Rather than try to write one long awesome post, I think I will need to split this up. So here is part one.
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Yesterday I wrote about robot factories, and pointed out what should be obvious to anyone familiar with the march of technology: if a robot factory is viable today, it will be even more viable in 2022 and more again in 2032. Robots that cost $250,000 each today might only cost $100,000 in ten years, and they will be more capable.
If robots can replace human workers, this leads some people to think that in the future, mankind will live lives of leisure, freed from the need to go to work. But people who think that are wrong. It’s not going to work out that way.
In the 1930s, the U.S. government created the 40-hour workweek. Since then, there have been massive increases in productivity. If a 40-hour workweek was long enough in the 1930s, one might think that today we’d have 20-hour workweeks. But that’s not the way it turned out. In fact, the opposite has happened. Whereas it was common for women to stay home and raise children and keep house, today the norm is for mothers to work (unless they qualify for welfare). If increased productivity hasn’t led to less work from the 1930s to the present, it’s pretty stupid to think that continued increases in productivity are going to have a different effect.
Increased productivity hasn’t changed basic human nature. Once we have enough basic necessities to live on, such as food, shelter, and minimal clothing, what we want is status. Of course, outside of my blog, very few people will use the word “status” to describe why they do what they do. They will frame it in terms of “getting ahead” or living in a “good neighborhood” or being able to send their children to “good schools.” Or perhaps, even more than people are concerned with increasing their status, they are concerned with not perceiving themselves to be a loser.
Despite the increases in productivity, or perhaps even because of them, being poor sucks more than ever. One of the benefits of having money is that you don’t have to live next to poor people, and the behavior of poor people has gotten a lot worse since the 1930s. No amount of productivity increases will make it more affordable to live in a "good" neighborhood. You need to make more money than poor people to afford not to live next to them, so the bar just keeps getting higher.
We make a big deal about the falling crime rate of the last two decades, but that ignores the massive increase in crime which began during the 1960s. The chart here shows that the crime rate for aggravated assault increased from 86.1 (per 100,000 people) in 1960 to 252.3 in 2010, with a peak of 441.8 in 1992. The rate for robbery increased from 60.1 to 119. Thus in 1960 we had half the violent crime of the present with much less spending on prisons and police, and with much less sophisticated police investigations techniques. The incarceration rate today is about four times greater than it was prior to the 1980s. In the past, we had one-half the crime with only one-quarter the incarceration rate.
An interesting exception to the general trend of increased crime is the murder rate, which has remained fairly steady over the last century. Modern emergency care is mostly responsible for this. Wounds which would have led to someone dying, and thus a murder, are no longer fatal, and the crime gets classified as an aggravated assault instead of a murder.
(By the way, a good future career for people not smart to become doctors would be law enforcement. I don’t see police officers being replaced by robots anytime soon [despite the example of the movie Robocop], and for reasons to be explained later, I predict that crime will increase in the future.)
To be continued ...