Wednesday, February 25, 2015
The latest Leftist scare
An NBER paper “Robots are us – Some Economics of Human Replacement” paints a grim picture of our robotic future, in which the robots undermine their customer base, making the vast majority of humanity redundant. As good academic-institution social democrats, the paper’s authors Seth G. Benzell, Laurence J. Kotlikoff, Guillermo LaGarda, and Jeffrey D. Sachs then suggest the solution lies in ever greater redistribution schemes.
Since I find their solution ideologically repugnant (and would loathe living in a world in which it had been implemented), I thought it worth examining their thesis, to determine whether, even if it is correct, there is a better way out of this ultimate human quandary.
The authors draw four conclusions. First, they expect a long-run decline in labor’s share of income. Second, they expect a highly cyclical robotized economy, with Kondratieff-like long waves. Third, they expect current output to depend increasingly on pure software investment, so that Silicon Valley will rule us all. Finally, they recommend more vigorous redistribution, without suggesting how that will restore wage rates, but simply to equalize the misery.
The first conclusion we can draw from the study is a macroeconomic one. If higher savings rates would alleviate the problem of human immiseration through replacement by robots, then we must take steps to raise savings rates, a problem in the United States for the last two decades. As readers of this column will know, the best way to achieve this is to increase interest rates, pushing then substantially above inflation, ending the two decades (as of this month) during which rates have been kept artificially low by the Fed. The U.S. economy has already been substantially decapitalized through Fed policy, while outsourcing to cheaper wage areas has been encouraged by artificially low capital cost differentials between the U.S. and emerging markets. This alone is responsible for much of the decline in labor’s share of the U.S. economy that is noted and deplored by the authors.
The authors’ principal structural solution, more redistribution, would merely share the misery of lower living standards. It’s a wish shared generally on the left, where a “Minimum Living Wage” movement has gained considerable traction. This is especially foolish; if demand for labor has been reduced to unacceptable levels by robotization, then higher minimum wages, imposed on employers, will simply reduce the demand for labor further. If McDonalds workers must be paid $20 an hour, and robots are universally available and capable, then guess how long it will take to robotize McDonalds and put all those workers out of a job?
Both the authors and previous robo-pessimists back to Maynard Keynes in 1930 have suggested that the real problem caused by robotization would be one of insufficient work at any wage, requiring a mass extension of welfare provision, taxing the remaining few productive workers to provide subsistence for the unemployed masses, perhaps even a majority of the population – Silicon Valley calls this the “Universal Basic Income.” This is a true dystopia; with half or more of the population existing on welfare and having no purpose in life, the consumption of illegal substances would soar, as would radical movements and criminal activity.
The idea that the great mass of the population could be deployed in artistic activity is nonsense; the great majority of people have no significant talent for it, nor sufficient interest in it to make artistic activity the focus of their life. As my grandmother used to say, with absolute conviction, quoting Dr. Isaac Watts’ 1715 masterpiece “Divine Songs Attempted in Easy Language for the Use of Children:” Satan Finds Some Mischief Still For Idle Hands To Do.
The twin problems, of high minimum wages putting everybody out of work and high welfare benefits turning them into feckless criminals, can perhaps be mitigated in the U.S. by expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, which rewards work without increasing the costs of employment. However, since of all tax programs this is said to be the most subject to fraud, even this solution seems unlikely to be effective.
The political system’s natural response to the threat of robotic redundancy will be to make “job-destroying” robotization illegal. We can already see this at work with the Obama administration’s rule for the use of drones, which requires them to be flown only in the line of sight of the flyer, an obviously unworkable rule if any of the benefits of private sector drone use are to be realized. Similarly, it’s likely there will be attempts to prevent the adoption of self-driving cars and trucks, a development which might put truck drivers out of business but would be hugely beneficial to the economy as a whole. With those approaches, the pre-1896 rule that automobiles required a man in front with a red flag would have been maintained, and horse-drawn transportation would have been mandated on the grounds that otherwise there would be no employment for the unfortunate horses.
There are two technological solutions that are likely to eliminate the problem of robot-driven redundancies, provided regulators do not get in the way. One is the new field of “brain-computer interfaces” by which computers and human brains are able to interact directly, with brains sending signals that can be interpreted by clever software, and vice versa. There are currently a number of small enterprises producing early versions of these, without a great deal of corporate structure or venture capital funding; it is a little like the genesis of the PC industry in the mid-1970s.
As yet, devices have not been produced that can be easily monetized, and the market is tiny, but it seems likely that as more useful and effective brain-computer interface mechanisms are developed, the devices will come into general use, revolutionizing human capabilities. Given the nature of the products concerned, it is even possible that they will emerge before robotization has gone much further – the development of useable robots has after all been remarkably slow, compared to other developments in the tech sector. In any case, human brains equipped with direct sophisticated links into computers will be much more capable than humans alone – and will correspondingly be able to undertake much higher-level jobs, many of which are doubtless as yet unimaginable.
The other potential advance, even more prone to subversion by regulators, is direct genetic manipulation to improve the intellectual capabilities of mankind. Even in our current state, intelligent people are more capable of amusing themselves non-destructively than stupid ones. Should human capabilities be genetically enhanced significantly, then it likely that some people would be able to find new unimaginable sources of employment producing new unimaginable products and services, while even the lesser intellects would be able to enjoy Keynes’ 1930 dream of a 15-hour workweek followed by ample leisure enjoying the artistic, musical and creative output of mankind. If each person had sufficient intellectual resources, Satan would be thwarted and mass leisure would be no bad thing.
As usual, the free market has potential solutions to the problem of robot redundancy, if it is allowed to reach them. By improving human capabilities through machines that help humans to function, and by improving humans themselves through genetic engineering, we can ensure that human development keeps up with robotics, so that the human race’s potential is maximized, and robots become invaluable helpers in achieving that potential. By this means a long-term utopia is attainable, in which a more limited population of humans can lead lives both productive and leisured at very high standards of living, with their Downton Abbeys staffed by impeccably behaved robot servants.
“Robots are us” is a useful dystopia, showing us the nightmare of a society in which dead computer programmers embodied in robot software combine to reduce the life potentials of the living. Given the misguided tendencies of the world’s policymakers, it is even a likely dystopia. But it is not an inevitable one.
How to prevent the deadly peanut allergy has finally made it into the mass media
I put this up on my health blog years ago. Official advice was 180 degrees wrong
Most children at risk of developing peanut allergy can avoid it by eating food with traces of the nuts, researchers said yesterday. Their study found that children who eat food containing peanuts three or more times a week from under the age of one rarely have reactions in later life.
Less than 1 per cent developed an allergy, compared with more than 17 per cent of youngsters whose diet was peanut-free.
It is the first major study to show that eating the nuts could reverse the huge rise in peanut allergy – the number of cases in children has doubled in 20 years.
The condition commonly causes breathing problems. Those affected most severely can have a life-threatening anaphylactic shock even when exposed only to a trace of peanuts in food. Until recently, parents were told to avoid exposing their children to peanuts until they were three – advice that has now been withdrawn.
Parents are also warned never to give young children whole peanuts because of the danger of choking.
Professor Gideon Lack, of King’s College London, who led the Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) study, said it strongly backed up the importance of early exposure. ‘This is an important clinical development and contravenes previous guidelines,’ he added.
The early introduction of peanut-containing foods was found to be safe because infants were not fed whole nuts. Instead they ate at least 6g a week of a peanut snack called Bamba [from Israel], distributed in three or more meals.
Professor Lack, who leads the children’s allergy service at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital trust, presented the findings at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology meeting in Houston yesterday.
Fruit According to the Seeds
The Leftmedia have been asking a lot of questions of Republicans who have the audacity to confront the words and deeds of Barack Obama. Prompted by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's remarks about Obama's conspicuous lack of love for the country, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal have all been pressed to answer the question of the week: "Does Barack Obama love America?"
First, let's state the obvious: The Leftmedia is an extension of the Democratic National Committee. Most mainstream journalists ascribe to the philosophy of the Left and serve to camouflage reality -- earning, for the purpose of this text, the distinction "presstitutes."
Once upon a time, professional journalists reported news and conveyed facts. Today's crop, however, is invested in protecting the incompetence and lies of Barack Obama. In part, that's due to their own failure to do the job exposing the anti-American and racially divisive orchard in which America's 44th president was grown.
Does Barack Obama love America?
If you love something, or even like something, you typically say nice things and demonstrate your affections toward that person or thing by your words and your actions. But Obama has never been one to convey a sense of patriotism.
If Obama loves or even likes our nation, why did he pronounce to a rabid crowd of supporters on Oct. 30, 2008, "We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America"?
If the Obamas love or even like America, why would Michelle Obama declare more than once as she traveled on the Obama campaign trail, "For the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country"?
Mrs. Obama likewise plainly demonstrated her husband's opinion of America on May 14, 2008: "We are going to have to change our conversation. We're going to have to change our traditions, our history. We're going to have to move into a different place as a nation."
All that change was based on the hope that American exceptionalism, individual success and equal opportunity would be destroyed and replaced by socialism in the form of wealth redistribution and a mammoth growth of the government.
As early as June 2009, Nile Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation complied a list of 10 apologies Obama made in his six-month tenure as "Leader of the Free World." These apologies covered American "arrogance," "dictates," our having gone "off course," and the "darker periods in our history."
The presstitutes vociferously denied that Obama had gone on an "Apology Tour." The evidence proves otherwise.
Back to the present, Giuliani said what many Americans were already thinking: "I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America." He has since clarified, elaborated on and defended those remarks.
The presstitutes of the Left soiled themselves in dismay, while the invertebrates on the Right echoed the Left's defense of Obama. But Giuliani's remarks follow six years of Obama's degradation of America. He has re-engineered vast swaths of our economy, nearly doubled the debt and undermined our national security in a vain attempt to appease and patronize our enemies. And no president has been more cravenly political.
Just five months ago, Obama stood at the United Nations and failed to praise America. Instead, he declared, "America has plenty of problems within its borders ... our own racial and ethnic tensions." It was an obvious attempt to morally equate the ginned up racial tension fueled by Al Sharpton and Eric Holder to the hotbed of terror driven by Islamic radicals. And for the elected leader of America to denigrate his own country before that disgraceful body of socialists, thugs and dictators is shameful.
At the National Prayer Breakfast, Obama attempted to justify his refusal to state the truth about radical Islamic ideology by equating 21st century beheadings and live burnings of Christians by Islamist radicals with the Crusades fought against warring Muslims in the 12th century.
In short, Obama proves he learned well during the 20 years he spent as a disciple of hate in the pews of Jeremiah "God d--- America" Wright's "church," where Black Liberation Theology is gospel and fiery hatred serves as the weekly sermon. (And Wright was only one of Obama's numerous anti-American friends and mentors.)
The apple, the tree and the orchard are all of the same blame-America-first species. And as Jesus once said, "You will recognize them by their fruits."
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Posted by JR at 1:37 AM