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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thomas Friedman Throws America Under the Bus:

Average is over? Are you serious? You will no longer 'make it', ie, survive, in America unless you are above average?

As evidence for this new startling conclusion, he cites other recent articles that have warned about the dangers of increasing foreign competition and automation:

He also throws out some additional statistics and anecdotes:

Yes, new technology has been eating jobs forever, and always will. As they say, if horses could have voted, there never would have been cars. But there’s been an acceleration. As Davidson notes, “In the 10 years ending in 2009, [U.S.] factories shed workers so fast that they erased almost all the gains of the previous 70 years; roughly one out of every three manufacturing jobs — about 6 million in total — disappeared.”

And you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Last April, Annie Lowrey of Slate wrote about a start-up called “E la Carte” that is out to shrink the need for waiters and waitresses: The company “has produced a kind of souped-up iPad that lets you order and pay right at your table. The brainchild of a bunch of M.I.T. engineers, the nifty invention, known as the Presto, might be found at a restaurant near you soon.

What the iPad won’t do in an above average way a Chinese worker will. Consider this paragraph from Sunday’s terrific article in The Times by Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher about why Apple does so much of its manufacturing in China: “Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly-line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the [Chinese] plant near midnight. A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day. ‘The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,’ the executive said. ‘There’s no American plant that can match that.’ ”

So, it's impossible for Americans to work 12 hour days on a single biscuit. It's also impossible to wait a table cheaper than a tablet. All the jobs of the lower class are rapidly evaporating into thin air -- 6 million manufacturing jobs in the last ten years. Once machines have a cheap pair of 'eyes' that can help them navigate roads and workplaces the last advantage humans have over machines at routine tasks will be gone, and prototypes of this ability already exist. Google can make a perfectly safe car drive about in city traffic on its own, at the price of $200,000. Once that price drops to 1/10 of the current price, humans will never drive again. And a new technology dropping to 1/10th the price of its current level isn't unprecedented. Gene sequencing, flatscreen tv's, and computers have already done the same.

But get this, there's no sense of panic in Thomas Friedman's voice. He has the solution, you see. The magical solution no one else has ever thought of before:

In a world where average is officially over, there are many things we need to do to buttress employment, but nothing would be more important than passing some kind of G.I. Bill for the 21st century that ensures that every American has access to post-high school education.

That's right, college educations!

Let's ignore the fact that you need at least 110 IQ to complete any meaningful college courses, which puts college fundamentally out of reach for the vast majority of Americans. Let's just live in lala land where all brains are equal and anyone can learn nuclear physics if only they were funded with the right textbooks and teachers. This isn't a solution, it's a joke.

How, in this advanced day and age where machines are better than us at Jeopardy and Chess, are we still so primitive when it comes to certain facts of life?

Why is it that we can build invisibility cloaks but we still don't understand that IQ varies between individuals and is genetic, ie, FIXED, ie, it cannot be changed no matter what you try to do to said individual? You cannot educate someone to be smart. They got that from their parents. Period. This fact has been widely available in the scientific literature, and proven by every single scientific study ever made, for the past hundred years. It is absolutely beyond question, there simply isn't a single scientist who says genetics has no influence whatsoever on intelligence. But in the press, we keep being told that IQ doesn't matter, only 'education,' as though one's level of education causes your IQ, instead of the OTHER WAY AROUND.

These people are being disingenuous. It is impossible that they don't know about the facts of IQ. They simply aren't willing to face the implications of these facts. They are deliberately concealing reality, rather than uncovering it, which is the job of journalism in a free society.

The fact is, not everyone in America can become a nuclear physics major, so Friedman's "G.I. bill for the 21st century" is a joke. It won't help anyone or solve anything. It is dead on arrival. Meanwhile, automation will continue to replace jobs throughout the manufacturing and service sectors until there is simply nothing left for anyone with 'average' IQ to do.

What's to stop us from making robo-nurses? Computerized teaching at home? A robotic army? Computer lawyers, doctors, pharmacists, etc all based on the Watson software? What possible jobs are left that couldn't in some way be done by a computer?

Aside from platitudes about there 'always being more jobs,' what can we offer to the 'average' who are no longer good enough to get a job?

For thirty years now, wages haven't increased, while unemployment has gone up. We have been skating on the edge of disaster for a long, long time. The marginal utility of an additional worker was basically zero. Now we have gone over that point and companies have found that the marginal utility of an additional, average worker is negative. They can no longer afford to give them a living wage, health care, a pension, and make a profit. They are all turning to Chinese who eat a biscuit every 12 hours and machines.

If we don't do something quickly, we are looking at the end of the world. A robot apocalypse where the vast majority of Americans are jobless, homeless, and starving on the streets because they can't find work anywhere because they can't compete anywhere. In this robo apocalypse, stockholders and CEO's will be making huge profits. Why, it wouldn't be surprising for the top 1% to earn more than the bottom 90%. But what good will that be for the rest of us? Who cares if machines make us more productive if the benefits of machinery only accrue to a tiny few, while the costs are distributed across the many?

We would be better off smashing the machines and shutting off our borders from all foreign trade than to let this robo apocalypse continue. If we could return to a 1950's lifestyle, where unskilled labor could find union jobs for high pay and permanent job security, who would complain?? Only the top 1%, whose stock dividends wouldn't be making enough. The poor billionaires would have to settle with millions of dollars instead.

But it isn't necessary to deliberately sabotage our productivity gains. Indeed, if we just invert our perspective, the robo apocalypse is a robo nirvana. The day is fast approaching when humans will be entirely free of work, the grueling, monotonous, degrading activity that takes up about half of our lives. Robots will be better at every job than us, while still being incapable of enjoying leisure time. At that moment we will have maximized the value of human life. Humans will engage in specifically human things, like reading books and playing tag -- and machines will specialize in specifically machine things, like 24 hour non-stop welding of metal parts together and endless truck and train drives across the continent delivering goods to people's doors. If only we would redistribute the gains that are currently going to the top 1% due to automation, back to all Americans, the entire future can change from hell to heaven.

Instead of teeming masses starving in the streets for lack of money, due to a lack of jobs, we can give them the money that machines made doing the jobs humans no longer do. The money hasn't disappeared. Indeed, we are richer than ever. Even as manufacturing jobs declined, our manufacturing output increased. The money isn't gone, there's still enough money to completely replicate the lifestyle of our 1950's ancestors and more. It's just all in the hands of the top 1%. It's just all rotting away in some dank vault somewhere, accruing interest, for the mega-rich. Break into the vaults, take the money, and we could still, all of us, not just the 'above average,' be saved.

$12,000 a year for every single individual in the United States is 25% of GDP. Get rid of almost every program in the government today, increase taxes to be on par with the rest of the developed world, and we could, today, give everyone in America a living wage every year for the rest of time. This could discourage labor from finding jobs? Don't worry, they can't find jobs anyway. The machines and the Chinese have already taken them all. They already have nothing useful they could possibly do whatsoever. All you're doing at this point is torturing them for things beyond their control, and shaming them for sins they never committed.

This won't encourage welfare queens because your citizen's dividend doesn't increase per kid. The child's citizen's dividend is saved in a government account until they reach the age of maturity, after which point all the saved up money is released, giving them a chance to buy basic necessities like a car, a house, health insurance and a college education up-front, interest/rent free. If this still causes a giant plague of extra births, then regulate the birth rate in this hypothetical future date to keep the system from collapsing.

The citizen's dividend is the only solution to the robo apocalypse. "Higher education," the current solution, is nothing but a spit in the face of the working, and unemployed, poor. Do you think they can so easily get an education? If they could, why haven't they done so already? You're basically just saying 'try harder' or some other irresponsible statement without ever once walking in their shoes. How can you make a judgment about how hard they are trying unless you see a brain scan of them, for instance, lighting up their entire brain to solve a math problem that an intelligent person solves with a part of the brain the size of a pencil eraser lighting up? Who's trying harder now?

The poor and dumb have problems the rich can't even dream of. They are surrounded by bad influences telling them, in extremely persuasive voices to them, because they are too stupid to see the flaws in the logic, to do all sorts of stupid things. They are encouraged to do drugs, crime, alcohol, sex, have children outside of marriage, get tattoos, piercings, hair dyes, tans, and other things that discourage employers, take out risky loans at high interest, go deep into credit card debt -- anything you could imagine. All the while there are the specters of bad home environments, constantly moving from place to place without any roots, child abuse, poor health, poor nutrition. . . what do you know of the poor? How can you just tell them to 'try harder?' Their life is harder than anything you'll ever know. Every day they try harder just by staying alive than you try hard by passing college.

It is not the 'average's fault that 90% of people used to be employed as subsistence farmers. These people evolved the intellect necessary to be a farmer and no more. They cannot be asked to do anything more complicated than subsistence farming. It would be like asking a 40 watt bulb to shine at 100 watts by 'trying harder.'

Enough with the blame the victim mentality. Peasants used to work extremely hard tending their crops for virtually no reward. They lived a bare-bones existence that was seldom above starvation level and died en masse to the endless plagues that swept the land. These same people are the 90% of today, struggling to compete with tireless machinery and robot-like Chinese who can work 12 hours on a biscuit a day. Their laziness was never a question -- give them an environment where they can get a job, and they've worked themselves to the bone for nothing, just to enrich some passing knight in his sprawling manor. The question is whether our upper class has gotten any better than the past. Do we intend to let them starve to death in the streets again, ravaged by plagues? Or are we going to take care of them with the vast profits made available by the industrial revolution? Who are the real 'problem segment' of the population? The 90% who fall short even though they try their best, or the 1% who are so pitiless they'd rather run up their electronic banking numbers than save hundreds of millions of their fellow American's lives?

We are reliving the feudal ages. But we don't have to play the role of Marie Antoinette all over again. There's still time to do the right thing and save the people outside clamoring for bread.

We don't have to hear that the people need jobs, and reply with a sneer, like Thomas Friedman, "Let them become nuclear physicists!"

This time, why don't we just give them the bread already?

Who knows, it might even save the upper classes' heads this time.

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