liberalism and its paradoxes - technology and labor

10 posts

Bob Dylan Roof
Broseph ; niccolo and donkey ; President Camacho ; mlad ; @everyone

Some TL;DR thoughts on immigration and technology.

For the progressive liberal, the telos of humanity is an economic utopia where ditch-digging has been replaced by new technologies born of the unfettered subsidization of science. By eliminating the old prejudices, biases, and superstitions of yore, humanity is able to leverage all of its resources in pursuit of a world without suffering or toil.

In support of this theory, the liberal points to the correlation between slavery and technological and spiritual backwardness. The reason, for example, that Hero of Alexandria's steam engine never developed beyond a mere curiosity was the ubiquity of slavery, along with other factors that were products of superstition. What need is there for investment in technological innovation, so the argument goes, when there is a surplus of slave labor to perform every task (a surplus of machines with the most sophisticated internal computer ever known)?

Setting aside the objections to this argument and agreeing for the moment that superstition and a callous disregard for "human dignity" inhibits the development of technology, let's consider another pillar of liberal dogma: cosmopolitanism and free immigration. If cheap labor inhibits capital investment in technological innovation, and technological innovation is the primary goal of liberal political action, then why do liberal policy-makers insist on flooding first world countries with cheap slave labor? Indeed, robots don't assemble SWPL I-Phones because Chinese slave labor is cheaper than the development and maintenance of robots.

But, the liberal counters, the establishment of labor equilibrium through open borders eventually increases wages overall such that investment in technology eventually becomes efficient. This also has the added bonus of increasing aggregate living standards!

Once again, setting aside the obvious objections to this argument, let's return to the basic principle that technological innovation eliminates the need for mundane wage labor. The progressive liberal's corollary assumption here is that as wage labor is eliminated, wage laborers will still be provided with a high standard of living, despite the absence of demand for their services. This corollary is merely a fanciful wish, not a logical corollary. We already know in our time that just because there exist enough resources to provide everyone with a high standard of living, not everyone will necessarily enjoy this standard of living.

Thus we are left with the other implication of technological innovation: it eliminates demand for wage labor. As investors enjoy greater returns on their capital by investing in the development of technological "slaves" rather than costly wage laborers, ditch digging labor is indeed eliminated, but so is any need for a vast portion of the bell curve that was bred to perform those duties.
Niccolo and Donkey
Roland SteamshipTime

I hate to be somewhat reductionist towards a thoughtful post (one which contains thoughts I'm certain all of us have ourselves had), but I'm reminded of my time in Playa del Carmen, Mexico a few years back when I went into a Wal-Mart to buy a power supply for my digital camera. Behind the counter were three people when one could have sufficed. One spoke to me, the other listened and then walked around 10 feet and asked the third to go grab a power supply for me.

Is this the solution for the surplus that Roland is referring to?
Bob Dylan Roof
I can't find the post, but you posted an article about this problem in Germany. Basically they have enough capital to "invest" in transparently useless and inefficient activities like reassembling used puzzles (which are to be donated) to determine whether any pieces are missing.

It's difficult to speculate as to what sort of tumultuous cultural and spiritual upheavals this would cause, at least for some, as people recognized the utter uselessness and meaninglessness of their lives.
This is precisely my argument against eugenics: in a genetically maximized society, the class hierarchy -- which maps onto the bell curve -- starts to break down. If Mexicans and proles find 'ditch digging' work to be tolerable at best, a 150 IQ ubermensch would rather kill himself than endure such stigmatizing drudgery, especially since most of his peers would be genetic equals. A society which is genetically maximized is also genetically 'flat', and hence also a society where economic rank is more or less arbitrary, leading to wide-scale social disintegration. In other words, 'slaves' are necessary, and only the unfit are fit to be slaves -- hence a eugenic society is doomed.

Of course, this is assuming that 'ditch digging labor' will never be totally eliminated, which I suppose goes against your thesis.
Bronze Age Pervert

I would like to note that Roland tagged other people on this thread...but not me.

Bronze Age Pervert
This is extremely insulting...I am not just "everyone."
Team Zissou
Roland Broseph

Yes, but it's complicated. First, the idea that technology reduces aggregate employment is false. So long as people are willing to work, and so long as government doesn't put a floor on labor costs, workers can retool and even low-margin workers can be leveraged. Even something as simple as a nail gun was a huge boost to productivity, but it didn't result in thousands of unemployed construction workers; it meant homes were cheaper so more got built so more workers using nail guns were employed. (We can set aside the other externalities artifically driving down home prices for now.) There will always be short term dislocations--huge numbers of middle management had to find something else to do in the late 1980's--is anybody complaining about that? What you observed in Mexico wouldn't happen in a US Walmart btw, because US employees are much more expensive.

The real problem is the welfare state; it's the most diabolically dysgenic system ever conceived. That's why we have unsustainable amounts of zero or barely productive workers.

Immigration is a whole other can of worms, retarding this adaptive process mentioned in my first paragraph . Germany has honed a Solow-model workforce (high capital inputs per worker) over decades. Imagine dumping several million Aztecs there. They actually do have this problem to a lesser extent, with low-skilled immigrants stagnating in the lower classes. Getting back to Roland's main point, the elites have apparently determined that they do better paying somebody a dollar a day to sweep floors and offloading the costs on the welfare system than they would inventing floor-sweeping machines.

In summary, people adapt and markets can determine whether more or less labor needs to be imported and paid enough by their employers to feed themselves. But government distorts the pricing signals for labor with welfare, open borders, etc.
Team Zissou
You're into aesthetics, not economics.
Team Zissou