Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
November 19, 2014

How Can We Solve The Problem Of Fully Automated Production?

This 40 minutes video shows the production of the BMW i3 car. It is a fully electric car made from carbon fiber on an aluminum structure.

(An ever longer video series showing more of the pre-production process - part 1, 2, 3 and 4.)

The factory and the production process is all new. What is impressive and depressing is the lack of people. There are hundreds of robots doing their jobs and in total maybe 20 people feeding them materials and later on another 20 people outfitting the car interiors.

An in depth report of the production process gives some impressions from the car body production line:

Body Shop head Ralf Brüggemann, like Koschkar, manages most of the operations in the facility from a mezzanine that overlooks the plant floor. At first glance, the Body Shop visitor confronts a sea of orange robots (173 in all, supplied by ABB Robotics, Zurich, Switzerland), constantly turning, rotating, lifting and placing black carbon fiber parts and structures in an array of discrete, enclosed assembly cells. Only occasionally does one see shop personnel move components from one cell to another.
“We are at 99.7 percent quality,” Brüggemann claims, but adds, “we are always chasing higher quality.”

Brüggemann, who has experience in other BMW assembly plants, also says that the i3 Life Module Body Shop is “less complex than a steel body shop. Lighter weight makes product handling much simpler.”

A high quality product, simpler to make than the older ones and in a nearly totally automated environment. In total some maybe 400 people are producing 40,000 new cars per year. Many of those cars will likely be sold through automated processes on a few internet sides.

The factory shows a very high degree of automation that will become the standard of all production. In future hardly anyone of the population of industrialized nations will work in manufacturing industries. This immense automation push is historical comparable to the industrial revolution which put many people into poverty, emigration or death.

One wonders then how people are supposed to get enough income to buy products like the i3. How can we handle the social disruption such technology leaps produce?

One interesting concept I am learning about is a machine tax used to distribute a part of the income from production into a guaranteed basic income for everyone. Is that a possible solution?

Posted by b on November 19, 2014 at 18:12 UTC | Permalink


One wonders then how people are supposed to get enough income to buy products like the i3.

For now at least, as a stop gap until they figure a more sustainable solution, is easy credit that will never be paid back at both the macro (nation-state) level and the micro (individual consumer) level.

Posted by: Cold N. Holefield | Nov 19 2014 18:25 utc | 1

If you extrapolate the trajectory of this trend and assume it will continue, at some point we cross a threshold and in the name of productivity gains, we will have engineered our own irrelevance.

Many states and localities in America, especially in the deep south, will woo companies like BMW that are highly automated with huge tax breaks to the point the state and localities are practically paying the relocating organization rather than the other way around. The campaign is sold to the public with the claim it will create lots of jobs — but as we see, that's hardly the case.

Posted by: Cold N. Holefield | Nov 19 2014 18:39 utc | 2

Unemployment (or, Disemployment) Economy is what's needed. The greatest hurdle will not be figuring out how to get money in people's hands.

The bigger problem will be overcoming the (supposedly) moral disgust at leisure.

Posted by: Earwig | Nov 19 2014 18:58 utc | 3

I'm sure the Pentagon is developing contingency plans to cull the excess populace, without admitting to it, of course. Operations ringed about with euphemisms, Demographic Enhancement eg.

Posted by: ruralito | Nov 19 2014 19:13 utc | 4

Well, if robots can build them cars, let robots purchase them cars.

Posted by: JL Furtif | Nov 19 2014 19:18 utc | 5

The main reason it is cheaper to use these robots, rather than people, is that banksters have increased the cost of living via asset price inflation in real estate and education to the point where it is more economical to buy hundreds of these million dollar robots than employ $60K/year, +75% for social tax consideration, salaried people.

And even then, you might note that much of this work is simply extending existing machine press type work - most of the first 10 minutes are just modified forms of machine presses to cut out carbon fiber fabrics on metal frames.

On the other hand, there are a lot of jobs off-camera: design, production, and maintenance of the machines for example. Not nearly so much as handwork assembly, but then again, even without robots - the handwork assembly is going down.

Posted by: c1ue | Nov 19 2014 19:30 utc | 6

So, are they going to manufacture consumer robots to buy these technological marvels too?

If people don't have the wealth to engage in commerce there won't be any consumer markets. There just aren't enough of the one percent to make a national economy viable.

Posted by: PokeTheTruth | Nov 19 2014 19:34 utc | 7

These robots create more wealth for less (human) work. In other words, they increase productivity. That in itself is a good thing. The problem is not automation but redistribution.

Posted by: bobs | Nov 19 2014 19:44 utc | 8

Clearly, if the production and delivery of services is matched with population, one can organize the society so that anyone who wishes to have attractive goods can work, say, 30 hours per week, or more if one is so inclined. However, in the era of globalization, the combination of permissive trade rules, efficient transportation and communication allows the capital to scour the globe for the cheapest and most regimented labor. If the intermediary can increase the productivity by locking the doors during shift and capital by having flammable building, this entity wins the contracts from multinational and occasionally incinerates the workers. The invisible hand of the market decides what frequency of incineration, suicide from inhumane conditions etc. works best. Or what methods of labor control win in the global competitions: relying on a totalitarian regime (say, China), or hiring private goons to gun down labor organizers and bribing the police, politicians etc. in a formal democracy (say, Bangladesh).

Robots are relatively minor concern. Take underwear or socks. Clearly, they are not produced by hand, so the time per unit is in minutes. Shifting the production from North Carolina to Honduras or Vietnam saves pennies per units, but those pennies let win contracts with retailers.

Posted by: Piotr Berman | Nov 19 2014 19:58 utc | 9

Luddites arise!! We deserve to become extinct.

Posted by: Fernando | Nov 19 2014 20:15 utc | 10

the idea about the machine tax is a quite an old one, probably first suggested by Jean de Sismondi nearly 2 centuries ago,

"Ce n'est point le perfectionnement des machines qui est la vraie calamité ; c'est le partage injuste que nous faisons de leur produit."

and currently championned by Paul Jorion on every occasion (he still must have a regular column on french newspaper Le Monde but is much less invited on tv these days since he now must be identified as a dangerous proto-socialist :)

Posted by: zingaro | Nov 19 2014 20:59 utc | 11

Jeremy Rifkin wrote a good book on this topic twenty years ago, The End of Work. Originally, automation was a socially progressive concept. Everyone was supposed to be freed up from mechanical, repetitious labor and share in the productivity gains that machines brought to the industrial process.

Of course just the opposite has happened. Productivity gains have all gone to owners of capital and almost none to the labor. In the U.S. free-trade agreements like NAFTA and GATT allowed the machines to be moved out of country, enabling multinational corporations to pursue global labor arbitrage; back home, the workers were left to fend for themselves at the Home Depot and McDonalds.

Posted by: Mike Maloney | Nov 19 2014 21:01 utc | 12

Maybe they'll take Bob Barker's advice and control the pet population by spaying and neutering us. Speaking of neutering....

Net Neuterality

Posted by: Cold N. Holefield | Nov 19 2014 21:04 utc | 13

This is a somewhat fallacious argument on a macro level though. The vast majority of the global production sector requires a massive amount of human labor still. This sort of "the robots will take over" started out in pundit circles imo to obscure the real story, which was the wholesale transfer of entire factories - nay entire industries to the third world after NAFTA. This has been a huge talking point and remains to be, because it continues to obscure corporate intentions and thus delay or make obsolete any sort of justice due the economic victims of globalization, in the US and in the 3rd world. The jobs disparity in the US has not been caused by 'technology'. These factories still exist, and still thrive, but with their many thousands of less-spendy employees.

In fact the only real production base left in the US is in defense industry.

Posted by: L Bean | Nov 19 2014 21:10 utc | 14

Of course just the opposite has happened

That is a feature not a bug as far as neoliberal thinking is concerned…they're just not that into us.

Posted by: paulmeli | Nov 19 2014 21:12 utc | 15

I've probably posted these before, but they're quite pertinent here:

1) The Midas Plague - Frederik Pohl (This links to a simulation of a paperback...quite a nice touch.)

2) For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs - Robert Heinlein

Posted by: Dr. Wellington Yueh | Nov 19 2014 21:13 utc | 16

the wholesale transfer of entire factories - nay entire industries to the third world after NAFTA

Fortunately those foreign workers are buying our products, lowering our trade deficit…Oh,wait…

So who ends up buying the production the foreigners don't buy? Can you say federal government? I bet you can. Someone is bound to say the workers here bought it but…where did they get the income?

Even if we didn't offshore jobs, businesses don't provide, by investing in and producing products, the income necessary to buy those products when accounting for saving and profit.

The tyranny of the arithmetic.

Posted by: paulmeli | Nov 19 2014 21:26 utc | 17

paulmeli - yes I get the 'endless growth' thing but you're blaming the victim. The simple fact is that many thousands of gainfully employed Americans are now waiters, 'chefs', temp construction workers and the like, or have simply given up on finding full time work at all and are basically neo-rag-pickers(selling on ebay, making literally $1 here and there, etc). Waiters up 40% or something in the past decade. The owners have turned this into a service economy with the profits reaped from globalization. And it wouldn't have happened without US gov muscle period. We can't even blame 'the corporations' at this point. Everybody's fascism.

Posted by: L Bean | Nov 19 2014 21:40 utc | 18

L Bean | Nov 19, 2014 4:40:45 PM | 18

Not sure which of my comments you're responding to but I think you are misunderstanding my point, because I'm in full agreement with everything you wrote here.

If my comment was construed as "blaming" then I was putting the blame on capitalism and the prioritization of profits over people. Also, it was an attempt to make the (obvious) point that in a closed system anything business does to it's workers it is also doing to its customers. They are separate groups composed of the same people.

Posted by: paulmeli | Nov 19 2014 22:05 utc | 19

There is not going to be a revolution until the masses are hungry. We're going to have to see americans suffering to make ends meet so that they will revolt. It can either take many decades or it can be sooner, but the american people are needed to stop the decades of innocent people being murdered by the U.S. government in other countries, while we argue about healthcare costs...

Posted by: relament | Nov 19 2014 22:13 utc | 20

but the american people are needed to stop the decades of innocent people being murdered by the U.S. government in other countries,

Of course, once America's been neutered there will be world peace just as there was world peace before America was even a noteworthy international player. If you think it's bad now, just wait until America's neutralized, if ever. You ain't seen nothing yet. World War II will look like a walk in the park with the conflagration that will ensue if and when America steps aside.

Posted by: Cold N. Holefield | Nov 19 2014 22:37 utc | 21

Actually, from what I've seen, the primary benefits of offshoring are tax related.
Companies can spend tons of money to make their existing employees more efficient, or they can just throw 2 or 3 offshore employees to do the same thing.

The offshore employees, however, offer all sorts of lovely tax minimization schemes.

Posted by: c1ue | Nov 19 2014 22:42 utc | 22

b is of course quite right. Endlessly cheaper automated industrial production is not going to work, if the former workers no longer have the income to buy the products.

He looks at the German situation, where much of the industrial production is still "made in Germany", though many German products, like washing machines, have already been outsourced to Eastern Europe.

In Britain everything has been outsourced. Everything you buy has been made somewhere in the Far East, or if you want something of quality, you buy something German, but it turns out to have been made in Hungary.

That doesn't change the basic point. Outsourcing is not different from automation. The local people don't have the income to buy the products.

Posted by: Laguerre | Nov 19 2014 23:18 utc | 23

The following quotation - unless the political confusion and impotence of the people in this democratic age can be overcome - certainly suggests one possible answer to B:

"All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind."

--Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations", Book III, Chapter 4.

Posted by: rackstraw | Nov 20 2014 0:01 utc | 24

Another problem for the economy, not so far addressed, is computerisation. All businesses can now calculate much more finely their needs, and they know better when they can get rid of employees. My local supermarket has noticeably lowered its stocks, since they discovered how to record how much each customer buys.

It's the same problem. Reduce costs, never mind who suffers.

Posted by: Laguerre | Nov 20 2014 0:01 utc | 25

Bobs #8 writes:

These robots create more wealth for less (human) work. In other words, they increase productivity. That in itself is a good thing. The problem is not automation but redistribution.


Labor (jobs) is an input, which one WANTS to minimize for any given level of output. The best of all worlds is to enjoy maximum consumption, without having to give up ANY time to achieve that.

Are folks really that afraid to live in paradise?

Posted by: erichwwk | Nov 20 2014 0:22 utc | 26

is this great or what? the systems that we thought were being built to serve us turned out to enslave or destroy us instead. my high school english teacher being a true 1960s liberal (and this wasn't long after the 60s) told the students to expect a future in which technology and great strides in productivity would make out most pressing problem what to do with all the leisure time we'd have on our hands. now, the only way you have lots of time on your hands is if you're unemployed -- which suggests that west virginia is the USA of the future. perhaps any additional productivity gains will be harvested by the government in order to purchase new means of control. as for computerization: well, we're sitting here reading and writing this stuff, but if you think this is the next step past gutenberg for the advancement of civilization, i'd have to disagree, except that it's proved to be unmatched in its ability to humiliate and degrade humanity by cultivating our worst natures on the one hand, and robbing us of our privacy and individuality on the other. the upside: we can bitch about it -- for now.

Posted by: Hugo First | Nov 20 2014 0:53 utc | 27

"Are folks really that afraid to live in paradise?"

If only we had a choice!

So long as though that "own" everything can use access to goods and services - that limited access enforced by a copious amount of police violence and mass surveillance - to coerce people into sucking up to them in order to survive (sometimes known as 'work'), humanity will continue to drift down the road of injustice and inequality.

Presumably the number of so-called "useful" people will get smaller and smaller and/or have to turn to more and more bizarre and degrading tasks so as to stay near those who "own", if only in order to survive. All the while the number of "unneeded" will grow and grow, forced to subsist on less and less until we have had enough and decide to simply take what we need.

Of course, those that own everything see this coming and are building to prevent that from ever happening. One has to wonder what their plans are for the rest of us as more and more - at least in the US - all means of living are tied to having a job and the social safety net (including Social Security) is on the chopping block. The push for mass surveillance, huge military and police power are probably the clearest indications available.

This pattern in history has occurred before, if you'll allow me some liberties. We might look at the course of Venezuelan history: when the peasants were pushed off of the land by the latifundistas and forced to crowd onto the hilltops of Caracas in great barrios - they stayed there, completely ignored in their shantytowns for decade after decade. They were simply ignored. Society split perfectly - one whole that had near zero contact with the other: not in the schools, not on the streets, not in the workplaces. The government treated these "excess" people as if they didn't exist. They were simply corralled in their shanties by poverty and police, ignored by the government (though well exploited by the capitalists and the neoliberals) until the explosion of the Caracazo in 1989.

Venezuela, of course, has had as over the last two decades a happy ending for these previously excluded people. But our future may not promise the same.

Posted by: guest77 | Nov 20 2014 1:16 utc | 28

"my high school english teacher being a true 1960s liberal"

I recently have been reading the works of John Kenneth Gailbraith. His optimism for the future of limited work and mass prosperity seems to have not appeared.

Not because the wealth isn't there, though. But because those with it have excelled at keeping it all to themselves, in ever greater proportions.

Posted by: guest77 | Nov 20 2014 1:18 utc | 29

One wonders then how people are supposed to get enough income to buy products like the i3. How can we handle the social disruption such technology leaps produce?

Henry Ford in 1926...

"'The country is ready for the five-day week,' says Mr. Ford. 'It is bound to come through all industry. Without it the country will not be able to absorb its production & stay prosperous. The industry of this country could not long exist if factories generally went back to the ten-hour day, because people would not have the leisure, the desire, or the means to consume the goods produced...Just as the eight-hour day opened our way to prosperity in America, so the five-day week will open our way to still greater prosperity. Of course there is a humanitarian side to the shorter day & the shorter week, but dwelling on that side is likely to lead one astray, for leisure may be put before work instead of after it-where it belongs. Twenty years ago, introducing the eight-hour day generally would have made for poverty & not for wealth. Five years ago, introducing the five day week would have had the same result. The hours of labor are regulated by the organization of work and by nothing else. It is the rise of the great corporation with its ability to use power, to use accurately designed machinery, & generally to lessen the wastes in time, material & human energy that made it possible to bring in the eight hour day. Further progress along the same lines has made it possible to bring in the five day week...It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either 'lost time' or a class privilege. This is not to say that leisure may not be dangerous. Everything good may also be dangerous-if mishandled. When we put our $5 minimum wage for an eight-hour day into effect in 1913, we had to watch many of our men to see what use they made of their spare time & money. We found a few men taking on extra jobs--some worked the dayshift with us & the night shift in another factory. Some of the men squandered their extra pay. Others banked the surplus money & went on living just as they had lived before. But in a few years all adjusted themselves & our supervision was less needed. There is, of course, a profound difference between leisure & idleness. Nor must we confound leisure with shiftlessness. Our people are perfectly capable of using to good advantage the time that they have off, after work. That has already been demonstrated to us by our experiments during the last several years. We find that the men come back after a two-day holiday so fresh & keen that they are able to put their minds as well as their hands to work. We are not of those who claim to be able to tell people how to use their spare time. We think that, given the chance, people will become more expert in the effective use of their leisure time. & they are being given the chance. The influence of leisure on consumption makes the short day & the short week necessary. The people who consume the bulk of goods are the people who make them...With the decrease of the length of the working day in the United States an increase of production has come because better methods of disposing of men's time have been accompanied by better methods of disposing of their energy. Thus one good has brought another...Of positive industrial value is leisure because it increases consumption. Where people work longest & with least leisure they buy the fewest goods. Businesses the exchange of goods. Goods are bought only as they meet needs. Needs are filled only as they are felt. They make themselves felt largely in leisure hours. The man who worked fifteen & sixteen hours a day desired only a corner to lie in &, now & then, a bit of food. He had no time to cultivate new needs, hence he had only the most primitive. When, in American industry, women were released from the necessity of factory work & became buyers for their families, business began to expand. The American housewife, as household purchasing agent, has both leisure & money, & the former has been just as important as the latter in the development of American business. The five day week simply carries this further. The people who work only five days a week will consume more goods than the people who work six days a week. People who have more leisure must have more clothes. The eat a greater variety of food. They require more transportation facilities. This increased consumption will require greater production an we now have. Instead of business being allowed up because people are 'off work', it will be speeded up because people consume more in their leisure than in their working time. This will lead to more work. & this to more work. & this to more wages. Thus the result of more leisure is the exact opposite of what most people might suppose. Management must keep pace with this new demand--& it will. It is the introduction of power and machinery by manufacturers that has med the shorter day & the shorter week possible. That is a fact which working men must not forget. The eight-hour day was not the ultimate, & neither is the five day week. It is enough, however, to manage what we are equipped to manage and to let the future take care of itself. It will anyway. That is its habit. But probably the next move will come in the direction of shortening the day rather than the week."

Ford News, p.2. "Mr. Ford Explains the Five-Day Week" (10/15/1926)

Posted by: CTuttle | Nov 20 2014 1:48 utc | 30

work gives our lives greater meaning and significance.. most work today is for others and menial. what happens after this automation/computerization phase - i am not sure - but i think it has a long ways to go yet. i have watched vancouver island go from a resource based job's community to a retirement community with machines replacing people for most of work that was done previously in this resource sector.. good paying jobs are mostly gone.. i don't see the trend changing direction either...

gotta love the capitalist system as mike @12 points out - "Productivity gains have all gone to owners of capital and almost none to the labor." rah, rah capitalism, lol.. can we give a special cheer for the banks who hold folks slaves with a lifetime mortgage, or being someone else's mortgage helper and worse? banko-phobia - that is what i am trying to cultivate, lol.. i think it significantly overshadows all the other phobia's being cultivated at present..

@21 cold.. maybe you can get a job editing the next ISIS film.. scaremongering seems to be one of your specialties..

Posted by: james | Nov 20 2014 2:14 utc | 31

... Also, it was an attempt to make the (obvious) point that in a closed system anything business does to it's workers it is also doing to its customers. They are separate groups composed of the same people.
Posted by: paulmeli | Nov 19, 2014 5:05:52 PM | 19

Well put.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Nov 20 2014 2:36 utc | 32

guest77 @ 28 --

I read Galbraith back in 80's, after dropping out of econ. & college. Saw him speak, too, very engaging speaker.

That sort of optimism drenched the late 50's and early 60's. Donald Fagen of Steely Dan evokes it in his song "I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World)", from his solo album "The Firefly".

If we'd kept the sort of taxation and regulatory policies in place before the Reagan Counter-Revolution, we might have done better. More enlightened capitalists post-New Deal (and post-AFL-CIO) saw the utility of the restraints on capital. But that didn't accord with the Randian/Chicago school preferences of the business elite.

CTuttle at 30 got me thinking of a literary ref. -- Ford as the "deity" of the dystopia in "Brave New World," where the problem was utilization/disposal of technology's abundance. Ever since I read them first many years ago, I've always wonder about the industrial world -- what part "BNW," what part "1984"? 'Til recently, I thought we leaned towards Huxley, but nowadays....

And looking ahead I think the problem really about technology is -- how do we not become the Borg? By far the most disturbing Star Trek villians, IMHO. That's the sort of stuff you get when an archetype of the optimistic 60's goes over to the "dark side," if you will.

Of course, you had techno-skepticism even back then, see "2001: A Space Odyssey." "Sorry Dave, I can't let you do that."

This of course presumes we solve the immediate problem of not destroying the planet and/or its ecology.

Posted by: rufus magister | Nov 20 2014 2:59 utc | 33

The problem is with distributing income away from the owners of the factories. Whether there is automation or not, that is the problem. It is already very hard without automation, but it definitely makes that almost impossible challenge even tougher.

Posted by: fairleft | Nov 20 2014 3:00 utc | 34

To fairleft at 34 --

Democratization of the workplace is a must, combined with the large-scale economic planning with an eye to both human needs and sustainability. The really problematic group, in the near term, are the parasite banksters of Wall St. and "the City" of London, et al.

Posted by: rufus magister | Nov 20 2014 5:23 utc | 35

an automated car factory appears in Spielbergs film: Minority Report

Posted by: brian | Nov 20 2014 7:18 utc | 36 David Graeber wrote about the opposite of this, the job that doesn't really need to exist.

The answer is of course, communism.

Posted by: Crest | Nov 20 2014 7:29 utc | 37

What a perspicacious perambulation away from constant prognostication of the next pugnacious politician's prevaricating populist platitudes!

But let's go a little deeper than skipping stones over the mill pond of technology, like some scruff schoolkid playing hooky from physics class.

I started out as a farm equipment machinist, and was one of the lucky ones to see the very first NC automation, a roll of punch ribbon fed into a 'robotic' controller, on an otherwise ordinary milling machine.

The machine shop owner was giddy, his newly appointed NC 'programmer' stood by proudly, as they loaded an aluminum blank on the machine bed, and pressed the GO button. With a bright whirr, and moving at alarming speed, the very first robotic machine tore into that aluminum blank in geometric precision, as that tune about Ol' John Henry sang in my head.

"When John Henry was a little baby. A sitting on his papa's knee. He picked up a hammer and a little piece of steel. Said, "Hammer's gonna be the death of me, Lawd, Lawd, hammer's gonna be the death of me."

Then just as John Henry laid down his hammer and died, when the whining cutter head should have moved up, over, and down again, the NC tape had a 'hanging chad', so the cutter head tore sideways through an intricate maze of passages it had just carved, then buried itself into the mill's tool bed, throwing white hot sparks and molten blobs of red lava, until it had firmly welded that precision mill into a $75,000 piece of junk.

It's not automation that's the enemy, it's the complex programming.

I moved in the opposite direction for awhile, learning under a German diesel mechanic, but you can only advance there as master:apprentice, it's a lifelong grind. So I flipped around and learned NC programming, just as basic 8086 computers and digital controllers became available to write complex CNC programming, ...and start creating shapes that the world had never seen before, at least, the guys out on the shop floor.

Again, I was lucky to see the first attempt at a miniaturized hard- drive platen. My job was to program, then cut four perfect 3" circles out of that vapor-deposited pure-silicon slice, with four perfectly concentric hub holes. "The holes must be PERFECT!" my Swedish boss wrung his hands. The CNC program was pristine, the setup precise and triangulated three times. I pushed GO, everything on the laser cutter seemed to go OK, then plink, plink, plink, plink, four shiny platens ...but when they spun them up to 6500rpm, one of them disintegrated.

It's not automation that's the enemy, it's the Scale of Technology.

Anyway, with primitive PCs readily available, I focused exclusively on combining procedural code with logic coding, locked myself away for a winter, and wrote one of the first commercial engineering programs. Got an invitation to show it to a prestigious software bundler, ran their pre-solved math problem ... and my answer was wrong by exactly 2.0000.
I found the missing 1/2-factor in my code, and begged over the phone for a chance to recompile and retest. But nobody gets a second chance.

It's not automation that's the enemy, it's the Rule of Technocracy.

What used to take many years solving on mechanical computers now takes mere seconds. What used to be impossible to produce by any form of tool making, is now possible to reproduce complex curvilinear mathematics in metallic form. And with the advent of nano-3D printing, right now, even as we speak, it will soon be possible to create them at fairly low cost.

But who today, from 2000 Coup Now 14 Years After, has pocket change?

e-Books and e-Tool-making will go all electronic, with only the sweat equity in writing as their production cost, and therein lies the risk. You would think that as production becomes as easy as learning to code- write, and as consumption becomes as easy as $1.99 on the Apple Store, that we would have achieved the Best of All World's through automation, where any bright young guy or gal can write their own retirement.

It's not automation that's the enemy, it's the Global Omniverse.

You can hire India(n) writers for $1.21 an hour, that's what a Silicon Valley programming company was caught paying their India(n) outsource. Media monopolies around the world employ India(n) reporters and copy writers and story editors for merely pennies per word now, mere dollars per story. I know engineering firms that are entirely India(n) back office. Then everything populist, consumable and mass produced, can be done for nearly zero cost, but at far below a living minimal wage. And everything luxurious, complex, and uniquely produced, goes to an elite cadre of the Best and Brightest, which is becoming vanishingly small.

Just like the BMW i3. Who will buy it? We are all the way retrograde to the Age of Pharoahs now, where only those of The Chosen, or the Technocrat Priest Class, or the Fawning Looting Bureaucrats, will ever see the shiny glint of gold in their purse.

While natural and strategic resources are now harder and harder to find, still the prices of those refined resources have been crashing since July. Everything is grinding to a halt. The world is heading into a massive overproduction hyper-deflation. The Monopoly game is almost over. It's almost End Time.

All that's only partly due to 'automation', of what's in reality faulty electronic reprogramming of Everything ... The Hive ... The Collective.
So a Robot Tax won't save us. A Millionaire's Tax won't either. Wealth among the burgeoning masses is shrinking faster than a rain puddle on the Kalahari.

Remember what Jesus said, "The poor will always be among us, but I will not always be with you." He knew when to bug out. Except now there is no place left to bug out too.

It's not automation that's the enemy, it's our MultiVariant GooglePlex.

It's our inability to grasp the fundamental concepts of Lobachevski.

Posted by: ChipNikh | Nov 20 2014 11:00 utc | 38

One interesting concept I am learning about is a machine tax used to distribute a part of the income from production into a guaranteed basic income for everyone. Is that a possible solution?

yeah, sure it is. at least until the power grid goes down. and the roofs start leaking. and the vines come through the paneless window frames and enwind the silent rusting machines. which will probably have already been dismembered and hauled off to jerry-rig other deteriorating thingamabobs.

Scientific people tell us that savages give souls to rocks and trees--and a machine is a thousand times more alive than a rock or a tree. And Azuma-zi was practically a savage still; the veneer of civilization lay no deeper than his slop suit, his bruises, and the coal grime on his face and hands. His father before him had worshipped a meteoric stone, kindred blood it may be had splashed the broad wheels of Juggernaut. (by H.G.Wells, from The Lord of the Dynamos)

Posted by: john | Nov 20 2014 12:10 utc | 39

b, maybe this is the answer to your concern:

The Next QE? Switzerland Prepares A "Living Wage" Of $2,600 For Every Citizen

Posted by: sarz | Nov 20 2014 12:42 utc | 40

Isn´t really impossible to think a world without job? Is capitalism in the end? The fight for survival is old?

Posted by: Antonio Alves | Nov 20 2014 13:28 utc | 41

I think you and others overstate this. Maintenence, service, supply and distribution are vital. Perhaps we'll be at more value added jobs and that will open opportunities to do your own thing. But, people are smarter than computers and are smarter than the programers. I say that as a landscaper. I use tools, but I doubt they could replace my plant choices and location, the vast array I'd use and the like. There's not a single nor 4 books that I can use show all the plants I use just in Dallas. I have 5 books all focused on Texas and Dallas, yet they don't have the information. Computer programs are crude and not as detailed nor honest as a pen and ink drawing.

Posted by: scottindallas | Nov 20 2014 13:54 utc | 42

ScottinDallas said: "I think you and others overstate this. Maintenence, service, supply and distribution are vital."

Quite agree.

ScottinDallas said: "Perhaps we'll be at more value added jobs and that will open opportunities to do your own thing. But, people are smarter than computers and are smarter than the programers. I say that as a landscaper. I use tools, but I doubt they could replace my plant choices and location, the vast array I'd use and the like. There's not a single nor 4 books that I can use show all the plants I use just in Dallas. I have 5 books all focused on Texas and Dallas, yet they don't have the information. Computer programs are crude and not as detailed nor honest as a pen and ink drawing. "

I don't think the answer is quite as black and white as that. Computers and automation are very good at repetition: what works once, generally works every time.
The ongoing growth of machine learning - i.e. the automated configuration of models via data training - is increasing the range of repetition which computers/machinery can expand to perform into.
However, the sad fact is still that no computer or machine to date is anywhere near as flexible as a human being.
The second danger is the generalized belief that what comes out of a computer is correct. This is even more dangerous and insidious - because computers and computer models are tunnel vision to the extreme. It is literally like relying on teenaged autistics to formulate public policy: if all the data going in is correct, and the frame of understanding is correct, and the means of analysis is correct, then the analytical result is correct. But the tiniest perturbation of error anywhere in this chain will generally result in garbage because the savant has no means of error correction (i.e. life experience and/or advisors).
The third danger is the delicious temptation to reduce everything to representations rather than to understand what is actually there. You see this in Silicon Valley - one reason so many tech companies are disfunctional is that they simply do not identify in any way with the general population. $250K/year RubyonRails programmers don't understand that affordable energy and living wages are what most people want as opposed to front door delivery of everything from pizza to sex. The same can be said for banksters.

Posted by: c1ue | Nov 20 2014 14:55 utc | 43

Curious whether MMT (Modern Monetary Theory) has broken into anyone's consciousness here. The insights it offers are quite startling to my mind. To put it in slightly sensational terms: it reveals that we are basically sitting at a fully laden banquet... and starving.

The basic tenets are:

- no sovereign nation (one printing its own currency) can ever become insolvent
- governments are not revenue constrained (there is no operational linkage between tax revenue and government budgets)
- there is no operational need for governments to offer bonds - at interest - instead of simply "spending" money into existence

The first point above reveals - and gives a vocabulary to describe how and why this is so - that all the political theatre about deficit ceilings is literal nonsense. Ditto, the absurd austerity theatre in the EU. It is actually all simply premised on a misunderstanding of how banks and particularly central banks work. It is in fact rank economic malpractice. (My starving at the banquet table image above came to mind watching Europe tear itself apart and revive all its latent fascist history FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER.)

With regard to the question of automation, what MMT would suggest is that it is actually quite possible to have a capitalist economy where jobs have been eliminated in great number but the productivity gains have been socialised (rather than allowed to accrue to a tiny minority.) What we need to do is jettison our out-moded understanding of what money actually is. Once that's achieved - no small feat - practical solutions become obvious.

A good introduction is Warren Mosler's "7 Deadly Frauds of Economic Policy".

Posted by: Oddlots | Nov 20 2014 15:36 utc | 44

@38: "It's not automation that's the enemy, it's the Global Omniverse." = Global Plantation.

Unemployment? No problem...." The comfort of the rich, depends on an abundance of the poor."

@ 28, 29:Good synopsis.

Not holding my breath while waiting for the peons to gather their pitchforks. Regulating the behavior of the
malignant rich, isn't easy.

Posted by: ben | Nov 20 2014 16:03 utc | 45

Posted by: Oddlots | Nov 20, 2014 10:36:29 AM | 44

It would be wonderful if Mosler's theories were true, and the third one definitely is. But you're wrong that 'the problem' is a misunderstanding of money. It doesn't matter whether you believe in MMT or conventional Keynesianism, both would work wonders if applied to the US and/or EU economies. MMT may be right, may be worth trying, and Keynesianism may also be worth trying, 'green' economics may be worth trying, but it ain't happening cuz the political system is funded by the rich and the giant corporations and led by the bankers and the military machine. _The_ problem is how to overthrow them.

Posted by: fairleft | Nov 20 2014 16:38 utc | 46

@46: "The_ problem is how to overthrow them."


Posted by: ben | Nov 20 2014 16:52 utc | 47

I cant wait for the time to come when robots do all the work and i can kick back and go surfing all day, everyday. Im not kidding. When everybody who works does so by choice, not because they have to, i will be fully stoked. Most jobs nowadays are unrewarding, horrible fucking slavery type occupations. And most people who do those jobs are forced to. Leave it to the robots. I wanna live... At least when you read an article that a robot has written, the truth will be more discernable than the current maelstrom of sheit being printed by humans. And anyway, i would prefer to see real machines rather than humans slaving away over a conveyer belt anyday... I can say that because i have worked in factories. It isnt fun. You punch that clock and suddenly youve been transported to Fascist Land with a heirachical order, a uniform and a "work ethic"... I would rather be a caveman. in

Posted by: Dan | Nov 20 2014 18:25 utc | 48

Change is inevitable and can't be stopped. That must be accepted. With change comes opportunity. Cars cost too much? Then people need more transportation services like car sharing, van shuttles and motorcoach tours. The opportunities are grabbed by those who accept the salesman's credo: Find a need and fill it. These people have a built-in advantage over those who others who sit around on their backsides complaining and asking for free handouts.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Nov 20 2014 18:44 utc | 49

MMT just says government can print unlimited amount of money and give everyone unlimited amount of money. But in the real world, money is just a representation of real goods and resources. Say there are only 10 apples, then no matter how much more money government print, there are still only 10 apples.

Posted by: ultron | Nov 20 2014 19:34 utc | 50

In the present state of affairs, some production is ‘cheaper’, easier, steadier, by robot-use as compared to human labor.

Ex: the old-time bank-teller who receives ppl, hands out cash, keeps track, etc. and is replaced by an ATM and computerised accounting. The ATM, incl. even creation, servicing, etc. plus the computer management behind the scenes is ‘cheaper’ than Smithy and all his colleagues, who require an OK salary for 35 years to decently support wife, children.

The energy and materials inputs of the ATM come not exactly for free but are cheap, from the earth tht can still be exploited. As they are not accounted for, except in ‘free market’ terms, buying titatium, whatever rare metals, or plastics (oil based), and even electricity, provides the advantage.

Nobody is tallying how much it ‘costs’ in the long term to capt and exploit ressources, or questioning how ressources should be allocated, preserved, or paid for.

Should one ‘waste’ or ‘use’ energy on ATM’s? How does the food + shelter, water, heat, etc. the teller needs to survive compare with the automatics? Is that even a comparion that is worth thinking about? What are the arguments for maintaining, supporting, employment when automation might be more profitable? For whom, why, how? What about resource depletion, peak oil etc.? Why and how compare the two? Where is the authority that provides the numbers, and who are the decision makers, how can they enforce anything? If the teller and his children be left to starve, that poses other problems..

Dozens of questions like this have no answers as they are not asked, plus there is no framework for the discussion.

Profit, short-term, is all.

Some French economists propose that the gains in productivity, mostly, but not only, due to automation (implying consequent fossil energy use, slave labor that is kept invisible, often defended by military might, all that is just taken for granted) be shared with workers. Those who are out of jobs, get a stipend / stake in the new, ‘profitable productivity.’ This idea was proposed a long time ago by technocratic socialists, who didn’t like the Luddites, were all for ‘progress’, and sharing. - Sismondi and followers, see also zingaro at 11, ... as if the only problem was ‘inequality’.

Mike at 12, it is odd that Riffkin’s book has suddenly taken on a new life, in France most of all.

Posted by: Noirette | Nov 20 2014 20:14 utc | 51

Of course, a lot of the fruits of the improved productivity IS being harvested by the government, to bring freedom(tm) to the benighted peoples of Ukraine and Syria and other such places, not more comfort to the people of the "first" world...who should get a real job in the world according to Baronald Obamagan.

Posted by: a different anon | Nov 20 2014 22:27 utc | 52


I don't know about MMT but assertion 1 reminds me of Creating New Money.

The problem is the miracle of compound interest, open-ended growth, and the hegemony of the residents of the ephemeral financial utopia.

The reassertion by each nation of its seigniorage would put an end to the 'miracle', which requires the openendedness, and provides the 'infinite' deck of cards from which the utopian financial fantasy is constructed.

Maybe that can be done before the ... shocking! who'da thunk it! ... collapse, but it doesn't look good to me right now.

I think what we must do is work to flesh out a post-apocryphal vision of what to construct where Valhalla used to be ... not to reconstruct the WTC in NYC for the third time. Otherwise the post War world will be just another iteration of 'our' Sisiphian theme. If we survive to have another go.

I think the robots will be vaporized along with the cattle ... I mean capital.

Posted by: jfl | Nov 20 2014 22:44 utc | 53

MMT would completely agree that "in the end there are only 10 apples." The point it is making is something like... there are 10 apples but we can only see 6 because our economics blinds us to losses in productivity that are self-imposed. So the point is not at all that "government can print unlimited amount of money and give everyone unlimited amount of money." Its points are far more nuanced.

FWIW I think its potentially important because - along with all the other afflictions such as the complete domination of politics by moneyed interests - we also are in thrall to notions of thrift and responsibility that both are actually complete nonsense at the macro level and offer enormous reinforcement to the continued domination of moneyed interests.

Posted by: Oddlots | Nov 20 2014 23:22 utc | 54

@ 53...

Just read the forward to book u sited. Much obliged.

Posted by: Oddlots | Nov 20 2014 23:40 utc | 55

Socialism or barbarism!

Posted by: Chris Geary | Nov 21 2014 0:12 utc | 56

The factory shows a very high degree of automation that will become the standard of all production. In future hardly anyone of the population of industrialized nations will work in manufacturing industries. This immense automation push is historical comparable to the industrial revolution which put many people into poverty, emigration or death.

One wonders then how people are supposed to get enough income to buy products like the i3. How can we handle the social disruption such technology leaps produce?

I think BMW might be making some dangerous assumptions about the viability of its business when it forges ahead automating the manufacturing process for making cars for individuals completely. Does BMW realise the majority of its customers are middle class people whose incomes and livelihoods would be most affected by complete or near-complete automation of its cars? When the core customer base disappears, how will BMW itself survive? The company could very well end up doing itself out of business altogether, especially if its customers switch to buying cheaper cars from companies that haven't yet or don't plan to automate their processes as far as BMW plan to do.

Another issue is that with complete automation there is the danger that some knowledge of the manufacturing process involves becomes so complicated or intricate that no-one at BMW, least of all those who oversee the process, can describe or explain the whole process to a moderately technical degree. Individuals may know some part of the process but not all of it. Should there be a breakdown in the process because of something unexpected, like a fire or an electrical shutdown that causes damage, how would BMW know where to find the problem and fix it to a level that matches or corresponds with the manufacturing process before the accident?

Posted by: Jen | Nov 21 2014 1:16 utc | 57

Posted by: Oddlots | Nov 20, 2014 6:22:14 PM | 54

Oddlots, I have great respect for nuanced MMT theory, but again, I think Keynes made exactly the same point, that we need not to be "in thrall to notions of thrift and responsibility that both are actually complete nonsense at the macro level and offer enormous reinforcement to the continued domination of moneyed interests."

The economic theory 'fight' against neoclassical economics, the economics that led to the Great Depression, is so sad. The stupid economics that distributes up to the rich, empowers financiers, slows growth and creates giant crashes is now 'mainstream economics'. Those who oppose that nightmare are weirdo outsiders called 'heterodox economists'.

Among the heterodox economists there is much big picture disagreement, but we're united on what to do now: massive government social and economic investment. The limit, whatever your economic understanding, is set by inflation, and since there is almost none, the amount of investment could and should be huge. We should also be united on taxing away and using the wasted trillions sitting in bank deposits of the elite, and in making sure the surge of infrastructure investment is extremely green.

Okay, back to reality.

Posted by: fairleft | Nov 21 2014 7:12 utc | 58

"Labour saving" devices began with inventions such as the 'pop' rivet and the 'tek' screw. The 'pop' rivet eliminated the need to (simultaneously) bash the back and front of a rivet in order to secure it. The 'tek' screw eliminated the need to drill a hole before installing a screw; and has all but made drills, and drilling, obsolete in the building industry.

Japan (Mazda) and Italy (Alfasud) were the first to introduce high levels of automation into the manufacture of motor cars. The Alfasud was pretty persuasive evidence that robots have no conscience and don't understand what Quality Control means. The debate about compensation for workers displaced by automation took place in Italy and Japan at about the same time (1970's) and the workers were laughed out of the room - in both countries.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Nov 21 2014 14:13 utc | 59

a different anon at 52. Yes.. e.g. colonialism in Africa, the post- .. type, I’d say particularly that of France as a Nation (as the Anglo-variety comes more in the shape of mega corporations such as BP, Glencore to quote familiar names), is a huge problem that should be taken into account as well. An ATM down the road from me rests on slave labor for some part, the Swiss bank teller can go and invent new widgets or skis what not.

These problems are all way beyond the scope of short comments on MoA.

For ex. quantative easing and cheap money (low interest rates etc.) appear to ameliorate some problems temporarily (bank bail-outs say, questionable, dodgy aim), State investment may boost employment for a while (e.g. for infrastructure projects) - along a Keynes line - but they leave the underlying horrific problems intact, take place (if they do, rare today) in a frame where no alternatives for other arrangements are discussed. How one views all this depends on one's views of what money is, how it works, etc.

Posted by: Noirette | Nov 21 2014 16:06 utc | 60

Noirette @ 60 --

"Not building a wall but making a brick." B. Eno, "Oblique Strategies."

The problems won't get handled in one go. Most of what we discuss here falls under that heading, it seems to me. The postings, i.e., the components, accumulate over time, eventually they get simplified and assembled into something more holistic.

I would agree that discussion of economics tends to focus on symptoms and not the disease, so to speak, and that when it does go beyond the day-to-day (or better, quarter-to-quarter, the horizon of most modern capitalists), it seldom strays from orthodoxy. Piketty's recent book has been the only serious challenge since, well, probably Galbraith, to the neo-con/neo-lib Chicago school groupthink.

All the more reason to kick around here, IMHO. As long as we don't get Cloud9 hectoring us all about the math.

I read "Naked Capitalism" pretty regularly. I'm usually more interested into the "control fraud" analysis of Black et al. (and the links), but I'll occasionally read the monetary policy stuff, the worry about deflation, particularly. So I'll try and do my bit.

My favorite broadcast financial analyst is Max Keiser on RT's "Keiser Report." That guy wails on the banksters. His gold-bug friends are annoying, but he and some of his other guests can be quite interesting.

Posted by: rufus magister | Nov 21 2014 23:41 utc | 61

to CG @ 56 --

Nearly forgot to add -- right on, comrade. Luxemburg is more right than ever.

Posted by: rufus magister | Nov 21 2014 23:43 utc | 62

@ 61

Yeah Bill Black is the f'ing best. Did u see his testimony at the Lehman hearings:

I came across this today. It's a great, cumulative roundup circa 2013 of the felony-palooza that is contemporary banking:

Posted by: Oddlots | Nov 22 2014 7:08 utc | 63

rufus, I take your point, I agree for the most part.

Max Keiser is good (subtracting gold bugs, silver bugs, and new versions of bitcoin) but as for Piketty…

I haven’t read his tome, and it has become popular (or quoted etc.), while his work on the numbers may be solid within a certain standard ‘economic’ frame’, his basic argument, as it has been ‘understood, accepted’ or ‘touted’ is that capitalism leads inevitably - or is the main driver - towards inequality ...

... inequality , as an outcome of capitalism, and NOT slavery, murder, genocide, war, subjugation and destruction of entire counries, rapine, financial fraud of 100’s of kinds. One of Max's beefs, or even the main one, is that capitalism and the free market (to make it brief) are no longer current, not respected, not working, etc.

The horror is due to decisions taken by humans, not the fault of some vaguely defined socio-economic arrangement, aka capitalism. (Which I am not attempting to defend :)

Posted by: Noirette | Nov 22 2014 15:20 utc | 64

The day this post appeared at MoA, there was a news item pointing out that, in Oz and elsewhere, there is an accelerating trend for under-30s to be unconcerned about buying a motor car or getting a drivers license.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Nov 23 2014 20:27 utc | 65

to Noirette at 64 --

I'll confess as well to not having read Piketty, but like many folks have seen enough discussion to know broadly what he's talking about. I cited him more for the debate he started, less than for his diagnosis and solutions.

I think the solution needs to be far broader (socialism or barbarism). And as you note, he let's the human decision makers off the hook. The pro-capitalists do the same -- I had to off-shore production because of "the market." That is, you and your backers begrudge your workers making a decent living in a safe environment with a modicum of respect and dignity, which might prevent you from squeezing another beemer or vacation home out of them.

There are of course systemic features that drive part of this. But elements, like taxation and labor policies, can be consciously determined to incentivize certain behaviours. Like off-shoring and financial manipulation vs. unionization and (real) competition.

Here's a piece from the New York Review of Books on The Creepy New Wave of the Internet that speaks to my worries about our future Borgification.

While it is true that a do-it-yourself subculture is thriving, and sharing cars, tools, houses, and other property is becoming more common, it is also true that much of this activity is happening under duress as steady employment disappears....

So here comes the Internet’s Third Wave. In its wake jobs will disappear, work will morph, and a lot of money will be made by the companies, consultants, and investment banks that saw it coming. Privacy will disappear, too, and our intimate spaces will become advertising platforms—last December Google sent a letter to the SEC explaining how it might run ads on home appliances—and we may be too busy trying to get our toaster to communicate with our bathroom scale to notice. Technology, which allows us to augment and extend our native capabilities, tends to evolve haphazardly, and the future that is imagined for it—good or bad—is almost always historical, which is to say, naive.

And to oddlots @63 --

For whatever reason, I usually can't sit through videos on the Web. Except for music videos. But I will read the article you link to, many thanks, sounds like a good refresher course.

Posted by: rufus magister | Nov 27 2014 15:40 utc | 66

oddlots @ 63 -- it too was a video, but all is not lost, I bkmk'd. New Econ. Perspectives.

Posted by: rufus magister | Nov 30 2014 20:18 utc | 67

further to my 66 --

I've been meaning post this for a few days. The issue is larger than the survival of individual autonomy, the problem is the potential for de-humanization, from a narrow sense of loss of identity through surveillance & manipulation, to the larger problem of extinction. Stephen Hawking Says Artificial Intelligence 'Could Spell The End Of The Human Race'.

Is breaking Asimov's Laws of Robotics a misdemeanor or a felony?

Posted by: rufus magister | Dec 7 2014 15:53 utc | 68

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