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Frum Many, One

In a piece called “Robots Undercut the Case for More Immigrants” (seriously), David Frum argues that we shouldn’t let too many immigrants into the country because they will just be replaced by robots and therefore languish in intractable poverty.

The next 10 years are expected to see a revolution in the application of Artificial Intelligence to every day tasks. Cars and trucks may soon drive themselves. Just as ATMs replaced bank clerks, so too new checkout machines will hugely reduce the need for retail clerks. The need for human labor in construction, meatpacking, and food preparation seems certain to contract.

This argument seems crazy on its surface and as you think about it more and more it gets even crazier. I’m not sure where exactly to start with it, but let’s look at dishwashing as an occupation. At many American restaurants, the most likely place to find a recent immigrant is at the dish station. This is because English is not really required at all in order to be a successful dishwasher. Contra Mr. Frum, dishwashing is already a heavily-roboticized occupation: dishwashers take the dishes they receive from servers and bussers, load them up into racks, spray them, and put them on a conveyor belt to go through the dishtron 3000. Notice, the dishtron 3000 has not replaced the immigrant, but the two have a symbiotic relationship. “Unskilled” immigrants share similar symbioses with tomato slicers, trash compactors, and floor buffers.

There was also once something called the Industrial Revolution – the original robot attack against human hand-labor. This had the effect of turning previously complex tasks – like the painstakingly slow creation of one automobile by one highly-skilled engineer working in close verbal concert with several other mustachioed fellows – into a variety of heavily automated tasks that could be spread across hundreds of different individuals and directed centrally by a quasi-immutable program. This of course resulted in order-of-magnitude increases in productivity to the benefit of all, and this helped create the much, much better world we are all living in today.

Contra Frum, during the Industrial Era – when machines replaced the old ways at a pace unprecedented in world history – population growth, and especially the proportion of foreign-born population growth, was at a consistently high level we have not matched since.

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Indeed, contra Frum, the economic gains afforded by technology make life better off for all. When machines come in and start grinding our meat, delivering our packages, or driving our cars, this makes those things cheaper, or it gives us more time to devote to making ourselves wealthier. This in turn gives us more money to invest in new businesses, or we can give that money to other businesses in exchange for their services, which makes those businesses wealthier. This means more jobs of all kinds, and it is what led the immigration boom of the late 1800s that brought so many of our ancestors here. Thus, if there is any effect that the impending robot invasion will have upon the human race vis-a-vis demand for immigrant labor in the United States, history tells us it will be an unequivocally outsized increase in that demand.

Nevertheless, Frum opposes Schumer-Rubio on the grounds that it will allow for too many immigrants, and that this will only increase inequality.

Schumer-Rubio dramatically accelerates family reunification immigration, now and in future far and away the largest category of migration. The people most able to make use of family reunification visas are the most recent arrivals—and recent immigrants are much more likely to be poor and unskilled than the native-born or longer-settled immigrants…

…Almost certainly, though, all else will not hold constant. If the next decade brings still heavier downward pressure on wages—and even higher returns to capital investment and to unique skills—then Schumer-Rubio will exert an even more extreme pro-poverty, pro-inequality effect.

Which leaves one wondering: what does the president think he’s accomplishing?

I’m not going to touch the idea that the most-recent arrivals will make disproportionately higher use of reunification visas. This is totally unsubstantiated, and any claims to the contrary would be equally unsubstantiated. Although, I would suspect that the lag immigrants face between entering the country and fully realizing their rights means that most applicants for reunification visas will have been here at least long enough to form social networks and establish relationships with lawyers or other specialized social workers.

Nevertheless, I do believe I can refute the idea that recent immigrants getting their family members visas will result in an epidemic of unemployed, welfare-consuming foreigners.

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The above graph shows that unemployment rates for recent immigrants approach levels commensurate with their native-born counterparts within a year of immigration. Granted, these statistics are for Australia (I could not find similar ones for the US.), but I strongly suspect the pattern holds in the United States. Even if immigrants were consuming welfare at breathtakingly voracious rates – which they are not, because poor immigrants use public benefits at a lower rate than poor native-born citizens – a similar proportion of immigrants as native-born have jobs within a year of their arrival. Our visa system does not work nearly that expeditiously. These well-known, well-documented inefficiencies in our visa procurement process, combined with the fact that securing a visa for a relative usually takes a back seat to day-to-day, stability-related concerns, means it is highly likely that by the time a long lost family member finally does arrive in the United States, relatives will be able to support her. We seem to be forgetting as well that people from countries with less-robust welfare states tend to be more self-reliant and better able to spread risk over a community than our entitled selves.

Furthermore, in the past four years, the federal deficit has dropped from ten percent of GDP to four percent of GDP. This is the most dramatic drop in our nation’s history. Part of the reason for it is the sequester, but the drop is more the result of far fewer people stuck in the social safety net in 2014 than in 2009. This has all been despite consistently high immigration over that same period.

As for what the President thinks he is accomplishing with reunification visas, perhaps he believes he is reunifying families, and that this is the right thing to do. Frum’s argument here makes humanitarian concerns – in this case the reunification of families estranged by the cold cruelties of US immigration law – secondary to practical concerns: dealing with the poor and unskilled and all the nasty things that come with them. Surely we can deal with the remarkably overstated problem of immigrants seeking the support of the social safety net on an individual-to-individual basis once they are here?

I find it clarifying to think of the immigration policy of the past three decades as a massive subsidy to employers of cheap labor. They save a few dollars an hour. The rest of the country pays the associated costs of raising their workers up to an acceptable American standard of living.

It is true that immigrants are often poor, and that wealthy business leaders will often exploit them. But who does David Frum expect to disproportionately gain from the corporate-dominated US patent law system when his robots are ubiquitous? By Frum’s own logic, instead of a minimum wage being transferred to the working class, there will be nothing. If inequality is to be avoided at all costs, perhaps we should put a moratorium on any technological development.

Immigration does more than recruit the country’s future workforce. It shapes the country’s society and determines the country’s future electorate. A pro-poverty and pro-inequality immigration policy means that the America of the 2040s will have more poverty and inequality to deal with, one or another. Democrats concerned by poverty and inequality—and Republicans who resist the social welfare measures necessitated by poverty and inequality—need to think harder about this question. When they call for immigration reform, what problem are they solving? What kind of society are they building?

Caring for the world’s tired and poor and its huddled masses yearning to breathe free is the price we pay for being a destination for people who want better lives for themselves and for their families. Yet this desire for a better life fuels the American Dream, and it is the dynamo of our American culture. It is not a reason to exclude people from our country.

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171 thoughts on “Frum Many, One

  1. Great post.

    I’m not quite as convinced that if(!) automatization is as widespread and extensive as some, like Kevin Drum, suggest it might be, the result in the short and shortish-medium run won’t be on the negative side in terms of demand for unskilled labor (in the long run, just about everyone finds something to do, and you’re right that in that timeframe, increased productivity should make everyone better off).

    But I agree with all the rest of what you say. And even if I’m right that there is some job construction due to automatization in the near future, to me this doesn’t invalidate what I think is the real strategic reason why want to allow extensive immigration of all kinds at all skill levels: the diversity of kinds of skills that come with immigration. We don’t want to stagnate; we need an influx of new skills, ideas, and perspectives to continue being the America we’ve always been. Moreover, during times when job availability is low, generally immigration slows and becomes less of a problem. And when job markets are tight, it’s good for an economy that’s trying to grow not to have labor shortages.

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    • There are going to be lots of jobs that aren’t really suited for automization if only because most people would want to deal with another human. People still prefer talking to another person at a call center rather than an automated message. Trainers, yoga instructors, and similar jobs can’t be automated well either. Actual artisans like jewelries and other craftspeople are still going to have jobs. I think the issue is whether or not there is enough to demand in non-automatable jobs for those displaced by automization to fill.

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      • Eh, the old jobs will be replaced with new jobs. The problem is that the old unskilled jobs will be replaced with (fewer) unskilled jobs. Think Charlie’s dad: he went from putting caps on tubes of toothpaste to fixing toothpaste tube capper machines.

        It’s just that we don’t know what happened to the other 19 guys on the line.

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      • Jaybird, there are several problems with the old jobs will be replaced with new jobs model. A big problem is that the replacement doesn’t happen at the same time. When people speak out against the Luddites they often use the example of the railroad and car industries providing better paying jobs than weaving. The Luddite protests took place in the 1780s and the railroad industry didn’t come about till the late 1830s. People who lost there work to do technological innovation need jobs while they are still alive, not a generation or so latter. Workers and their dependents do not magically disappear when their job does.

        The other issue is that even if new jobs are contemporaneous with the loss of old jobs is are there going to be enough new jobs as you pointed out.

        I think that preventing technological innovation and automation is useless and pointless. Its going to happen one way or another. It isn’t a process that doesn’t come with a lot of social costs in many situations and ignoring these social costs is stupid even for simply cynical reasons of wanting to maintain the peace.

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  2. Everything is a reason not to reform/repair our immigration system. The details aren’t important just as long as nothing is changed. Sigh.

    “Pro-poverty” = immigrants. Geez

    One could make the argument that the key sentence in the entire piece is “It shapes the country’s society and determines the country’s future electorate.” Which reads as immigrants will change our eternal Americaness and vote Dem, so no immigration reform for you.

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  3. ” David Frum argues that we shouldn’t let too many immigrants into the country because they will just be replaced by robots and therefore languish in intractable poverty.”

    Oh yeah, even worse than the immigrants are the robot-immigrants.

    Actually, now that I think about the Transformers are illegal robot-immigrants. Maybe that whole cartoon was a powerful but subliminal allegory about illegal immigration.

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  4. Well, with Frum it’s just self-protection. He’s an immigrant from Canada (and you’re welcome to him – don’t bother trying to send him back for refund) and the stuff he writes could easily be spit out by a well-programmed robot. “Axis of Evil”, anyone?

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  5. What gives Frum away is that he is one of those people who talk about immigration as if it is demand driven, like immigrants are something that we import to fill a labor shortage. That’s just not the way it works. Immigrants aren’t widgets in a supply chain being shipped from a factory in Shanghai. They are people with agency, fairly sophisticated social networks, and a fair amount of knowledge about where they are going.

    Immigrants go to where the jobs are. If the jobs dry up, then immigrants go somewhere else. The issue is largely self-correcting.

    It’s funny that so many conservatives claim to be about free markets, but when it comes to immigration they turn into central planners.

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  6. What if — instead of allowing how immigrants might benefit us to drive policy — we make policy on what is best for our fellow human, regardless of which side of a line they were born?

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    • Because I expect my elected representatives to do what is best for me, not what is best for someone who isn’t even a citizen.

      Yes, by birthright, I am pulling rank on someone who isn’t a citizen of this country.

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      • Oh, absolutely not. I am more of a fan of open borders than anything else. Opposition to immigration strikes me as analogous to telling someone “you can’t buy a house in our neighborhood”. There’s also the whole thing of how pretty much all of us are immigrants and it’s unseemly to want to pull the ladder up after oneself.

        (But, as Dexter pointed out, such is easy for me to say.)

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      • Scarlett,

        I wasn’t arguing with you, I was mocking you.

        You’re partly right about my use of the term “jingoism.” It wasn’t actually the right term since you weren’t advocating aggression against other countries. I should have said nativism. Of course that reeks only slightly less badly than jingoism.

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      • Except that you’re not doing that at all. You are expecting your elected representative to use the force of the law to restrict the activities of those of us who might want to hire an immigrant or rent an apartment to an immigrant or otherwise freely conduct mutually beneficial economic activity.

        You’re actually trying to pull rank on a bunch of other citizens.

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      • And when everyone looks out for just him or herself, what becomes of us? Of society?

        There’s a big jump from “I want US domestic policies that favor 315M existing citizens relative to the rest of the world” to “I’m just in it for myself and don’t care about society.” I admit to be torn on the subject. Most immigrants to the US from an undeveloped (or even developing) country increase their carbon footprint. Not by intent, and the same would be true if they immigrated to pretty much any other developed country; developed countries use more energy per-capita, and today that generally means carbon. It’s pretty easy to make the argument that using more energy per-capita is why those countries are developed.

        In a country/world where resource constraints don’t bind immigration is a good thing, at the very least in the sense that it brings potentially talented individuals into the society. When resource constraints bind, or will bind in the not-so-distant future, it looks much more like a zero-sum game: immigration means less resources for the people already there. Kim clearly believes that we’re in a resource-constrained world, where resource means employment opportunities. I think we will be in a resource-constrained world in the not-so-distant future, where resource means cheap energy (and electricity in particular). If the US adds another 50 million people by 2050, solving the energy problem becomes more difficult (just for comparison, adding 50 million people is adding another California, Oregon and Washington).

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    • I actually agree with Scarlett on this, and I’ll take the punishment for (or, more likely, jsut ignore it).

      If you want to make your advocacy all about the disbandment of nations, that’s fine. Short of that, though, I don’t take the claim that nations shouldn’t act in their citizens’ interests first seriously. I guess the reason is just coherence. Nations exist for their citizens – that is what they are. They can certainly engage in global altruism, understood as such, but if they do it more than at the margins, political coherence just begins unravel. If France starts making policy based on what’s best for, what, the median human?, on what basis does it ever get back around to doing things that put the benefit of Frenchwomen back ahead of those of women in the DRC – ever? No, the answer to the onanism of the nationalistic system that we have is altruism, in its place, not the fundamental reconceptualization of a global polity for all nations. If you want global cosmopolitan governance, then that’s what you need to advocate for, whole hog. You can’t take your nations without their nationalism, sorry. If that just makes me or us a less-good person or species than we might otherwise be, then that’s just how it’s going to be (until we get to global cosmopolitan governance, which is a discussion I’m willing to have, so long as it’s whole-hog and not millimeter-by-millimeter, like, “Well, why can’t the U.S. make it’s immigration policy in the interst of the global citien?” I’m just not ever going to go there, sorry. I will talk about whether we should deconstitute our nation entirely in the service global human equality and unified (or utterly decentralized…), however.

      I’ll argue for liberal immigration policy all day long, but it’ll be in furtherance of what I believe is best for America and Americans barring amassive shift in the nature of the meta-conversation we’re having.

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  7. Simply excellent, Christopher. I saw the headline of Frum’s piece and elected not to read it. It bewilders me that a man who presumes himself to be a public intellectual could so readily reiterate, with great seriousness, claims that have been uttered countless times before, invariably to be proven wrong.

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      • Not necessarily. If this guy is, as I specified, diligent, then by keeping him around he’s likely to more than repay us for the cost of fixing his broken leg.

        Your position looks to me like a tremendous waste of human capital.

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      • If we tossed out everyone who can’t pay for their own health care in our system, even in our “new” system, I think we’d quickly learn just how much value they had added to society and the economy.

        If pulling one’s own weight simply means the ability to receive the value of one’s contribution to society in the form of monetary payment, so that one is not forced to receive some of it in other ways (like, say, publicly funded health care), then pulling one’s weight is an utterly useless standard.

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      • If he can’t pay for his own medical care, either out of pocket or by buying insurance, he’s not pulling his own weight.

        This suggests that much of the anti-immigrant hysteria is actually a projection of rage at the natives who aren’t pulling their own weight.

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      • Compromise counter-offer…

        The problem you allude to is the destructive nature of people living off other people’s money. In moderation this is called compassion, something most of us are for.

        In excess it is called free riding and is effectively “exploitation from below.”

        I would support open borders with safeguards against free riding/ exploitation from below. In a reasonably free environment, it would be simple for immigrants to construct such a system (mutual aid societies, insurance plans, etc).

        Of course, we don’t have a reasonably free society, and the statists would never allow immigrants the freedom and corresponding responsibility to do so.

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      • “Sorry you drove your employer into bankruptcy while you were working diligently as a banker; we’re not going to prosecute you for fraud, but here’s a one-way bus ticket to Juarez. Also, we’re paying you your bonus one-for-one in pesos.”

        Works for me.

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  8. When I worked at the restaurant, the majority of the Mexicans who worked in the back (and it could be “all of them”, as far as I know but I only got the story from a handful) were there to work, make as much money as they could in as short a time as they could, send the money back home, and then get back home to their family.

    Much of the freaking out about immigration is over people who do not want to live here, but just want to make as much money as they can before they get the hell out of Dodge.

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    • As I understand it though there is a pattern to migration that recurs fairly often.

      First come the young looking for work and with every intention of making enough money to go home.

      Next they start to marry or to send for the partners they already have but still without a firm intention to settle.

      Before long these ‘temporary’ migrants have children who will grow up not knowing their parents homeland except as a story.

      With every step the intended return becomes harder. “We can’t go yet lets wait until the big contract is finished/ little Johnny has finished school/we finish paying of the car loan”. And so permanent migration happens not in one big leap but step by step as in social and economic terms it becomes easier to stay in the ‘new’ place and harder to return to the old one.

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      • I had read somewhere, and I don’t remember where, that tightening the border has, counter-intuitively, increased permanent migration, at least in border states. If you can go back and forth easily, then coming for seasonal work and then going when it’s done is “cheaper”, which means you’re more likely to maintain connections back home. But if you can’t get in and out, it makes more sense to make stronger connections in the US or to send back for your family to join you, rather than coming and going.

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      • Perhaps, but the guys I talked to genuinely seemed like they wanted to go home to their wives and children more than they wanted their wives and children to come here.

        I imagine I came across as an Ugly American asking “why wouldn’t you want to live anyplace but in THE MOST AWESOME AND FREEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD???? USA! USA! USA!”

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      • I think it’s easy to forget exactly how hard it is to move to another country as an adult, even if it’s a much safer and wealthier place than your home country. My father in law from Vietnam said recently that he would love to move back, but he won’t go as long as the communists are still there. This is a man who has been here for more than 30 years and raised two daughters as American citizens. The US just isn’t home for him. He works, pays taxes, celebrates American holidays and votes in elections, but this place is different in so many ways.

        Even if I lived in a place with a lot of American expats, I don’t know if I could ever get used to living in a country where the culture and language were not my own and where I always felt a little bit like an outsider. It seems like each day would tak ea little bit out of me. Maybe I could do it, but I certainly am not surprised by people who choose not to.

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  9. It’s not that automation will render low wage immigrant jobs redundant, it’s that rises in the minimum wage, which seems all the rage at the moment, will spur employers to seek to automate more. So instead of those dishwasher employees loading the dishes into the dishtron 3000, that task may be partially or fully automated. Or maybe reusable plates will go by the wayside.

    Now as to immigration, I’m all for it. As it was said above, it can provide a new diversity of skills, but WE should be the ones determining what’s our America’s best interest. If we want to only let in rich, educated individuals who want to establish businesses here, that’s our choice. If want to let in unskilled labor, that’s our choice too.

    Ewiak Those “race realists” and immigration restrictionists not wanting more brown folks cause they’ll vote Democratic and American will turn Socialist? Baby, America already is socialist. I’m a “immigration restrictionists ” for the sole reason that I think it’s America citizens’ who ought to be determining who they want to let in, not the current state of mismanagement of our immigration policies. But every presidential election we have, immigration really never comes up that much does it? That’s because the “status quo” benefits everyone in power.

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    • Whether or not a rise in the mininmal wage will cause a decrease in jobs is still a contested issue. Even if the minimum wage does lead to a decrease in jobs, there are still other factors at play. If you want to automate a job, you still need the relevant technology to exist and be affordable. There doesn’t seem to be a machine that would get rid of dishwashers and if it does exist it might cost too much for it to be worthy for many or even most restaurants.

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  10. Interestingly the rise of ATM’s and automation in banking has not led to a decrease in bank tellers; it’s led to an increase. Bank tellers are enormously more efficient now and banks accordingly have responded by providing them in more branches than they otherwise would. I’m too lazy to look it up but I read it someplace relatively recently (because Obama brought up the contrary incorrect point that ATM’s displaced tellers) so at the moment we have our ATM cake and we’re eating it too by having more tellers jobs than before.

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  11. Notice the assumption baked in to Frum’s argument, and thus leaching in to even facets of commentary on it here, that an immigrant is a) intractably poor, b) uneducated and perhaps uneducable, c) interested in “mooching” off of the “generous” U.S. social welfare system, d) willing, able, and guilty of violating U.S. law, and e) corrosive rather than contributory to the commonweal of economic and cultural activity.

    In my experience, there are plenty of immigrants who are the opposite of all of these things, and we should be sculpting policies that attract, facilitate and expedite their integration into our nation.

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      • Demand for residential construction tends to go with income level, and I see that crashing for the middle class. Oh, wait, it already has. Expenditures are down across the board — and that’s a real good indication income and expected income are down.

        Besides, the point is that 50% of jobs will be lost in the next 20 years, not that 1 in 100 get employed running the cranetron (or debugging the “air sealer and stuffer of walls” bot).

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  12. Great piece!

    There is also a need for a generous refugee/asylum immigrant policy and not just economic immigrants.

    I do share Drum’s position that automation is going to increase and lead to more jobs being lost. There is dishtron 3000 but what existed before Dishtron 3000. We know that part and possibly a good part of the law firm crisis happened because firms were able to outsource or automate a lot of work that was traditionally done by early associates. Instead of having human eyes go through thousands of documents or more, you can have a computer scan for key words and concepts in a fraction of the time and cost. It seems like it is going to be many years before the law school crisis fixes itself and I think we will see other businesses doing the same on a frequently occurring basis.

    http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/02/american-economy-nutshell-flat-revenues-great-earnings

    Or as my economist friend said, this looks like a deflationary cycle without the deflation and in his mind that means everything is going to collapse in a rather spectacular fashion and I hope he is wrong.

    I’ve also seen articles that say employers are taking much longer to hire people and often deciding not to hire even after job posts go up because they discover they can have their staff do more for less.

    What I don’t understand is why there is a constant disconnect between productivity studies and management practice and what can bridge the gap. Study after study shows that worker productivity decreases rapidly after 40-50 hours of work per a week. Yet most companies would rather have one person work 80 hours over 2 people working 40 hours.

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      • What type of immigration policy is consistent with this approach? Any other than open borders for all intents and purposes? I’m guessing that’s a yes, and that’s fine, but then let’s be clear about it.

        Unless you’re literally planning on letting everyone in no questions asked, you’re going to want to at least be able to listen to those who are coming here under duress, and do a bit a sussing out of who might be trying to come here with less-than-savory intent. I would if I were running the show, anyway.

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      • But yes, I would like national borders to be similar to those we see between various US states. Because after all, there does not seem to be a big economic refugee crisis between Mississippi and Connecticut (or vice versa)

        (now, if you want real out of the box thinking, making “policy on what is best for our fellow human, regardless of which side of a line they were born” – we should annex Mexico, to extend the benefits of a living wage to those that really need it)

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      • How did either refugees or upwardly mobile strivers (or both) suddenly become terrorists?

        They didn’t. Unless in a few cases they did, in which case they did it by doing it. And maybe it’s never, ever happened, not even once. And, of course, if they had no intention of it when they came here, then they wouldn’t have shown it at that time, so there wouldn’t have been anything to be done about it.

        But people who had no intention of doing malign acts when they came here were explicitly not the people I was saying we should be able to ask a few questions (nothing more than that!) to ferret out at entry. If people do have such intent, then they aren’t just refugees or strivers, they’re potentially dangerous malcontents whom we don’t want here. I want an immigration system that asks at least a few delicate questions in that direction to people seeking long-term entry into our country, yeah. I do.

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      • Native citizenship has its advantages, yes. They do eventually get around to asking the questions about the shootings in Chicago, by the way. I don’t see the problem with asking a few very simple ones to address the bare possibility that some small number of the millions seeking to enter have bad intentions when someone wants to take the significant, elective legal step of asking formally for permission to enter the country on a long-term basis. I’m not even suggesting denying entry on the basis of the answers alone – only when the answers lead to further questions and information that leads to an investigation that actually produces something that really suggests we wouldn’t want to let that person in. Are you really suggesting that that whole prospect – of potentially not letting a few people in if there are significant reasons to think their intentions are not good – should be entirely off the table? As I understand it, most advocates for otherwise functionally open borders at least allow for that. You’re really stridently, sneering-rhetorically opposed to any such policy? Basically, I’m a fascist or a vicious, gross nationalist for wanting to retain the ability to carry out a bit of mild question of people looking to enter the country? (Or maybe something somewhat less bad than that, but still pretty bad?)

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      • Mike,
        Nah, you’re good. At least from where I sit. People who intend to break laws and get arrested — they shouldn’t be allowed in simply because they “havent broken laws yet”.
        NOTE: someone who intends to work, and instead winds up peddling underground watermelons? That’s not the guy I’m talking about.

        If we arrest gunsmugglers, let’s not give them carte blanche to enter the country.

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      • They don’t ask questions of Chicago homicides based on if someone went to Milwaukee or Gary. (they do it by even more authoritarian and Constitutionally suspect means)

        No, you’re not a fascist, and I respect your intellectual consistency above in giving primacy of interests to the existing denizens of a polity. (even though that eventually goes down the roads of red-lining in one fork, or calling gentrification a “cancer” on another fork)

        What I do believe is that your light screening program will crash on the rocks of bureaucratic realities. What sort of non-intrusive (and brief) questions can possibly be used? “are you a terrorist?” “no, alrightly then.”

        The reality is that such screening will either be useless security theater, or it will expand until it becomes effective, but objectionable – like tracking the phone calls in and out of the country of all those screened.

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      • Kolohe,
        I expect the smart criminals to get through. Don’t care. They’re smart, they can run a business, they can not be fucking stupid. And if they do overreach? We still got laws here. Laws are for catching criminals.

        The screening is for dumb as rocks idiots. Of which there are a distressing number…

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      • Well, sure, to some extent it will hit on the shoals of large waves of immigration. It already is, really. It’s not so much that I’m advancing the questioning as efficacious, as that I’m trying to defend the prerogative to take reasonable, mild steps in furtherance of the aim I articulate within immigration policy, where it’s possible to be done reasonably equitably. I mean, don’t we ask people applying for formal entry a few questions as is? I’m fairly sure some of them have this as a partial aim. I don’t think I’m describing something that isn’t already a (small) part of the status quo – a part whose basic aim, I’m saying, I’d defend through reforms, at least until we were at the point of getting rid of national borders ALLtogether.

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    • NewDealer,
      smart companies don’t work that way.
      (gaming companies are NOT smart, duh.)

      My economist friend is predicting large scale dislocations —
      not to guns and cigarettes, but seriously, watch where you live.

      Also predicting resource wars.

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    • What I don’t understand is why there is a constant disconnect between productivity studies and management practice and what can bridge the gap. Study after study shows that worker productivity decreases rapidly after 40-50 hours of work per a week. Yet most companies would rather have one person work 80 hours over 2 people working 40 hours.

      You have to consider the cost of employment. 2 people working 40 hours may cost more than one person working 80 hours. So even the worker’s productivity declines, the net from him/her could be greater than the net from adding a second person. This is especially true if there are significant training costs and uncertainty about how long the person would be needed.

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      • This.

        Every additional employee has costs that you have to weigh agains the costs of lost productivity for overwork and overtime.

        There are fixed costs, workmen’s comp insurance, health insurance (if provided), the additional costs of providing hr services to another employee. If we’re interested in increasing overall employment, one method of doing so would be to find ways to limit the costs of employment to the employer to the hours worked by employees instead accruing it by the number of employees. So if you have three people working 150 hours a week, have the employment insurances be for the 150 hours a week, not the three people, and then it’s more likely that you’ll have four or even five people doing that work.

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      • So even the worker’s productivity declines, the net from him/her could be greater than the net from adding a second person. This is especially true if there are significant training costs and uncertainty about how long the person would be needed.

        Although I generally regard this as true, I also would note that I suspect that management’s over-utilization of existing labor is more tied into refusal to believe that productivity falls off after 40 hours of workweek than it is a proper cost-benefit analysis which takes that into account.

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      • I disagree with all y’all.
        Management’s unwillingness to hire is a sign that they’re being psychological bears.
        They are unwilling to think through whether transient high demand is going to become
        permanent high demand.
        So, they take transient high demand out on their workers. And when the workers are going to break, they hire a new person.

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      • Benefits add a huge amount of overhead that doesn’t scale with hours worked. If you’re paying someone by the hour, you have to pay 50% more salary for 50% more hours, but you don’t pay anything in extra benefits. Or office space or equipment.

        There are also in some cases simply a shortage of qualified workers. A few years ago when I started a new job I was told that they had interviewed 200 candidates for the position over the course of a year or so. Lest anyone attribute this to their being unwilling to train, I’ll add that this was for a job programming in a language I didn’t know.

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    • “Study after study shows that worker productivity decreases rapidly after 40-50 hours of work per a week. Yet most companies would rather have one person work 80 hours over 2 people working 40 hours.”

      Huh?

      Some companies prefer salaried employees to work long hours, some prefer more of a family-work balance. I am familiar with both and find the better salaried employees actually choose the latter. The better companies know this and thus also lean this way.

      For low skilled hourly employees, my experience is that the dynamic attractor is actually neither of the above. The issue is mandatory benefits and employer responsibilities, which are significant for less skilled workers. The attractor is thus toward part time workers or contract employees, neither of which get over time or high priced benefits.

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    • Do you have any idea how few people work 80-hour weeks?

      Actually, I don’t know, either, but the BLS says that 6.8% of workers work 60+ hours per week, so it has to be significantly less than that, probably on the order of 3% or less.

      Demand for very long hours seems to be confined mostly to a few specific industries, namely law, finance, and medicine.

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  13. It seems to me that one of the following two things is true:

    1. We will have a limitless need of labor, pretty much regardless of base skill level, going forward. This wave of technological improvement will prove to be like the previous waves and will adhere to the economic truth of labor.

    2. Things are actually different this time around and we are reaching an end of limitless labor demand.

    I should clarify that what I mean by “base skill level” is that even if they have a very low base skill level, almost anyone that doesn’t have learning incapacities can learn the basics of work. And when I talk about demand, I mean not only that “We need someone to do job X” but “Job X (and Y and Z) add to the economy sufficiently to warrant a pay structure where someone will, over the course of their lifetyle, put somewhere in the ballpark (or more) into the system than the system has to subsidize them.

    I have seen liberals and conservatives make the case for (1) and (2), though it often seems very dependent on whether (1) or (2) supports their position on a specific issue rather than whether or not (1) or (2) are true.

    It seems to me that if (2) is true, that has significant policy ramifications both liberal and conservative. It does actually provide a significant argument against immigration. It also supports shorter workweeks, increased subsidies towards working individuals and families, and in general a more generous welfare state. It runs in opposition to natalist arguments. I mean, if there aren’t enough jobs to go around that make the ends meet, it’s hard to put the blame on the worker.

    But then if (1) is true, many of the opposite things are true. It provides a good argument in favor of immigration, but it also makes me more wary of long-term welfare programs. It takes me back to a more economically conservative self that frowns down on long-term government support. It gives credence to natalist concerns about there not being enough people going forward. It also makes me at least mildly less concerned about inequality per se because it’s difficult to bring in large numbers of unskilled immigrants without it showing up statistically that there are an awful lot of “have nots” and it’s harder to justify bringing unskilled labor into the country if we’re ultimately going to have to prop them up because the material comfort that their work can provide for is lesser than we are willing to accept people living here having.

    I honestly don’t know whether I want (1) or (2) to be true. Neither fits remarkably well with my preferred policy stances. I suspect it depends mostly on how our government responds (#2 plus wealth distribution seems awesome, #2 without distribution seems unstable). I tend to operate on the assumption that (1) is true. With a wary eye towards (2) as a potential problem. If #2 does come to pass, a number of my political views are likely to change. Not just immigration.

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    • I’d humbly submit that the conservative Calvinist impulse that all people must work may be misplaced in such a labor environment. If one sticks to that principle then one is in essence endorsing a future when robots do the work, the capital owners live lives of impossible luxury and the masses suffer in idle squalor dependent on some kind of extra-market charity to survive (assuming the robots somehow can prevent the wealthy from being lynched by the unwashed hordes).

      In such a near limitless labor environment there might be enormous merit in the negative income tax/basic minimum income ideas that liberals and libertarians kick around.

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      • True. But I doubt Koch and other evildoers will want us to disregard that Calvinist impulse.
        And who in your sim will have the money? That’s right, the same sons of bitches who say “Veterans Benefits are the new welfare”

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      • That’s sort of what I was getting at, if “such a labor environment” refers to one where work has been displaced by technology. Such an economic environment would make me far, far more pro-redistribution than I currently am. I would still have a bit of a Calvinist impulse in that I would want people to work, but I would have that work greatly subsidized. (I would also shed myself of natalist sympathies, and would probably become less liberal on immigration.)

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      • The robots might not be able to protect the industrialists but ultra-wealthy could higher a decent sized protection service to keep them safe from the masses.

        See countries like Mexico where as far as I can tell, it is not uncommon for the ultra rich to live in compounds and have 24/7 body guards/security. A friend of mine went to a wedding in South America and our gated communities are nothing like the ones down in South America in terms of security and access. There are certainly plenty of people who would take these jobs to survive and live reasonably comfortably and do their service.

        But I think you are at the heart of the matter. We need to get rid of the Calvinist concept of “those who don’t work, don’t eat” but I don’t see how we are going to do this easily.

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      • Even in such a case as #2, I think there is a place for the Calvinist work ethic. Mostly it’s a matter of whether you get market-negotiated wages or whether you are entitled to a standard of living by virtue of the fact that you do work (maybe less than 40 hours a week, often for a job that wouldn’t pay sufficiently in a market-negotiated system, if #2).

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      • Newdealer, The population/wealth imbalances we’re talking about wouldn’t work. History tells us that if a tiny fraction of the population is fabulously wealthy then hiring soldiers doesn’t work. At insufficient numbers the soldiers simply will desert or fail. At sufficient numbers the suddenly powerful military constituency inevitably eats their erstwhile employers. Unless the robots themselves could provide perfect, machine loyal servants (in which case dystopia) the rich would end up lynched or robbed.

        Will: Ah we’re probably thinking similarly but to be honest I just don’t see immigration as that kind of problem. If we can automate this way the tech will be pouring into the rest of the world. Barring a Malthusian resource crunch (please agnostic Jeebus let us industrialize space) or some astonishingly horrific world war (in which case immigration is not an issue) the rest of the world will be developing at some pace behind us and frankly the way demographics work in developed nations we may be arguing on the virtual League about what we can do to lure –more- precious young immigrants to come here and whether we’re doing enough to encourage women to bother having a couple kids.

        I mean for goodness’s sake, China has like one generation to go and then their demographics invert due to the one child policy.

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      • In the long run, you can take your Calvinist impulse and decide that people that don’t work ought to do volunteer stuff.

        There’s almost always room for another adult watching a playground at lunchtime, or reading to a kid one-on-one in an underprivileged classroom, or cleaning up litter in a park, or working the line in a soup kitchen.

        You don’t have to be employed in the “I get wage for labor” sense to be engaging in a Calvinist work ethic.

        That aside, for the record, I think that our actual distribution of capabilities for complex work, across the population, looks rather like the long tail. The actual distribution of efficient jobs looks rather like the opposite.

        So yes and no. I think there will always be a limitless demand for certain types of labor, but there will be a diminishing number of people who have the capability to perform the types of complex labor that are demanded, as a percentage of the population.

        And yeah, I think that’s a real problem.

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      • In the long run, you can take your Calvinist impulse and decide that people that don’t work ought to do volunteer stuff.
        There’s almost always room for another adult watching a playground at lunchtime, or reading to a kid one-on-one in an underprivileged classroom, or cleaning up litter in a park, or working the line in a soup kitchen.

        One of the important lessons we need to take away from the feminist movement, specifically from the movement of women into the workforce, when they had less time to do these volunteer activities in their communities, is that they hold value; they hold significant value, in fact. Communities are nicer places to live when this work is being done.

        So we have, in part, an economic failure to properly value such work. The productivity of the software engineer is relatively easy to value; but the value garnered from the grandparents reading to kids in public schools is less so. While I don’t disagree with your overall argument, I think it really matters that we’ve not done proper accounting for the jobs we think people should do without pay.

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      • Good comment. I would just add that it doesn’t seem impossible that we could get people to add value in playground monitoring while paying them to do so.

        Said another way, we can create institutions which value and compensate this type of social contribution. It reminds me of the idea of universal income guarantee for those agreeing to work idea which was discussed last year.

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      • I think it really matters that we’ve not done proper accounting for the jobs we think people should do without pay.

        Yeah, but getting into that is tough. The market failures in this problem space are market failures for reasons.

        Personally, I like Jason’s idea of a negative income tax. Set a sustainable wage point, pay people that don’t work in the labor market enough to get them to that wage point.

        However, this can lead us to the Wal-Mart passive rent-seeking problem. Wage offering entities will attempt to game that system by paying people who are in the labor market less than a sustainable wage point, trusting the taxpayer to pick up the tab.

        If you ask me, the right way to do this, if you think it is a problem, is to have the NIT apply only to people who aren’t in the labor market. If you want to keep a Calvinist work ethic, create a mechanism whereby non profit entities can provide non-labor market “jobs” to people under the threshold for the NIT.

        So you get people who get money from the taxpayer, but they work in volunteerism, doing volunteerism things that need to be done, rather than sitting on the couch eating Doritos (disclaimer: I’m unconvinced that the actual number of Doritos-eaters is a problem, but that’s just me).

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      • I’d humbly submit that the conservative Calvinist impulse that all people must work may be misplaced in such a labor environment.

        In a truly post-scarcity world, there’s no problem with redistribution because resources are effectively infinite. The problem is that leftists want to jump from that to creating hugely expensive redistribution schemes right now.

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      • Also, I think that these dystopian scenarios of a fabulously wealthy group of oligarchs with the rest of the population living in dire poverty because the oligarchs are selfish jerks who won’t use their virtually unlimited resources to help out are grossly inconsistent with how billionaires actually behave in real life. The richest Americans give huge amounts of money to charity. Not because they’re uniquely virtuous people, but because they have more money than they can reasonably spend on themselves, and charity’s all they can do with the surplus.

        But I don’t have a degree in art history, so I don’t understand human nature.

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    • I think you’re operating under a number of unduly restrictive perceived direct tradeoffs between variables without accounting for how the variables will affect each other (i.e., think that if all else is equal, if A goes up, B goes down, except all else is not equal if A goes up, because it affects the factors that control B in ways outside the function you are considering, causing B not to go down as expected, etc.), for third variables dependent on the first ones that change the calculus outside of just considering A or B, and for whether the tradeoffs would really be as one-for-one as you imagine even in theory in the first place.

      Also, what is “the economic truth of labor”?

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      • I think that holding relates to the fact that, eventually, everyone finally figures out a way to do economic activity of some kind that prevents their starvation, because we as a species are almost universally at least that capable.

        But read your Tyler Cowen. That can take a lot of forms, and some of those forms can look a lot like, “the robots took my jerb, then there was a depression, and now I’m reduced to knitting socks for a nickel a piece and sleeping in shelter [except not, because, as you point out, in that circumstance, we would catch the person with the safety net].” As an economic matter, that person is upholding the economic truth of labor, in that they’ve found a way to do economic activity that affords them a living of some sort: they’re (self-employed).

        Even if that law holds, we can still enter into a world where, functionally, we’ve a) automated ourselves out of broadly-shared earned income, b) messed up (if you want to put it that way) amacroeconomic management bad enough that firms don’t make use of available labor rather than increasingly relying on capital, and c) not taken steps to remediate the situation through aggressive redistribution.

        Not that we’re necessarily going there, but we can go there while the economic truth of labor, conceived that way, is holding firm. If there’s a more robust version of the law that predicts a more equal distribution of the gains from productivity and consistent shared prosperity relative to earlier times, I’d need to be informed of it. Tyler Cowen’s version doesn’t seem to do tha that I’m aware of.

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      • Even if that law holds, we can still enter into a world where, functionally, we’ve a) automated ourselves out of broadly-shared earned income, b) messed up (if you want to put it that way) amacroeconomic management bad enough that firms don’t make use of available labor rather than increasingly relying on capital, and c) not taken steps to remediate the situation through aggressive redistribution.

        I certainly think that’s true. I’m not sure that B is required, though. A and C are enough to create real problems. B relates (in my mind, at least) to some of the caveats to my comments. It’s not enough that they have found things to do to get paid for. Nor is it enough that they have done so sufficiently to eat and find shelter. If their standard of living is below that which we will tolerate – meaning that we look at their standard of living and collectively determine that we should give them more – then there is still a problem.

        If it’s the case that more immigrants, or more births, could be economically advantageous but aren’t due to policy, then #1 or #2 depends largely on changing that policy. We need to review that policy, or we have created #2 but it’s still #2 that we have. It’s true that this does not actually invalidate TEToL, because like a lot of economics it’s still true in a vacuum, but it would be true due to decisions that we’ve made and, unless we change them, are sticking by. I’m less interested in proving or disproving the economic theory than ascertaining whether or not it applies to a specific circumstance.

        What does that cash out to? What does that make you sympathetic to?

        (Rather than two separate responses, I’m putting this here.) Subsidizing parents, mostly. Through tax rebates, universal daycare and preschool. Trying different things to see what, if anything, might boost birth rates. I’m not on board with that at this point in time, but I am at least sympathetic. I’d be a lot less sympathetic if we didn’t economically have places for the children being born.

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      • Just incidentally, for some reason your listing of those natalist policies has clarified what I am and am not okay with in that realm. I’m great with anything that makes it easier to raise kids once you’ve decided to have them – subsidize daycare, preschool, PTO, WIC, whatever. I just don’t want pre-decision incentives that will accrue directly to parents just for deciding to become parents (or get married, etc.) (i.e. tax credits directly on parents’ income taxes that come about just for having a child, or being married). I just think that messes up decisions that have to be purely personal, not instruments of state policy, to be made well. It’s probably a distinction without much of a difference practically, but there it is.

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      • This gets into expected fertility vs actual fertility and the gap between them. I don’t want the government bribing people to have kids, or punishing them for having done so. But there are some folks out there who want kids (or more kids*) but are faced with countless disincentives to do so. I view helping the parents as mitigating those disincentives.

        * – Which is often where the influence is going to be. Not “having kids” versus “not having kids” but “having two kids” versus “having three kids.”

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      • But there are some folks out there who want kids (or more kids*) but are faced with countless disincentives to do so.

        Ah, that’s another consideration I never really considered. To the extent we can target policies to them (without creating larger outcomes we don’t, which after all, is the point, at least from your perspective, of getting into all this in the first place) I’m fully supportive. In fact, I’m even supportive of that apart from aggregate policy considerations. If people want kids but need help doing it, and giving them the help just won’t mess things up otherwise (i.e. too many kids or break the bank), fine, give it to ’em.

        I just don’t want people feeling put-upon or taken advantage of for their preference not to have kids. Partly as a first-order matter, partly because that will influence a few people to have kids when they should not (because they wouldn’t on balance without aid – but, importantly, would be happy with that outcome, not wishing they could have kids).

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    • Your 2) is not my 2) and therefore we disagree on immigration, among other things.
      I see the end of “The economic truth of labor” worldwide, not just in America.
      (Actually, it is a Good Question whether we are already there, in a worldwide sense.
      Where’s Katharine when you need her?).

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      • My #2 actually assumes the same, on a longer time-horizon. At the least, it assumes that the economic need for labor is greatly diminished in the developed world.

        If it’s not, then immigration becomes a non-issue because more and more of the immigrants (and many Americans, if we don’t adequately redistribute) would go to Canada, Australia, Europe, or wherever the jobs actually were. I assume that labor’s necessity declines at least in the developed world, and likely beyond that.

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    • Will,

      Number one is demonstrably true, as at the right price I am willing to employ everyone. They can be my personal fan base* and hanger ons. At the right price I have seven billion openings.

      The problem with number one is the caveat “at the right price”. Is the right price high enough for them to live on? Comparative advantage helps things a bit, as those still adding substantial value and being highly compensated will benefit from hiring out for more of their responsibilities to others. And they will have the money to do so.

      * I am joking but there is a serious point buried under the joke.

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      • Roger,
        I would state that people who you pay a penny to work foryou, are taking more from the system than they’re putting in.
        Isn’t that obvious? Assume each person costs the equivalent of a heart attack to the system $100,000. But you only paid him a penny!

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      • Number one is demonstrably true, as at the right price I am willing to employ everyone.

        This 100% sure to be false. You would eventually pay (a few) people to keep these penny-wage-job-seeking zombies out of your establishment. Or you would pay the ones who were there to leave until you had a manageable number. IOW, marginal returns at a price of zero would eventually become negative. If you have nothing for them to do they’d be in the way of those for whom you did at best, and a liability at worst. No business or person has limitless capital or property on which to set limitless labor to work. Few are motivated to come up with things to have people do that aren’t already on their minds just because the wage is so low. There little utility to having people around you didn’t feel a need for already – even if they’re almost free.

        That’s where Morgan Warstler’s system would fall down in its early stages and either resolve to a basic income (with yes, a goodly number of people finding and doing productive work, but not all) – or fall radically short of being the universal program he bills it as.

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      • Who said I wanted them at my establishment? I will pay them each one billionth of a cent per decade to be in my fan club. They are required to do so remotely. The last guy (management) will be paid a penny a year to coordinate payroll.

        Kim, that is my point. I don’t know about “the system” but the point is that they do not have enough to survive on. Thus number one is both true, and possibly still inadequate.

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      • Hopefully your example doesn’t track any point any economist is really trying to make. But we agree on your point (I made it as well).

        I actually think it shows some progress on your part (from my perspective) that you’re willing to frame the track the developed world may be on (in some accounts) as potentially problematic; in the past you’ve suggested that some considerable regression in living standards in the rich nations would not be a problem if it accompanied and was to some extent resultant from broad alleviation of deep poverty in the developing and poor nations.

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      • ,

        some considerable regression in living standards in the rich nations would not be a problem if it accompanied and was to some extent resultant from broad alleviation of deep poverty in the developing and poor nations.

        My sweetie and I had this discussion a couple of days ago; that this seems to be the current trend (at least in the US; there may be other first-world nations where it’s not the case). And we wondered if it was intentional, a conspiracy, or a function of economics; his argument was that it is economics at work; and that the reason we’re seeing increases in some manufacturing sectors here is because of that lowered US standard of living compared to developing nations.

        I prefer the illuminati explanations.

        No matter the cause, that economic equalling does appear to be happening to some degree, at least to my eyes.

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      • Hmmm…

        I think lower living standards is pretty clearly a perceived problem for most of those experiencing it. Losing a job is painful and frightening.

        My past comments are that it is immoral and unfair for wealthy, privileged top five percenters (of the world — which our poor are) to rig the game in their favor against the poor and unskilled of the developing world. Logical yes. Just wrong from any reasonable universal morality standpoint.

        I cannot in good conscience support institutional privilege for relatively well off Americans over starving Africans or impoverished Cambodians. I am not sure how anyone could.

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      • “….economic equalling does appear to be happening to some degree, at least to my eyes.”

        Worldwide inequality has been decreasing and rates of impoverishment have been plummeting by unprecedented amounts over the past few decades. Truly a golden age for humanity, no?

        Economic freedom kicks the Illuminati’s ass.

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      • I cannot in good conscience support institutional privilege for relatively well off Americans over starving Africans or impoverished Cambodians. I am not sure how anyone could.

        And yet the economic leveling you support has mostly aided the top .1%. Their commission on improving life in Cambodia astonishes.

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      • I don’t know what you are talking about, Zic. The benefit has objectively, empirically gone to over ONE BILLION human beings who have been allowed to rise out of extreme poverty.

        I have no envy or beef for/with the top one tenth of one percent as long as they did not achieve it in a zero sum fashion. If they did, I believe they should be punished per the law.

        To the extent that the top one tenth of a percent did anything to help people rise out of poverty (by investing in capital, offering jobs, creating technological tools, etc) then a tip my hat to them and say “gracias.”

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      • Roger,
        “I cannot in good conscience support institutional privilege for relatively well off Americans over starving Africans or impoverished Cambodians. I am not sure how anyone could.”

        Brain Drain. There’s always another stupid person out there doing stupid things and getting in stupid trouble. If we want to fix things, better we prioritize finding good fixers.

        [advocatus diaboli?[

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      • Roger,
        What are the odds that we’ll be at war with China within the next 30 years?
        How about India? The Middle East?
        (I submit we’re more likely to be fighting Over africa… but that still means use of them as soldiers).

        Ask the US Military, I don’t pull the numbers regular-like.

        But I know that they’re prepping for resource wars…

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  14. In the late 1990’s and early 2,000’s, there was a migration of wood-processing jobs from Maine to China. At the time, Maine was dotted with small wood mills that made all sorts of things; dowels, feet for upholstered furniture, in dozens of small mills that were often originally built in the late 1800’s and updated as time progressed.

    To understand the phenomena, which was forcing the closing of these mills at an astonishingly rapid pace, mill owners kept going to China to see the business there. As I’d interview these people, over and over, I heard the same thing: It started with the cheap labor, we’d build the mills and they’d run them. But now, they’re building the mills.

    So the one of the more subtle things Frum misses in all his talk of robots taking jobs is who’s building the robots? The answer probably isn’t as obvious as he thinks.

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  15. I’m always curious why pundits write pieces like this; pieces that they already know are demonstrably false and misleading.

    1. Somebody called, and said something along the lines of, “Nice access you’ve got here, I’d hate to see everybody stop talking to you.”

    2. Team loyalty; the point where my team winning is all that matters,

    3. My team benched me for too long, a grand gesture to get back into the game; swearing fealty anew.

    4. The optics of overall quality of though allow for some percentage of BS before judgements of quality of though deem it impaired.

    5. Everybody will have forgotten within two or three news cycles.

    6. He actually believes this bs.

    7. Some complex factoring that includes all of the above and more.

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  16. A few thoughts, no real argument-

    The fear of automation creating unemployment never materialized, because forecasters forgot how inexhaustible demand becomes, when automation makes it cheap.

    When I muse about the future of automation, I don’t see idle workers- I see massively escalating demand, constrained only by the supply of natural resources.

    I don’t see leisure either, for some of the same reasons- people’s demand for money is inexhaustible, and there isn’t really any upper limit at which people (for the most part) will decide to stop working.

    But there is something else- the nature of work itself- even if people can afford to be idle, in most cases they don’t.
    I think for most people, work is part of their identity, their life narrative. We can be blithe and assert that those workers whose occupation is now automated can simply turn to another skill, and most often that’s correct.

    But automation accelerates, in uneven fits and spasms. How does someone plan their life, knowing that at any moment their job description, or entire field of endeavor, is obsolete?
    Marriage, childrearing, mortgages- these things all demand some form of commitment and stability about the future.

    How does automation and the economy it helps to create- erratic, uneven, wildly unpredictable- affect our life choices, families, communities?

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  17. Working in a restaurant, I have no idea how the human element of food preparation could possibly be in any danger right now. Incidentally, you’re right- the newer, more technologically advanced dishwashing units require more skill to use and maintain and actually make it more likely that restaurants hire dishwashers, and maintenance men on occasion, instead of getting the line cooks to put the dishes through.

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