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Old 07-18-2015, 07:47 AM   #21
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I don't know how, or when, but the paradigm of growth, seemingly infinite growth, might eventually run its course.

As well, booms, busts, surpluses, shortages, inflation, and deflation, all seem inherent in a "free market". The FRB was created primarily because of the panics and recessions of the late 1800s. But, of course, trying to limit wild swings in the economy has its own risks, and likely shaves a few points off of the "growth". And central planning hasn't worked all that well, given human nature, and the lack of market feedback.

Then there are many issues with large gaps between the "richest" and the "poorest".

I don't have the solutions to these "problems", but I do think we'll have to deal with them, either with thoughtful foresight, or with very large Band-Aids...

If things go reasonably well, I'll proceed according to my current plan. If the SHTF, I'll punt. Thinking about these sorts of things is, to me, an intellectual exercise, because I'm a "problem solver", but it could also drive one to drink, due to the seemingly insurmountable nature of mitigating these issues, and others we may not even foresee...
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Old 07-18-2015, 09:03 AM   #22
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Is this a case of history is destined to repeat itself or past performance is no guarantee of future results
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Old 07-18-2015, 09:56 AM   #23
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I think one of the tougher challenges we will face (and to some degree, already are) is to figure out how to successfully transform a relatively low-unemployment, labor-intensive economy into one where automation starts drastically reducing the demand for actual human labor. If technology displaces too many in the working class (either a lot of people entirely out of work or most people are scaled back to part time), and the economy and our social safety net don't adjust to keep these people fed, housed and clothed, IMO it's a recipe for social and possible economic disaster.
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Old 07-18-2015, 10:35 AM   #24
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I think one of the tougher challenges we will face (and to some degree, already are) is to figure out how to successfully transform a relatively low-unemployment, labor-intensive economy into one where automation starts drastically reducing the demand for actual human labor. If technology displaces too many in the working class (either a lot of people entirely out of work or most people are scaled back to part time), and the economy and our social safety net don't adjust to keep these people fed, housed and clothed, IMO it's a recipe for social and possible economic disaster.
I think automation and outsourcing (global competition) already turned us into a service based economy with high unemployment and lower wages. That said, manufacturing is what made American great, so the challenge may be, how to transition back into producing innovative and world class products that provide good paying jobs even with ever increasing automation and balance that out with a strong service sector.
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Old 07-18-2015, 10:54 AM   #25
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I think one of the tougher challenges we will face (and to some degree, already are) is to figure out how to successfully transform a relatively low-unemployment, labor-intensive economy into one where automation starts drastically reducing the demand for actual human labor. If technology displaces too many in the working class (either a lot of people entirely out of work or most people are scaled back to part time), and the economy and our social safety net don't adjust to keep these people fed, housed and clothed, IMO it's a recipe for social and possible economic disaster.
Yes, I agree, the challenges are already there. In the 1880s, the hard times were on the farms where economic forces had become stacked against the people trying to eke out a living there. Nowadays the hard times have come to the old Rust Belt cities that have relied on labor-intensive manufacturing for their wealth. As a resident of the Milwaukee area I see this firsthand. What had been a relatively wealthy city in terms of worker prosperity is now one of the poorest.

Ironically, one entrepreneur in Milwaukee has turned to urban organic agriculture -- Will Allen's Growing Power provides jobs in labor-intensive organic farming, serves as an affordable source of organic vegetables and fish and, perhaps most importantly, gives a sense of purpose to people who desperately need one.

Of course, that's just one sandbag against a rising tide, and kind of a novelty act that is unlikely to answer the broad problem of worker displacement. I would hope greater opportunities come out of our newest technologies -- personal computers and the Internet. It's never been easier to serve a nearly global market as an entrepreneur. But competition is fierce. It's a Wild West on our computer screens, with gunslingers and bandits plentiful.
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Old 07-18-2015, 11:22 AM   #26
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I think automation and outsourcing (global competition) already turned us into a service based economy with high unemployment and lower wages.
Oh, it has already started, but I think what we've seen is a drop in the bucket compared to what it can become. I just don't think we're going to return to an economy that needs close to 95% of its 22-to-64 population working who want to work, and soon (if not there already), probably not even 90%. Yes, supporting the automation will create a few jobs but probably not nearly as many as it displaces. We have two competing cultural, social (and yes, political) factors: One leading us inexorably toward increased structural unemployment and idleness through automation, and one often strongly opposed to expansion of a social safety net. We have to get past our usual zero-sum game thinking about policy if these two are to be reconciled, IMO.

And that says nothing about the problem of struggling with faltering financials of old-age programs combined with an economy that can't absorb a large number of (currently) retirement-aged individuals forced back to work by economic necessity (assuming they are still physically capable of work).

Increased unemployment, historically, has been cyclical. But the combination of offshoring and automation (in the long term, mostly the latter) are setting us up for increased *structural* unemployment, which requires a retooling of all our economic assumptions and, to some degree, policies.

That all said, from a FIRE point of view, if someone can keep a good job long enough to accumulate a lot of investments in those businesses who benefit from automation, you'll probably do OK unless more widespread unemployment leads to either deflation or massive social unrest. Then all bets could be off.
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Old 07-18-2015, 11:42 AM   #27
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Great post Ziggy29. Automation is a great theme for this point in time. I spent nearly 20 years automating paper intensive back offices. The motto was always if a human doesn't add value to the process do it in the background eliminate the routine w*rk and let machines do it. In some ways I feel bad for what I did by making j*bs obsolete, but someone else would have. I temper that w*rk with the improvements made in customer service. Many organizations the only motivation was the bottom line, but I know it improved the experience. The bar was too low.

Actually a great topic. I had never realized the similarities between then and now. What is the next "buggy whip", excluding people?
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Old 07-18-2015, 11:51 AM   #28
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Actually a great topic. I had never realized the similarities between then and now. What is the next "buggy whip", excluding people?
It's hard to say. In the past, an evolving economy has historically benefited from "creative destruction", whereby an economic displacement in one major industry led to the rise of a new, possibly more "important" industry which employed even more people and perhaps with higher wages as well.

Yes, there was the "buggy whip" and carriage makers losing jobs.... who could later go to work for Henry Ford -- possibly with higher wages and reduced working hours in the process.

As the railroad industry became less important, jobs in aviation, highway construction and trucking boomed.

And even in the manufacturing bust of the 1970s, Silicon Valley was getting ready to boom with electronics engineering and assembly jobs.

These were all examples of creative destruction. In all those cases, jobs were generally replaced by an equal or greater number of jobs which were at least as good as the ones we lost.

Where is that now? Automation doesn't result in net creative destruction. For every job created by it, several may be eliminated by it. So now we have (buzzword bingo alert) a "new paradigm" to consider. I don't like to say "this time it's different" (because it usually isn't) but I just don't feel like the jobs being lost in the automation wave can be recovered, on net, by a similar number of good jobs elsewhere. I don't see any catalyst for "creative destruction" to apply this time around.
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"Hey, for every ten dollars, that's another hour that I have to be in the work place. That's an hour of my life. And my life is a very finite thing. I have only 'x' number of hours left before I'm dead. So how do I want to use these hours of my life? Do I want to use them just spending it on more crap and more stuff, or do I want to start getting a handle on it and using my life more intelligently?" -- Joe Dominguez (1938 - 1997)

RIP to Reemy, my avatar dog (2003 - 9/16/2017)
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Old 07-18-2015, 11:55 AM   #29
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Oh, it has already started, but I think what we've seen is a drop in the bucket compared to what it can become. I just don't think we're going to return to an economy that needs close to 95% of its 22-to-64 population working who want to work, and soon (if not there already), probably not even 90%.
We certainly won't return to that type of economy with low unemployment and higher wages if we fail to transform back into being a country that is known for producing products, as well as services. Adam Smith would not be pleased to see what has happened to US manufacturing over the past 30+ years.
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Old 07-18-2015, 12:23 PM   #30
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These were all examples of creative destruction. In all those cases, jobs were generally replaced by an equal or greater number of jobs which were at least as good as the ones we lost.

Where is that now? Automation doesn't result in net creative destruction. For every job created by it, several may be eliminated by it. So now we have (buzzword bingo alert) a "new paradigm" to consider. I don't like to say "this time it's different" (because it usually isn't) but I just don't feel like the jobs being lost in the automation wave can be recovered, on net, by a similar number of good jobs elsewhere. I don't see any catalyst for "creative destruction" to apply this time around.
Interesting, and something I think I'll ponder on more deeply when I have the time.

But off the top of my head, I'm thinking that maybe there is an opportunity here for a businessperson to develop a product that people want, that does require lots of low-skill labor, that can't be easily outsourced or automated, and can command a high enough price to pay a wage high enough to attract laborers in the US.

Maybe the urban farms mentioned earlier are a good example? If you grow very perishable crops, that can be a barrier to outsourcing. Fresh herbs are actually pretty $$$ on a per pound basis.

Not everyone can go from being an assembly line worker to being a robotics technician (and we generally need far fewer techs than the line workers they replace - unless the automation also grows the business by that factor, but that's not likely). So I do think we need to find a way to employ lower level workers. But it has to be productive, I don't think we can just declare that every job is worth $X/hour - outsourcing will work against that. But if we could actually create a lot of these low-level, hard-to-outsource jobs, fast food workers would not be 'demanding' $15/hour, the fast food places might need to compete for workers by offering $15/hour wages?

Can we create industries like that?

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Old 07-18-2015, 12:28 PM   #31
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Driverless cars are going to add to unemployment in the future. No more need for taxi driver and truck drivers, less demand for truckstops, and support services like motels along the interstates. Netflix and Redbox kiosks have replaced the local Blockbuster store. We do most of our banking online or at ATMs.

We have to rethink the economy / labor force of the future. Keynes saw this coming years ago in Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren. What will become of us once the struggle for subsistence is solved? Would we spend more time on leisure once our basic needs have been met? Produce and buy unneeded stuff to keep the old economic model going? Everybody still works but less hours?

A light bulb moment for us was realizing we were already enjoying a much higher standard of living than our grandparents (pleasant but small 2 bedroom house, one landline phone, no cable, one car and bus service, maybe two TVs) when we started thinking if we had enough to ER.

I tell our kids to consider doing contract work in specialized fields that pay well and just working part-time or part of the year. Why not "buy" leisure time instead of depreciating consumer goods?
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Old 07-18-2015, 09:51 PM   #32
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We have to rethink the economy / labor force of the future.
A sure thing will be a degree in Software engineering. All those driverless cars aren't going to program themselves. Well, until we invent an AI.
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Old 07-18-2015, 10:04 PM   #33
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While the machines are generating wealth for us, we can spend it on entertainment.
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Old 07-18-2015, 10:08 PM   #34
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Interesting, and something I think I'll ponder on more deeply when I have the time.

But off the top of my head, I'm thinking that maybe there is an opportunity here for a businessperson to develop a product that people want, that does require lots of low-skill labor, that can't be easily outsourced or automated, and can command a high enough price to pay a wage high enough to attract laborers in the US.

Maybe the urban farms mentioned earlier are a good example? If you grow very perishable crops, that can be a barrier to outsourcing. Fresh herbs are actually pretty $$$ on a per pound basis.

Not everyone can go from being an assembly line worker to being a robotics technician (and we generally need far fewer techs than the line workers they replace - unless the automation also grows the business by that factor, but that's not likely). So I do think we need to find a way to employ lower level workers. But it has to be productive, I don't think we can just declare that every job is worth $X/hour - outsourcing will work against that. But if we could actually create a lot of these low-level, hard-to-outsource jobs, fast food workers would not be 'demanding' $15/hour, the fast food places might need to compete for workers by offering $15/hour wages?

Can we create industries like that?

-ERD50
If automation takes over production, then physical goods should become very cheap. We will be in a post scarcity economy. I expect services and performances will command a premium: the nouveau riche will be folks like live musicians, stand up comedians, dancers, acrobats, etc.
fanciful thoughts, I know, but it makes me happy to think that art will be valued more as a society.

Seriously though, wouldn't be nice to live in a society where most folks in your neighborhood are focused on creating culture and art, and not toiling away in a factory doing drudge work?
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Old 07-18-2015, 10:29 PM   #35
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I think there is little doubt that the near - intermediate term future will be "interesting" as Churchill said about living in "interesting" times. I have very little doubt that the adjustment to an AI world and mass production by robots instead of human workers will be very difficult. I read somewhere that truck driver is the most popular occupation now. I would be very surprised if 20-30 years from now many folks make a living that way... and so on

At the same time, I have no doubt that the world will start, slowly at first but then more and more rapidly to depopulate (witness the demographics of Japan, and certain countries in Europe) so that the overabundance of unneeded labor will no longer be a problem and a balance will eventually be achieved. Always an optimist.
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Old 07-19-2015, 11:15 AM   #36
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Unsolicited Advice to my Millennial Son

I have been writing down some of my "wisdom" for my Millennial son, some on this topic...


"Throughout human history capital has been gaining in value and importance and labor has been decreasing in value and importance. There have been many ups and downs, and vary by location and industry type, but the trend is irreversible. While it has been under way for centuries, it is certainly accelerating today. I would suggest that anything algorithmic can be done by a machine better and cheaper than by using human labor. And that includes things like accounting, driving, surgery, psychoanalysis, sports and financial news reporting (anything with statistics), pretty much anything that is manufactured, financial and manufacturing planning, and many others. So what you do has to be non-algorithmic, that is actually creative, finding new ways to solve the new problems all these changes will create."


Further, this is not a local problem, or one of outsourcing long term. It is really one of advancing technology, rather than cheap labor. One example of this is my experience working in the electronics in China. When I first started there a little over ten years ago, there was a factory employing several thousand young Chinese women (they hired women because of their small fingers). You would see hundreds of them at a time in a clean room in bunny suits. Later in the area where I was working they replace most of them with robots from Japan. I was told that it took 18 months of labor savings (even in China) to pay for the robots. The only left were the people who would take the parts to feed the robots. Now I hear they are are even replacing them with robots.


Times are changing, but not necessarily for the worst. Those manufacturing jobs that I saw in China, those replaced by the robots, they were not particularly dirty or dangerous, but boring beyond belief. Nobody should have to do that kind of work. What kind of work will people do in the future? I don't know but humans are a creative species, and have figured how to make their lives better over thousands of years. I suspect this will continue.
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Old 07-19-2015, 12:04 PM   #37
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I can count more friends' children studying art and music than I can studying science and engineering. At first I was dismayed, "In the decades ahead, who is going to build bigger / better / faster?" The answer is machines will do more of the rote tasks while people spend more on leisure activities. The trend is already underway as seen by significant salary growth of entertainers in areas such as music, movies, and sports. A long-term concern is leisure makes one soft: a country of people entertaining each other will struggle against foes, both natural and man-made.
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Old 07-19-2015, 12:19 PM   #38
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Seriously though, wouldn't be nice to live in a society where most folks in your neighborhood are focused on creating culture and art, and not toiling away in a factory doing drudge work?
Yes, it would be nice. However, how are their efforts remunerated? In my travel, I see a lot of art galleries presenting works by uncountable artists. I wonder how they make a living.

About using robots to do repetitive works, I am all for that. Boosting productivity should help raise standards of living for everyone. But there are always jobs that require human labor. Even in this scorching heat, I see roofers and landscapers toiling, trying to make a living. I am looking to replace a toilet with a low-flow one. There's no robot to help with that.

What has been going on for years is the growing chasm between hard-labor and often low-paying jobs and the high-pay specialized white-collar jobs. Works that fall in between are getting more scarce. I don't think any knows what to do about that.
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Old 07-19-2015, 12:27 PM   #39
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A close friend of mine supported his daughter to get a degree in music. She plays percussion instruments, and he spent tens of thousand to get her the equipment so that she could practice at home. I know little about music, but gather that she was fairly good at what she did.

Once with a degree, she realized that the only job with that training would be with a symphony orchestra. Guess how many jobs are open, and what the competition would be?
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Old 07-19-2015, 02:36 PM   #40
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Driverless cars are going to add to unemployment in the future. No more need for taxi driver and truck drivers, less demand for truckstops, and support services like motels along the interstates. Netflix and Redbox kiosks have replaced the local Blockbuster store. We do most of our banking online or at ATMs.

We have to rethink the economy / labor force of the future. Keynes saw this coming years ago in Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren. What will become of us once the struggle for subsistence is solved? Would we spend more time on leisure once our basic needs have been met? Produce and buy unneeded stuff to keep the old economic model going? Everybody still works but less hours?

A light bulb moment for us was realizing we were already enjoying a much higher standard of living than our grandparents (pleasant but small 2 bedroom house, one landline phone, no cable, one car and bus service, maybe two TVs) when we started thinking if we had enough to ER.

I tell our kids to consider doing contract work in specialized fields that pay well and just working part-time or part of the year. Why not "buy" leisure time instead of depreciating consumer goods?
I don't think self driving driverless semi trucks will happen in this lifetime.

The technology to assist truck drivers will happen soon though.

So what happens when all these self driving semi trucks roll into cities like Chicago or Miami or Dallas. How would a self driving truck navigate these cities with the current state of our road and highway system.

You still need the manpower to inbound and outbound freight.

The new technology will make trucking safer but semi truck driving jobs are going to be around for a long time.

Just Amazon alone outbounds thousands of truck loads daily nationwide that go to the rails,airports,postal facilities,UPS and FDX hubs,etc.
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