[<< | Prev | Index | Next | >>]

Monday, July 04, 2016

The Automation Paradox

It occurs to me that when a robot displaces a worker into welfare, the net efficiency of the system (and consequent economic progress) has not only not improved (as at first it feels like a step in the direction of infinite abundance), but has actually gone down by nearly a factor of two.

The problem is the worker still needs to consume roughly what they were before, but now the robot is also consuming nearly as much as the worker they displaced, and still only the one job is getting done. Roughly speaking, economic growth and progress equals (re-invested) production minus consumption, so under this local gradient of a mixed capitalist/welfare state (most of the world at this point), the incentives could drive the economy backwards for quite a long time.

The main counter argument is that automation doesn't ultimately displace workers but merely creates new and different jobs. But this presumes most (not just exceptional) humans will remain better than robots at something marketable--which by now stretches the creative imagination for ways to make use of meatbots.

Under a non-welfare state, humans would increasingly drop back to subsistance farming, which in the big picture would be the fastest path to infinite abundance (short of, you know...). Some compromise in the middle would likely optimize median quality of life: subsistence farming plus technological spoils of the increasingly automated broader economy (health care, entertainment, eventually personal farm bots...)

The currently most advanced countries are the least likely to seek such a compromise as opposed to going full sofa-suck welfare, which means just due to cultural inertia they may soon lose that lead to cultures where increasingly supplemented self-sufficiency sounds pretty good.

[<< | Prev | Index | Next | >>]

Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com