mfioretti: end of work*

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  1. Drivers at many companies say they had no choice but to break federal safety laws that limit truckers to 11 hours on the road each day. Drivers at Pacific 9 Transportation testified that their managers dispatched truckers up to 20 hours a day, then wouldn’t pay them until drivers falsified inspection reports that track hours. Hundreds of California port truckers have gotten into accidents, leading to more than 20 fatalities from 2013 to 2015, according to the USA TODAY Network's analysis of federal crash and port trade data.

    Many drivers thought they were paying into their truck like a mortgage. Instead, when they lost their job, they discovered they also lost their truck, along with everything they’d paid toward it. Eddy Gonzalez took seven days off to care for his dying mother and then bury her. When he came back, his company fired him and kept the truck. For two years, Ho Lee was charged more than $1,600 a month for a truck lease. When he got ill and missed a week of work, he lost the truck and everything he’d paid.

    Retailers could refuse to allow companies with labor violations to truck their goods. Instead they’ve let shipping and logistics contractors hire the lowest bidder, while lobbying on behalf of trucking companies in Sacramento and Washington D.C. Walmart, Target and dozens of other Fortune 500 companies have paid lobbyists up to $12.6 million to fight bills that would have held companies liable or given drivers a minimum wage and other protections that most U.S. workers already enjoy.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2018-01-20)
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  2. Kela hopes additional data that is being collected as part of the trial from healthcare records will provide useful information on whether the security of a guaranteed unconditional income, paid in advance so beneficiaries can budget for it, might have a positive impact on anxiety, prescription drug consumption or doctor’s visits.

    “One participant has said she is less anxious because she no longer has to worry over calls from the job centre offering a job she can’t accept because she is caring for her elderly parents,” Turunen said. “We may be able to see from the trial data whether it has had unintended benefits – such as reduced medical costs.”

    The trial data may also allow the government to spend less on bureaucracy by simplifying Finland’s complex social security system – currently, it offers more than 40 different means-tested benefits – which is struggling to cope with a 21st-century labour market of part timers, short-term contracts and start-ups.

    The benefit system is simply “not suited to modern working patterns”, Turunen said. “We have too many benefits. People don’t understand what they’re entitled to or how they can get it. Even experts don’t understand. For example, it’s very hard to be in the benefit system in Finland if you are self-employed – you have to prove your income time and time and time again.”
    The Inequality Project: the Guardian's in-depth look at our unequal world
    Read more

    Perhaps most significantly, the trial marks “a real breakthrough for field experiments”, according to Kanerva. Rolled out in record time and after a brief, one-line pledge in the government’s platform, it had to function alongside all existing social security laws and clear numerous legal obstacles – including Finland’s constitution, which requires all citizens to be treated equally.

    “It was a huge effort to get it over the line,” Turunen said. “The government was determined it must be based on specific legislation – most experiments are not – and that it had to launch in January last year ... It was quite a task.”
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  3. Boston - Drone technology is more often associated with outside activities. However, drones can also be used internally to a business, such as in a warehouse. Technologists have developed a system that allows aerial drones to read RFID tags tens of meters away.
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  4. there has recently been a set of voices on the left calling this idea out as too good to be true. To this side of the argument, basic income is being advanced as a Trojan Horse by governments attempting to maintain and deepen a neoliberal policy project while putting a new coat of paint on it to placate an increasingly restive public. They warn that a basic income will be used as cover for continuing cuts in health and educational services, along with privatization of other social programs, and state that leftists who advance even cautious cases for basic income are being played for suckers. While such arguments are not without merit in certain respects, they nevertheless fail to recognize both the traditions of social citizenship on the left that a basic income, at least in its leftist variation, speaks to, and the necessity for positive, emancipatory policy visions.

    Furthermore, these critiques also have the unwitting effect of continuing to unduly valourize “work” performed under capitalist conditions in a way that testifies to the deep penetration of certain harmful ideas about the sources of human dignity and worth into our collective social psyche.

    In all, such a notion of “work” appears to be deeply tied to an uncritical, productivist form of Marxist thinking which may have had relevance in another political context but appears hopelessly dated in the current reality. This is all to say nothing of the fact that there are many people who have disabilities which prevent them from “working” in the conventional sense of the term, either temporarily or permanently, who are entirely written out of this analysis and would likely stand to benefit most from a basic income. Even the removal of the often intrusive, deliberately demeaning and manipulative aspects of the current social assistance regime would be deeply beneficial here, absent higher benefit levels. Similar remarks could be made as to the way in which basic income would act to, at least in part, recognize unpaid care work, usually done by women, which is often not considered as “work” under the status quo.
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  5. The point is not that making a world to accommodate oneself is bad, but that when one has as much power over the rest of the world as the tech sector does, over folks who don’t naturally share its worldview, then there is a risk of a strange imbalance. The tech world is predominantly male—very much so. Testosterone combined with a drive to eliminate as much interaction with real humans as possible—do the math, and there’s the future.

    We’ve gotten used to service personnel and staff who have no interest or participation in the businesses where they work. They have no incentive to make the products or the services better. This is a long legacy of the assembly line, standardising, franchising and other practices that increase efficiency and lower costs. It’s a small step then from a worker that doesn’t care to a robot. To consumers, it doesn’t seem like a big loss.

    Those who oversee the AI and robots will, not coincidentally, make a lot of money as this trend towards less human interaction continues and accelerates—as many of the products produced above are hugely and addictively convenient. Google, Facebook and other companies are powerful and yes, innovative, but the innovation curiously seems to have had an invisible trajectory. Our imaginations are constrained by who and what we are. We are biased in our drives, which in some ways is good, but maybe some diversity in what influences the world might be reasonable and may be beneficial to all.

    To repeat what I wrote above—humans are capricious, erratic, emotional, irrational and biased in what sometimes seem like counterproductive ways. I’d argue that though those might seem like liabilities, many of those attributes actually work in our favor. Many of our emotional responses have evolved over millennia, and they are based on the probability that our responses, often prodded by an emotion, will more likely than not offer the best way to deal with a situation.

    Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio wrote about a patient he called Elliot, who had damage to his frontal lobe that made him unemotional. In all other respects he was fine—intelligent, healthy—but emotionally he was Spock. Elliot couldn’t make decisions. He’d waffle endlessly over details. Damasio concluded that though we think decision-making is rational and machinelike, it’s our emotions that enable us to actually decide.

    With humans being somewhat unpredictable (well, until an algorithm completely removes that illusion), we get the benefit of surprises, happy accidents and unexpected connections and intuitions. Interaction, cooperation and collaboration with others multiplies those opportunities.

    We’re a social species—we benefit from passing discoveries on, and we benefit from our tendency to cooperate to achieve what we cannot alone. In his book, Sapiens, Yuval Harari claims this is what allowed us to be so successful. He also claims that this cooperation was often facilitated by a possibility to believe in “fictions” such as nations, money, religions and legal institutions. Machines don’t believe in fictions, or not yet anyway. That’s not to say they won’t surpass us, but if machines are designed to be mainly self-interested, they may hit a roadblock. If less human interaction enables us to forget how to cooperate, then we lose our advantage.

    Our random accidents and odd behaviors are fun—they make life enjoyable. I’m wondering what we’re left with when there are fewer and fewer human interactions. Remove humans from the equation and we are less complete as people or as a society. “We” do not exist as isolated individuals—we as individuals are inhabitants of networks, we are relationships. That is how we prosper and thrive.
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  6. Among the 30% of respondents who said they did not think things would turn out well in the future were those who said the trajectory of technology will overwhelm labor markets, killing more jobs than it creates. They foresee a society where AI programs and machines do most of the work and raise questions about people’s sense of identity, the socio-economic divisions that already distress them, their ability to pay for basic needs, their ability to use the growing amount of “leisure time” constructively and the impact of all of this on economic systems. It should also be noted that many among the 70% who expect positive change in the next decade also expressed some of these concerns.

    Richard Stallman, Internet Hall of Fame member and president of the Free Software Foundation, commented, “I think this question has no answer. I think there won’t be jobs for most people a few decades from now, and that’s what really matters. As for the skills for the employed fraction of advanced countries, I think they will be difficult to teach. You could get better at them by practice, but you couldn’t study them much.”
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  7. The robots hypothesis says that as technology gets cheaper, employers are substituting machines for workers. A 2013 paper by Lukas Karabarbounis and Brent Neiman found that costs of capital goods have been getting cheaper, and concluded that companies are substituting technology for human labor. This fits with other research showing adverse effects on wages from the adoption of new technologies like industrial robots.

    But there are problems with this thesis as well. A recent study by David Autor, David Dorn, Lawrence Katz, Christina Patterson and John Van Reenen found that the labor share is falling across the whole economy, but not within companies. In other words, companies themselves aren’t substituting machines for workers, as we might expect them to do if robots were getting really cheap. Instead, the economy is simply shifting resources toward a few large companies that are very capital-intensive, and away from the more numerous, smaller companies that use more human labor. Autor et al. blame increasing monopoly power for labor’s decline.

    Then there’s the idea that landowners, not corporate overlords, are taking money away from workers. While analyzing the work of French economist Thomas Piketty, Matt Rognlie found that national income accounts showed an increasing amount flowing to owners of land. More recently, economist Dietrich Vollrath examined a paper by Simcha Barkai about rising profits, and found that profits from owner-occupied housing also rose sharply.

    Supporters of the other theses have yet to really grapple with the landlords explanation. The reason is that the people pushing this fourth idea justify it based on national income accounts, while supporters of the other three explanations tend to look at corporate behavior up close. When economists speak in different languages, it’s harder to have a debate.

    So that leaves us with as many as four competing explanations, each with some reasonably compelling circumstantial evidence in its favor. What to do? Eventually, economists will probably find new, better ways of putting these theories head to head. But in the meantime, it’s worth asking whether some of these explanations could actually be measuring different parts of the same phenomenon.

    A recent blog post by Paul Krugman offers a possible insight. Krugman notes that it’s possible that some companies are more capital-intensive and some are more labor-intensive -- think of factories making televisions with robots while others assemble them by hand. When the productivity of the capital-intensive companies improves -- due to mechanization, or the internet, or globalization -- it shifts production toward those companies, and lowers wages in the process.

    Now suppose that those capital-intensive companies are a small handful of superstar multinationals, while the labor-intensive companies are a bunch of small, local competitors. Improvement in robots, information technology and globalization would therefore be shifting resources away from the many and toward the few -- in other words, exactly the same phenomenon that Autor et al. describe. Huge companies are probably more capable of building automated factories, using online supply chains to outsource production to China.

    So monopoly power, robots and globalization might all be part of one unified phenomenon -- new technologies that disproportionately help big, capital-intensive multinational companies. Meanwhile, technology that augments human labor-power -- for example, cheap energy -- might have languished in recent decades, due to the failure to replace oil and gas with better power sources. Hence, small companies that use lots of workers might be losing out in the age of information technology.

    That theory still doesn’t explain how landlords might fit into the picture. But it provides a possible way to unify at least some of the competing explanations for this disturbing economic trend.
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  8. The main difference between the Old Left and the Alt-Left is that the latter focuses more on the cultural, behavioral and psychological sides of economic life. In a world where material resources are relatively abundant and information and information processing become dominant in economic life, money begins to matter less than e.g. cultural capital, good social relations and access to high quality information. What is lacking is not stuff, or money, but intelligent solutions for distribution, value creation and ideas about what to do with our lives in the first place. To create a fair and sustainable global order we must create better social settings for people to do worthwhile things.

    We have already stated that this entails a “betrayal of the working class” (read previous post in this series). What do we mean by that? Basically it means that the Alt-Left loosens its ties to the worker movements and the interests of labor (higher wages, safer employment, benefits, consumption and so on). Simply put, the greatest problem of the world is no longer that working and middle class people make too little money. Many of the problems that come from poverty and economic precariousness are – upon closer inspection – in fact social and psychological problems. In the most developed countries people aren’t literally starving or freezing to death. But they are being stressed out, alienated, frustrated, treated poorly, manipulated by advertisement and getting stuck in destructive social relationships. Increasing people’s incomes and consumption can be a way of remedying these maladies, but it is far from the only way. And a too strong focus on material wealth does not only blind us to other means of improving people’s lives; it also perpetuates an overall system of production and consumption that is not ecologically sustainable.
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  9. Prima che se ne appropriasse Renzi, la proposta era stata avanzata in politica da Stefano Fassina (Sinistra Italiana, già viceministro dell’Economia nel governo Letta quando militava nel Pd): “il lavoro di cittadinanza, non reddito di cittadinanza – ha sostenuto Fassina – Che deve servire all’inserimento lavorativo, quindi deve essere condizionato ad attività formative e all’accettazione di offerte dignitose di lavoro. Lo vedo come un veicolo per condurre o ricondurre le persone al lavoro”.

    Questa sinistra sostiene il ritorno dello Stato a cui affidare il ruolo di “creatore di ultima istanza” di lavoro. Impresa ambiziosa che si ritrova nel piano sul lavoro presentato dalla Cgil e viene tramandato dal tempo in cui alcuni economisti progressisti consigliavano di impiegare persone facendogli scavare le buche. Più di recente se ne è parlato per creare occupazione statale nella manutenzione dei disastrati territori italiani. A Renzi, invece, non interessa un simile ruolo dello Stato, se non limitato all’erogazione degli incentivi alle imprese: 18 miliardi per il Jobs Act. Si appropria del lavorismo e, con la sua personale interpretazione del populismo, lo mescola con l’assistenzialismo statale agli imprenditori in chiave di capitalismo compassionevole. Un patchwork conservatore e liberista, di destra e di sinistra, in chiave anti-Movimento Cinque Stelle.

    In questa prospettiva bisogna liberare il campo da un equivoco. Il discorso sul reddito di base non è una prerogativa della Silicon Valley, né tanto meno dei liberisti alla Milton Friedman. Di sganciamento del reddito dal lavoro, e di riforma del Welfare, si parla perlomeno dagli anni Settanta in Italia, in Germania e nella sinistra europea più avanzata. Senza contare che un reddito di base non esclude il lavoro, ma libera il soggetto dal suo ricatto, per un libero sviluppo della sua personalità. Un’antica aspirazione del Marx teorico della “forza lavoro” e non del “lavoro”, come ritengono i lavoristi che hanno del marxismo un’immagine umanistica, smithian-ricardiana e certamente non comunista. Da un altro punto di vista, altrettanto radicale, di recente Stefano Rodotà ha proposto la formulazione di un diritto fondamentale al reddito che ha chiamato diritto universale di esistenza. Un diritto che oggi può strutturare ogni proposta alternativa di tipo politico, economico, sociale ed esistenziale al di là della fascinazione acritica per gli automatismi della Silicon Valley in cui è caduta la sinistra non lavorista.

    Sostenere che il reddito di base è una proposta neoliberista è dunque un falso storico usato dai lavoristi che parlano di “piena occupazione”.
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  10. "There is a difference between work and labor. Work is an activity a person does to give one's life meaning. Labor is what a human does to survive."

    Being able to provide for yourself and your family defined your worth in your own eyes as well as those around you. This need for dignity will remain no matter how technical and economic landscapes evolve.

    When I started doing the research for this piece, I asked others in the know to respond to the prospect of a world that is fully automated. One of the people I talked to was Phillipe Kahn, founder of Borland, Starfish Software, LightSurf Technologies, and most recently, Fullpower Technologies.

    "I remember being in India and watching a construction site: lots of people, elephants, activity. I asked, 'Why don't you all use bulldozers and tractors and prefabricated concrete parts?' The answer was enlightening: 'How would this community make a living with dignity?' That's the whole paradox that we are dealing with: productivity versus dignity for communities that could be unemployed for generations," said Kahn.
    Work vs. labor

    There is a difference between work and labor. Work is an activity a person does to give one's life meaning. Labor is what a human does to survive. In the old days, work was your avocation and labor was your vocation. Some people were fortunate enough to have their activities be both avocation and vocation.
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