A jarring recent post in The Atlantic raises that very question. Charles Davi, a New York-based capital- and derivatives-markets lawyer, crunches sets of numbers and comes to this conclusion: "People are becoming less valuable to companies."
Part of his analysis examines the wage-growth differential in various income brackets (the rich are getting richer scenario) but it also looks at Moore's Law and the growth of containerized shipping.
Thanks for the link to a thought provoking article, Brian.
My kids are now in their early 20s. For the past few years, I've enjoyed meeting their college friends.
Their friends tend to fall into one of three broad categories: clueless, uber liberal dogmatists, and 'old souls'.
In many cases, I seem to be the first person over the age of fifty who's ever forced many of them to think out loud.
I consider myself a 'rational engineer environmentalist'. Preserve it if it's worth preserving, try hard not to pollute, invest in alternative energy - to a point. At the same time, be realistic about our energy needs and how long it takes to shift sources. And don't put up a high fence around all of the beautiful places that have been preserved.
My kids' uber liberal friends get strident about environmentalism. So I ask them a basic question:
"What do you think the odds are that your grandchildren or great grandchildren will be cybernetic organisms?"
They look at me like I am nuts. And then I ask them the religious question:
"Have you read Kurzweil? Huxley? Do you know who Gordon Moore is? Is it easier to 'fix' a broken planet or to re-engineer man? What is your relationship to the technology that surrounds you and that you can't live without?"
Many of these kids have so little background in the sciences and math that they don't understand how to spot a statistical 'trend'. They think trends are about fashions or beliefs.
Given that anyone with a pacemaker, a cochlear implant, or any number of similar devices is already "cybernetic", I would presume that most people a few generations from now will. I still don't think that this implies that they wouldn't be recognizable as modern humans or would have significantly different preferences or needs than people today.
I'll leave you with a question: If God came down and said he would destroy the planet if we didn't end any substantial or authorized use of fossil fuels within five years, do you think we couldn't get this done? Where there is a whip, there is a will, my slug.
Many of us have devoted our lives to pushing the information revolution forward. We are now passing through the midpoint of that revolution. The second half of these revolutions are always more interesting than the first.
The relationship of people to each other, to technology, to the economy, and to the planet are starting to change in frightening ways. And that pace of change is accelerating. My kids' uber liberal friends are, in many ways, the new Luddites. Can we really blame them?
The Model T Ford - which hallmarked the midpoint of the industrial revolution - led directly to soaring divorce rates. The iPhone - arguably the hallmark of the midpoint of the information revolution - will have impacts no less profound over the next decade or two.
You can't know where you're going if you don't know where you are. Thanks again, Brian, for sharing a signpost along the way.
@Drew: "If God came down and said he would destroy the planet if we didn't end any substantial or authorized use of fossil fuels within five years, do you think we couldn't get this done?"
Interesting question. I couldn't say one way or the other, bet I'd tend towards being pessimistic (a pessimist is an optimist with experience...)
"Where there is a whip, there is a will, my slug."
Love the LOTR quote, maybe that is what the human race needs? I often wish God WAS like this....
I think that ever since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, people only matter to the extent that they can reinvent themselves. People need to add value to society, broadly speaking. Those unable to reinvent themselves, to continue to add value after machines have usurped their previous occupations, become sidelined.
Totally agree that global trade only makes the problem more acute, for the developed world initially. Only initially. Eventually, everyone will be in the same boat.
I chuckled at David's comment on lawyers. There's one profession that manages to create ever more inelastic demand for its own services, eh?
People matter in the state of Arizona, we are opening so many private prisons in this insane state that we need people to fill them and any reason will work. Repeated jaywalking citations, spitting on the sidewalks, under age frat parties are all bringing in harsh sentences by the Tempe Arizona City attorneys office who are trying to make a name for themselves and their superiors, they are having a field day with ASU students and their stupid 30 to 90 day sentences but that's Arizona.
Next to Mississippi Arizona is near the bottom in everything and one of the most backwards states in the US but in states like this yes people matter but for the wrong reason.
As far as people versus money being more important, the answer as to the priorities of many of our financial organizations answered that one way back on 2007 and 2008. They consider monet far more important than the welfare and health of anybody else. That is not the speech that they currently speak, but their actions still scream much louder than their words. Those who chose to be committed to greed are still committed to greed, and they still nave no compassion about destroying things to gain wealth. A few small restraints have been placed on them, but overall, the financial business is still in need of having some serious constraints applied, with their screams of complaint serving to validate the correctness of the controls.
So, in summary, to most boards of directors, money is not just the main goal, it is the only goal. They would still destroy our lifestyle in order to increase their profit again.
I don't think it was ever a people vs money question, in truth. The motivation was always a money and greed. The only question is whether it takes people to achieve those goals, or whether machines can't do it better.
Take the case of lawyers. Why are they so successful? It's because they leverage off the greed of every individual. Lawyers make big business out of promising wealth to individuals in return for little or no work on the client's part.
Money has always been the only goal. Not just for CEOs and boards of directors.
I would say that money is at the root of most of the problems we are facing. Think about it, energy independence is simple if you are willing to pay significantly more for your energy (think solar cells and electric cars). The issue is not money versus people it is people's needs versus reality. I would love to be a billionaire but the reality is I am not (and not likely to be one any day soon). I am all for saving energy, not polluting, recycling, etc. BUT at what cost? If it cost me $200.00 for a light bulb to save 0.30 on electricity then WHY would I waste the money "just to be more energy efficient"? It must come down to common sense (and yes maybe cents!). People only matter to companies if they can provide a service or add value. Companies really don't have the luxury of caring at a personal level because if they did then they would go out of business; not in a vacuum but due to competition. I agree it is sad and hurtful to see some being left behind when companies are making money but they are not welfare corporations they are risking capital in order to make money for their shareholders, shareholders that more and more could be your grandparents, neighbors, friends etc.. Anyone with pensions. We need to look at the costs and the benefits of any endeavor be it manufacturing, energy, personnel, health care, etc..
Tallying up costs and benefits is a hard problem, probably impossibly hard if you attempt to do it in a quantitative sense. For example, if you want to do a cost-benefit analysis with respect to energy systems, you have to answer questions like what is the appropriate discount rate to use in intergenerational situations (philosophers and economists have been arguing over this for years, and it is by FAR the most important variable), what is the value of a species or nature, what is the value of good health, what is the relationship between our energy systems and both military risk and military spending, how do we weight risks, including near-existential ones, how do we factor in the unknown unknowns, what are the effects on short run and long run economic growth, what are the defects in the way that we measure growth that might lead our previous conclusion astray, etc. For the most part, these things are so unquantifiable that trying to sum them all up in a quantifiable way is a fool's errand. Cost-benefit analysis is generally not a proper tool for problems of this wide a scope.
People do matter, but the amount that people matter doesn't necessarily match up with their sense of entitlement. Nobody inherently owes me a living, a job or benefits of any sort. If what I do doesn't match up with what the world needs, than I'm out of luck. Of course it doesn't seem fair that what the world needs can change so fast and leave so many people without good jobs, but that's the way the world works.
Companies have to do the same thing. No one owes any company anything except in exchange for the good or services provided. Companies become irrelevant and go out of business if they don't provide something that the world needs.
Companies only matter to the extent that they provide something that people need and people only matter (to companies) the the extent that they provide something that the company needs.
Humans are adaptable because we live in a world that requires it. Those that don't adapt become irrelevant. No. It's not easy, but as intelligent people, we should understand that and be willing to change as necessary as long as we are on this earth.
This is an oddly philosophical but interesting discussion for these forums.
Here's my 2 cents: Smart companies recognize that their employees are their most valuable assets. Automation and increasing efficiencies will continue to reduce the number of employees needed to deliver the company's products or services, but without talented and motivated employees, the company has no products or services.
Notice that the note in the Labor Share graph excludes 'government transfers', then look it up in Wikipedia.
"Examples of certain transfer payments include welfare (financial aid), social security, and government making subsidies for certain businesses (firms)."
The lefts solution to wage inequality is government redistribution of wealth but then they leave it out of calculating wage inequality. Labor is making less and less directly from their employer because of more and more of their salary is coming indirectly from the government.
Persistently there are two factors left out of these conversations. 1) If companies don't have employees, there is no-one making money to be their customers. 2) When a critical mass of people become unemployed they will either set up their own economy, that excludeds the existing one, or they will violently tear the existing one down, so they can meet their own needs. Either way the path our economy is currently taking is inherently self destructive. That is what we need to figure out. We need to start thinking in terms of "Sustainable Prosperity for Everyone", and how do we get there. A myopic corporate view won't do it. Our culture will not survive if a large percentage of the population can't make ends meet. Any economic path that results in an increased division between the rich and the poor will fall apart in the long run.
I've never seen a robot take home a paycheck (er, I mean have one autodposited in their bank account), and I have never seen one one eating a burger at Wendy's...although now that they have the Baconator, you never know.