Lion of the Blogosphere

More Larry Summers and robots

In an article at The Week about how FoxConn is adding more robots to its factories to make iPhones, there is this:

Larry Summers, former U.S. Treasury secretary during the Clinton Administration and former head of Obama’s National Economic Council, predicts technology will have a profound effect on the average employee. “We are seeing less and less opportunity for what average people — people lacking in certain skills — are going to be able to do,” said Summers in May at the Conference on Inclusive Capitalism.

“It is not true that innovation always makes more employment…There is nothing in the logic of the market or human experience to suggest that it must necessarily be so that there will be jobs for all at acceptable wages, no matter how technology evolves.”

Has Larry Summers addressed the higher-level question of why people will need jobs at all in a future when robots can do everything?

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

July 14, 2014 at 1:42 PM

Posted in Economics, Robots

45 Responses

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  1. When our ancestors evolving into modern human, they must left their chimps cousin behind without mercy. Any one who did not know how to make and use stone tools must have been kicked out of tribes. However, mordern human might have trouble keep evolution going since all concern about no child left behind.

    Eugenics is only solution if our evolution want to keep up with technological evolution.


    July 14, 2014 at 2:03 PM

  2. I cant wait until computers make all cognitive skills unneccessary. For all the pretentiousness of ivy leaguers on this blog, ivy league grads are ruining this country.


    July 14, 2014 at 2:22 PM

    • Ivy Leaguers will take care of their own.


      July 14, 2014 at 3:46 PM

    • The managerial class will be supplanted by computers. Actually, the task of managing personnel, will. Already, HR is becoming horribly automated and mechanically reduced. We will have a robot-managerial force which dots the i’s and crosses the t’s, the ultimate form of objective corporate rule. All in keeping with the West’s abhorrence of anything that could be misconstrued as illegal (and who has the time to keep on top of all the latest labor legislation?) thanks to the most detestable class of all…the lawyer class.

      Socially Extinct

      July 15, 2014 at 1:19 AM

      • Dream on.

        HR & compliance exist because of government dictat. The government mandates that they exist, so they will stay. It doesnt matter how inefficient, unproductive, or replaceable they are.


        July 15, 2014 at 1:04 PM

      • I don’t care whose dictat perpetuates HR, I doubt anyone cares how they exist. I didn’t say HR would cease to exist, merely that it would be largely powered by automation because the majority of its nagging pall is composed of rules and regulations.

        Socially Extinct

        July 16, 2014 at 1:11 AM

      • HR: “There are levels of survival we would be … willing to accept.”


        July 16, 2014 at 6:16 PM

  3. The greatest job advice you’ll ever get is to stop looking for a job and start looking for ways to create value. In the post-labor era of hyper-productivity, people will be paid for the value they create, and no more. Robots will destroy jobs but they may also create jobs, so the situation may not be as bad as purported by the media.

    grey enlightenment

    July 14, 2014 at 2:32 PM

    • pssst…the focus on creating value is actually a proletarian false consciousness.

      there is labor and there is capital. executives are paid the most, because if they weren’t they’d have no authority. they aren’t paid the most, because they create the most value. and very very few of them have worked their way up from real work to executive.

      or at least that the case in america, where mbas w/o any technical background at all run companies of engineers and tradesmen.

      one commenter on steve hsu’s blog described these people as “value-destroying”.

      jorge videla

      July 14, 2014 at 4:06 PM

      • Actually, a lot of senior executives do have technical backgrounds. Exxon’s CEO is a civil engineer, Dow Chemical’s CEO is a chemical engineer, Facebook’s CEO is a computer programmer, etc.

        Dave Pinsen

        July 15, 2014 at 10:22 AM

      • actually there are “a lot a lot” of american companies, but as a % of senior executives the us is bottom of the world in such people with technical/scientific backgounds.

        jorge videla

        July 15, 2014 at 7:37 PM

    • according to the tax data 50% of the 1% in income are executives. 15% doctors, dentists, etc. 8% lawyers. the rest is a hodgepodge.

      small business owners/entrepreneurs are a very small % of the 1%.

      jorge videla

      July 15, 2014 at 1:30 AM

  4. “Has Larry Summers addressed the higher-level question of why people will need jobs at all in a future when robots can do everything?”

    That question is essentially politically incorrect in the USA. It is completely contrary to the propaganda almost all middle-class American school children are taught to believe. You’ll rarely here it outside of serious intellectual conversations.

    sperg with a keyboard

    July 14, 2014 at 2:39 PM

  5. The answer to the “higher-level question” is that many people don’t like feeling that they’re not giving anything in return for the stuff they get. In fact, even if robots were literally doing everything necessary for comfortable survival people would invent new ways to help each other. The point isn’t that people want to feel useful, it’s that they want to feel socially engaged.


    July 14, 2014 at 2:41 PM

  6. I know your talking about the future prescient lion but my reality is so different. I work a blue collar job for a half a billion dollar company. Many of my coworkers have part time jobs and some have 2 full time jobs. We don’t need all these people working is so far from my reality. I know 2 guys(one in his sixties, the other guy, at least, in his fifties) who work 2 full time jobs. I asked another guy in his sixties if he had another job and he told me he couldn’t get by on just the one salary(25k?) and has 2 part time jobs. The company can’t keep workers for several reasons and my department is understaffed and probably will always be understaffed on Friday nights. Yes, I can see robots in theory doing some work but ironically, the most physically demanding jobs are also going to be the toughest to automate. I know your typing about the future but the present is quite different.


    July 14, 2014 at 3:18 PM

    • Making labor more expensive (via restricting immigration, balanced trade, higher minimum wage, etc.) could act as a new Cloward-Piven strategy to bring on a post-work society. The difference, of course, between this and the original Cloward-Piven strategy is this new one would spur increases in productivity and mean there’d be more wealth to spread. Maybe the American Left doesn’t pursue this because its old class-based politics has been replaced by an ocean of identity politics surfed by a cosmopolitan capitalist elite.

      Dave Pinsen

      July 14, 2014 at 7:10 PM

  7. There is nothing in the logic of the market or human experience to suggest

    of course for libertarians, free market fundamentalists, this is heresy.

    Has Larry Summers addressed the higher-level question…

    no one gets anywhere in america unless they possess both some intelligence
    and stupidity.

    neo-liberal economics is still for a stone age world. people are more dependent on one another than ever. but if there is no place for you in this society you might as well live in the stone age.

    “Independence? That’s middle class blasphemy. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth.”
    G. B. Shaw

    by “middle class” shaw is referring to the strivers who aren’t quite rich yet and vote for the gop.

    jorge videla

    July 14, 2014 at 3:39 PM

  8. if machines are replacing low skilled labor, why does there need to be amnesty for 20 million illegal aliens?


    July 14, 2014 at 3:40 PM

    • Machines can’t vote: that’s 20M future voters!


      July 14, 2014 at 6:25 PM

    • Because Republicans are too stupid to foresee consequences. Once illegals get their green cards, they will quit their crop picking jobs and look for something better, such as truck driving (Democrats aren’t stupid, more Latinos = more Democratic voters.)


      July 14, 2014 at 6:40 PM

    • Because the purpose of immigration is to displace and replace the wrong kinds of white people. Which is most of them.


      July 14, 2014 at 7:04 PM

    • For Diversity…


      July 14, 2014 at 11:08 PM

    • They need illegals to do the dirty sideline work, once they get their infrastructure renewal program going.


      July 15, 2014 at 9:54 AM

  9. Seems like the idea of just paying everyone a basic wage, even if they do nothing, makes more and more sense. Can eliminate much of welfare infrastructure. I guess you’d just have to give it to everyone as a “paycheck” so they don’t blow it all on a Gucci bag.

    The poor will just recycle it and spend the money in the economy anyway. Maybe it could work. Isn’t Switzerland trying something like this?

    Much of the population becomes superfluous in terms of productivity, but they are still needed to actually spend the money to keep everything going.


    July 14, 2014 at 3:45 PM

    • the swiss put it up for referendum but it was voted down. however the fact that it was even up for referendum is a sign that people of higher iq are starting to realize that this might be a solution


      July 15, 2014 at 12:10 AM

    • Basic income should only be used for food and housing. And for food, no access to restaurants or eateries. Restaurants are for those who have money via work or from other sources. This will reduce the prepared food establishment significantly, where only the best of the best will stay in business.

      Throwing free money at someone’s face for doing nothing makes no sense, especially for NAMs who would abuse it on self destructive habits.


      July 15, 2014 at 12:46 PM

  10. Léon — You think a post-scarcity economy likely. But do you have a personal opinion on it? Good? Bad? Indifferent?


    July 14, 2014 at 7:24 PM

    • And to come to think of it, we could safely assume that America is really a lost cause already. We host too many low IQ NAMs and 3rd World undesirables, and any proposals for a more ideal society is out of the question.


      July 15, 2014 at 12:53 PM

      • and it was a lost cause from the day columbus landed in the bahamas.

        the us is a new wold country after all.

        jorge videla

        July 15, 2014 at 7:39 PM

    • it’s not really a question. it all depends on what one means by “scarcity”.

      jorge videla

      July 15, 2014 at 11:52 PM

      • the worst sort of scarcity, the famine, is an invention of the neolithic/agricultural revolution. no savage/primitve has ever starved to death or suffered from any nutritional deficiencies.

        life expectancy before agriculture wasn’t surpassed by the civilized until 1800 or so.

        and increased life expectancy is the only justification for civilization in my humble and Cynical opinion.

        jorge videla

        July 15, 2014 at 11:58 PM

  11. Has Larry Summers addressed the higher-level question of why people will need jobs at all in a future when robots can do everything?

    And if everyone’s job is automated what will we use for money? Without income there’s no buying to generate economic activity or tax money to hand out as welfare.

    The Undiscovered Jew

    July 14, 2014 at 8:38 PM

  12. Perhaps we aren’t too far off from Star Trek. No need for economies, markets, Ivy Leagues or whatever. Status signaling means hierarchy at the Star Fleet. Captain Alpha Jerk gets all the women and female attention.


    July 14, 2014 at 8:45 PM

    • Ivy Leagues matter more in a non-market economy. Status signalling is of paramount importance as you said. In star trek, it was ‘star fleet academy’ or ‘vulcan science academy’ or ‘daystrom institute’. These were the pipelines to the best assignments.

      A pure star trek economy doesn’t exist even in trek outside of starfleet as goods like real estate still exist (imagine if you told picard’s father his vineyard was worth nothing). Other races used credits/gold-pressed latinum as currency.


      July 15, 2014 at 12:18 AM

      • If the Ivy League matters, so is the automation market the New Wall St?

        Not sure, if people want Ivy League grads to be the captain of the helm again, after their disastrous wreckage in our current economy!


        July 15, 2014 at 9:50 AM

      • Ivy League grads run things not because that’s what middle-class people want, but because that’s where the smartest and most-well-connected students attend college.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        July 15, 2014 at 2:25 PM

  13. As should be apparent to readers who have spent time in Manhattan, London or San Francisco lately, the ‘barbell’ economy that Summers alludes to is already here. Expect the hollowing-out of the economy to become much more extreme in the years ahead as automation technologies become pervasive.

    How do you ensure that you will be firmly positioned on the right side of the ‘barbell’? You want to be: (1) developing automation technologies; (2) investing in the development of automation technologies; and/or, (3) working in a profession where your human input will be enhanced by, rather than replaced by, automation technologies.


    July 15, 2014 at 2:35 AM

    • I was wondering if all the top restaurants, pizzerias, bagel shops and retail outlets can expand into small towns, since this barbell economy means the hollowing out of the middle class in the big cities.

      I for one do not think rich people want to live side by side with poor people. No wealthy person would want to have their family reside in a luxury condo right next to a public housing project or near one.


      July 15, 2014 at 9:40 AM

      • have you seen brazil?


        July 16, 2014 at 1:55 PM

  14. The superfluous ones will be put in matrix-style bathtubs to provide energy for the wobots.

    nomen nescio

    July 15, 2014 at 7:40 AM

  15. Seriously, smarter people than Summers like Keynes and Russell thought in the ’20ties we would be working only four hours a day in the late 20th century, because of automation.
    It has not happened. And it won’t. There are societal factors that do not make it likely. There are very hard physical factors (end of fossil fuels) that make it almost impossible. The world of wobots is a wet dream by tech nerds who despite high intelligence are extraordinarily narrow-minded and ignore these factors.

    nomen nescio

    July 15, 2014 at 7:44 AM

    • The biggest hindrance is HBD. Fertility rates tell us that the future world will have far fewer Germans and Japanese, and far more Nigerians and Afghanis. Does this make for a high tech utopia?


      July 15, 2014 at 9:40 AM

    • We are no where near the end of fossil-fuels, if you include all kinds — think 1000 years worth. The problem is that the environmentalists have more, and more taken getting these out of the ground off the table. But, we still have nuclear fission as a back-up (at twice the price). They want to eliminate use of that also, but are meeting stiffer resistance, lately. But, without the environmentalists blocking things there is NO point in the foreseeable at which we run out of relatively inexpensive energy.


      July 15, 2014 at 9:48 AM

    • What societal factors do you have in mind? Maybe these overlap with the psychological factor that interests me — many people need to feel that they’re working together with others to keep their society going.


      July 15, 2014 at 1:48 PM

  16. What are your sources for 1000 years worth of fossil fuels? Hard geology, please, no wet dreams from economists or computer geeks.
    The important thing are not some ressources that may be somewhere, but what is recoverable with a positive energy return on invested energy. I think the most optimistic predictions see oil and gas running low mid-century (the more pessimistic ones believe peak oil is right now). Coal will hold for another 100 years or more, but it is very dirty, will mess up the environment even more and conversion to liquid fuels for vehicles is again expensive.

    There is a lot of stuff where humans are just better and are (or will be) cheaper than robots. I am thinking of professions like waiters, nurses, teachers. We are not all like the guys from the big bang theory, most prefer to interact with human beings.

    nomen nescio

    July 16, 2014 at 6:14 AM

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