mfioretti: end of work*

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  1. nailing the evil ways of oligarchs hardly demolishes left-wing arguments in favor of an unconditional, universal basic income which, so far, is the only policy being mooted as a way of universally guaranteeing the most basic right of all: the right to material existence. Moreover, basic income, while not a universal panacea, is one way of strengthening vulnerable members of society in their struggle against the oligarchs.

    Then again, the respected Marxist economist Michael Roberts has a different take in his recent blog (which we’ll cite at length to cover all the points):

    But what to do, as jobs are lost to robots? Some liberal economists talk of a ‘robot tax’. But all this would do is slow down automation – hardly a progressive move in reducing toil. The idea of universal basic income (UBI) continues to gain traction among economists, both leftist and mainstream. I have discussed the merits and demerits of UBI before. UBI is advocated by many neoliberal economic strategists as a way of replacing the ‘welfare state’ of free health, education and decent pensions with a basic income. And it is being proposed to keep wages down for those in work. Any decent level of basic income would be just too costly for capitalism to afford. And even if UBI were won by workers in struggle, it would still not solve the issue of who owns the robots and the means of production in general.

    A more exciting alternative, in my view, is the idea of Universal Basic Services i.e. what are called public goods and services, free at the point of use. A super-abundant society is by definition one where our needs are met without toil and exploitation ie a socialist society. But the transition to such a society can start with devoting socially necessary labour to the production of basic social needs like education, health, housing, transport and basic foodstuffs and equipment.

    Roberts’ text provides a good starting point for getting to the nitty-gritty of some key aspects of the debate about basic income.

    1) A basic income can be financed in several different ways. The difference between left- and right-wing proposals is easily ascertained by asking who gains and who loses. A left-wing proposal would entail progressive tax reform which brings about a major redistribution from the richest citizens to the rest of society. Hence, in a financing proposal resulting from an extensive study which is detailed in the final chapter of our book Against Charity, we specify that, with our version of basic income, the richest 20% would lose and the other 80% would gain. This would mean a redistribution of income which, in Gini Index terms, would become one of the most egalitarian in the world (about 0.25).

    2) Any basic income that contemplates dismantling the welfare state is a right-wing ploy. The fact that Milton Friedman—who, in fact, rather than basic income, favored a negative income tax (NIT) which is similar to basic income in some ways but also significantly different in others—and other more recent right-wing economists are ostensibly basic income supporters has led some left-wing critics to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Friedman wanted the NIT as a sop when he was aiming to dismantle public social services in the United States but it’s pretty reductionist to conclude from this that all basic income supporters want to do away with welfare. Far from it,

    Poverty is viewed as a personal aberration. The norm is having a job and earning a respectable living, which flies in the face of today’s reality that having a job is no guarantee against poverty, as the burgeoning numbers of working poor testify.
    https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/04/.../universal-basic-income-left-or-right
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  2. This is going to require a fight. The common story is that the robots are the threat to workers, but robots are just robots. It’s not robots that need to be bargained with, or that can be. The real obstruction will come from those, as in times past, who will find it too tempting to keep on accumulating the benefits of automated efficiency for themselves. It will take a fight to ensure those benefits are really shared — not through philanthropic handouts, but through a recognition that prosperity is a collective inheritance.

    Basic income advocate Peter Barnes, for instance, suggests deriving the funds from dividends on the use of such shared assets as clean air, the electromagnetic spectrum, and financial markets. This is like the model Alaska already uses to distribute about $1,000 from natural-resource wealth to each resident every year. The trouble is, too many industries are too used to regarding our shared assets as theirs to exploit. It is their shareholders we will be bargaining with. Sometimes, these shareholders are ourselves through pension funds or our 401k retirement plans.
    https://indypendent.org/2018/03/bargaining-with-robots
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  3. what about work? Well, very few people engage in work at all, but they spend alot if time on jobs. Work is a great human experience, its one of the main pleasures of life, it is the expression of that special combination of gifts each of us has to offer in expression of the endless creativity of the biosphere, and as such is deeply meaningful and spiritual…but hardly anyone gets the opportunity to work, instead we have jobs because the essentials of life have been enclosed and we must get money to buy them or die. Jobs are not work, but rather part time chattel slavery. In ages past a slave knew he was a slave today most of us are slaves and we think of our very slavery as freedom to choose. To make a slave, we must dehumanize the would be slave. That is, the person must be severed from the entire web of relationships that in large part comprise her identity and subjugated completely to the will of the master. A slave is not a human being, but a tool to be used. Well…unless you are very fortunate, you spend 40 percent or more of your waking hours as a slave, and the rest as a largely isolated self-interested individual engaging in market transactions.
    https://medium.com/@wayneblewis/they-...l-causes-of-the-collapse-d7a7844a009a
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  4. In early February, media outlets reported that Amazon had received a patent for ultrasonic wristbands that could track the movement of warehouse workers’ hands during their shifts. If workers’ hands began moving in the wrong direction, the wristband would buzz, issuing an electronic corrective. If employed, this technology could easily be used to further surveil employees who already work under intense supervision.

    Whole Foods, which is now owned by Amazon, recently instituted a complex and punitive inventory system where employees are graded based on everything from how quickly and effectively they stock shelves to how they report theft. The system is so harsh it reportedly causes employees enough stress to bring them to tears on a regular basis.

    UPS drivers, who often operate individually on the road, are now becoming increasingly surveilled. Sensors in every UPS truck track when drivers’ seatbelts are put on, when doors open and close and when the engines start in order to monitor employee productivity at all times.

    The technology company Steelcase has experimented with monitoring employees’ faces to judge their expressions.
    http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry...s-amazon-ups-tracking-orwell-dystopia
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  5. Il mercato del lavoro è in rapida trasformazione, la parola chiave è certamente “flessibilità nelle forme contrattuali”, ma anche nelle mansioni si sta realizzando un enorme turn over di competenze a livello mondiale. Secondo il forum di Davos, entro il 2020 si prevede la perdita di 7.1 milioni di posti di lavoro, la maggior parte nei ruoli amministrativi. Contemporaneamente però ci sarà anche un incremento fino a 2 milioni di posti di lavoro nelle professioni del settore delle tecnologie, della matematica e dell’ingegneria. Tra i posti perduti e quelli guadagnati, resta un “buco” di 5,1 milioni di posti di lavoro.
    http://www.corriere.it/dataroom-milen...-0c1d-11e8-ac00-e73bcae47d08-va.shtml
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  6. 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.
    https://www.usatoday.com/pages/intera...ked-past-exhaustion-left-with-nothing
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2018-01-20)
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  7. 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.”
    https://www.theguardian.com/inequalit...asic-income-trial-too-good-to-be-true
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  8. 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.
    http://www.digitaljournal.com/tech-an...t-inventory-mismatches/article/504812
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  9. 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.
    https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/workin...er-meaningful-alternatives/2017/06/12
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  10. 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.
    http://davidbyrne.com/journal/eliminating-the-human
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