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Occupy Wall Street and the coming of the future age
I've largely kept silent about Occupy Wall Street, as I typically don't like to blend things as serious as politics with something that is mostly a leisure activity for me. I first want to to say that in general I support the need for a revolutionary change in our views of economics, the state, and the American Dream. I think the Occupiers have a legitimate claim that Wall Street has had a hand in the global economic disaster because of corruption and greed, but I think it's naive to say it's the only reason.

First of all let me state that I think capitalism is by and large a good concept and would never advocate a system that is wholly state owned. However on a large scale, especially a global one, a strict laissez-fair system would never work either. The inherent checks and balances championed by the ilk of Ayn Rand don't work when a producer can exploit labor and resources in one place for the purpose of selling to a market somewhere else in the world. You know, like Apple and Nike have done in Southeast Asia. I accept that a mixed-economy is necessary, so let's at least use it to better the lives of our citizens and not have a growing majority of them struggling just to survive. In the wake of the protests, there's been a growing movement of the "53%" who are proud that they work a 60-70 hour work week and are self-made, hard-working people. And I'm proud of them, too. I just happen to believe that it doesn't have to be that way. Nor should it.

The primary reason I support a revolution in this country is that I simply think that neoliberalism is not sustainable as we enter the future age. And don't kid yourself that we're not on the brink of it. The job market will continue to shrink simply because traditional working/middle class jobs will continue to disappear. We've been seeing the early rumblings of it for almost 20 years. In modern society, there is almost no sector untouched by computerization, automation, and a growing culture of consumer self-service. The economic downturn has begun to accelerate it with companies forced to become creative, streamline, and automate - replacing costly, inefficient and inaccurate humans with automated systems. In 2010, there was an 87% increase in automation across the board over 2009.

And this is a good thing. It's the future dreamed-of in the The Jetsons. It's the good bits of Logan's Run. It's a society where humans can have lives of relative leisure and luxury while most of the tasks and services of the world are performed for us by machines. You can play video games all day long, paint, travel, spend time with your kids, garden - and you'll have all the time in the world to do it. But an economic system predicated on labor as a means for survival requires a job market to sustain it and is counter-intuitive to that future. As I see it, the producer->worker->consumer relationship is facing eminent demise and we have a choice whether to accept that and figure out a system which not only accepts that inevitability, but actively promotes it.

Take my job for instance. There's no reason that long distance, over the road trucking driving could not be completely automated in under 5 years. The basic technologies already exist: a vast limited-access highway system, global positioning, automated transmissions, on-board satellite/wireless communications, computerized oversight of machinery/freight condition and distribution. All that's missing is infrastructure: freeway sensors for precision guidance, limited-access fueling points, limited-access "switch points" to repower semi-trailers for local access with human drivers or specially outfitted drone trucks, and increased highway shoulders supplemented with strategic parking lots to allow for pullovers when weather or mechanical failure warrants.

But then what do we do with 3-4 million out of work truckers? Think about your own job. Could it be automated? My guess is that unless you work in a professional industry where the collective thought and progress of mankind is at stake (law, medicine, research, education, applied sciences), relies principally on hands-on human creativity (artists/artisans, architects, landscaping, design, beauticians/barbers), high-end/luxury services (personal assistant, spa/massage, etc.) or management (someone will always have to manage systems, whether machines, humans or a mixed system) the chances are that it can be automated if the infrastructure were there to make it so.

I don't know what the answer is. I have thoughts of my own, but it's something that would have to ultimately be decided by the citizenry. Maybe we should move to a negative income tax system supplemented by a public health care system that guarantees a working class/middle class lifestyle for every citizen. It would certainly be one easy way to cut out a lot of social and state bureaucracy like the current welfare system, social security, minimum wage, labor unions, medicare/caid, disability, etc. and raise the standard of living for everyone. Similarly, we could do away with personal income taxes all together and only tax commercial enterprise, distribute a fair portion to the citizenry, and let business compete in the marketplace to gather it back from consumers. French and German democratic mixed-economies have proved resilient and utilize welfare systems which benefit and strengthen the middle class, rather than our system where it is primarily used as a safety net for the poor and elderly. It might be worth examining.

So there you have it. Poke holes in it. Play devil's advocate. My guess is that a work-around can be found to any perceived problem. One of the great attributes of American society is that we CAN solve a problem when we're not mired in rigid ideology and absolutism. As a life long believer in largely unrestricted capitalism, coming to these conclusions hasn't been easy for me. But as it's been said, the times they are a'changin'. We should be proactive about it and step into this future age by ushering in a new era of the American Dream, one where everyone is ENTITLED and it's no longer a dirty word, free to pursue their goals whatever they may be. It's either that, or slowly become a lumbering remnant of the 20th century bithcin' about the good ol' days.

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While I agree with a lot of this, there's no replacement for human interaction and compassion.

I think even as we more fully autmoate there will always be room for service based industries to offer "the human touch" to their business model and utilize employees. You might walk into a Mcdonald's, place your order on a touch screen menu and while you're getting your own beverage the robotic kitchen prepares your meal. Your receipt is printed with a bar code that can be read by sensors in the dining room so the cute robot that looks like one of the McDonald's land characters can find you and bring you your meal.

Or you can go to the hamburger stand the guy in in town opened that still uses people in paper hats for nostalgic reasons.

Yes. I read an article recently about a grocery chain that is phasing OUT the self-check-outs.

Also, I think my job is safe- I'm a social worker. It's a pretty broad profession, so chances are good there will always be SOMETHING for me... there are parts of my job that could be automated... assessments could be done on a computer (though I don't think as well), resource referral could be done on a computer, that sort of stuff, but there is a compassion piece that would be hard to replace. I'll have to think about this more.

I like self check-outs when I'm just buying a few things or buying something that is potentially embarrassing (though this happens less and less as I get older). But most of the time, I like to go through a line at the grocery store. I guess I'm weird.

Yeah, your job will probably always be a job that needs someone there, since you're working so closely with people who depend on you for help. I feel like jobs becoming more and more automated makes people less sociable. Service jobs teach people how to act with each other!

I really hated the self-checks when they first came out- they were LOUD and talked about EVERYTHING. They've turned off most of that now, though, so they aren't so bad. However, the weight sensors are still pretty annoying- I never seem to move fast enough to keep it from nagging me about bagging something. I only use the self-checks if there's no line and I have one or two things.

Yeah but I'm envisioning something else altogether. My paragraph up there about automating the trucking industry is going to go across the board with transportation. I read an article last week that predicts we'll have cars with the ability to navigate themselves through surface streets within 5 years. There are already prototypes that CAN do it. Think of the possibilities (and who'll be out of work). Taxis, take-out delivery, mass transit.

Imagine the grocery parking lot not filled with customer cars, but a fleet of smart cars. You're at home filling out your shopping list online, or maybe you're doing it from the beach on your smart phone so that you won't have to go shopping the moment you get back from vacation tomorrow. Most things you could select just like you online shop now, but in the produce, bakery/deli, and meat departments you can "hand" pick items using in-store cameras. At the store, robots will select your items from inventory and transfer them to the smart car and, at the time you established, the car will arrive where the groceries can be removed from the vehicles temperature controlled compartments.... not by you silly, by your robot servant who will take them to the kitchen and put them away.


I both love the idea and hate it at the same time. I absolutely hate grocery shopping- everything about it- and would be aokay with someone doing that for me. But... it all seems so impersonal. It's hard to have a relationship with a robot.

I like to think of it this way: all of the robotic and automated parts of our lives will give us more time to spend with the people in our lives that actually matter to us, rather than the time we have to spend in the company of complete strangers. Welf and I will go grocery shopping together so we can spend the time TOGETHER... but I'd much rather spend that time with her on the couch, or out doing something.

True. I am all for inventions that allow me to be lazier. At the same time, though, I enjoy the personal connections of such chores. I like that the lady at the pharmacy recognizes me. I like striking up conversations with strangers in the pet store. I like being able to ask about my regular barista/waitress's kids... I like PEOPLE.

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