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posted by LaminatorX on Sunday March 23 2014, @11:32PM   Printer-friendly
from the Where's-my-20-hour-work-week? dept.

Papas Fritas writes:

"Jeremy Rifkin writes in the NYT that the inherent dynamism of competitive markets is bringing down costs so far that many goods and services are becoming nearly free, abundant, and no longer subject to market forces and while economists have always welcomed a reduction in marginal cost, they never anticipated the possibility of a technological revolution that might bring those costs to near zero. The first inkling of this paradox at the heart of capitalism came in 1999 when Napster enabled millions of people to share music without paying the producers and artists, wreaking havoc on the music industry. Similar phenomena went on to severely disrupt the newspaper and book publishing industries. The huge reduction in marginal cost is now beginning to reshape energy, manufacturing and education. "Although the fixed costs of solar and wind technology are somewhat pricey, the cost of capturing each unit of [renewable] energy beyond that is low (PDF)," says Rifkin. As for manufacturing "thousands of hobbyists are already making their own products using 3-D printers, open-source software and recycled plastic as feedstock, at near zero marginal cost" and more than six million students are enrolled in "free massive open online courses, the content of which is distributed at near zero marginal cost."

But nowhere is the zero marginal cost phenomenon having more impact than the labor market, where workerless factories and offices, virtual retailing and automated logistics and transport networks are becoming more prevalent. What this means according to Rifkin is that new employment opportunities will lie in the collaborative commons in fields that tend to be nonprofit and strengthen social infrastructure like health care, aiding the poor, environmental restoration, child care, care for the elderly, and the promotion of the arts and recreation. "As for the capitalist system, it is likely to remain with us far into the future, albeit in a more streamlined role, primarily as an aggregator of network services and solutions, allowing it to thrive as a powerful niche player in the coming era. We are, however, entering a world partly beyond markets, where we are learning how to live together in an increasingly interdependent, collaborative, global commons.""

 
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  • (Score: 2) by Kell on Sunday March 23 2014, @11:36PM

    by Kell (292) on Sunday March 23 2014, @11:36PM (#20010)

    It makes you wonder if, for some commodities, the eventual cost of even physical things will be zero. For example, with fully autonomous robot mining, transport, production and maintenance, the marginal cost of any good will decrease dramatically. When you have a factory that churns out ipods faster than you can sell them, who would pay anything for them? Much like how drinkable tap water is effectively free in the developed world. Ironically, the undercutting nature of capitalism seems to make this inevitable.
     
    I'd love to hear reasons why this might not be the case.

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  • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24 2014, @12:44AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24 2014, @12:44AM (#20015)

    Much like how drinkable tap water is effectively free in the developed world

    Glad to hear that building and maintaining reservoirs and installing water mains is "effectively free". Also, I presume we will soon all live in a magical utopia where flying pigs (drones) sweep down over a horizon of money trees (windfarms) to deliver breakfast every morning? And it'll all be free, no human capital required at all right?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24 2014, @01:36AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24 2014, @01:36AM (#20034)

      GP said "effectively" - if you walk up to anyone's front door and ask for a glass of water, I think they'll give it to you gratis.

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by edIII on Monday March 24 2014, @02:06AM

        by edIII (791) on Monday March 24 2014, @02:06AM (#20046)

        It's even cheaper just to walk around the side of their house till you find a hose. I don't know what it is, but man, super cold water that has that fresh hose taste. Brings back childhood memories.

        While it costs nothing in terms of money, there are some risks. More if you are in your 30's and it's 3:30am.

        --
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        • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Monday March 24 2014, @03:12AM

          by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 24 2014, @03:12AM (#20063) Journal

          It's even cheaper just to walk around the side of their house till you find a hose.

          Do it to my house and... surprise... you'll find a hose coming out of a pupple tap clearly marked: Recycled water... DO NOT DRINK
          Which does raise the interesting point of water is far from free when it's scarce... and, as the drought spells started to become more severe [wikipedia.org], I expect to pay for more it [wikipedia.org] (thus I'm prepared to find solutions to use it more efficiently)

          I wouldn't refuse someone in need a glass of water, but I would think twice if anybody would come to ask for half a cubic meter of it and I'd certainly refuse, for example, a neighbour asking to fill his swimming pool from my water connection, even if he'd pay twice the price I'd be charged for the water (on the ground that water is no longer a luxury someone can afford while depriving others of it)

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          • (Score: 2) by edIII on Monday March 24 2014, @04:49AM

            by edIII (791) on Monday March 24 2014, @04:49AM (#20080)

            Well part of my childhood just died: Recycled water DO NOT DRINK

            I guess it is one of those things my generation will remember. Running around the neighborhood being kids and drinking water from whatever garden hose we could find.

            Maybe good water is a bit more scarce than we realize.

            --
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            • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Monday March 24 2014, @05:56AM

              by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 24 2014, @05:56AM (#20099) Journal

              Maybe good water is a bit more scarce than we realize.

              Welcome to our [wordpress.com] world [wikipedia.org]

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          • (Score: 2) by VLM on Monday March 24 2014, @12:28PM

            by VLM (445) on Monday March 24 2014, @12:28PM (#20174)

            Speaking of recycled water, I pay a combined water sewer bill and the cost breakdown is roughly $1 for water and $4 for sewer. So its much cheaper to for me to give away glasses of water, than to let you flush my toilet once its time to recycle those glasses of water. In uncivilized areas where humans are not meant to live and water is expensive rather than cheap, I guess people don't flush toilets unless its really gross. For me in a civilized area its like five cents to avoid the stink so its not an issue, but having what amounts to a "occasionally self cleaning porta potty" in the house sounds awful.

            Its interesting to go to google maps satellite view and zoom way out and see what color your state is. I live in a nearly fluorescent green glowing state, and personally I'm not too far from a freshwater lake and river system. Go 1000 miles west and the predominate color of Nevada is gray brown dirt. The interesting part is the previous century was an era of moving from watery areas to dry areas and this century is likely the opposite (Seriously? How many people live in a desert in Vegas or Phoenix? They just don't belong there...)

            Also water/sewer is not free. I use somewhat less water than normal because I have a dishwasher, don't water my lawn, and don't have a pool, but I still shell out about two bucks per day. Somewhat less than two hundred bucks per quarterly bill, a hundred something at least. I think this is the likely outcome in many markets. This time of year reminds me to sign up for the CSA again, and usually they produce so much produce that we leave stuff behind which they donate to food pantry, I mean seriously, what is a 4 person family supposed to do with 30 pounds of asparagus? So "sorta fixed cost per month" products like the CSA, or the water bill, or those monthly subscription products are likely the market of the future. This has already happened in music where almost all the "record" stores have gone out of business and the hotness is online subscriptions to music streaming services. One interesting way to look at leasing a car, is if you get a lease contract with all the features, you pretty much pay a subscription for car service as opposed to ever owning a car again.

            • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Monday March 24 2014, @01:10PM

              by Grishnakh (2831) on Monday March 24 2014, @01:10PM (#20193)

              How on earth does your water company meter your sewer connection? I would imagine in most places the sewer charge is either flat-rate, or part of your water bill (with the assumption that all the water you consume goes into the sewer).

              • (Score: 2) by VLM on Monday March 24 2014, @01:44PM

                by VLM (445) on Monday March 24 2014, @01:44PM (#20213)

                "the assumption that all the water you consume goes into the sewer"

                For a modest fee I can purchase a second water meter for irrigation purposes, if I was the type who irrigated, and then not have to pay sewer charges on that irrigation water. I live in an eastern-ish state where the natural state of untouched land (state parks, etc) is brilliant green so I don't really need to irrigate unless I insist on raising out of area tropical plants or growing plants from seed.

                Also I can temporarily rent a meter to fill a swimming pool or garden pond but the hassle is greater than just hiring a commercial service with a tanker truck and some hoses so no one does that that I know of, although its possible in theory.

                Industries all have two water meters around here, don't have to pay sewer charges if you can prove the water never went down the drain (like if you brew and ship tens of thousands of gallons of beer, or bottle soft drinks or cleaning chemicals or something) There's a lot of legal wrangling over that argument, where if you think about it, every drop of beer eventually enters the sewer system so if they were not politically connected they would be paying sewer charges like everyone else, etc.

                It seems logically reasonable to charge different rates, we have great water wells so other than long term capital costs and chlorination, water doesn't require much processing. The sewers however are a gigantic complicated industrial plants full of huge tanks and pumps and stuff, its obviously very complicated and labor intensive to process so no shocker that it costs a lot more.

                • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Monday March 24 2014, @02:49PM

                  by Grishnakh (2831) on Monday March 24 2014, @02:49PM (#20257)

                  Your response, while interesting, still doesn't answer my question.

                  I pay a combined water sewer bill and the cost breakdown is roughly $1 for water and $4 for sewer. So its much cheaper to for me to give away glasses of water, than to let you flush my toilet once its time to recycle those glasses of water.

                  You claim here that your water is separately metered from your sewer. So your response seems to indicate that's not really the case, only that you could get a second meter for a fee, and perhaps give someone a glass of water out of your irrigation feed that's on a separate meter. That's interesting and all, but obviously (as indicated in your post) not normal practice for residential homeowners at all, only for large industrial users. So unless you're operating a bottling factory and give someone a glass of water out of the water supply that supplies your bottling operation (and isn't charged sewer rates), what you said isn't really correct except for a few homeowners who bothered to get a second meter.

              • (Score: 1) by scruffybeard on Monday March 24 2014, @07:07PM

                by scruffybeard (533) on Monday March 24 2014, @07:07PM (#20444)

                In my area, your sewer rate is tied to the number of gallons you consumed in a given quarter, but the rate is capped at the number of gallons used during the winter months. Let's say that you consumed 12k gal. during Dec, Jan, Feb, then in Jun, Jul, Aug, you consumed 15k gal. You pay for 15k gallons of water, but you only pay to dispose of 12k, as it is assumed that the other 3k was used to water a lawn, or fill a swimming pool.

                • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Tuesday March 25 2014, @06:14PM

                  by Grishnakh (2831) on Tuesday March 25 2014, @06:14PM (#21100)

                  Hey, that's pretty smart. Not something I'd expect from a government-run utility.

              • (Score: 1) by DECbot on Monday March 24 2014, @08:49PM

                by DECbot (832) on Monday March 24 2014, @08:49PM (#20539) Journal

                In the places I lived where sewer was metered, the charge was determined by your water consumption (it is assumed that it is all getting sent to the sewer), and by the rainfall of the past month (storm sewage).

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            • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Monday March 24 2014, @01:13PM

              by Grishnakh (2831) on Monday March 24 2014, @01:13PM (#20195)

              (Seriously? How many people live in a desert in Vegas or Phoenix? They just don't belong there...)

              I use somewhat less water than normal because I have a dishwasher, don't water my lawn, and don't have a pool, but I still shell out about two bucks per day. Somewhat less than two hundred bucks per quarterly bill, a hundred something at least.

              Interestingly, if you lived in Phoenix, you'd probably have a lower bill. I watered my lawns when I lived in Phoenix and probably spent about $40-50/month. Where is it that you live where there's plenty of abundant water, yet you are charged so much for it?

              • (Score: 2) by VLM on Monday March 24 2014, @01:59PM

                by VLM (445) on Monday March 24 2014, @01:59PM (#20220)

                80% of the money goes to the sewer. In the desert I suppose you can just pump it out into sand and let it blow away, but gross as it sounds a lot of people downstream drink out of our river, so they put a lot of work into processing it. Also the DNR and outdoor recreation is a major force here, and you can't get tourists to fish in a cesspool, so they may be going a little overboard, its an idyllic little river around here and they'll make us pay anything to keep it that way. I've boated on the river but I wouldn't drink out of it, not even on a dare, even if people downstream get their tapwater from it.

                I'm not entirely sure why we pump out of wells instead of drinking from the river, but I'm glad we do it!

                I would imagine there's no small amount of charging whatever the market will take, which is probably very constant, and the usual corruption of course.

                • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Monday March 24 2014, @02:52PM

                  by Grishnakh (2831) on Monday March 24 2014, @02:52PM (#20261)

                  I would imagine there's no small amount of charging whatever the market will take, which is probably very constant, and the usual corruption of course.

                  You never answered where you live. I live in NJ now, and from what I can tell, a large part of why everything costs a lot more here (particularly taxes) is because of sheer corruption, which appears to be much, much worse than in AZ where I used to live. Even my water bill is much higher, and I don't have a lawn to water here like I did in Phoenix.

                  • (Score: 2) by VLM on Monday March 24 2014, @03:19PM

                    by VLM (445) on Monday March 24 2014, @03:19PM (#20278)

                    Closest big city would be Chicago a couple hours away.

                    I'm beginning to think its "from each according to their ability to pay" at least for residential. I would imagine commercial/industrial cost of water more accurately reflects the true cost. Also I suspect there might be some price fixing going on.

        • (Score: 2) by evilviper on Monday March 24 2014, @12:20PM

          by evilviper (1760) on Monday March 24 2014, @12:20PM (#20172) Homepage Journal

          super cold water that has that fresh hose taste. Brings back childhood memories.

          In my childhood, tap water wasn't chlorinated... It was a great time. Now, a carbon filter is an absolute must-have item for drinking tap-water, and I don't put one on my garden hose...

          --
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      • (Score: 3, Informative) by Grishnakh on Monday March 24 2014, @01:08PM

        by Grishnakh (2831) on Monday March 24 2014, @01:08PM (#20192)

        If you do that in Arizona and they refuse, call the police and report them for a crime. It's illegal to refuse to give someone a glass of water in Arizona if they ask for it.

        Anyway, aside from that special case, the reason people don't care about the cost is not because it's free, but because it's basically flat-rate. Water is not free in the USA by any means. Most people with houses or apartments probably spend $30-60 per month just for water. (That figure usually includes sewer costs.) A glass of water isn't going to affect a person's bill more than a penny or two, at most. A large part of many water bills is a flat charge just for having a connection, and while there's usually a per-gallon component, people use a LOT more water for toilets and showers and laundry and dishwashing than they do for drinking, so a few glasses really doesn't make a significant difference.

        Besides, tap water in most places tastes nasty (esp. in Arizona), and isn't worth drinking. It may be technically safe, but I'll take RO water instead.

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Tork on Monday March 24 2014, @01:06AM

    by Tork (3914) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 24 2014, @01:06AM (#20020)

    It makes you wonder if, for some commodities, the eventual cost of even physical things will be zero. .. I'd love to hear reasons why this might not be the case.

    The big reason would be supply and demand. You mention a factory creating iPods faster than they are purchased. That factory would only create a certain amount of them, then shut down or reconfigure for another product. The price of that iPod would (and does today) have no relation to the cost of producing it. If enough of them get out there, there would be fewer people who would want to buy it at that price. Would it ever hit zero? I doubt it, seems like at a certain point they'd throw their hands up in the air and move on.

    But that's me being a little nitpicky. One of the things you are right about is that automation would likely have a large impact on prices in the sense that lots of jobs will no longer need to be filled by humans. Taken to an extreme, it could end up being very difficult for the masses to do work that would earn them a wage. What happens then? Will we land in Roddenberry's eutopia, or will we have to move away from a Capitalist society? That I couldn't even begin to speculate on. But what I can say is that when people have less spending money, prices will have to come down. Supply and demand aren't negotiable.

    But will they reach zero? When I first started replying to your post I was going to say "Nope, people want money". But... then I realized you said "some commodities" and I re-thought it and... well yeah I do agree with you. Look at what's happening in digitial-land. We've got free videos, free games, free services... that's happening. We could get into a little debate about what 'free' is since a fair chunk of what I'm talking about is advertising supported, but otherwise I think if we suddenly had something like replicators, there would be no new iPods for sale. Who'd pay for it when they can 'print' it at a minimal cost?

    So, yeah my post is probably a little muddy since I changed my opinion in mid-writing. But there is one thing I'm curious about: What happens when we do reach this point? Does everybody find work doing more creative-type stuff that machines cannot do, or do we move to a more socialist society where things like housing and food are provided?

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    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Kell on Monday March 24 2014, @02:12AM

      by Kell (292) on Monday March 24 2014, @02:12AM (#20047)

      Never mind the mud! It was an interesting and thoughtful reply. Thank you! :)

      --
      Scientists ask questions. Engineers solve problems.
    • (Score: 3, Informative) by Joe Desertrat on Monday March 24 2014, @02:13AM

      by Joe Desertrat (2454) on Monday March 24 2014, @02:13AM (#20048)

      What happens when we do reach this point? Does everybody find work doing more creative-type stuff that machines cannot do, or do we move to a more socialist society where things like housing and food are provided?

      If you search for "marshallbrain manna" (I'm too lazy to dig up the exact link) and read the story you'll see two possible extremes of what could occur. To summarize, the basis of both is that most jobs for humans have been eliminated and that robots are the producers. In the first scenario, the robots work solely for the benefit of the few that control capital, who in turn support a very basic welfare lifestyle for those who have no capital, letting them live in what are essentially prisons. In the second scenario, the robots work for everyone, creating a sort of Star Trek utopia where people are free to use their shares of the production to pursue whatever sort of creative visions they have.
      I fear that the first scenario, or something similar, is a far more probable outcome.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24 2014, @02:50PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24 2014, @02:50PM (#20260)

        Here you go: http://marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm [marshallbrain.com]

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24 2014, @03:12PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24 2014, @03:12PM (#20274)

        someone linked to that 'manna' story on /. recently and i read 75% of it. it's quite long. i read the beginning and the ending, skipping about 25% of it in the middle. there were two 'civilizations' that resulted. really, the whole world evolved into a feudalistic type society where most people lived in the welfare 'prisons'. the only exception was a 'free and open-source' colony created in Australia by some guy with a lot of foresight and wealth. honestly, both scenarios scared the hell out of me. it should be obvious why the 'welfare prison' society is scary. the 'google society' scared me because (1) the chances of it ever being created are so small. in the story, it was created by pure poetic license. it was an improbable 'plot device'. (2) such a society would be easily conquered. it wouldn't last very long. (3) when people are free to do whatever they want without obligations or responsibility, they degenerate into the abyss of indulgence and other vices. the atheist side of me looks at history and thinks this is the major reason that ancient leaders 'invented' religion. the god-fearing side of me thinks this is when He will smite us all. both sides of me see the same conclusion but with different interpretative spins.