Labor Day 2028

In 1928, famed British economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that technology would advance so far in a hundred years – by 2028 – that it will replace all work, and no one will need to worry about making money.

“For the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem – how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.”

We still have thirteen years to go before we reach Keynes’ prophetic year, but we’re not exactly on the way to it. Americans are working harder than ever.

Keynes may be proven right about technological progress. We’re on the verge of 3-D printing, driverless cars, delivery drones, and robots that can serve us coffee in the morning and make our beds.

But he overlooked one big question: How to redistribute the profits from these marvelous labor-saving inventions, so we’ll have the money to buy the free time they provide?

Without such a mechanism, most of us are condemned to work ever harder in order to compensate for lost earnings due to the labor-replacing technologies.

Such technologies are even replacing knowledge workers – a big reason why college degrees no longer deliver steadily higher wages and larger shares of the economic pie.

Since 2000, the vast majority of college graduates have seen little or no income gains.

The economic model that predominated through most of the twentieth century was mass production by many, for mass consumption by many.

But the model we’re rushing toward is unlimited production by a handful, for consumption by the few able to afford it.

The ratio of employees to customers is already dropping to mind-boggling lows.

When Facebook purchased the messaging company WhatsApp for $19 billion last year, WhatsApp had fifty-five employees serving 450 million customers.

When more and more can be done by fewer and fewer people, profits go to an ever-smaller circle of executives and owner-investors. WhatsApp’s young co-founder and CEO, Jan Koum, got $6.8 billion in the deal.

This in turn will leave the rest of us with fewer well-paying jobs and less money to buy what can be produced, as we’re pushed into the low-paying personal service sector of the economy. 

Which will also mean fewer profits for the handful of billionaire executives and owner-investors, because potential consumers won’t be able to afford what they’re selling.

What to do? We might try to levy a gigantic tax on the incomes of the billionaire winners and redistribute their winnings to everyone else. But even if politically feasible, the winners will be tempted to store their winnings abroad – or expatriate.

Suppose we look instead at the patents and trademarks by which government protects all these new inventions.

Such government protections determine what these inventions are worth. If patents lasted only three years instead of the current twenty, for example, What’sApp would be worth a small fraction of $19 billion – because after three years anybody could reproduce its messaging technology for free.  

Instead of shortening the patent period, how about giving every citizen a share of the profits from all patents and trademarks government protects? It would be a condition for receiving such protection.

Say, for example, 20 percent of all such profits were split equally among all citizens, starting the month they turn eighteen.

In effect, this would be a basic minimum income for everyone.

The sum would be enough to ensure everyone a minimally decent standard of living – including money to buy the technologies that would free them up from the necessity of working.

Anyone wishing to supplement their basic minimum could of course choose to work – even though, as noted, most jobs will pay modestly.

This outcome would also be good for the handful of billionaire executives and owner-investors, because it would ensure they have customers with enough money to buy their labor-saving gadgets.

Such a basic minimum would allow people to pursue whatever arts or avocations provide them with meaning, thereby enabling society to enjoy the fruits of such artistry or voluntary efforts.

We would thereby create the kind of society John Maynard Keynes predicted we’d achieve by 2028  – an age of technological abundance in which no one will need to work.

Happy Labor Day.

Factory and production jobs have been shipped overseas by CEOs to please shareholders. The low skill jobs the corporate class have provided, the ones that are ‘stolen’, can only be stolen if hired by the businesses. Classic conservative 'blame game’ never addressing the hiring side of their bigoted 'stolen jobs’ anti-immigration dog whistle. #StillNoGOPJobsBill

7 Things to Do Before You Start Writing

If you’re anything like me, staying focused is no easy task. Maybe you just heard the ping of a facebook message, or maybe your desk just needs to be reorganized. You get hungry, you need coffee, or you forgot to call your second cousin to wish them a happy birthday. I put together this list of things that I do before I start writing, but I won’t pretend that I don’t still get distracted sometimes. I definitely do. I’ve found all of things things to be useful, though, so hopefully this advice helps you.

1 - Eat and get your Beverage of Choice

I used to wake up and shuffle over to my desk, eager to write, and then find myself taking a break in twenty minutes to grab some breakfast. As a full time writer, I treat my writing like a job. I wake up at 8, I eat my breakfast, drink my tea, then pour an extra cup to bring with me to work. Luckily, my commute is short enough that my extra cup is still full, and that keeps me happy for most of the morning. Tea breaks (or coffee breaks) aren’t allowed until 10am in my very strict office. Tough rules, I know, but my boss can be really unreasonable.

2 - Get Dressed

For me personally, I dress for work. I have heels on and buisness attire as I write. I like to look good, because then I feel good. Wearing pajamas to the desk just makes me feel like it’s okay to minimize my writing and skim facebook. I don’t feel like I am working. Everyone is different though, so find out what attire works for you. If you like to be in comfy PJs, then get dressed in those. If you like to work in the nude then… I guess this rule doesn’t apply to you. The point is - wear whatever will make you focus.

3 - Clean Up your Work Space

I can’t stand clutter at my desk. If it’s there, I work for fifteen minutes and then I am trying to organize everything. If you’re like that too, get it over with early. There’s no point in fighting it because you won’t produce quality work. You’ll be distracted. Make sure things are where you’ll expect them to be. Don’t stuff your notebooks under your bed to create extra space and then waste hours looking for them later. That’s not going to be helpful. Take the time to organize your space productively.

4 - Keep a Calendar

Mid-sentence, you don’t need to stop and worry if your dentist appointment was today or if you forgot your uncle’s birthday.  You don’t have to break out your cell phone or sign onto facebook to check a calendar or birthday schedule. It’s on your desk right in front of you, and you can glance at it and then calmly continue writing.

5 - Close your Door  

Unless you live alone, it’s safe to say someone in the house will disturb your writing time. Whether it’s your parents, significant other, a child, or adorable pet companion, a closed door helps deter them from interrupting you. For those people who can’t take a hint, print out a sign saying “Writing - Do Not Disturb”.

6 - Go Cold Turkey

This might be a little extreme for anyone who has more self control then I do. Cold turkey is a program that temporarily blocks you from any distracting websites. You get to pick the sites, and for how long. I highly recommend it to anyone who finds themselves scrolling facebook or tumblr halfway through their writing session.  

7 - Have your Research Ready

It happens to everyone. You need to figure out how much money it would cost to hire an assassin in 1860, or you need to know how long it takes for a body to start to smell after death. Aside from tainting your internet search history and making your friends and family worry about your sanity, research also distracts you from your writing. You start off googling “Pirate Culture in the 1800s” to get an idea of what your character’s job is, and three hours later, you are reading your 15th wikapedia article about dog booties. Trying to research while writing is just asking to be distracted. Get it done before hand! 

Best of luck and happy writing,

Marina Montenegro

Thoughts on Automation & the Job Economy

Been reading a ton of opinions about this lately. I’m just gonna throw out some points, try to build to something, but take it as you will.

1) Computers/Robots/Machines are getting much smarter every day. Humans are not. Thus, as computers quickly learn to do jobs that people now do, those supplanted workers will have a hard time learning a new skill that robots can’t do.

2) Robots do creative work too. They’ve written poetry, painted, composed music, etc. 

3) There’s a very finite limit to how many people can make money off the arts. I see a lot of discussion about a new “arts economy”, but that doesn’t seem plausible. There are already thousands of singers, bands, composers, etc, and very few can earn a living off it. Plus, if suddenly the number of art suppliers doubles, one would expect the value to go down. (Not to mention the addition of robotic artists.)

4) I can imagine that there will be a few jobs that benefit from a human touch, such as a judge or a nanny or a waitress. However, there are a very finite number of those jobs, most do not offer great wages (esp if there are millions of people vying for the position), and really, in the near future we may feel differently about having robots do that stuff. Some may even prefer robots which are impartial, patient, ever aware, vastly knowledgeable, etc. etc.

5) Robots aren’t just coming for low-wage jobs. There are robots replacing people in law-firms (eg), robots replacing doctors (eg), financial analysts (eg) and more. This is definitely not just an issue for low-wage workers.

6) Yes, automation will create new jobs as well (like fixing robots), but it won’t help the masses losing their jobs in the near term. Few would be able to go back to school for a few years to learn those skills; plus, they’d be competing with the young’uns already doing that. And again, there’s a finite number of those jobs (even if we assume that the robots won’t be doing much of that as well).

7) While we’ve had automation revolutions in the past, the pace of change was much slower, and the machines weren’t “smart”: they still needed lots of hands-on maintenance, and the skills they replaced were low-level and narrow. In contrast, the kind of change we’re looking at now is much more far-reaching. For instance, consider software updates which can automatically give millions of machines new capabilities or instantly repair a fault. (e.g. a Tesla update to give its vehicles self-driving capability.)

8) This is happening. For instance, this Chinese factory which replaced 90% of its workers with robots. (And btw, China, being a huge production center, is poised to see this crisis emerge really quick as more factories continue to layoff hundreds and thousands of workers - which require pay, sick leave, time to sleep, etc - with robots.)

9) Personally, I don’t see a solution to this. I know the Netherlands is testing out a guaranteed basic income, and that might be something for other countries to consider as well. I am a petrified of the idea that a handful of tech and software companies would essentially run the world, and it may be that a sort of Marxism might be necessary where the gov’t owns the means of production and shares the riches with its citizens. If one considers a future where almost no-one needs to work, and robots do everything, I’d much rather have the people own those robots than any few individuals. But how we switch to such a system is almost inconceivable. Sadly, it might require for things to hit rock bottom first.

Between 2009 and 2013, some 41.5% of Flint’s residents lived below the poverty line, compared to just 16.8% of the rest of the state. A quarter of its families have an annual income of below $15,000 a year. The city’s child poverty rate of 66.5% is nearly 10 percentage points higher than Detroit’s. Block by block, neighborhoods where GM had built houses for its workers were marked by the detritus of abandonment, crumbling homes and overgrown lots. Crime and despair began to fester. And generations of families barely making it replaced those that had once thrived. Often those families were one and the same. 

Today on MSNBC we launch Chapter 3 from our on-going feature, Geography of Poverty, “The Rust Belt: Once Mighty Cities in Decline: an Auto Giant’s Exit Brings Flint to its Knees” by photographer @mattblack_blackmatt and reporter Trymaine Lee.


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Day 137 of Being Happy

Still alive, just fyi. I was just lazy these past couple of weeks to write anything. But a lot of stuff happened. I did not get the job I interviewed for the last time I wrote a blog. However, I did get the other job. So yay!! It is a far cry from my dream job but I am making progress. I am accumulating funds to study which will help me acquire my dream job. That is all that matters. In the mean time, I will enjoy the next few days and treat them as a vacation of sorts before I dive back into work. Mind you, I have work all the way up until Friday evening. But I will be getting a long weekend after for-fricking-ever!! 😃So I am happy. We have to celebrate the small things and stop being naysayers. 

p.s. I went shopping last Saturday and I spent like $400 on a minuscule amount of goods (I basically got two purses and three tops. Ack!). I am a menace and need to be kept away from shopping malls. LOL Sometimes you gotta splurge. And by sometimes I mean no more than twice a year. 😝
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