You too will be assimilated



Thanks so much to those that have helped out this month. For those who are new, I struggled for several years on barely-above- minimum wages after falling completely out of the middle class back in 2009. At eleven bucks an hour I slowly burned through my meager savings and then got hit by the financial coup de grace: a freak heart attack with complications. It’s just blind luck I happened to have health insurance and disability at the time. But the disability paid only a fraction of my crappy base pay and, of course, my out of pocket medical costs exploded. I survived, my job didn’t. Beginning in 2013 and through the new year, for the first time in my life, I faced down grinding poverty, food insecurity, cutting prescription meds in half or going without, and even the looming prospect of homelessness.

Finally, after recovering for the better part of a year, and then jumping through a lot of hoops for two more months to land a tech support job that might have paid a little better, it looked like things were turning up. Alas, just this month, just a few weeks after starting, I’m no longer employed and have no unemployment benefits. This all happened in the great state of Texas, where the social safety net for people in my shoes is essentially non-existent, even the Medicaid expansion that would help millions like me has been sacrificed to Gov Rick Perry’s fantasy of winning the GOP nomination for President. Please help out if you can, even if it’s only a few bucks. My Paypal email is Darksydothemoon-at-aol-com.

My story is sad but it’s becoming the norm. It’s just a matter of time before they come for other jobs that pay anything close to a living wage:

Digby — The fact remains that within one year a bunch of server jobs will be gone because restaurants will replace order-taking with tablets. Within a decade or two we won’t need truck or cab drivers anymore. IBM can already diagnose cancer five times better than doctors. The flattening of the teaching profession will continue apace as the technology and techniques behind MOOCs continue to improve. 3D printing will render much of what manufacturing remains obsolete. Anything requiring mid-level management or analysis will be done better by computer within two decades at the max, and probably sooner.

The quoted text is courtesy of Digby Parton at Hullabaloo about a misleading ad against the living wage movement. Living wage jobs were already disappearing, now the sociopaths selling out Americans have something to blame it on as shown above: requests for a higher minimum wage.

Real wages for the bottom third or so of working people have fallen for years. For two generations and counting, a big chunk of households were able to stave off the worst consequences of the guaranteed poverty that lousy paying jobs create by resorting to two full-time wage earners instead of the traditional single breadwinner. But two wage earners can only make up for so much. The Great Recession, loads of desperate applicants, and growing piles of corporate cash thanks to the bailouts that saved the zero-point-one percent, gave companies the perfect storm they needed to justify devastating the middle class anew by automating more and more jobs while reducing wages and eliminating benefits.

One result is Fortune 500 tech companies now regularly pick one my many online resumes out of employment databases to offer me the wonderful opportunity of buying computers and accessories, phone gear, and equipment like Xboxes on my own dime, so I can make ten bucks an hour part-time at home. Inevitably, these are insecure, temp-contract, no benefit or days off customer service tech support roles for highly profitable firms.

The free market can indeed do some neat things. But it’s not a social engineering experiments or a substitute for regulations. Businesses are, at their core, ruthless for profit entities that have fought free market competition with bribery, arson, murder, and war, not to mention enslaving legions of elementary school-aged kids to pick crops or churn out widgets in a factory 16 hours a day, wherever and whenever they could get away with it. Make no mistake, they’re coming for other jobs, too. Doesn’t matter if the economy improves, doesn’t matter if you think you’re immune, doesn’t matter if you’re an educated, experienced pro, it’s just a matter of time until they can offshore you, contract you, temp you, or replace you with younger, healthier, less-educated kids running more and more intelligent and capable devices.


  1. magistramarla says

    I’m so sorry that you are in dire straits again.
    Once again, I think that you should consider applying to USAA.
    It seems to me that your skills could be put to use there.

    Here’s another idea. Would you consider moving to Colorado?
    My daughter lives in Denver, where she is an over-worked pre-school teacher.
    She put out her resume, which is heavy on retail experience as well as teaching experience.
    She has had a flood of offers for management positions in marketing.
    It seems that small businesses are booming in the Denver area, and not just the MJ business.

  2. lpetrich says

    Among people being put out of work are lawyers. Unfortunately, they are not the sort who provoke thoughts of a Shakespearean final solution, but those who work in much of the donkey work of the legal profession: researching documents for evidence of stuff relevant to lawsuits. Computers running data-mining and pattern-recognition software can do the work of sifting through large numbers of documents (Armies of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced by Cheaper Software –

    More recently, it turned up that someone had used a bot to write large numbers of stub articles for Wikipedia, about 8.5% of all Wikipedia articles. WIkipedia’s own admins also use bots for certain editing tasks; about half of all Wikipedia edits are done by bots.

    Some news services are getting into using article-writing bots, though mainly for finance and sports stories, which fit into a few common templates rather easily.

  3. lpetrich says

    It’s helpful to classify jobs to see if one can identify patterns of vulnerability.

    Sectors of the Economy – Primary, Secondary, Tertiary, Quaternary

    – Primary. Extraction and harvesting of resources. Farming, mining, fishing, …
    – Secondary. Manufacturing. Including construction and refining of metals and the like.
    – Tertiary. Services. Sales, transport, food preparation, entertainment, news media, tourism, finance, medicine, law, protection, religion, …
    – Quaternary. Intellectual activity. Education, research, libraries, info tech, …
    – Quinary. Leadership and management. Political, organizations, …

    #5 is often considered a subset of #4, and #4 a subset of #3.

    Looking at humanity’s history, the main employment of most people has been in the primary sector: first foraging, and then farming. But the Industrial Revolution produced a big growth in the secondary sector, and more recently, the tertiary sector has grown dramatically.

    In the US, the primary sector fell to about 5% in 1970, and was 4% in 1998. The secondary sector peaked at 50% in 1960, and became about 38% in 1998. Other nations have had similar trends.

  4. lpetrich says

    Report Suggests Nearly Half of U.S. Jobs Are Vulnerable to Computerization | MIT Technology Review

    The authors believe this takeover will happen in two stages. First, computers will start replacing people in especially vulnerable fields like transportation/logistics, production labor, and administrative support. Jobs in services, sales, and construction may also be lost in this first stage. Then, the rate of replacement will slow down due to bottlenecks in harder-to-automate fields such engineering. This “technological plateau” will be followed by a second wave of computerization, dependent upon the development of good artificial intelligence. This could next put jobs in management, science and engineering, and the arts at risk.

    – First stage: the primary and secondary sectors will shrink even more, and the tertiary sector will shrink somewhat.
    – Second stage: all five sectors will become vulnerable, including the quaternary and quinary sectors, which have been nearly invulnerable so far.

    The researchers considered three things that continue to be difficult to get computers and robots to do:
    – Perception and manipulation tasks
    – Creative intelligence tasks
    – Social intelligence tasks

    They then scored several jobs for ease of automation, and they found that the first is easier to automate than the other two. They then used their result to estimate which other sorts of jobs are vulnerable. They found that most of the remaining jobs in the primary and secondary sectors are vulnerable, and many of jobs in the tertiary sector are also vulnerable. The quaternary and quinary sectors are relatively safe, however.

    Difficult to automate:
    – Creative intelligence: engineering, science. Heavily computerized, and a very early adopter, but computers serve as automated assistants.
    – Social intelligence: management, business, finance, education, healthcare, arts, media

  5. lpetrich says

    They also found that the jobs that paid more and required more education were less vulnerable. So this means that the hollowing out of the middle class will also happen to the lower middle class.

    David Graeber : “Spotlight on the financial sector did make apparent just how bizarrely skewed our economy is in terms of who gets rewarded” – He notes the rise of what he calls “bullshit jobs”, jobs that are little better than busywork and makework.

    In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

    There’s a lot of other interesting stuff in this article, like

    Actually I saw something telling written by a right-wing activist on some blog—he said, well the funny thing is, when we first started our school reform campaigns, we tried to focus on the administrators. But it didn’t take. Then we shifted to the teachers and suddenly the whole thing exploded.

    But I ought to stop here, so I don’t seem like I’m spamming your blog.

  6. lanir says

    I’ve been doing server automation at work for the last couple years on unix systems. I would agree that you can automate a lot of different tasks. But I would also insist that you cannot automate them WELL. At least not without breakthrough tricks that nobody has yet.

    I don’t know what the next 20 years will bring and I’m not an expert on artificial intelligence. But I do know it’s tremendously simple to overlook things when automating. And I have one “advantage” if you will that I bet a lot of these researchers don’t. I worked a lot of low-end jobs before I got my career going. So I know for example, if you want an old school idea of how easy it is to mess up when automating, ask anyone whose worked near a conveyor belt what the process is if something gets past a particular station and needs to be taken back up the line. Or think about how a fully automated restaurant is going to pass a health inspection.

    In the short term, yes I expect some low-end jobs will be lost and they’ll lean on the ones that are left to work harder. But it’ll open up higher end jobs to care for the things and in the end, a tablet at each table doesn’t let a restaurant get rid of many people. Someone still has to bring out your food or walk you to a seat or clean up after you’re done. The only way it’s a win is if you get rid of all your servers and expect someone else to do part of the server’s job as well as their own. Many other automation tasks are similar.

  7. krambc says

    We in the Anglo-American sphere are infected with a viral meme, a nearly religious ideology; the protestant work ethic that, for the privilege of existing on planet earth, we must ‘earn your keep’ and pay rent.

    But; to whom ? To which landlords:
    the rentier class or ourselves as the owners of this land ?

    As the disconnect between work and income accelerates, we have seen some glimpses into a world where a basic income is guaranteed, such as the mincome experiment in Dauphin, Manitoba during the 1970s before Reagan/Thatcher implemented the monetarism of the bankster class.

    But even as our
    roving cavaliers of credit
    seek ever new ways to steal your productivity gains and earnings, the progressive ideas pop up in places likely and unlikely; a liberal and a conservative .

  8. lpetrich says

    krambc, your link to a conservative doesn’t work.

    A Cyberpunk/Shadowrun future? The large majority of people on the dole because nearly all of the labor that they could do has been undersold by machines?

    An alternative is a Solaria sort of future (Isaac Asimov “The Naked Sun”). In it, everybody lives on their own estate with lots of robot servants. But in the story, everybody avoids meeting other people in person, only virtually with what we’d now call webcams.

  9. krambc says

    krambc, your link to a conservative doesn’t work.

    Ahh – yes ; the conservative link doesn’t work. As expected.

    (actually – I re-linked in the next post: “Job growth …” )

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