Advanced technology that replaces humans may be a bigger problem than the national debt…

At first I was going to write something to the effect that I thought creating a congressional “super committee”, as has been done in the new debt deal law, that has to come up with some national debt-reducing legislation that cannot be amended by congress and that along with it creating the condition that if that legislation does not pass then there has to be already legislative-specified across-the-board cuts in defense and non-defense spending was a chicken way out that would allow legislators to say it was out of their hands and thus get political cover (cowards congressmen tend to be). I also wondered if it was a constitutional way to do things — Ron Paul does not like it; he scoffs he’s never seen anything in the Constitution about a super committee. But the congress does have committees and legislation would still have to be voted upon, and as far as whether amendments could be made or not, well I think congress sets its own procedural rules. So maybe it’s a good idea if anything gets done.

(And, on second thought, I may have to reverse myself on saying or implying that the super committee idea is just as constitutional as any committee because I now realize that a legislator would be forced to either vote for something he or she might not want or be forced to live with the alternative which he or she never specifically voted for. But that is for another blog post. But I’m thinking that super committee thing just might not pass constitutional muster if challenged. And I am already thinking of what I might say. Congress has already over the years abrogated its war-making powers to the president, constitutional or not, maybe it will abrogate all its budgeting powers to a super committee. )

But the real problem, I think, is that the world has changed — a lot.

Once upon a time there was just rich people and poor people and then there was something called the merchant class (essentially a middle class) and then there were the rich and middle class and middle class working people and poor working people and just poor people — all this in the western world, as we call it. Meanwhile the rest of the world was just poor and backwards, for the most part.

Now that backwards world was nice for cheap imports and exotic things we needed and it also served as a great market for us when we moved to “help them develop”.

But then much of that world did develop and meanwhile we have become dependent upon them. And we have brought our standard of living up so much that we can’t find anyone in our own world, except maybe illegal aliens, to do things on the cheap in order that we have more money for ourselves.

Okay, what I am trying to say here is that more people in the world (and the population keeps expanding) want more of a share in its resources. People want a bigger individual share of the wealth.

Meanwhile, technology has advanced to the state that machines and computers and robots can do just about everything under the sun, so much so that virtually no job is immune from automation.

That might point to one big flaw in our capitalist system. It really has nothing to do with making things better for the human condition per se. It’s all about making money for the individual so the individual can take as much of the resources for him or herself as possible. And I am not trying to be anti-capitalist here. I think capitalism is really a fairly natural order of things.

But the reality is that what has worked in the past in economics may not necessarily apply today. While we need to produce more in this country and thus stimulate the economy, producing more does not put as many people back to work as it once did — and yet it is still really the only answer.

But this business of replacing man’s work (be it manual or in the mind) by machine or computer or robot has to have some limit. I mean is the ultimate goal to do away with the essence of our own humanity?

And don’t think you cannot be replaced. There was a story about robots teaching school (was it in Japan or Korea and does it make any difference?). Years ago a computer program was developed that wrote novels. Lawyers pride themselves in their thinking and problem-solving capabilities (and their billable hours), but computer programs have been developed to handle much of their standard and repetitive work, and who knows? Maybe a program could be developed to come up with various options in deal making at the corporate level or a computer program could decide on equitable solutions in court cases.

And  of course these things get implemented because they save money, and cutting the bottom line is what capitalism is all about these days.

Before all this technology hit us and before it started expanding at such an exponential rate, there were all kinds of work people could do to earn those tokens we call money that enable people to share (albeit not always equitably) in the world’s resources.

But as far as employment for people, even with the existing state of technology now in service, there are plenty of things to do, making things or performing services, but we don’t seem to have a way of equitably compensating people. And I am not going to get into some diatribe about the value of labor being what the laborer puts into it (didn’t study Marxism, but I’m familiar with that line of thinking). No, the value of anything in practical standards (as opposed to some intrinsic or feel good or intangible standard) is what someone else is willing to pay for it or in some perversions of our system what people might be forced to pay for it because they need it or are required (by law) to have it.

Okay, here I go dancing around the point. We need things for people to do so that they can make money and at the same time contribute to the economy and the betterment of all our lives — everything from hauling away the trash to painting beautiful art, to looking after our kids to making motel and hotel beds (and dodging horny Frenchmen) to coming up with a cure for cancer. But in our system you must have seed money to start most enterprises and you even have to have money to keep it all going in between actually receiving accounts receivable, and that is often referred to as capital. It’s all very complicated, but capital is often represented in green dollar bills or symbols in a computer, but those things are supposed to stand for some amount of tangible wealth, like gold or property, or equipment that is worth something to people because of its demand and its ability to make things and its relative scarcity. I mean if everyone already has one widget and only one widget per person is required then widgets are worth nothing.

And now that I have devolved down into this, I ask this question:

Is it not true that for someone to be rich, someone else has to be poor? We cannot all be rich, just as we really cannot all be above average.

And this may seem out of place here, but it all really boils down to, paraphrasing a religious precept, treat your fellow man as you would want to be treated yourself — but look out for yourself.


After writing all of this I read a piece by John Harwood on the New York Times site that I think gives an excellent summary of where the U.S. economy is now and why:

P.s. P.s.

I did not directly refer to the pernicious phenomenon of outsourcing American jobs to other countries, but there is hope along those lines with a story today on Bloomberg that G.E., a leader in that practice, is going the other way — bringing it home. Good. The link:


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