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Source: (consider it) Thread: Is productivity the be-all and end-all?
anteater

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This is one of many issues on my mind relating to my increasing suspicion that what that lefties have been banging on about Capitalism having to give way because of it's containing the seeds of it's own eventual redundancy, is probably true. I can't argue such a broad subject although I'd love to discuss the thesis of Schumpeter's book on the subject where economic logic leads him to this conclusion regardless of whether he likes it. Which he doesn't, really. It's a really good read.

Anyhow, what is finally tipping me over, is the amount of development going into removing the need for workers via increased automation, which is the final stage of the need to lower labour costs. In this context, what do we make of all the noise about productivity?

Suppose there are two countries each with a potential workforce of 1m people and both producing 1bn of goods annually. Country 1 has 0 unemployment and so has 1k production per worker. Country 2 has 20% unemployed and so has 1.25k or 25% better productivity. But for what?

If I can be convinced that there really are jobs for all, I can see that my argument is weak, but I am increasingly uncertain that this is the case. So wouldn't it be better to look at productivity per potential worker?

Or am I talking bollocks?

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Schroedinger's cat

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Productivity is, as you indicate, the personal vesion of economic growth, and for the same reasons, it is not viable to expect it to continue.

I work in IT. When I started, computer systems were always sold on enhanced productivity, and the cost was often covered by job losses. That is not sustainable, and it quickly became the case that costs were not paid back as such, but organisation were able to spend more time on other tasks - this is better.

But I think the Charles Handy approach is better. Earn what you NEED, and spend the rest of your time doing things you ENJOY. If you become more efficient, it just means you can have more time for the fun things, not that you can achieve more (increase productivity).

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anteater

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Cat: (You can call me Ant)
The Handy approach doesn't work in IT, at least not in my experience. Yo had to work your arse off otherwise you'd get pushed out.

I worked in automation and back in the day, you could argue that this was not to put people out of work, just to change the work. Nobody even says that now.

It is just not on to insist that everybody contributes to the economy if you give them not way to do it. It's all very well to suppose that people should be glad to get rid of the burden of work, but there's no reason to believe that people in general view it that way. Take the miners. Who would want to go down the mine? Well they did.

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Enoch
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quote:
Originally posted by anteater:
... Suppose there are two countries each with a potential workforce of 1m people and both producing 1bn of goods annually. Country 1 has 0 unemployment and so has 1k production per worker. Country 2 has 20% unemployed and so has 1.25k or 25% better productivity. But for what?

If I can be convinced that there really are jobs for all, I can see that my argument is weak, but I am increasingly uncertain that this is the case. So wouldn't it be better to look at productivity per potential worker?

Or am I talking bollocks?

Sorry, but I think you are. First, no real examples fit theoretical models that neatly. And second, if country 2 was that significantly more productive per head than its neighbour, it is likely that the extra capacity in the workforce there would be doing something else productive in stead of being unemployed.

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Schroedinger's cat

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Ant - it can work in any business. But it can be extremely hard because we have a model of increased productivity.

I am planning to move down to a 4 day week in hte next few years. This is quite possible. I could contract, and work just as much as I need to to pay the bills, and not always for more money.

Yes, Handy had it easy becasue of hte nature of the work he did. But he is right that we need to find ways of working less, not more.

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irreverend tod
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You might have to define productivity for whom. How would you quantify the GDP for anyone who lives a subsistence lifestyle and who would not contribute to the productivity of a nation, other than not taking anything very much from it?

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HCH
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As we often see, this illustrates that real life is more complex than just trying to optimize one metric.
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anteater

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Enoch:
quote:
Sorry, but I think you are. First, no real examples fit theoretical models that neatly. And second, if country 2 was that significantly more productive per head than its neighbour, it is likely that the extra capacity in the workforce there would be doing something else productive in stead of being unemployed.
I don't think your first point makes thought experiments of this kind useless. If a country tried to limit the growth of automation (e.g. by making robots pay 'income tax' - an idea that has been mooted and is not inherently daft) they may well have lower productivity because of it, but it still may be a better solution for the country.

I think your latter point is, as we both would admit, a matter of opinion. Especially as automation makes more and more roles redundant. I think a major factor is what people want? I think that only a minority would be happy with a scenario in which the likelihood of paid work is getting smaller and smaller.

And one factor in this is that they would fear being reduced to subsistence level, or worse, because they genuinely are not needed to keep with wheels of industry turning. It is, I admit, possible to find solutions to this, but I still think that limiting automation may be the best one. But this goes against the basis of capitalism, at least IMO.

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Boogie

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I believe the world will, slowly, move towards robots doing the more mundane, repetitive tasks and people doing the more creative ones.

Anything which is truly hand made sells really well. My husband makes things out of oak in a small cottage industry and I make hand made soap for charity. Both sell like ‘hot cakes’. Even in our (very) deprived town it’s the cafes which sell home baked cakes which are thriving.

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Boogie

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quote:
Originally posted by irreverend tod:
You might have to define productivity for whom. How would you quantify the GDP for anyone who lives a subsistence lifestyle and who would not contribute to the productivity of a nation, other than not taking anything very much from it?

My brother does this. Puts nothing in, takes nothing out. But he does own a large piece of land which he lives off, not everyone can do that!

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Enoch
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quote:
Originally posted by anteater:
... If a country tried to limit the growth of automation (e.g. by making robots pay 'income tax' - an idea that has been mooted and is not inherently daft) ...

It would be fairly daft. It goes against any sensible answer to the question 'what is the primary purpose of taxation?' When you put it in that simple way, without the guff that usually surrounds it, the 'normal', 'obvious' answer to that question is, 'to raise money to fund government'.

If taxing robots would do that efficiently and in a way that was not widely felt to be irrational or unfair (to their owners or users by the way; a robot is a machine; you can't be fair or unfair to a robot), then there might be a good reason for taxing them. But taxing them just because you don't like them or those that use them, would be just as irrational and unfair as taxing people because they were black, white or Jewish.

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Gee D
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quote:
Originally posted by Boogie:
quote:
Originally posted by irreverend tod:
You might have to define productivity for whom. How would you quantify the GDP for anyone who lives a subsistence lifestyle and who would not contribute to the productivity of a nation, other than not taking anything very much from it?

My brother does this. Puts nothing in, takes nothing out. But he does own a large piece of land which he lives off, not everyone can do that!
Gas, water, electricity, roads? Does he use none? Even excluding the purchase costs for at least some of these, there must be things he consumes at no cost to himself but to the community at large.

Take for example the Tennessee Valley Authority, and our Snowy Mountains scheme modelled on it. Huge amounts of [public money went into the design and construction, very little of which finds its way into today's water charges.

[ 13. October 2017, 08:20: Message edited by: Gee D ]

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Enoch:


If taxing robots would do that efficiently and in a way that was not widely felt to be irrational or unfair (to their owners or users by the way; a robot is a machine; you can't be fair or unfair to a robot), then there might be a good reason for taxing them. But taxing them just because you don't like them or those that use them, would be just as irrational and unfair as taxing people because they were black, white or Jewish.

First of all you seem to be saying that taxing a robot is the same as a person.

Second of all, you seem to be saying that taxing things "you don't like" is irrational. But that seems to ignore that huge role of taxation in areas like road transport fuel levies, cigarettes and alcohol.

Plenty of useful things are taxed more than the things they replaced; road vehicles are taxed more than horses for example.

If there are going to be massive social changes due to the introduction of robots, it seems entirely appropriate to me to introduce forms of taxation to pay for it - and we don't need stupid comparisons with racism, thanks very much.

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anteater

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Enoch:
quote:
.. the 'normal', 'obvious' answer to that question is, 'to raise money to fund government'.
Are you suggesting any disagreement about this?

The principle is that if technological developments result in a major tax source being reduced, another has to be found, unless you are an extreme no-government-or-as-little-as-possible hawk.

This is similar to the arguments over the tech giants (F-book, Google, Apple and M-Soft) that if existing tax laws give an insufficient tax-income from their revenues, new ones have to be found. Scott Galloway (no relation to Gorgeous George) is saying and writing a lot of sense on this.

Which is all way 'income tax' was in quotes. Maybe worker-substitution tax is better. At least it's longer.

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Boogie

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quote:
Originally posted by Gee D:
Gas, water, electricity, roads? Does he use none? Even excluding the purchase costs for at least some of these, there must be things he consumes at no cost to himself but to the community at large.

He uses none except roads. He has his own spring for water, solar panels and wood burning boilers and stoves for heating. He coppices his own wood for fuel and grows his own food. He says he lives for nothing, but he works hard every day cutting, storing wood, stoking the boilers and growing his food!

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Ricardus
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I don't see why this is considered to be a new problem.

The Port of Liverpool employs a fraction of the people it employed in the 1930s, and handles more cargo. And yet the unemployment rate in the city isn't much different.

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Ricardus
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To clarify that a bit: the problem with automation, AIUI, is that although it does create new jobs, those jobs tend to go to the next generation of workers instead of the generation that's just been made redundant by the robots. To which I think Mr Corbyn's proposal of a National Educational Service is an excellent solution.

The OP seems to be imagining a problem where robots take over permanently without any new jobs being created for anyone. I don't see why that would happen now when it hasn't happened in the past.

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Sioni Sais
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quote:
Originally posted by Ricardus:
I don't see why this is considered to be a new problem.

The Port of Liverpool employs a fraction of the people it employed in the 1930s, and handles more cargo. And yet the unemployment rate in the city isn't much different.

It might be worth looking at the nature of those jobs. In the 1930's most who had jobs, had full-time secure ones. Nowadays far more jobs are part-time (including the infamous zero hours contracts) and they and far less secure.

In any event, productivity is tied up with efficiency, not effectiveness. There are many tasks business can't or won't do, which is when the government has to step in.

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simontoad
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Productivity, as a political concept related to the economic idea (I suppose), is used to drive down wages and conditions of employment in this country. The liberals can't say it often enough.

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ThunderBunk

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As I say to anyone who will listen, productivity is first and foremost an index of morale. Investor morale, in that a positive attitude towards the future is required for investors, and worker morale, in that depressed, resentful workers will always find reasons not to do things, and work to a very minimal rule which resists innovation.

Happier people work harder and put more in. It's that simple.

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Ricardus
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quote:
Originally posted by Sioni Sais:
quote:
Originally posted by Ricardus:
I don't see why this is considered to be a new problem.

The Port of Liverpool employs a fraction of the people it employed in the 1930s, and handles more cargo. And yet the unemployment rate in the city isn't much different.

It might be worth looking at the nature of those jobs. In the 1930's most who had jobs, had full-time secure ones.
Not in the Docks they didn't! De-casualisation didn't really happen until after the Second World War.

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Then the dog ran before, and coming as if he had brought the news, shewed his joy by his fawning and wagging his tail. -- Tobit 11:9 (Douai-Rheims)

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Sioni Sais
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quote:
Originally posted by Ricardus:
quote:
Originally posted by Sioni Sais:
quote:
Originally posted by Ricardus:
I don't see why this is considered to be a new problem.

The Port of Liverpool employs a fraction of the people it employed in the 1930s, and handles more cargo. And yet the unemployment rate in the city isn't much different.

It might be worth looking at the nature of those jobs. In the 1930's most who had jobs, had full-time secure ones.
Not in the Docks they didn't! De-casualisation didn't really happen until after the Second World War.
My mistake - I thought the Dock Labour Scheme was older.

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anteater

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Ricardus:
quote:

The OP seems to be imagining a problem where robots take over permanently without any new jobs being created for anyone. I don't see why that would happen now when it hasn't happened in the past.

It could at one time be said that there is no possibility of a war literally destroying the Earth, and that certainly has not happened yet. But technology develops.

And it is moving more and more into white collar jobs, as it grows in intelligence. For a example (mentioned in the v.good series of Secrets in Silicon valley) robots have now outperformed trained radiologists in early detection of cancers from X-rays. Would you have though that even 20 years ago?

So the existing jobs become more technical and fewer. So one of the largest companies on earth (Facebook) has 17,000 employees. Boeing at 175, 000. Facebook has over 3 times the market cap of Boeing.

Do you not see a trend here? It's all very comforting to say new jobs "must" emerge that can't be automated. Yes, some will, but I don't see the future as at all good for employment.

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Marvin the Martian

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quote:
Originally posted by anteater:
It could at one time be said that there is no possibility of a war literally destroying the Earth, and that certainly has not happened yet. But technology develops.

Technology does develop, but we're still a heck of a long way from having a Death Star! In fact, we're barely even at the stage where we could render a significant chunk of the planet's surface unsuitable for human life.

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ExclamationMark
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quote:
Originally posted by Ricardus:
quote:
Originally posted by Sioni Sais:
quote:
Originally posted by Ricardus:
I don't see why this is considered to be a new problem.

The Port of Liverpool employs a fraction of the people it employed in the 1930s, and handles more cargo. And yet the unemployment rate in the city isn't much different.

It might be worth looking at the nature of those jobs. In the 1930's most who had jobs, had full-time secure ones.
Not in the Docks they didn't! De-casualisation didn't really happen until after the Second World War.
Neither did it on farms. Casualisation was till common alongside the tied housing system into the 1990's
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irreverend tod
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It's interesting that we are mainly looking at this from our Western lifestyle lens. I think of the large populations around the world who use nothing that we consider vital, despite our repeated attempts to force it on them. These populations are often referred to as 'third world', but the guys I came across in the course of my work seemed a damned sight happier than the rest of us who where working our arses off contributing to someone else's wealth and pension funds.

This also begs the question from Gee D's comment who benefits most from massive infrastructure projects - the supposed recipients or the companies that build them.

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no prophet's flag is set so...

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The economic analysis gives us productivity. The human centred analysis gives us health and happiness.

In answer the the OP title: I am unaware of anyone in their death bed who is concerned with how productive they were. Rather, they focus on their relationships with people and the love they shared with them. So "no", productivity isn't the be all and end all. But, anchored at the opposite end of a continuum, if poverty or no production is at the other end, this is associated with poor health, unhappiness, early death.

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Uriel
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The example in the OP of increased productivity in one country just because it has higher unemployment does have a real world example in France. French productivity is higher than the UKs, so is its unemployment rate. Due to the protection offered to French workers, if a business employs someone it's going to push them to get the absolute most out of them. And if a worker is substandard, they won't get a job. This creates a batting average effect. If a cricket team only lets its first 6 batsmen play, it will have a much higher average per player than if the whole 11 on the team go out to bat. But it doesn't necessarily maximise the team score.

There are other factors behind high French productivity, such as centrally planned infrastructure and the cost of electricity due to big investment in nuclear power. But excluding low productivity workers from the jobs market is also part of the picture.

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churchgeek

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This is a fascinating read for me. I'm nearly illiterate economically, but I'm interested in this topic. There's a philosophical (and as a theologian, I might say theological) matter undergirding much of this discussion, which is an attention to the common good, and the idea of "the good life." Part of the problem in the US now, I think, is we've all but abandoned the common good. Everything is put into economic terms, and everything is put in service of the market. Meanwhile, the market arbitrates good and evil. (OK, I may be overstating it a bit...but you probably get what I mean.)

Among the scariest outcomes I'm seeing is that the university has become a trade school, and is consumer-driven - it's all about advancing your brand's earning potential, rather than about becoming a responsible citizen and well-rounded, educated person. Religion, too, is becoming consumer-driven. Everything is consumer-driven. Health care has been for a while; that's why we're enjoined by television ads to suggest medications to our doctor that we used to be unaware of until our doctors prescribed them to us.

I recall when reading about Detroit history that the French settlers (the first white settlers here) did just what someone suggested above: they worked hard until they had what they needed, and then they enjoyed it. When English-speaking Easterners moved in to enjoy the resources here, they were horrified by those "lazy" French. I believe some of that Anglo-American work ethic can be chalked up to puritanism and other religious ideas out of the reformed tradition, but it clearly reflects this conversation about productivity. It's also a reminder of the fact that culturally, we attach the stigma of "laziness" to anyone who doesn't participate in the crazy productivity game, and "lazy" translates to "immoral" and "undeserving."

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Our household made the decision, years ago, to buy locally/regionally as much as possible. That of course rewards countless inefficiencies -- the small farmers, mom- and- pop shops -- but it has enhanced our quality of life exponentially while helping our neighbors...and the fact that it kind of sticks a finger in the eye of Prevailing Wisdom is also, frankly, quite satisfying. [Devil]

One of my friends disagrees, and says that our avoidance of big- box stores hurts unskilled workers. My response is that, first of all, nobody can be a purist, so the chain restaurant waiters, Amazon warehouse sorters and big box store clerks all get their due from us in the course of a year...and, that, anyway, we choose to focus our attention on Bob the baker, the gang at the local hardware store, and our other immediate neighbors.

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Posts: 6356 | From: rural Michigan, USA | Registered: Jul 2005  |  IP: Logged
mark_in_manchester

not waving, but...
# 15978

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quote:
Even in our (very) deprived town
Errr...Boogie? Haven't you said (in public, here, since I don't know you in RL) that you live in a certain commuter suburb to the west of Manchester? Or perhaps I'm mixing you up, or you lately moved to Little Hulton...

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"We are punished by our sins, not for them" - Elbert Hubbard
(so good, I wanted to see it after my posts and not only after those of shipmate JBohn from whom I stole it)

Posts: 1548 | Registered: Oct 2010  |  IP: Logged


 
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