offshore. “They work for a bowl of rice a day and are happy for it.” This was the mantra I heard over and over. The glee that people showed for their ability to profit off the sweated work of others was a sight to behold. products made by automatic machines in the west were made on manual machines in Asia. I walked through a village in China and the sounds of looms chugging away came from the homes. I poked my head into a darkened living room and saw the family working away making fabric. This is the “automation” of which the neo-liberals speak.

    Clothing is run by hand through stitching machines, iPhones are assembled by hand. machines can’t do it. Toyota discovered that over-automation was self-defeating and worked to find the ideal balance between man and machine. Toyota became the largest and most successful car manufacturer in the world. Engineers and business executives flocked to learn the secrets of the Toyota Production System, or lean manufacturing as is is often called. The ‘great’ Elon Musk, found, much to his chagrin, that over automation does not work.

    Ignorance is strength. Why would we concern ourselves with the hard learnt lessons from Toyota or even Henry Ford for that matter, when we can hear from some smart person who has never achieved anything of significance in the realm of manufacturing who can tell of some isolated example of automation that works so well. The lesson from My hard earned experience is not that automation can achieve dramatic and sometimes spectacular results, but that it often doesn’t work and often you need a human to get in there and do it. To lift it, tweak it, or replace it. It is humans working together with machines that produces results.

    People, especially men, do not want a UBI, they want meaningful jobs. To a man of below average intelligence driving a truck can be meaningful, welding can be meaningful, as can cleaning. I know this because I know such people, I work with such people. They are, in fact, actually human, decent people who did badly in the lottery of life, but mostly decent people who deserve a decent life like everyone else. They are just less intelligent and less educated than the people who make decisions about their lives. Half the population are average or below, a third of the population is in the bottom third. Why is this so difficult for the top 5% to understand?

    The UBI is an insult to the self-respecting man or woman. Mostly, they want meaningful work: work that is meaningful to them, not to someone with a Masters or PhD.

  26. sestamibi says

    First off, let me say the Paulson/MCA war here is a red herring focusing on traffic accidents caused by truckers (and just what share of ALL traffic accidents does that account for?) when trucking is a relatively small share of total job displacement through automation.

    Now, let’s step back for a moment and take the long view, starting in the beginning. The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is an allegory representing man’s position before economic progress. We got kicked out and had to work for our sustenance, but God never said we couldn’t do anything to make our lives easier and reduce that labor input. All economic progress since then has worked toward that goal, and now we are on the verge of an economy in which large numbers of people don’t have to work if they don’t want to.

    That still does not address the issue of distribution of the product of society’s efforts, which Yang suggests might be made by UBI. I have a different idea: since we have reduced the DEMAND for labor, we need to focus on reducing the SUPPLY to be consistent. We need to think about replacing the “work ethic” with an “earning a living” ethic. Since there are only two ways to earn income, labor or returns on capital (actually a third, transfer payments–earning a living through someone ELSE’s efforts), we need to discourage the former and incentivize the latter. I propose steep taxation on labor income, with the provision that all such earnings set aside and saved or invested be tax-exempt (as we do now with 401k plans) with lower tax rates for younger workers, and tax exemption for all income derived from savings and investment (interest, dividends, rents, etc.)

    This will provide a strong incentive for younger workers either to leave the work force sooner or at least ramp down their labor as they replace such income with income from capital sources. Thus, the economics Ph.D. driving a cab would find it easier to become an economist and the unemployed individual could then become a cab driver.

    It would work, but it’s too controversial to try.

    • That’s basically how things are set up today. All it does is concentrate wealth at the top. It is the ‘rich get richer’ recipe. Far better to do away with all income taxes, have a VAT (consumption tax) and some level of wealth tax (or even a tiny tax on the transactions of wealth – an automated tax on all payments, movements of money/wealth – http://www.chpc.biz/history-readings/apt ).

      JohnA got it right above. Labor is deeply intertwined with human dignity. We have spent the last several hundred thousand years working to provide food and shelter for our families. It is in our genes. Our taxation system should encourage work – getting rid of income taxes would be a great first step.

  27. UBI isn’t a solution, in my opinion. Sure, it might keep us alive in the short term, but what then? People are meant to be active. Without a reason to, anxiety, depression, addiction, and suicide (and perhaps violent crime) will skyrocket.

    • dirk says

      There are 2 kinds of people K, people happy with a handout (about 10%), and people that want to show how good they are and what they can make. So, I think that a UBI (but not too high of course, let’s say 500 Dl a month for USA and Europe, or 10Dl in India) would not be a bad solution. And that’s also the end of a lot of useless and frustrating administration and foodstamps.

      • Just Me says

        Who can live on $500 a month in the developed world?

        • dirk says

          And in India not on 10 dl/mnthly, but if a family with 4 adults above 18 receive 40, they can at least buy the food and fuel and other minor things to keep them afloat (and what some 25% of the population already get as food help or subsidies). Of course, you should not immediately stop with all commercial activities: go out and sell some cooked food in the street, grow some vegetables, keep a pig, repair a motorbike (I am now thinking for the Indians, for the US something slightly different accounts, of course).

  28. ga gamba says

    You missed the point there, mate. You saw what I quoted, right? My objection was to your grandstanding from atop your high horse. You can make the argument, and you did, without the tactics you employ.

    Broadly I agree with you. Improvements in technology will likely increase safety, yet I can’t help but remember new and improved things, such as the drug thalidomide, caused greater grief, and in motoring it’s been found anti-lock brakes and other safety features instill such a feeling of safety the drivers are more reckless. We don’t have fully autonomous vehicles yet, so the drivers are supposed remain attentive, yet from my own experience it’s difficult to focus my intent and attention at all times when the car isn’t under my control. I have to wonder whether a knock-on effect is drivers so accustomed to being passengers become less skilled and, when autonomous driving isn’t available, they are more unsafe drivers. Like most things we’ll end up with a mixed bag. The benefits will be over sold and the consequences unforeseen, deliberately or not.

  29. Zachary Reichert says

    Meh, repetition of the same technological unemployment myth that has persisted since the dawn of the industrial revolution.

    The sky is not, in fact, falling. We’re going to be fine.

  30. donald j. tingle says

    You’d think a description of the problem might have something to say about monetary and fiscal policy, and the distortions they create, but that would be market fundamentalist nonsense.

  31. Pingback: Lost Cogs In A Global Machine: Toward Building An Identity In The Dissident Right – Banter Loud

  32. Jeff York says

    Mr. Harris, very interesting article. Many thanx. This is yet one more book that I want to read but realistically won’t. My entire life I’ve bought books faster than I can read them resulting in a perpetual backlog. Failing eyesight and a world-weary brain exacerbate the problem.

    For most of my adult life I obsessed about the kind of issues discussed here. I’m 59 and my first grandchild, Joseph arrived 3.5 months ago. (Yay)!! Puts things in perspective and changes my priorities.

    Re. the UBI and a VAT: If it happens won’t a lot of the other wealth-redistribution scams–oops, I mean safety-nets–be phased-out and the money that funded them redirected?

    • Meerkat says

      I would imagine so. Advocates of UBI typically use this as one of its main selling points.

  33. Meerkat says

    The elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about is IQ (and the fact that a person can’t improve it). Perhaps Yang mentions this, but a lot of people refuse to do so, even though, as Jordan Peterson frequently points out, institutions with a massive amount of skin in the game, like the US Army, have already crunched the numbers. We need to be ready for a society where the cognitive floor for participation in the economy is elevated higher and higher.

    The people who say that the economy has always produced new jobs in response to technological change tend to gloss over this. When the mass-produced automobile made the horse and buggy obsolete, the new jobs that were created were largely still in the same minimum IQ range as the jobs they replaced. If anything they were probably easier, since traditional carriage manufacturers were often small and required a certain amount of craftsmanship in a number of areas. In contrast, the new production lines allowed one person to do a single, often very simple, task.

    When cotton-picking was automated, many of the blacks that were put out of work could migrate north to the booming industrial areas around the Great Lakes (and often receive better pay than they had in the past). What’s a 50-year-old suddenly out of work truck driver with an IQ of 90 supposed to do when he gets his pink slip and will never drive a truck again? Go back to school and do a software engineering degree?

    The economic optimists will sometimes even give examples that they think support their case when they actually don’t. One example they like to point to is the rise of ATMS’s. Everyone thought they would put people out of work, but the number of jobs at bank branches actually increased after their introduction. So no problem right? Not so fast. The job numbers increased, but the job description of a bank branch employee changed quite a bit. It went from being a repetitive, mechanical task to one that involved a lot more salesmanship of banking products and services. Not everyone is suited to that(I’m horrible at selling stuff, and believe me, I’ve tried). So we had more bank branch jobs than ever, but the sort of people doing the actual jobs changed.

Comments are closed.