Stories
Slash Boxes
Comments

SoylentNews is people

SoylentNews is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop. Only 16 submissions in the queue.
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.""

 
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.
Display Options Threshold/Breakthrough Mark All as Read Mark All as Unread
The Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not responsible for them in any way.
  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by evilviper on Monday March 24 2014, @12:25AM

    by evilviper (1760) on Monday March 24 2014, @12:25AM (#20013) Homepage Journal

    Since the start of the industrial revolution, we've gone through times when products have gotten vastly cheaper, over and over again.

    When items become too cheap to make at a profit, manufacturers simply go 'up' one level, and don't sell that individual item, but only sell it as part of some larger item... It wasn't long ago that everybody got their radios, fans, etc., fixed when they broke. Now, you *can't* even buy parts for them, and everybody replaces the whole thing without a second thought. The same thing happens with car parts... You used-to be able to buy brushes for all the electric motors in there, now the motors are just replaced wholesale. I look forward to a future where people won't hesitate to replace their cheap automobiles, wholesale, at the first sign of a problem.

    Things that were separate will just keep being integrated into bigger and more expensive products. Hard to find speakers these days, since every surround-sound receiver comes with them. In just a few years, those receivers will go away, and every single TV will just have the functionality built-in, and will come with the speakers, too.

    He has a point about "music", which really applies to any "data" products, as it's nearly free to distribute to everyone once it's made, but that doesn't extend to "real world" products by any stretch of the imagination.

    Increasing automation has ALWAYS been eliminating huge swaths of jobs... Entire industries have been obsoleted, wholesale, by computers. A few more will be no great upset to the economy (long-term). And we stand to BENEFIT from the progress, as jobs that had been off-shored will come back home, where robots are even cheaper than 3rd-world sweatshops. You want a new career? Learn how to operate, maintain, and repair industrial robots, because their numbers are going to explode.

    3D printing is quite interesting, but anything it can do, can be done far faster and cheaper by the simplest manufacturing processes. It'll cut into lots of markets where companies were banking on proprietary lock-in for repair/replacement parts and similar, but it's always going to be more expensive than an assembly line, run by robots, which is just a giant 3D printer, itself.

    And the renewable movements in the energy sector are great, and will eventually drive prices down, but the cost of providing reliable grid power won't ever fall flat, and they'll have a big market for centuries to come.

    All the crazy talk about people switching to non-profit jobs "in an increasingly interdependent, collaborative, global commons" is pie-in-the-sky baseless bull... If things go right, we'll keep getting more, with less work, but keep cutting your work hours in-half, over and over, and it never gets to zero. It'll be great that you can survive on very little work, but you'll sure want to buy one of those expensive, new-fanged food replicators, and you'll be making payments on it for years... And don't get me started on the price tag of them holodecks. And let's not forget that, when you can make a lot of money, quickly, so can everyone else... Anywhere there's more demand than supply, prices will be astronomical. Real-estate comes to mind. You'll still need to work 30 years to afford that tiny square of land in the city, no matter what.

    I don't see a post-scarcity economy coming along in the next century at least. The "haves" don't give all the money they get, to the "have nots" for food and shelter. Instead, they find more incredibly expensive things they want to buy, and the "have nots" still have to struggle to get by.

    --
    Hydrogen cyanide is a delicious and necessary part of the human diet.
    Starting Score:    1  point
    Moderation   +3  
       Insightful=2, Interesting=1, Total=3
    Extra 'Insightful' Modifier   0  
    Karma-Bonus Modifier   +1  

    Total Score:   5  
  • (Score: 1) by Ethanol-fueled on Monday March 24 2014, @01:01AM

    by Ethanol-fueled (2792) on Monday March 24 2014, @01:01AM (#20018) Homepage

    There's no such thing as "post-scarcity" when it comes to finite resources, but change will come -- and when it does, something's gonna give, and the only way it isn't is if all of humanity magically puts down all their guns and creates a worldwide mega-redundant and apolitically interconnected solar power and wind grid. I'm glad that the article was posted, and it is totally appropriate for this site and stimulating discussion, but the notion of "post-scarcity" is nothing but a masturbatory utopian fantasy with zero grounding in the real world.

    The closest to that masturbatory fantasy that any self-determined nation can do to reach in the short-term is be as self-sustaining as possible, exporting more than it imports at least, and keeping its wealth inside its borders and foreigners out.

  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24 2014, @01:04AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24 2014, @01:04AM (#20019)

    3D printing is quite interesting, but anything it can do, can be done far faster and cheaper by the simplest manufacturing processes.

    Today that's true, but the technology is evolving rapidly. We are now seeing 3D printers/mills that can make objects out of plastic, vinyl, glass, metal, ceramic... It's certainly plausible that within 20 years, anything you can buy (smaller than a dishwasher) at Target or Wal-Mart will be easier and cheaper to make at home.

    Better still, digital plans will eventually be out there for almost any product ever made, or a modern equivalent. Want that old collectible Barbie or GI Joe? Just download the files and build it!

    Eventually we will discover that with recycled raw materials and local renewable energy, there's no point in burning megatons of fossil fuels to ship goods around the globe - just make it at home (or at the corner shop)!

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 25 2014, @06:31AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 25 2014, @06:31AM (#20836)

      Better still, digital plans will eventually be out there for almost any product ever made, or a modern equivalent. Want that old collectible Barbie or GI Joe? Just download the files and build it!

      Not so fast! Do you have a copyright or patent authorization to print that Barbie?

      We're moving into a zero-marginal-cost goods, infinite-licensing-cost intellectual property future.

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by carguy on Monday March 24 2014, @01:49AM

    by carguy (568) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 24 2014, @01:49AM (#20039)

    If things go right, we'll keep getting more, with less work, but keep cutting your work hours in-half, over and over, and it never gets to zero.

    That's not what I see -- anyone that has a job in the current economy seems to be doing the work that was formerly done by two (or three) people. Can creative work really be accomplished when working much less than full time? I think my productivity would fall off very quickly if I only worked one or two days a week.

    Is there some way to organize things to avoid all the work being done by a small fraction of the population?

    • (Score: 2) by evilviper on Monday March 24 2014, @11:44AM

      by evilviper (1760) on Monday March 24 2014, @11:44AM (#20162) Homepage Journal

      Can creative work really be accomplished when working much less than full time?

      "Full time work" used-to be 6 days per week, 10-12 hours per day... We've managed the transition to 5 & 8 just fine...

      --
      Hydrogen cyanide is a delicious and necessary part of the human diet.
      • (Score: 2) by carguy on Wednesday March 26 2014, @02:00AM

        by carguy (568) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 26 2014, @02:00AM (#21279)

        "Full time work" used-to be 6 days per week, 10-12 hours per day... We've managed the transition to 5 & 8 just fine...

        Um, where do people work only the "standard" 40 hrs/week? Maybe in govt or union jobs? What I see more often is a lot of unpaid overtime (for salaried workers) in USA.
        My understanding is that in Europe they work less hours per week. Does anyone know how productivity compares between USA and Europe? A quick google shows articles on both sides.

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by JoeMerchant on Monday March 24 2014, @02:23AM

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Monday March 24 2014, @02:23AM (#20049)

    I've got a problem with the idea that solar and wind have low marginal costs. Sure, they're not "consuming" a fuel, but solar panels need to stay clean and get replaced every so often, and windmills are hardly zero maintenance / infinite lifetime - these costs are why they are still more expensive than coal per kwh generated.

    --
    🌻🌻 [google.com]
    • (Score: 2) by evilviper on Monday March 24 2014, @11:58AM

      by evilviper (1760) on Monday March 24 2014, @11:58AM (#20164) Homepage Journal

      solar panels need to stay clean and get replaced every so often,

      I've never seen anyone going around to clean off the solar panels installed on emergency "call boxes" along the freeways. In big solar installations, they seems to have ONE robot that takes care of the job at low cost and with minimal human intervention.

      Monocrystaline PV solar panels are usually guaranteed to "retain over 80% of efficiency even after 25 years of continuous use", which is a good, long, time, and should continue to output power at just slightly reduced levels thereafter.

      The "panels" in solar-thermal power plants are just mirrors, so their lifetimes are long, and the cost of replacement is quite nominal. You only really have to consider the minor maintenance of the central turbines, as you would in any power plant.

      these costs are why they are still more expensive than coal per kwh generated.

      No, actually the large up-front costs are why they are more expensive than coal. With coal, the plant is cheaper, and the coal is purchased in small increments over time, rather than up-front. The opportunity costs of having that money tied-up in your solar panels or wind turbines for many years until they break-even, means losing out on the interest or capital gains that money could be otherwise making.

      --
      Hydrogen cyanide is a delicious and necessary part of the human diet.
      • (Score: 1) by JoeMerchant on Sunday March 30 2014, @12:20AM

        by JoeMerchant (3937) on Sunday March 30 2014, @12:20AM (#22982)

        I'd say that a "large upfront" cost combined with a 25 year effective lifespan equates to an ongoing maintenance cost.

        When you build a solar plant, you have to put in the connectivity to the grid, clear the land, etc. But, ongoing, the weeds can't be allowed to take over (trees will grow if you let them...), transformers need occasional replacement, etc. In the rosy view of the future, 25 years from now, we'll have magic solar panels that are twice as efficient and half as expensive to make, and we'll be able to recycle the old ones into the new ones. In the more practical business plans, those panels are just a fixed replacement cost every 25 years - taxes on the land, whatever the equivalent of "spinning fees" for wind farms will have to be paid, and if, god forbid, you actually make a big profit, be prepared to give it over to every government with authority over you because you're an obvious fixed asset on "their" turf, just ripe for the taxing.

        --
        🌻🌻 [google.com]
  • (Score: 2) by VLM on Monday March 24 2014, @12:43PM

    by VLM (445) on Monday March 24 2014, @12:43PM (#20181)

    "You used-to be able to buy brushes for all the electric motors in there, now the motors are just replaced wholesale."

    Now they use $100 brushless motors instead of old fashioned $25 motors that weigh grams instead of pounds for fuel efficiency. Can't wear out the brushes if there are no brushes. My wife's car's radiator fan is brushless.

    Similar arguments that re-babbiting machine tool spindles is getting to be a chore, what with cast babbit sleeves having been replaced industrially with ball bearings like 75 years ago. I'm not sure you can even buy lead babbit commercially anymore. All RoHS and lead free or at least reduced lead.

    Also your product oriented discussion does correctly account for the labor cost of something like a car dropping from 10K hours more than a century ago pre-model-T to about 50 hours now. So that's great for products. However, the labor cost of an hour of pr0n used to be one hour, and aside from the most advanced CGI, at least the "real amateur stuff" is going to remain a labor cost of one hour in perpetuity. So the most interesting effect is the cost delta between something like an hour of manual laborer and an hour of lawyer is likely to continue its dramatic increase. And not just uneducated fields but stuff like mechanical engineer being less necessary vs a plumber service call. In the future it may be true that the only people able to afford "services" will be fellow "service" workers, like plumbers hiring roofers and vice versa.

    • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Monday March 24 2014, @01:19PM

      by Grishnakh (2831) on Monday March 24 2014, @01:19PM (#20197)

      "You used-to be able to buy brushes for all the electric motors in there, now the motors are just replaced wholesale."

      Now they use $100 brushless motors instead of old fashioned $25 motors that weigh grams instead of pounds for fuel efficiency. Can't wear out the brushes if there are no brushes. My wife's car's radiator fan is brushless.

      I'm sure her starter motor isn't. That's the main place in modern cars that brushes are still used, and it's still quite possible to repair starter motors by replacing the brushes. That's exactly what starter rebuilders do after all. However, what's happening now is probably the labor and transport costs of gathering worn-out starters and shipping them to places to be rebuilt is getting to be higher than the cost of simply manufacturing brand-new clones in China where labor costs are absurdly low, so the remanufactured market is drying up.

      • (Score: 2) by VLM on Monday March 24 2014, @01:33PM

        by VLM (445) on Monday March 24 2014, @01:33PM (#20205)

        You are correct, although I wouldn't be surprised to even see starter motor brushes go away eventually.

        Tangentially another interesting ratio to watch over the next few decades will be the ratio of shipping cost to labor cost. When most Americans are still employed and paid $25/hr and Chinese are political prisoners who work for free or work only to avoid beatings and diesel is $1/gallon that's one situation of world trade we decades of experience with. However, extrapolating into the future only a little bit, when all the good jobs are gone so the few remaining working Americans are only paid $8/hr on average and Chinese are paid $2/hr and diesel is $8/gallon that will result in a whole nother scenario of world trade.

        • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Monday March 24 2014, @02:43PM

          by Grishnakh (2831) on Monday March 24 2014, @02:43PM (#20251)

          You are correct, although I wouldn't be surprised to even see starter motor brushes go away eventually.

          No, starter motor brushes will never go away. The complexity of a brushless motor isn't worth it for something run as infrequently as a starter motor, especially considering how much power a starter motor requires (far more than a radiator fan motor; starter motors have extremely high power density). Starter motors will always have brushes.

          What's going to happen is that starter motors will simply become obsolete before too long. They'll be replaced by starter/alternator/drivemotor units, as they already have on most hybrid vehicles, or they'll be rendered totally unnecessary with the move to all-electric vehicles like the Tesla.

          As for your predictions about labor rates and transport, don't forget just how incredibly cheap ocean-based transport is per ton. Even with higher diesel costs, that isn't going to add much to a product's price, so having Chinese labor rise up to 1/4 the cost of American labor will still make it worth it to ship most things from China. It'll affect things, sure, but it's not going to be the world-changing event you're thinking of. IIRC, it's actually far cheaper to ship things by ship across the Pacific than it is to ship them by train across the US (and truck is even worse).

    • (Score: 1) by Aiwendil on Monday March 24 2014, @05:12PM

      by Aiwendil (531) on Monday March 24 2014, @05:12PM (#20338) Journal

      However, the labor cost of an hour of pr0n used to be one hour, and aside from the most advanced CGI, at least the "real amateur stuff" is going to remain a labor cost of one hour in perpetuity.

      Well, unless they decide to shoot a POV-gangbang/orgy porno, in which case they probably could get that hour down to less than 15minutes.. ;)

      I really hope this isn't what google glass ends up being used for.