Friday, May 29, 2015

Contemplating work, agriculture and our employment future

For most of humanity's existence, finding food occupied the bulk of human activity, and was surprised when researching this post to read that four years ago agricultural activity still accounted for 1/3 of human employment globally. But less than 2% in countries like my own, the United States:

As of 2011, the International Labour Organization states that approximately one billion people, or over 1/3 of the available work force, are employed in the global agricultural sector.

Source: Wikipedia Agriculture--Workforce

Doubt much has changed since, though guess there's a lag in someone actually figuring out such information, so will go with those figures.

Less than 2% of the workforce needed in my country for agriculture? Versus the bulk of humanity if you go far enough back? And it occurs to me that what most people call "work" has changed dramatically.

So what is work?

While I would like to call it human effort, especially difficult human effort like writing something that people find informative, I think functionally employment is needed for a useful definition, and money. So I'll say that generally when people use the word "work" when it comes to employment, they mean efforts done in some kind of socially limited contract for someone else, for some amount of money.

When you consider how societies shift as to employment it makes sense to me it's driven by: who pays whom for what?

You could find someone making lots of money restoring antique furniture, or writing, or making a lot less, restoring furniture, or yup, writing. Actually you often see people making nothing for writing. Like me here.

When people DO make money for writing it's all about the market.

The good news with this assessment is that employment in the future will be driven by what people with money need other people to do for them, and how much they monetarily value it, as well as, of course, what other people are willing to do on a limited contractual basis.

So robots will no more necessarily unemploy everyone than agricultural machinery did.

What does unemploy people?

Other people unwilling to release favors.

I came up with a favor definition for money, seeing it as merely a social IOU, which is an abstraction enumerating a favor. But if a group of people simply gather IOU's without releasing them by using them--that is, buy something or hire someone--then that system is broken.

That doesn't impact normal savings like a rainy day fund or retirement savings though as eventually the bulk of that will be released. Only a tiny percentage of people can just lock up vast sums of money indefinitely with no pressure to release that money. That is, have vast hoards of wealth which they do not need. And that doesn't include investments either, like into new businesses, as that helps drive the system. Am talking about money that is in essence simply locked away.

People who somehow gather favors without ever releasing them, end the system, for those favors.

So vast concentrations of stagnant wealth may reflect a flaw in the abstraction of the monetary system, and apparently lead to vastly higher unemployment, presumably because fewer people are able to pay other people to do things for them.

What people do for each other on a limited social contract seems to expand as possibility expands, if unconstrained. Which is what happened as agriculture dwindled as the bulk employer and you can see the vast array of jobs available today.

So then I can postulate that unemployment is actually an indicator of a problem in the flows of the monetary system. It reveals it. Fascinating.

That's not really intuitive. But IS consistent with prior ideas, as I considered how Henry Ford greatly helped the global economy.

And it really is kind of odd, as I'm saying that those who give favors doing things for others, and receive the social IOU that we call money in return, if they don't allow others to do them favors and hand them money in compensation at a high enough level, they shut down the monetary flow for those favors. It's kind of an odd thing to contemplate.

So there can be a hitch in the monetary system. Vast sums of abstracted favors can be received by some entities which not releasing them back, constrain job creation.

Good news though is that even in a totally automated society people can be fully employed--finding things that strangers can do for each other on a limited contractual basis.

So each of us simply must find things we wish to do, which someone wants done, to establish limited social contracts which both parties find agreeable, to get to a monetary exchange. Yeah, people will keep doing that indefinitely.

James Harris
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