Foseti asks What to do? i.e. what should we (people who understand that society is going to hell and why) do to prevent/palliate/fight the collapse.
It’s a good question. But it’s so 2012. Or 2010 maybe. As bad as dysgenics/balkanisation/moral collapse is, the sense of urgency has been totally replaced by the new Big Story. Which is the automation, and the Neo-Luddite panic that is sweeping all over the punditsphere. You know something is Big when Half Sigma just won’t shut up about it. The guy really has a good smell for what topics are popular. I guess that being a Jew on NYC will do that for you.
Of course the new automation economy is a bigger news story than The Fall. Everyone can see how automation might affect them personally, so there’s a general panic mood floating around. Even Razib had a gloomy post on it.The Fall is a metaphysical concept, it normally happens slowly, and hey we can all think of ways to profit from it. But if Skynet is happening we are all screwed. People are scared, there’s talks of Butlerian Jihad around. All of which is justified. Factories are getting robotized, and good software is making many office workers irrelevant. I helped introduce labor saving software in an old office, and kicked out a bunch of fat ugly proles. It felt good. Now I’m in the other side of the business, and I’m scared too. Sorry proles, I didn’t mean it.
But the fact that present stuff is getting automated doesn’t mean that eventually everything will be. We have to start thinking in making other stuff. It’s hard to change production models, or relations of production as Marx called them. Extremely hard. For all I know it might be impossible. But other ways of making stuff do exist. So we better start thinking on it.
Go to Japan, and enter any convenience store. It’s full of weird food and snacks and gadgets, and they all change every month. There are huge industries producing weird stuff, say rose-flavored Kit-Kat or 10x magazines for every teenage subculture. Agriculture is generally a small plot, family affair, and tons of labor goes into making every process more artisanal and high quality. Seriously, the quality focus and labor intensity of the food industry in Japan is insane.
See, there’s shitloads of stuff to do. They do it. But we don’t do any of that. Why? Because we don’t need them. The Japanese don’t need a different Kit Kat flavor every week, nor to do fix robot rails by hand, neither they need 10 cute co-eds in every McDonalds. Nobody *needs* that.
But they do demand it. They feel very strongly that they need all that stuff. So they go and buy it. Of course it’s all an evil plot, fed by an immense advertising monopoly, which tells people to buy, and what to buy. See the myth of Japanese quality. People there just won’t buy foreign stuff. They eat their outrageously expensive 70% fat beef before actual Australian meat. They actually buy Japanese smartphones before Samsungs (which are cheaper and way better). There’s a long lasting theory about English education in Japan being horrible because the government doesn’t want the people to go abroad and buy foreign stuff. It certainly helps nourish a huge translation and publishing industry.
People are used to a consumption pattern, and over time they feel it’s natural. They get pissed if they can’t have all that stuff. So it gets done, and people buy it, and the money moves around, so there are jobs for everyone. Pretty inane, inconsequential jobs for the most part. You could argue that it’s subemployment, producing trivial, frivolous stuff, and employing armies of people to dupe the populace into consuming them. But it is also undeniable that the average quality of products in Japan is very high, and that having access to all that contributes to a higher quality of life.
Japan not only has a lot of jobs, it consistently overworks its people. Japan invented karoshi, and 200+ overtime hours a month is quite a standard affair. What are they producing with all that labor? Well not that much. Japan’s workplaces are famously inefficient. Paperwork is eerily stagnant since the 50s, company meetings happen daily and last for hours, and late night male-bonding with the boss is also common. As good as Japan was always with electronic hardware, the IT era has passed them by, and the Japanese IT industry is famously backward. Do you know any good japanese piece of software besides videogames? Well me neither.
If Bain Capital or some other US vulture come over and put its heart to it, they could rationalise any Japanese company and cut the labor force by 50% with no effect on output. But nobody wants that to happen, because the Japanese economy is based on consumption. Lots of it. For all the fame of thrifty Asians who save and export, but exports are only around 15% of the Japanese economy. Japan’s economy is based on using loads of labor to produce a lot of high quality weird stuff and push/bully/shame people into buying it. It was quite a shock to myself, but you really get to understand Keynes. Japan works because the country has successfully manipulated the people into a particular kind of consumerism. It won’t matter how much stuff robots produce, if the people are primed to buy ‘human quality’, or whatever buzzword they pump out to get the economy moving.
It’s funny, because most of the solutions, to the coming economic/societal crisis in the West are based on abandoning consumerism towards a more rational, frugal life, i.e. lower incomes are ok if you don’t buy so much stuff. The left is pushing hard for extending welfare into a universal Basic Income. With Open Borders. Just think about it for a second. Ok stop shivering.
And the mood in the right is getting quite medieval actually. Talks of inequality bringing back the old patron-clients network of Rome, or feudal society where the masses would be employed in serving the property owners. The aspies at GMU talk about it like it’s no biggy. But think about it. Today’s inequality is orders of magnitude greater than Rome. How many servants does Warren Buffet need? Want? I guess Larry Ellison wouldn’t mind having a 15 year old Thracian slave girl making his laundry. But most rich people would rather have Miele appliances and be left alone.
A more frugal life is a choice I have made personally, but if all society went that way it would bury the economy for good. I agree that the benefits of scale are way past the point of diminishing returns, and further scaling of industrial production might be positively harmful. A move towards smaller, more labor intensive enterprises might mean smaller communities in less dense urban settings. All high IQ populations are losing numbers, so that’s a factor too. But that doesn’t meant that people should stop consuming. Until we find a way to raise IQs so we can all design our own robots and forgo status-whoring, or the singularity devours us all, the only solution to over-supply is matching it with (picky) over-demand.
Either that, or Marx is back.