We'd be better off with robotic dismantling and recycling than a repair culture, IMO. Repaired items are never as good as new. I'd much rather a future where my car was dismantled and rebuilt overnight by robots than repaired overnight.
Things degrade and wear out at different rates. The clock starts at zero when something is new, but when something breaks, the "mean time to failure" is all over the place for the components. At a certain point, you don't really own something old; instead, you're paying rent in the form of repairs. The intermittent availability starts to become stressful; you're never sure when the next thing will break or need repair, you can no longer rely on the thing.
IMO the whole recycling religion is an historical blip. There's no long term need to focus on repairable, recyclable products; nor any need to separate out rubbish types etc. This is a resource allocation problem, and with legislation to embed the cost of dismantling and separation in the cost of something, I think it'll disappear.
I see what you're saying, but the mean time for failure for the whole at the moment is basically the failure time for the weakest part.
For example, my son got an RC car for Christmas from my parents. It's a great car and he had a lot of fun driving it for about 3 days. He accidentally rammed it into a tree trunk and the cheap plastic gear that controlled the steering shattered. The car itself, should last a while but because one part broke the entire product is essentially a brick right now.
>> The car itself, should last a while but because one part broke the entire product is essentially a brick right now.
Because you won't take the time to fix it! What a waste!
Where do you go to buy a plastic gear for a RC car? Identifying a matching part and getting it is a task that probably most of us have become incapable of. I also believe that much of the infrastructure that made repairing things like this easier in the past has disappeared to a large part.
There are hundreds of rc car parts sites, as well as robotics hobbyist shops, and industrial parts sites that carry generic plastic gears. If you insist on shopping in a brick and mortar store, of course it depends where you live. In my smallish city there's at least one surplus store that has many bins of small mechanical parts, including plastic gears. With the rise of the maker movement, there are more resources for things like that than there were even a few years ago.
If you are incapable of counting teeth or measuring things, I'm sorry, but most people could if they wanted to. And almost all people are capable of purchasing things online.
(That being said, some toys are now so cheap that it can be cheaper to replace than repair, especially if you have to pay shipping on the part but not the toy).
I'll look around online to see if I can find a replacement. The reason I know that gear is broken is because I did open it up to fix it.
3D print a replacement? There are hundreds of pre-made STL models for various types of gears, ready to print.
Then you need a way to get physically around the item (while it is still mounted, broken) to accurately measure it. Then you need a means to re-install it, repaired, after removing the old one. The fundamental truth is that it's significantly cheaper (and lighter, and uses less material) to design throw-away products at this level than to engineer removable elements to make them possible to repair.
You are aware that producing new things consumes many non-renewable resources that could be saved by a simple repair? Recycling is only a distant second when it comes to saving resources.
Most non-renewable resources are for energy generation; I think economics (i.e. price information) will solve this problem. The biggest challenge is ensuring that externalities are priced in correctly, and in ways that aren't politically corrupt or, too stickily protectionist for industries.
Repairing things requires labor, which also indirectly consumes many non-renewable resources (since the person supplying the labor will use their wages to buy new shiny things).
As others have pointed out, the right way to address this is to put the correct price on using non-renewable resources, not to directly force re-use or repair, since the economic efficiency of doing that depends a lot on the specific item.
For objects which are valuable for reasons other than their utility, repairs or aging can certainly improve value.
See for example https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kintsugi, watches with "tropical" dials, or even pre-aged jeans.
Thank you for this realistic point of view. Its contrary to everything i hold dear about the recycling idea- and reducing the energy footprint of manufacturing, but your points really made me think.
'Repaired items are never as good as new'
Yes, often times when repaired properly they're better than new.
Because the thing that broke in the first place is often fixed/replaced with a better part.
Are you talking about consumer good only? What about buildings? Bridges? Planes? Trains?
> The intermittent availability starts to become stressful; you're never sure when the next thing will break or need repair, you can no longer rely on the thing.
See goals of Industry 4.0
Depends on your definition of repair. If someone could replace a broken plastic gear train with a better metal one, then that would still be a repair, but the product would be better than before
Companies can have a tiered pricing where tolerances for components vary for the price of replacement/rebuilding by the robots.
I don't agree that attaching disposal's real costs to products will significantly change things.
Disposal really is cheap. Some things are improperly disposed of today, sent to developing countries instead of properly landfilled or recycled. But the cost of doing it properly is still very small, and hardly enough to merit restructuring manufacturing to a less-efficient method.
I don't know what you mean when you call this a cause for "a lot of the issues that we experience in society today." But it is definitely not better for the environment to use less efficient manufacturing schemes.
Depends on your definition of proper disposal. Putting anything in a landfill other than biodegradable materials just seems far less than ideal. Won’t the metals, precious elements, batteries, etc. eventually need to be dealt with by future generations? Isn't the true cost simply being postponed?
Do you know what we call an area of land with lots of metal? A mine.
Depends on the metal. It can also be called a superfund site..
More like an ore deposit. Could turn it into a mine with some work.
I know I've heard at least recently that even biodegradeable materials will end up producing lots of methane in a landfill. Not an expert, clearly...
Steel is bought locally for 4.5 cents per pound or more, depending on quality. Batteries at 18 cents, motherboards from your pc or laptop 2 dollars and up. So there is already an incentive for recycling.
> Robots work really well for manufacturing. What they don't work well for is repairs.
Robots work well in cases of rigidly prescribed actions. While we are not yet there with repairs, we are moving in that direction: for most things, from cars to TVs humans at repair shops will now test large modules and swap out the failing ones (not trying, as they would 30+ years ago, to find and replace a dead resistor or weld a patch / joint, etc.).
This "test and replace modules" strategy means it is easy to design many devices to be robotically repairable; it is just not (yet?) profitable to do so.
The reason for this is that the whole robotic industry is stuck in lots of small walled in gardens of the past.
No templates, no object orientation, no functional programming, its 1984.0 in the factories. There are pushes by some companies (ABB, Stäubli, Kuka, Denso) but they meet resistance by the customer companies themselves, who view code as some sort of throw away part tailored to a machine, not as something of value that could migrate and grow more powerful, and the same for "similar" lines, where only positions and sizes changed.
Just get your hand on some big manufacturers "coding standards" for robots- and you know what im talking about. They usually dont have standard libs for you to use and no static analysers (unless you count the ranting guy, who oversees standard upholding).
That requires pressuring manufacturers (whether legally or otherwise) to make their products more modular and standardized and less integrated and proprietary.
For instance, Apple's latest Macbooks get a 1/10 repairability score , when years ago it used to be higher. Now Apple is even fighting against legislation that would require it to make iPhones easier to repair .
This is not a clear-cut issue, though. I'm sure such regulations will impede innovation to some degree (less thinner devices, potentially lower battery life, etc). But as you said, we as a society need to decide on that compromise.
No, "we as a society" don't need to decide on anything. Customers need to decide what they want/like.
Apples trying to make devices appliances, because that's what most of the world wants. Many customers don't want to repair their own devices, and by the time most of the devices stop working they are close to obsolete anyways.
I have a 2014 Macbook Pro, it also scores 1/10 for repairability, but I've dropped it numerous times and it has never broke. All the adhesives and soldering Apple uses make for a very tough device and I value that far more than any ability to crack it open and replace stuff. If it breaks I'm happy giving it to the Apple store to repair.
What Apple is making is far from appliances. Appliances can be repaired and last 10+ years easily.
What customers want and what they need are two very different things.
I think the easiest way to achieve better repairability is forcing manufacturers to pay for repairs and extending warranties to at least five years, better ten.
> people not feeling the cost of waste disposal due to free trash pickup
Are you claiming that the price/ton at the landfill is subsidized? That the environmental fees are less than they ought to be, given the externalities of the landfill, or the long-term costs of burying large amounts of soon-to-be-scarce resources? Or that the effect of rolling the monthly or quarterly payment into an HOA fee, an apartment rental, or city taxes takes the option away from the homeowner?
In my rural community, my neighbors and I pay $40 quarterly for weekly pickup of a 96-gallon rolling trash bin. As far as I know, this service is unsubsidized by the government. As the pickup is performed in less than a minute per house by a hydraulic arm and an old but dependable garbage truck, it seems reasonable that the approximate $3 per trip, multiplied by the approximately 500 homes on their run, would cover the labor, fuel, maintenance, and eventual replacement of the trucks. Plus, of course, dump fees: the consumer rate is $30 per ton plus $2 in environmental fees for our local landfill. $30 seems reasonable, they need to cap and manage the landfill, and the land area is expensive, but a 100-foot-high by 80-acre hill can hold a lot of garbage. It just doesn't cost that much.
Honestly, I don't really even feel the $40 cost. It's one of the smaller bills of being a homeowner. I do wish that I could pay $20 quarterly for 96 gallon pickup every two weeks, or for 48 gallon pickup weekly, because I just don't generate that much trash. But it's not even close to being expensive enough or even a savings to drive to the landfill myself.
It's a flat fee per house, which I agree is unfortunate, but picking up the same sized cart everywhere weekly is just a lot simpler than charging by weight or scheduling pickups on an as-needed basis. But even if it was metered, it's not an expensive enough process to make the average homeowner think twice about it - much like I'll carefully manage my air conditioner in summer, and tolerate a bit higher temperatures because that electric bill bites, while I don't worry about leaving LEDs on or running my natural gas furnace a little warmer in winter because they're too cheap to matter.
Perhaps a billing system with a price per pickup plus a rate per ton, coupled with a smart scale in or outside every garage that measured the weight of your trash can and displayed the cost of the disposal with a button to switch off pickup if you didn't need it (verified against a load cell on the hydraulic arm of the garbage truck) could be an effective and environmental business practice.
Your landfill is probably subsidized, yes. The price is artificially low because if it's too high, people (as a whole) don't say "oh I'll generate less waste/recycle and compost more", they say "I'll burn it in my backyard/dump it on the side of the road". Yes that's illegal and all, but if it becomes an attractive option, then you need to pay for more enforcement, and it's easier to just subsidize the landfill to make that more attractive in the first place.
Where I live in Switzerland trash pickup is paid by volume (and free for cardboards and paper).
PET, glass bottles and cans can be deposited for free at recycling points. For larger items there are recycling centers (where I think you pay by weight once you deposit more than XXX per year).
The robots mentioned in this article are manufacturing consumables like fragrance and chocolate. No repairs necessary.
Why "combat" the impact of robots? We can just figure out how to make everyone share in the riches they bring. Robots aren't to blame for the injustice.
>> Why "combat" the impact of robots?
For an outside consideration, take the view outlined in this "Rules for Rulers" video ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rStL7niR7gs )--especially the part that discusses what sort of political structures arise when wealth is generated mostly independent of human production (e.g. are we sitting on a gold mine?).
As a counterpoint, it is possible to distribute windfall profits from natural resources in an equitable manner, and keep a functioning democracy. http://freakonomics.com/podcast/how-can-tiny-norway-afford-t...
It is rare, but not impossible.
Another rare example is the US where mineral rights are spread over millions of individuals instead of the govenment.
The view outlined in that video is that the systematic inertia brought by greedy self-centered assholes is nearly impossible to put a stop to by replacing just one person, ergo I take it to mean, that the only realistic way of implementing a sharing scheme has to start with a bloody revolution a-la the French Revolution. Or, of course, we can also just kill off enough people (middle-class and lower only, of course) so that the few remaining ones have guaranteed jobs maintaining the robots (see: Stalinist Communism).
In any case I predict the next few decades will be pretty exciting for future historians. The "A Song of Ice and Fire" kind of exciting.
The problem is that the current fad among manufacturers of cleverly externalizing their social costs (e.g. cost of labor, cost of environmental stewardship, cost of meeting regulatory requirements) also removes their incentive to pay much heed to sharing said riches.
> IMO, the natural progression that combats the impact of robots is to transition from a "buy a new one" society to a "fix the old one" society.
The thing is, it's probably cheaper to buy a new robot-produced item than to pay a human being to repair the old one (particularly if one can hand the broken old item to a robot recycler).
It doesn't even need robots to get there - right now for many items it's cheaper to have a new item manufactured in China and shipped here than repairing it locally; and there are companies who "do repairs" by having local people simply hand out a replacement and ship the original item back to China for repairs or refurbishment.
Things use to be built to last and/or repair. But then companies realized that meant people wouldn't buy a higher margin new one when things broke, so we ended up with planned obsolescence.
How do you propose we make it economically preferable for companies to drive this change? Because that's really the only thing short of legal changes that will make them do it.
The only way you're going to eliminate planned obsolescence is by prohibiting manufacturers from improving their products. It's obviously not even a desirable goal.
A better approach would be to add a deposit to the price of certain products which is then refunded to the consumer when they return it for proper recycling. We already do this with beverage containers so why not other items like consumer electronics? Anyone who can get $10 back on a broken DVD player won't throw it in the garbage.
There are some great ideas on here and the back and forth between ideologies is informative, however if we are honest with ourselves then we have to admit first that we can't possibly know the best end solution, what we can do though is keep bundling in, adding to and tweaking existing policies that are successful, such as @nradov suggests.
By suggestion this I'm not saying that we don't need big changes nor am I suggestion we only tweak. What I am saying is that we need to actively build brick by brick onto existing methods that have worked, such as deposits. Deposits are a great way to enhance recycling and that's proven, so adding them to a wide range of other products makes a great deal of sense.
Does anyone else have other successful policies such as this that could be suggested for expansion too? We should keep actively tweaking rather than sitting on our hands debating what's a great huge step forward when the reality is that small, steady tweaks would have an astronomical effect over 10-20 years with I imagine a very low failure rate to-boot.
I wonder if there's something to be learned/borrowed from carbon offset credits. If a product is produced in such a way as to encourage repair over disposal and replacement, perhaps they could be subsidized with carbon credits to encourage that. Or perhaps a similar concept that isn't necessarily that could be used here.
Its really simple, mandate sane warranty period, like in EU.
You could slap a massive sales tax on all non-renewable commodities. That would make everything made from them more expensive and consumers would then prefer longer lasting models.
High quality products that are already longer lasting (on average) would be relatively less affected by such a tax because raw materials make up a smaller share of their cost anyway and more people would buy them.
This just moves the goalpost another few years into the future until robot repairs are just as viable as robot manufacturing.
"IMO, the natural progression that combats the impact of robots is to transition from a "buy a new one" society to a "fix the old one" society."
Robots work really well for manufacturing. What they don't work well for is repairs.
IMO, the natural progression that combats the impact of robots is to transition from a "buy a new one" society to a "fix the old one" society. There's an entire service industry there that mitigates waste, is better for the environment, is entirely localized and isn't realistically ever going to fit the "make the robot do it" line of work. 3D printers should make this even easier.
The only thing that makes the current approach work is people not feeling the cost of waste disposal due to free trash pickup. As soon as disposal's real costs are actually attached to it you'll begin to shift people's mindsets to products that are built to last instead of built to replace. Investing in a purchase that's harder to repair than replace is one of the reasons for a lot of the issues that we experience in society today.
EDIT: Apparently many European countries charge $2/lb for trash pickup but recycling is free, just as an example on that note.
> In the age of corporate greed (move the jobs to cheaper locations) ...
Is it only corporate greed? Isn't it customer greed as well (let's buy cheaper with no questions about living standards of foreign manufacturers)?
A short comment of mine from some time ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13071845
>"Is it only corporate greed?"
No its not "only" but I would argue maybe that corporate is the prime mover as their goal is simply to satisfy share holders, whose expectations are to see ever increasing returns "ad infinitum." I guess you have to question how sustainable is that? At a certain point is that only achievable by off shoring, bringing in robots and chasing tax inversions with foreign domiciles etc. All of which seem somewhat extreme practices compared to 30 or 40 years ago. When I think about it I sometimes have to wonder "who is this economy for?"
None of those practices are extreme. Moving production to a different city in the same country because it's cheaper bears no difference to moving to a different country.
Using a horse to carry things instead of hiring a few extra people to do so is no different from using a robot.
We've all been doing the same things for thousands of years, and we've all been worried in the same way.
>"None of those practices are extreme. Moving production to a different city in the same country because it's cheaper bears no difference to moving to a different country."
It's very different. If I establish a company I choose to start a company if possible in a place that has a favorable business climate and by that I mean, there is access to labor, and capital, there's a mature legal system, a stable currency and a stable government.
If I become wildly successful and decide that I am going to rent a mailbox on Grand Cayman and say my company is "based in the Cayman Island" despite having no people or office there, I think that qualifies as extreme behavior.
I still want all of the protections and freedoms associated with the country where my actual headquarters is, I just don't want to play by the rules now . Even though its still that same favorable business environment that enabled me to become wildly successful. This is extreme.
You can argue about corporate tax rates all you want but you knew what those were when you incorporated.
>"Using a horse to carry things instead of hiring a few extra people to do so is no different from using a robot."
I'm sorry what year were horses discovered? There was no discovery of horses that caused paradigm shift that led to precipitous large scale unemployment. Please point me to that bit of history.
>"We've all been doing the same things for thousands of years, and we've all been worried in the same way"
No we have not. It was a generation ago, you would work for "the company" until you were 65. And they would give you gold wrist watch on the day you retired.
"It was a generation ago, you would work for "the company" until you were 65. And they would give you gold wrist watch on the day you retired."
But do you realize that this model lasted for about a generation, and only a small % of the world population (probably <5%) benefited from it? There's more to the world than the European and American middle class. That is irrelevant in the long term.
>"There's more to the world than the European and American middle class"
Did you read this article? Its exactly about the European middle class! One of the reasons these types of stories have been such a part of the news cycle lately is precisely because it is effecting the once safe middle class in both America and Europe.
Also why is the fact that it lasted a generation relevant? We are always guided by our recent history. Things like education, retirement, labor polices are all "informed" by our recent history.
> I'm sorry what year were horses discovered? There was no discovery of horses that caused paradigm shift that led to precipitous large scale unemployment. Please point me to that bit of history.
Not horses but
Production has always moved to where it was cheapest. For example, that's why manufacturers used to be located along waterways, because transporting the materials was cheapest over water.
Thats not the same at all or even true. Land with access to a waterway was never "cheaper" than non-waterfront land. They were located there because it was the quickest route to market.
you contradict yourself as well as you can
I didn't contradict myself at all. Speed and price are two separate concerns. One does not imply the other.
Water was by far the cheapest way to get goods to market until railroads came along.
No it was not and that just defies all business logic. Do you really believe that a freight forwarder using steam ships that could guarantee your delivery in matter of days vs a matter of weeks via a service that employed horses didn't charge a premium for that service?
What would be the point of that?
Why do you think towns and cities are usually located adjacent to navigable waterways and natural harbors, going back thousands of years?
Take a trip down the Rhein river some day. There's a medieval castle at every opportunity next to the river. They were built to extract tax from the river traffic. The Rhein was the highway through Germany until railroads.
Perhaps it's not greed at all. It's intellectually lazy to assume malice as the motivation for behaviours with which we disagree.
But greed and malice are orthogonal concepts. Greed concerns ones selfish and personal desires and malice is intention to harm or seek revenge on others. One is concerned with the self and the other isn't. One does not necessarily imply the other. It is intellectually lazy to conflate the two.
That's one of those things that are only really true in theory. The word 'greed' has an overwhelmingly negative connotation.
No its not. If I am selling widgets for x dollars and making a handsome profit and I decide to raise my prices by 150% over night I am likely motivated by greed - to make as much money as possible. That it not way means I wish to harm people which is what the definition of malice is.
People get greedy in business all the time. That doesn't not mean their intent is to inflict harm other people.
Just because a word has a negative connotation does mean its has the same meaning as another word with a negative connotation.
It is a little disingenuous to talk about the many Swiss supporting basic income without mentioning that just last year they overwhelmingly voted to reject it.
Swiss voters have overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to introduce a guaranteed basic income for all.
Final results from Sunday's referendum showed that nearly 77% opposed the plan, with only 23% backing it.
I've heard a counter argument that basic income (and gov't funded social welfare, more generally) may actually reduce the amount of time/effort/money people personally expend on volunteerism/philanthropy.
The thinking is that the existence of extensive gov't social welfare programs make people feel as if they have contributed (via taxes) and this reduce their personal responsibility to work on behalf of the less fortunate. Likewise, it undermines their empathy for the less fortunate because "well, they already receive welfare - so if they remain poor it must be because they [are lazy/addicted to drugs/antisocial/etc.]".
I don't know if I agree with this argument; however, the cultural ramifications of BIG are certainly an important question to wrestle with.
Edit: clarification - the argument is that this belief ("I've done my part") is extended because BIG covers all sources of welfare rather than targeted toward specific populations or purposes (children, mothers, food, etc). When everyone receives social welfare payments (rather than just specific kinds of people) it more fully extends the "I've done my part" feeling to the larger population (rather than specific slices of the population) and reduces overall charitable action.
This is a strange argument, because all of that rhetoric is status quo - people do argue (or argue via proxy; the words are different, but the substantive claims are the same) that people already receive enough. If that's the problem with universal basic income, then the only change is that such vulnerable people end up with more money, which must be a good thing.
I suspect basic income would lead to an increase in inflation in the current environment. Wouldn't many people continue to work having received their stipend in order to obtain a higher standard of living than previously possible? (I know I would) Then wouldn't it follow that inflation would then take place all but entirely removing the utility of the basic income? In my opinion the jury is still out in regards to actually increasing standards of living over decade long time frames. It is entirely possible that it harms vulnerable people more than it aids them. More data is needed.
I suspect basic income would lead to an increase in inflation in the current environment.
How? It's the same amount of money, just redirected from existing welfare programs and redistributed via taxes.
Then wouldn't it follow that inflation would then take place all but entirely removing the utility of the basic income?
If you're making $10k/year and get another $10k from basic income, you'll be much better off even if somehow there is significant inflation.
Basic income isn't a magic wand to make everyone richer. It's an efficient way of guaranteeing that everyone can cover their basic needs, without the inefficiencies and harmful incentives of the current system.
There's no way to make the numbers work if BI is funded by just redirecting existing welfare programs.
Right, any reasonable implementation will result in people with higher incomes having their taxes increased by more than the BI amount. And I think that's a trade a lot of conservatives and libertarians would accept: more redistribution in exchange for less intrusiveness and greater efficiency.
Giving everyone basic income of $10k in the US would be about 2.5T annually (assuming children get nothing). Current tax revenue is only 3.6T and we spend $200-$300B on welfare (assuming you exclude Medicare/Medicade) so it would be a 10x increase in spending on welfare and a 60%-70% tax increase.
I'm not even that conservative and I think that's ridiculous for an amount of money that doesn't even cover the rent in most cities.
Conservatives and Libertarians would never accept BI. Look at how hard they've fought welfare in general.
>How? It's the same amount of money, just redirected from existing welfare programs and redistributed via taxes.
The average spending per welfare recipient is roughly $25 a day in the US that adds up to $9125 per person. 23% of households currently receive some type of government benefit, while half of working individuals make less than 30 thousand dollars a year. If you wished to provide basic income to just those making under 30 thousand a year my back of a napkin math says you would at a conservative estimate double the current expenditures and that program isn't basic income as much as welfare expansion.
>If you're making $10k/year and get another $10k from basic income, you'll be much better off even if somehow there is significant inflation.
If you doubled everyone's salaries, due to supply and demand, the price of every good would then double. Money is used to purchase goods and services that are produced using a finite set of resources. Those resources don't grow simply because you have printed more money.
The inflationary impact of UBI is rarely discussed but I think is very important. Unless it was paired with a mandatory salary cut (cue the howlers) I don't see how that would not happen.
I'm not sure this is so. Presumably this is offset by tax increases- which means no new money is injected into the system. Instead, it's a literal redistribution lf existing money.
While there might be some inflation as the supply of money available to those with low- to median income increase spending, I don't think it would be sufficient to offset the base change.
On the other hand you would need to significantly increase taxes on upper-middle+ brackets to ensure no new money is introduced. After all they receive BI under this system too, which they'd effectively have to pay back and then some....
Well UBI would naturally have to come along with greatly increased taxes on higher income levels, and property taxes would remain. I think the biggest issue of UBI is the transition period. How do you switch over?
The salary cut is also problematic. If you create a maximum wage that is too low you'd have employers competing for a smaller pool workers without any way to incentivize them. I suspect a great many jobs would simply become impossible to fill (oil worker, trash truck driver, construction laborer, etc). Perhaps you can make the amount say one million annually (adjusted to the now inflated dollars) but that likely wouldn't curb inflation all that much as few people are paid that well and would destroy the very tax base that is intended to fund the basic income in the first place.
I'd support a move to a "Star Trek" economy but I just don't see how you pull it off.
The Swiss unemployment rate, around 3.5%, is one of the lowest in Europe. So at this point it doesn't look like too many humans are without a job after having been replaced by robots.
Could it be that just like with the industrial revolution, old jobs are being replaced with new ones? In that case there is no need for a basic income.
> The Swiss unemployment rate, around 3.5%, ...
Warning! Swiss unemployment statistics often consider only people who have been looking for a job for at most two years. After two years, you can apply for long-term social care and, astonishingly(?), you are not counted any more as "unemployed".
And also there is a large number of immigrants who prefers to return to their home countries after their first gig or when they get unemployed.
Almost 37% of the population have no Swiss background.
In 6 years in Switzerland(yeah personal anecdote), I have yet seen someone being actually fired. They rather let them go, and then these people don't find another job and go back to their home countries.
It takes about 6month~to get a new jobs, even when your skills are supposedly in demand.
My point, the low % of unemployment is thanks to migrants, not because the job market is "great".
Old jobs are always replaced by new (and usually better ones). The history of the last 200 years has been the massive slaughter of old jobs and replacement by much higher paying and safer new jobs. In US history in from the 1800s we transitioned from 95% brutally hard and dangerous farm labor to less than 5% of the population mechanically farming. Original manufacturing was all by hand, now it's constantly machine aided.
Another trend is we simply don't work as much. The age of the robots may be that we start working 24 hours a week for more money (and still bitching about going back to work on mondays)
>Old jobs are always replaced by new (and usually better ones).
No, that's just what happened a few times in the past. Not some natural law. The previous times farming jobs got replaced by factory jobs (which were enough because of a huge increase in the manufactoring sector) and when those dwindled by robots and more efficient factories, they got replaced by the services industry. This time automation and software/AI depletes factory and service jobs, and we don't have much room for any other kind of jobs.
Any job we'll come up with will either be able to be done by robots, or be replaced by advanced AI. The exceptions where human touch will be still (always?) needed (artistic work, prostitution, etc) are not enough to make a living even today, much less in an oversaturated future market.
The next few decades promise automation that all but removes the economic and geopolitical advantages of population. At that point, population becomes a liability. There are only two endgames: quarantine and subsidy. That is, you subsidise the standard of living for some "in" group and quarantine away the implied "out" group. Ideally, everyone is "in". Realistically, no way.
Population on the whole will never become a liability. You DO want more young and middle-aged people than old so your tax base is healthy, but that's not a problem with population as a whole.
Finally, you always need a reserve of able-bodied humans who can be trained to become soldiers. Remember that a lack of trained bodies is one of the reasons why a nation like Japan lost.
Until we have true artificial intelligence I do not think this will be true.
The interesting part is that in CH, unlike in other democracies, if people will vote for it, it will be implemented. In the last referendum about UBI the proposal had ~23% support. And if the automation advances, that number may raise quickly.
Could you really call it a democracy otherwise?
Switzerland has a much more direct democracy than most (all?) other democracies. This means citizens often vote on things similar to ballot initiatives in the US.
In the context of basic income it means such a populist policy would be have different political barriers.
> Switzerland has a much more direct democracy than most (all?) other democracies.
Just for the record, that's not as wonderful as it may seem at a first look. Direct democracy has shown its limits some times during the last year. The fundamental issues being that you can only vote yes or no for a fixed text, while a law is usually supposed to be discussed in a parliament in every detail until an agreement can be found.
As far as I know, a referendum can take two forms: either it's the final text or it simply is a mandate to create a law with certain parameters, the lawmakers can then decide on the exact wording.
There are two kinds:
1. An addition to the constitution. The parlament then has to implement that into law.
2. A referendum on a law that has been passed by parlament. This allows the citizens to revert a parlamentary decision.
There is no way to vote on a new law directly. However you can get close by just having a very detailed constitutional change that doesn't leave a lot of options for implementation open.
Most democracies are simply democratic republics (i.e. the US), where only a small subset of the population can actually directly voice a choice on issues (i.e. see California's frequent ballot initiatives).
The proposal likely failed because it was too ambitious. The 2,500 Swiss franc a month level would have required doubling or tripling the federal budget.
> Let all citizens live to a basic level, but not too good a level that the incentive to innovate or do more is gone. The basic income will, in my opinion, lead to a more entrepreneurial society where risk takers are supported - and also a more socially responsible and caring society, where people can donate their time to help others.
You can never eliminate the poverty line. You can only shift it. Poverty in the 1400s meant you lived in squalor with no utilities and no sanitization and very few public services.
Poverty in 2017 means (for the most part) you have a small or shared condo with running water, electricity, refrigerator, television, smartphone, access to lots of public services (libraries, parks, hospitals, etc) and more. The poor people of today have it better than kings of old, but very few people hold that perspective.
Under UBI poverty will just get shifted to the new standard, but people will only be temporarily happier with their new standard of living. The next generation will be discontented with their standard of living. People will complain that UBI isn't enough to live on, etc. How is the end game not communism? Who gets to say: "stop complaining, UBI is enough for you." Won't it be more tempting for the politicians to say: "You're right, this is outrageous! The rich have oppressed you enough, we need to tax them more to raise your UBI."
>Poverty in 2017 means (for the most part) you have a small or shared condo with running water, electricity, refrigerator, television, smartphone, access to lots of public services (libraries, parks, hospitals, etc) and more. The poor people of today have it better than kings of old, but very few people hold that perspective.
Anyone would agree that this is a desirable thing, right? I wouldn't mind if poverty meant not having a personal yacht and living in an apartment instead of a suburban house in 2040.
If you allowed people to choose, be poor in 2017 or be poor in 1400, most would still prefer 2017. Which means it's an improvement, regardless of how happy people say they are.
>How is the end game not communism?
The main issue with communism/socialism is that it doesn't work, that the working class is not better off than the working class in a capitalist society. It doesn't make sense to worry about something being technically communism or not, when the tangible result is that people are better off on average.
UBI doesn't seem very different from subsidies for failing industries, only it's broader so there isn't any incentive for one single group to push it through.
>Who gets to say: "stop complaining, UBI is enough for you."
You could make this argument about any wealth redistribution scheme ever.
> Anyone would agree that this is a desirable thing, right?
I absolutely think this is a great thing. I just think a lot of people don't realize how great it truly is to be living in the USA in 2017. I think we as a society have a hard time keeping things in perspective.
> I wouldn't mind if poverty meant not having a personal yacht and living in an apartment instead of a suburban house in 2040.
Yeah, but you'll be able to keep things in perspective having lived in 2017. The rising generation in 2040 will have no perspective, and to them a yacht will be a "basic necessity needed to function" in society and anything less is poverty (or whatever, that was a contrived example).
> If you allowed people to choose, be poor in 2017 or be poor in 1400, most would still prefer 2017.
Not only that, if you allowed people to choose to be poor in 2017 or be rich in 1400, most people would either choose poor 2017 or they would choose rich 1400 and then regret it once they realize how much they've lost (smooth roads, suspension systems on modern transportation, climate control, etc.).
> Which means it's an improvement, regardless of how happy people say they are.
I agree. But if improvements don't result in a net increase in happiness, what's the point of making the improvements? I agree we should continue to make improvements, but clearly there is some other special sauce required to increase happiness that we are missing here. The poor of 2017 have it 1000x better than the poor in the 1400s, yet are the current poor 1000x happier? Or are they still sad?
> The main issue with communism/socialism is that it doesn't work
Ok, I'm following you
> It doesn't make sense to worry about something being technically communism or not, when the tangible result is that people are better off on average.
But wait, if communism doesn't work, shouldn't you be worried about a scheme whose end-game turns your government into communism? I'm still trying to understand how UBI doesn't eventually end up as communism. Who draws the line and says we've redistributed enough? How to we prevent the line from moving to the point where all wealth is redistributed (aka communism)?
> You could make this argument about any wealth redistribution scheme ever.
Which is why I'm generally against them. There are exceptions, but in general, wealth redistribution schemes are not wise long-term decisions.
I meant to convey something like this:
You start with "communism doesn't work" and you want to know whether UBI works (improves lives, etc).
So you can do "does UBI lead to communism?", and then decide the "does UBI work?" accordingly.
But you could also just ask "does UBI work?", without needing to assume that UBI leading to communism (I guess you could also test whether or not it leads there, but that's just as hard as testing whether it works).
> The poor people of today have it better than kings of old, but very few people hold that perspective.
I agree. 600 years ago, the only things kings had more of than today's welfare recipients are power, servants, and estate. Just go to the supermarket in the winter and you'll find a bigger selection of fresh fruits and vegetables than they ever had.
Go back to 1917 and the idea that every welfare recipient deserves not just food, clean water and shelter, but also warm water, electricity, a fridge, central heating, and his/her own room (not to mention a phone, a TV, and Internet access), would sound ridiculous. And yet, today all these are considered basic needs that a state has to satisfy for everyone – and rightly so, in my opinion.
However, I don't think it's a given that the socially agreed-upon minimal standard of living will rise faster than the average standard of living will rise due to increased automation. But even if it only rises by the same factor, it would mean that there will always by a layer of society which is considered to be "poor".
>I agree. 600 years ago, the only things kings had more of than today's welfare recipients are power, servants, and estate.
So the main thing that matters to humans as human beings? As opposed to mere animals who need shelter and food?
> So the main thing that matters to humans as human beings?
Speak for yourself. I'd rather have convenience, good medical care, and the Internet than the power to let 100 peasants bow down before me.
If you're one of "today's welfare recipientss" (as is the question in this sub-thread) you'll have neither convenience and good medical care. And usually not much time or use for the internet either.
And "power" is not about having "peasants bow", it's about having an impact, and being able to influence things.
> If you're one of "today's welfare recipientss" (as is the question in this sub-thread) you'll have neither convenience and good medical care. And usually not much time or use for the internet either.
Look outside the US (to Germany, for example), and you'll see that this is not necessarily true.
I'm pretty sure the kings of old didn't go hungry.
Pretty sure the kings of old would have been dumbstruck at what we consider "hunger" when they see how obese our poor typically are.
Edit: I don't want to make this sound like I don't care about hunger, clearly kids should not have to go hungry in our present day society. Its on us to provide the poor with avenues and incentives to work and earn living wages. Adults who refuse to work help themselves, well hunger can be a needed incentive.
I don't see how that's a relevant argument. People who are hungry and people who are obese both lack mean to attain proper nutrition. Stress, obesity and debt is the new hurt, hungry and poor. unfounded opinions are the new not knowing something. Everything is different, yet the same. Downvoting is just regular stupid, if you can't make an argument for your opinions but instead try an hide others arguments you're just plain old stupid.
Obviously there are going to be pros and cons. Sure, a percentage of the poor today are sometimes hungry. But very few are starving.
Maybe I'm alone, but I would rather be a poor person in 2017 than a rich person in the 1400s. The internet itself is enough of a benefit for me.
> I would rather be a poor person in 2017 than a rich person in the 1400s.
For myself - that would a be a tough choice.
There were still things that wealthy people back then (especially the ruling class) could command that ordinary people - even wealthy ones - of today can't touch.
The amount of land and property owned, and in the case of the ruling class the ability to raise and have "armies", as well as how laws and such applied...all skew toward them.
Granted, there are many, many things of today that people of the 1400s could only dream about, if even that. Our technology, our medicine, our easy access to food...all of that and more would have been impossible for even the ruling class of the 1400s to access.
But again - there were things they could access that only governments of today, or the extremely wealthy (billionaires - but even there are limits) can access today. Not only what I've mentioned, but also political and other circles (people, money, laws, etc) - that the ordinary person of today have no access to - they didn't then, nor now.
> In the age of corporate greed
I see it as the reverse. In the age where people want a minimum wage of $15 without increasing their skills and asking other members of society to pay for it (either the employer or every productive person through taxation), the productive members are feeling the pressure to produce more and increase efficiency.
Basic income will only ensure that more members of the productive class move to the dependent class which would only exacerbate the problem.
I think we should also move to something in the spirit of "basic startup funding". In a way this is an extension of the microcredits idea.
Why should humans work in factories doing mindless jobs? We need to prepare people to re-educate themselves as technology advances.
Andrew Ng discusses "basic income" where people need to learn:
greed is part of mankind since ever, and it's not going anywhere, like it or not. you have your opinions, and I respectfully disagree with them. swiss voters apparently consider it a pipe dream too, based on results of referendum on UBI
It's easier to afford the GrundeinKommen if your banks are full of capital stolen from the rest of the world.
The basic income is a terrible idea that could be a great idea with a few tweaks. One of the worst economic policies is minimum wage, it attempts to help the poor but at the cost of a loss in some jobs, and some of it's benefits to upper middle class (kids and wives) that don't need it. It's inefficient, and can be counterproductive for those most in need.
Those at most risk of losing jobs because of it are the ones that need it the most, unskilled, single parents, etc. An employer is biased keep jonny college kid over suzy single mom when they cut a position, because jonny might come back as a manager after finishing school. Minimum wages also can create that situation where it's so damn hard to get that first job that you need to get your next job.
A minimum wage that is paid for by the government is a far better option. As long as you work, we don't care what your employer pays you, $4, $8 hour, you should get government benefits that round you up to a living wage based on your life situation. Which means more for the single parent, a little bit less for the single worker, and nothing for the high school/college kids living at home or executive wife taking a second job.
And this means more jobs, and makes it much easier to find employment (and have job mobility). Also more jobs means more output, which means higher GDP.
>The basic income is a terrible idea that could be a great idea with a few tweaks. One of the worst economic policies is minimum wage, it attempts to help the poor but at the cost of a loss in some jobs
Or so neoliberal economists say. It's not clear cut at all.
The scheme you suggest is also called a negative income tax, and was espoused by Milton Friedman.
It is no surprise to see many Swiss vocally supporting the 'Grundeinkommen' - which is a basic income for everyone. In the age of corporate greed (move the jobs to cheaper locations) and automation (bring in the robots) Switzerland, like every country, will have to ask itself 'what do humans do'.
The basic income is the solution in my opinion. Let all citizens live to a basic level, but not too good a level that the incentive to innovate or do more is gone. The basic income will, in my opinion, lead to a more entrepreneurial society where risk takers are supported - and also a more socially responsible and caring society, where people can donate their time to help others.
Yes, it's a good thing. The Swiss are among the wealthiest people in the world because of their high productivity. But "robots take our jobs" makes for a nice headline.
I read this as "human employees are hard to find, and really expensive, so we automated".
Which I think also means "unemployment is low and wages are high".
So.. this is a good thing?
It's literally referred to 'lights-out manufacturing' in the automation industry.
The whole robot revolution thing only sunk in for me when my dad (owner of elec co) mentioned that they got a contract for installing lighting in a factor that is on a timer.
Turns out they need the lights off 6 days a week (robots) and 1 day on (humans doing maintenance on robots). That whole concept of they don't even bother lighting it really hit home in terms of yeah really no humans anymore.
There's a business opportunity here in the US. It's now clear that the current administration intends to deport every illegal immigrant they can identify. This will reduce the pool of cheap labor in specific industries. That creates an opportunity for automation.
- Fruit picking for difficult crops. Abundant Robots has a good demo system. What they don't have is a technology ready to be deployed. This is an area in which YC could be active. To finance rapid deployment, FSA loans  could be used.
- Floor care. This should have been automated by now. The Roomba and its friends just aren't good enough at cleaning. What the world needs is a good $3000 industrial strength floor cleaning robot. The technology exists  but is too bulky. Here's the Swiss version.
And the advanced R&D version, which is not practical yet. This technology is here, almost. Commercial cleaning needs to become one well-paid person and a crew of robots. This is within reach, and now there's an incentive.
- Lawn care. "Mow, blow, and go" should have been automated by now.
- Commercial dishwashing. Pre-inspection, sorting, vision-guided aiming of pressure wash jets, and post-inspection is needed. A robot at the Baxter level should be able to do this.
What do all these roles have in common? They aren't usually valued very highly by society.
Artistic work is valued very highly by society. J.K. Rowling is a billionaire. Notch, creator of Minecraft, likewise. George Lucas is a billionaire 5x over.
It seems a lot of people want to work the jobs the robots are good at and not do the ones humans are best at.
A very large number of people desperately want to do artistic work, enough to keep doing it on less than minimum wage and/or in terrible working conditions for decades or their entire lives.
The problem is not that artistic work, per se, isn't valued. The problem is that artistic jobs in the 21st century suffer from a truly vicious power law curve, and a comparatively small number of people can create most of the art and storytelling most people will consume, and thus reap most of the rewards.
I'd argue that the average monthly income of artists is lower than that of software developers. Same for workers in care.
The average monthly income of artists is massively lower than that of software developers. It's probably lower than that of janitors.
In the UK a professional author, on average, earns below minimum wage, for example.
Again: power law curve. A very small number of authors create something that becomes a massive hit. They get extremely wealthy, because society really values their work.
Most - and by "most" I mean 99.99% - don't.
I'd call it an "inverse square law", but the distribution is so uneven that most artists would be tearfully grateful if it suddenly changed to only be equivalent to 1/x^2 .
You're picking a few massively successful people out of billions that have come and gone. You could argue the same about any industry by cherry-picking a few successes while the mean comp is much lower, which actually shows that as a society we actually do not value those things very highly.
My point is that some artistic work is valued extremely highly.
The issue with saying "we'd like everyone who wants to be an artist to be able to make a living at it!" is that thanks to easy duplication, a very few winners take almost the entire pot.
That's radically different to most other industries, and so requires different solutions.
I have several recordings from my teenage years...would you mind forking over some of them billions that society is handing out ? ;-)
Please (re?)read the parent's last paragraph:
> The problem is that artistic jobs in the 21st century suffer from a truly vicious power law curve, and a comparatively small number of people can create most of the art and storytelling most people will consume.
But I think the problem is not unavoidable - for example, you could avoid it by trying to get the locals to have preference for local content, so it alleviates the pain of fighting against global artists. You just need to find a niche to exploit :) for example, being a bullfighter reduces competition as there are not a lot of countries that enjoy it. For music, try folk. Etc.
What do all these roles have in common? They scale globally and only the best contributors matter.
Attention becomes the bottleneck. The top artist in some niche is highly valued, the 101st in that particular niche is useless because only the most narrowminded fan has enough time and attention to consume the 100 artists that do the same thing better - and for the 1001st? Only their mother would care about their work. Producing the best movie or the best jazz record in your town doesn't mean that there will be a nontrivial amount of people that would want that work, because there are more better movies/records than they can watch.
It's the same with journalism, it's mostly going away as a profession as there's space for only a very limited number of people to do it for pay, as there are more than enough hobbyists able and willing to produce that content for free. As it goes on (e.g. with automation) it's not unrealistic to expect a market price that goes below zero, i.e., where most of the "industry" are essentially paying to be there instead of getting paid. We already see that in e.g. photography and music with a lot of people who create great art, but their revenue for that doesn't even cover what they are paying for their equipment. And it's going to get even more so.
Humans can create thoughtful art, write meaningful stories and journalism. But the vast majority of that content is garbage and has negative value. I wouldn't want it even for free; someone would have to pay me to consume it.
> They aren't usually valued very highly by society.
Simply matter of supply and demand. Nobody cares too much about what cab be done by anybody.
Humans can do lots of things robots can't currently do: they can create thoughtful art, write meaningful stories and journalism. They can take care of and raise children. They can easily tailor instruction to individuals, and more.
What do all these roles have in common? They aren't usually valued very highly by society. It seems a lot of people want to work the jobs the robots are good at and not do the ones humans are best at.
Yeah, articles that focus on wages as the primary driving force (or here, wages plus currency movements) are missing the main picture. Changes in wages do make a difference at the margins, but only the margins: a 15% wage change in one direction or another simply speeds up or slows down the schedule of automation being rolled out, but it doesn't make previously completely infeasible things feasible. Tech developments, on the other hand, can produce order-of-magnitude improvements in costs and capabilities, which swamps these smaller currency/wage movements in terms of making things feasible and economical to automate.
Or you know, the costs have fallen and the flexibility & capability automation has improved.
The chart of job growth in manufacture shows a series of dips and rises ending with a small dip in 2015 . Call me skeptical but I can't see this supporting the claim that automation is reducing manufacturing employment in Switzerland - especially if the world financial climate is bad, this small dip could even represent postponed hiring.
And the big thing is automation is not something that appeared in 2015 - in a factory setting, people have been trying to apply it forever. The simpler description would be "due to extremely high currency, some swiss factories close - and automation continues as usual".
Maybe automation is ultimately going to eat all jobs. The claim that automated jobs inherently generate more jobs is another unsupported "received idea" imo.
That said, a steady-state scenario would be where each year, a factory is automated more, maintains the same workforce and produces more and better stuff, and the world consumes that larger amount until the whole world has all the stuff they need.
That doesn't look like where things are headed but it isn't obviously impossible even if the policies of Trump don't seem like well-thought-out approaches for bringing them about.
 https://assets.bwbx.io/images/users/iqjWHBFdfxIU/idKGEW3NsEy... - same article
No wonder robots rule in Swiss factories when corporations can issue bonds at negative interest rates.
When the rate of interest is 7%, paying wages or a salary can be significantly cheaper than buying expensive equipment, because of compound interest. A 10-year bond at 7% interest is 40% more expensive than one at zero percent.
The Swiss central bank is creating an environment where corporations have no choice but to automate - it's simply too expensive not to. If they don't do it, their competitors will.
> “We ask ourselves ‘can we avoid this process altogether?’ When not, we ask ‘can we fully automate it?’ This is what we try to do,” Lindner told a conference in Zurich in November. “We are really trying to automate not just our production sites but also our back office.” - Ricola CFO
I think more so that open sourcing everything (no problem here with that, though) - might be (somehow) incentivizing or requiring the ability for ordinary people to access automated manufacturing at extremely low cost. Increase the number of maker and hacker spaces. Co-working spaces. Co-industry spaces (shared manufacturing)?
To an extent this is already happening (witness the rise and popularity of low cost PCB manufacturers - as well as 3D printing companies that take a model and make a widget for a small fee - similar for other CAD/CAM manufacturing - but the prices need to come down, especially in certain areas like injection molding and such).
Government can't legitimately force robot designers to give away their IP. That would eliminate the economic incentive for designing new robots. And having an industrial robot would be useless outside the context of a fully-equipment modern factory anyway.
How would you even define what the terms "robot" and "automation" mean in legal terms anyway? Almost everything man-made object around us is automation in some sense.
sorry but implying this is all done in bad faith is ridiculous. unless you just the only producer of a widget your profits are dictated by how well your market your product, how good your product is, and how your pricing compares. robotics reduces your costs after the initial investment is accounted for. prices do drop or remain steady, rarely do prices go up and much of that can be accounted for in increased regulation or embedded taxes
the only winners when government takes over an industry are politicians and those they choose to administer the industry.
> government takes over an industry
The coloured glasses that everyone wears these days is costing me karma... to hell with it.
Please re-read my post. Open sourcing robot schematics and software has nothing to do with government taking over.
It means that hackers everywhere will be able to study and improve said robots and maybe build a version of the factory in some poor place on the other side of the world or maybe on another planet.
As far as finding the capital, building the things and running them - that's the responsibility of whoever wants to assume that risk, as always.
Though this part does suggest some govt strong arming.
> be highly encouraged (tax benefits etc)
Also note that many (including me) believe that taxes are already non-consensual and extortion by Govts.
Robots everywhere are a good thing (tm).
Why hire people when you can cut costs by 100x and deliver more stuff of higher build quality ?
However nobody except the owners benefit from automation (savings are profits), while slowly generating a huge unemployment problem outside the factory walls.
The governments or companies themselves should quickly step in - not just through some sort of universal income, but through making automation public.
In other words, robot schematics and software should become public and open source and companies should be highly encouraged (tax benefits etc) to open source all their software and build schematics.
This jist of this article is that companies need robots for manufacturing _because_ the Swiss have it so great in their non-manufacturing jobs. Having low unemployment, high wages, and a strong currency is an enviable situation for a country.
P.S. For the record, they currently have a 3.5% unemployment rate.
> Having low unemployment, high wages, and a strong currency is an enviable situation for a country.
Concerning the strong currency, Swiss National Bank disagrees with you :-) They tried to buy as many euros as possible in order to keep Swiss franc from getting too strong, until they gave up. Ant then Swiss export started to suffer a lot more!
> until they gave up
Wasn't it mostly due to EUR losing ground against USD (due to QE?)? (at which point it didn't make as much sense pegging the currency only against EUR, I wonder why they didn't peg against a mix of currencies). In any case the SNB doesn't seem too concerned now, at least there's no peg anymore.
Sometime back there was an account of how good is work-life balance in Switzerland. Now it seems Swiss will also face economic forces which spared none.
Full employment and high wages drive technological progress. When labor is abundant there's little incentive to invest in technology.
This is not a surprise, Switzerland also makes a lot of precision robots used in manufacturing. ABB is probably the largest in Switzerland.
I prefer to repair rather than replace, but sometimes you get really punished for it. Try to replace the heating element in a dryer, or the circuit board in a furnace. The costs are so high you might as well replace the whole thing.
On the other end, my car is designed to make it easy to replace components, and they're cheap, too.