THE FUTURE OF WORK

I saw this story on my Flipboard and had to share it with my Facebook friends. The topic seems timely and the article does it justice in my humble opinion. – Rich

Every Saturday with your host Josh Quittner,
Editorial Director at Flipboard

Weekly

THE FUTURE OF WORK

What happens when the robots get all the jobs?

Illustration: Matt Chase

The biggest problem facing Silicon Valley is not undervalued unicorns.

Nor is it sexual harassment, diversity, the high cost of housing, the congested highways or the battle for talent. All of these issues are certainly critical to people who live and work here. But they pale in comparison to the awful devastation Techland is wreaking on the rest of the world:

Silicon Valley has been steadily killing jobs, and the worst is yet to come.

Venture capitalists like to fund ideas that can scale, which means new companies will grow by adding more technology than workers. VCs don’t fund barbershops because if a barber wants to make three times more money, she needs to hire three more barbers. VCs fund companies such as Facebook and Google, which exponentially make more money by powering their businesses with technology rather than people.

This is no surprise, but boy, the bill has come due. Look at the near civil war that’s pitting American cities against the rest of the country and at the growing rift between the haves and have-nots. Automation is replacing everyone from truck drivers to brick layers. And that’s in the near term. White collar jobs will be the next to go.

Compounding the problem is that, for the first time, not enough new U.S. businesses are starting up to offset the death of failing businesses. And the new businesses that are launching are predominantly in big cities. “The rate of new business formation has plummeted, falling by half since the late 1970s—including a severe decline during the Great Recession. From small mom-and-pop storefronts to high-tech startups, new businesses are simply scarcer than ever,” reports a recent, harrowing study, “Dynamism in Retreat,” published by the Economic Innovation Group, a bipartisan think tank. “Americans are less likely to start a business, move to another region of the country, or switch jobs now than at any time in recent memory.”

The United States actually suffers from a problem of too little creation—not too much destruction—perhaps for the first time in its history. Our economic and job creation engine is rapidly slowing down.

Dynamism in Retreat

Check, please: Robots carry trays of food at a restaurant in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, China. REUTERS

So what are we to do?

The future of work was on the agenda at Fortune’s annual Brainstorm Tech Conference, which ended Wednesday in Aspen, Colorado, where it was generally agreed that most people want to work—but they care more about having a stable income than an especially large one. Researchers have known for more than a decade that after one’s essential needs are met, money doesn’t buy happiness: It turns out that the “cost of happiness” is around $75,000. (Here’s a state-by-state chart showing how much happiness costs locally.)

But that’s considerably more than the U.S. median income, which is $56,516.

Lately, a number of Silicon Valley luminaries—Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, among them—have embraced the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), which would put all of us on the dole, regardless of need. (Vox dropped an excellent longread on the subject last week, here, and another on Thursday, here.) The basic idea of basic income is to raise the economic floor that supports us all. People will still want to work—and to be entrepreneurial—and enjoy more material things if they do. But they won’t need to.

UBI experiments are already ongoing around the world. As part of a larger five-year study, Y Combinator in May 2016 launched a pilot project in Oakland, in which 100 families are given money—$1,000 to $2,000 a person. Writes Quartz: “The study will test payment methods and data collection, as well as whether the money meets people’s core needs, and how it affects people’s ‘happiness, well-being, financial health, as well as how people spend their time.’” Similar schemes are being rolled out elsewhere, most notably in Finland, in a tiny town near the Arctic Circle that was devastated by Nokia layoffs, where government money was intended to get people to accept low-paying jobs. (Though apparently, it’s not working as planned.)

Last week, Chris Hughes, a Facebook co-founder, was shopping around a book pitch that outlines his own modest proposal: Give people who make less than $75,000 a check for $500 a month. Hughes wants to encourage national brainstorming on the issue and has committed to using the proceeds of the book to fund a UBI pilot in a small American city. I’m assuming his broader plan, which The Washingtonian got hold of, but didn’t really explain, says how that will get us to Post-Robot Utopia. He has already outlined some of that thinking in a Medium post last year, when he asserted that “recurring, unconditional cash stipends are a shockingly effective way to encourage work, improve health and education outcomes, and create a ladder of economic opportunity.”

Some, including Helen Razer, also writing in Quartz, say that UBI is a pipe dream and “just a bedtime story Elon Musk tells himself to help the super-wealthy sleep.” She argues that Techland’s elite are cynically embracing universal income “to permit spending on their goods by what remains of the American middle class. No one on a stagnant wage can currently buy the things that Musk—and the rest of Silicon Valley—wants to sell them. These billionaires champion a scheme whose prime result will be their profit.”

Obviously, enormous questions remain about how Universal Basic Income would work, whether it’ll work, and how we’ll pay for it. On that last point, the best idea yet: companies that use automation in lieu of humans ought to pay hefty “robot taxes.” Bill Gates thought of that one, of course.

Not since the age of monarchs and royal courts has so much capital been controlled by so few and been so disconnected from work.

From Chris Hughes’s proposal for a book, “We Should All Be So Lucky,” as reported by The Washingtonian

Chris Hughes, Facebook co-founder, is shopping a book about Universal Basic Income. REUTERS/Adam Hunger

Quick Flips

Buy: For you gadget hounds, I got the coolest toy after my brother-in-law—a fellow gadget guy, as well as a retired federal agent who trained police in Iraq—unexpectedly dropped by last week and camped out in my backyard. (Don’t ask.) He was packing a thumb-sized “Olight” flashlight, which he called “the Disrupter.” It can kick out an eye-searing 900 lumens of light, and when he turned it on, I thought a comet had crashed into the yard. The Olight recharges on a tiny USB ring, and you can step it down to a dim enough light to find the bathroom in the middle of the night without waking your spouse. I got it as a way to deal with the coyotes who sometimes come too close to my little dogs, Larry and Sticky, during our evening walks.

Read: As mentioned in a previous column, cryptocurrency has been my obsession lately—along with the rest of the world’s. If you’re trying to get a handle on the subject, far and away the best everything-you-wanted-to-know book out there is Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper. Popper’s book chronologically tells the story of Bitcoin, and, along the way, he effortlessly explains and puts into context blockchain, Mt. Gox, Silk Road and all the other fascinating waypoints. The book was published in 2015, but is an essential foundation for anyone trying to understand why this stuff is so important.

Listen: This has virtually nothing to do with tech, but my favorite Audible book of the summer is The Force by Don Winslow. I listen to books way more than I read them these days and have come to appreciate the narrator almost as much as the book. Here we have a great and gritty New York police corruption yarn (think Prince of the City or Serpico), deftly written by one of my favorite writers, and wonderfully narrated by Dion Graham, whose Long Island accent isn’t exactly a Staten Island accent, but works nonetheless.

Keep flipping,

JQ

P.S.: If you or someone you know wants to get my weekly reader via email on Saturdays, all you have to do is get an account on Flipboard, and follow Technology. We’ll take care of the rest.

Josh Quittner

Josh Quittner

Editorial Director at Flipboard

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Smart Google Maps

Smart Google Maps

This kind of related to my daughter and her hubby’s love for bike riding. My Brit friend’s use of Google Maps also reminds me of my use of off the early Mapquest site. This leads me to a highway in Nebraska that had yet to be built. But, I am sure that Goggle will include the bike factor very soon.

The Mexile

I rode my bike to work yesterday. It’s been an age since I’ve had the bike out of the shed, but it was a nice day and the trip would take me along the beach for a couple of miles and then through some nice parks. So why not? I pumped the tyres up, put my iPhone in its handlebar holster, set up Runkeeper and then plotted my trajectory with Google Maps.

View original post 289 more words

Memories of growing up in El Paso

Growing up in the 50’s in El Paso was a unique experience. The city never felt like a small town. It was urban from the start. The population, when I first took note of it, was over one hundred thousand souls. It butted up to Cuidad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. Growing up El Paso and Juarez were like one big city. Most of us on the US side had relatives in Mexico’ or many of our family members came from Mexico. It is no wonder that most of the population on the US side spoke Spanish, and were Catholic.

The population was composed of more than eighty percent descendants of immigrants from Mexico, there was not much exposure to other cultures. Our minorities consisted of some “regular” Americans. Many were servicemen station at military facilities that ringed the city. We did have some Chinese, Lebanese and Jews that were part of the business owners. There were few blacks. Excuse me if I use this word for people of color. I have not kept up with political correctness. We got along with everybody. Anyway, that is the way that I saw it.

In my neighborhood th, re were three of four churches. There was an black Baptist church and an apostolic one acros the street. The Baptist Reverend Humphries and his family lived on the corner. We shared a fence between us. His son and daughter were our playmates. Dad and the mister were friends. Dad worked at Mitchells Brewery, and got to take home a six-pack of beer. He was not much of a drinker so when his did bring some home, he would give it to the reverend. Even a man of God enjoys a cool one on a hot summer day. Guaridian Angel Catholic church,  was a block down the street. Grandma sent my brother Andy and me to services on Sunday. We often, we did not make it! But, since we almost had the priest’s fire and brimestone sermon memorized, we could cover our sses, if she asked about the sermon that week. We enjoyed going to the summer kermises, eating the gorditas and playing their games. But you could say that we were not that much into the church.

 

To be continued.

A Year of Stupid

A Year of Stupid

We do Stupid here! But maybe the Brits do it much better? Good blog by my friend in England.

The Mexile

A year ago today, we Brits awoke to hear the results of the big referendum. And 48% of us were mighty disappointed to hear that 51% of the population were indeed, as feared, Stupid. The campaigners for Stupid had worked tirelessly for 40 years for this and credit must be given where it is due. To induce

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The Poster Child

The Poster Child

Inequality, the subject resonates. It is the Robin Hood syndrome in reverse. The rich get richer while the poor, well they just continue to get poorer.

The Mexile

One.

The election last week. Well, that was unexpected, huh? Against all odds, the Conservative landslide transpired to be a hung parliament. Recriminations in Tory and media circles will last long into the night. And beyond. But the truth is, we are all guided by polls. Which in the UK are notoriously off the mark. But still, the

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My work with Cuidad Juarez and El Paso Maquiladoras

History of Maquiladoras

Seeing a story in my hometown newspaper, the El Paso Times, brought back memories of my crossing the border to work in Mexico.

Oregon “Gringo” lives the American dream on the border

Guilty as charged! I must admit the I helped move American Jobs to Mexico. That might sound heartless but in the context of the job situation in the US, you might understand the why of things. Employment in the US was very good. So much that someone working in a skilled trade could tell their boss to go shove it and walk out the door. Yes, you could go up the street and find work usually at the same or better wages. Workers had little loyalty and often did exactly that. My employer Dale Electronics based in Nebraska and North Dakota could not retain workers. So in looking for a solution. It decided to move some manufacturing to places where it could keep its workers. The City of El Paso, Texas offered many incentives for the company to move some of it manufacture there.  alternatives. A big labor pool with high unemployment, land at low cost with ultra low-interest rates provided a big draw. That was good enough for the first move. Dale Electronics was not the first high-tech company to move to El Paso. With technical training and some hands on experience, I applied for at job at their factory and got it! The city was mainly a hub for garment manufacturing so there was not need for the skilled worker. Nowhere to go without leaving, and so I was lucky to get the job at Dale as kind of a jack of all trades. I learned a lot while working there but that is a story in itself. That might include a defense for aiding and abetting the flow of jobs into Mexico.