Post by Rich80105 Post by Liberty Post by victor Post by JohnO
So victor thinks it's all ok for goods donated for the needy to
be distributed to non needy lazy bludgers.
The article is comment bait for bigots
Just stop giving free food out.
The pubs don't give free beer.
The Half-Life of Skill
Fast-food chefs. Drivers. Supermarket checkout attendants. Bookshop
managers. Street cleaners. Call centre operators. Teaching assistants.
Bookkeepers. Pilots. Soldiers. Lab technicians. Publishing executives.
Warehouse fulfilment workers. Fishermen. Farmers. Copywriters. Couriers.
Assembly-line workers. Actors. Bank tellers. Financial traders. Parking
attendants. Personal trainers.
The value of a skill decays over time. Some skills have a half-life
measured in decades, such as automobile repair or secretarial work.
Others are highly unstable, such as the custodians of mayfly
technologies such as Betamax. A few skills may last for centuries or
millennia, such as politics or writing or hunting or acting, but even
those are not immune. Time, chance, technology, and artificial
intelligence affect all skills.
There is a limit to the speed at which normal humans can learn new
abilities, and if what they choose has too brief a half-life, even the
fastest learners can fall permanently behind.
That was the way of the 21st century; a wave of machine-powered creative
destruction engulfing the human-powered economy, machines that didn't
just magnify human productivity but replaced human thought. Entire
tracts of society found their skills literally worthless within the
space of a decade. The resulting reduction in costs saw individual
productivity rocket — for those individuals who still had jobs.
Why should we continue to work so hard, Bertrand Russell asked, with
such productivity? Why can't we spare time to luxuriate in our wealth?
It was "only a foolish asceticism, usually vicarious, [that] makes us
continue to insist on work in excess quantities now that the need no
longer exists". He continued, "There is no reason to go on being foolish
Unfortunately, a century was not quite long enough for us to grow out of
our foolishness — or to put it a little more charitably, the virtues of
hard work that made so much sense for so many millennia are not so
easily abandoned. Idleness and relaxation were to be punished; only work
could make you valuable.
This archaic view survived well into the 21st century, propped up by the
resentment of the privileged who were forced to successively compete
against women, ethnic minorities, gays, lesbians, the transgendered,
young, old, atheists, and countless others for the jobs and wealth that
they had believed were their birthright. Even as the jobs dwindled and
wealth was sucked past the event horizon of the plutocracy, those who
preached the gospel of competition and the so-called free market
couldn’t imagine an alternative, so they taught us that we should have
loyalty to no company, no city, no country, no community, no-one. Only
to the 'brand of me'.
A competition needs winners, and for every winner, there must be losers.
Few professions were immune; not even 'creatives' or the highly
technically educated, those anointed classes of the turn of the century.
By the 20s and 30s, a massive oversupply in programmers, fed by
shortsighted education policies in the teens, caused wages to plummet.
And with the low-hanging fruit of the digital transition now thoroughly
picked clean, profits had become shrunken and more concentrated.
Millions of computer-science graduates wondered what had happened to the
promises of a safe career as they replicated and automated their way
through the economy. Anything they produced that was remotely original
was copied within weeks or months. It was hard to stay ahead of the
curve, but a few individuals and corporations managed it, insulated by
thick layers of capital and connections. Others, such as the amplified
teams and the hive minds, were so fast they looked like they were
cheating. These winners were unaccountable, transnational,
transplanetary. Hard to understand. Hardly human.
But even they weren't invulnerable, their fear belied by their desperate
grip on the last vestiges of an unfree market. They wielded patents,
copyrights, monopolies, planned obsolescence, addiction, locked-in
ecosystems, regulatory capture, advertising, and lobbying; they guzzled
social contributions such as open-source software and crowdsourcing and
incoming personal data and gave nothing back other than
free-if-you-don’t-look-closely services. Anything to maintain their
position in a vanishing 'capitalist' system. It worked too well, for too
The fall came from within. Median wages stagnated as automation took its
toll and margins were squeezed tight. With fewer people earning money,
who was left to buy what the machines were making? How many servants and
entertainers could even a billionaire employ? And then there were the
burgeoning non-profit and mutualised services, organisations that made
everything and required zero return to shareholders. They could operate
leaner than the best — but they only benefitted a select group of the
most organised. It was a slow fall, but it didn’t stop for a century.
The basic minimum income, funded by a wealth tax, was first introduced
in Northern European countries in the 20s, decoupling living standards,
health, and wellbeing from the need to find an increasingly scarce job.
In halts and starts, it spread through the rest of Europe, South
America, and parts of Asia in the following decades. It was not a
panacea; China still had to deal with its massive environmental damage,
Japan walked farther down its path to becoming a empty, haunted
fortress, Europe struggled with maintaining democracy.
Yet there was reason for optimism. The cost of labour had dropped, but
so had the cost of capital. A billion companies bloomed. Desire
modification, co-ops, free digital entertainment, open-sourced designs,
reduced patent lengths, the coming Long Congress — they all reshaped the
world, over and over again, faster and faster.
The march towards the basic minimum income seems inevitable. It was not.
Political and economic power had become fragmented and chaotic,
spiralling out of centralised control. The admirably and infuriatingly
cautious grand old tradition of representative democracy was crashing
straight into the newborn speed-of-thought digital democracy. Both
challenged the other's legitimacy. Both were needed to enact change.
Yet they shared the same ideals: that we are all equal before the law,
and that, as humans, we all have rights.
That if jobs can't be found, we shouldn't go begging.
That there is virtue in working less and flourishing more — pursuing
what makes us humans, not automatons.
That productivity is a solved problem, but wellbeing is not.
The half-life of tradition is long. The half-life of empathy is even
longer. A culture that values toil over all does not die overnight, even
when faced with suffering. But it does change, atom by atom, person by
person — through the hard work of campaigners who believe in a better world.
Utopia is not a place. It is a process of unending struggle, hard fought
and hard earned, to make a more perfect world.