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Please begin with an informative title:

Noah Smith, assistant professor of finance at Stony Brook University and a blogger at Noahpinion, writes The End of Labor: How to Protect Workers From the Rise of Robots:

Here's a scene that will be familiar to anyone who's ever taken an introductory economics course. The professor has just finished explaining that in economics, "efficiency" means that there are no possible gains from trade. Then some loudmouth kid in the back raises his hand and asks: "Wait, so if one person has everything, and everyone else has nothing and just dies, is that an 'efficient' outcome?" The professor, looking a little chagrined, responds: "Well, yes, it is." And the whole class rolls their eyes and thinks: Economists.

For most of modern history, inequality has been a manageable problem. The reason is that no matter how unequal things get, most people are born with something valuable: the ability to work, to learn, and to earn money. In economist-ese, people are born with an "endowment of human capital." It's just not possible for one person to have everything, as in the nightmare example in Econ 101.

Noah Smith, blogger at Noahpinion and asst. professor of finance at Stony Brook U.
Noah Smith is not a robot.
Here's a scene that will be familiar to anyone who's ever taken an introductory economics course. The professor has just finished explaining that in economics, "efficiency" means that there are no possible gains from trade. Then some loudmouth kid in the back raises his hand and asks: "Wait, so if one person has everything, and everyone else has nothing and just dies, is that an 'efficient' outcome?" The professor, looking a little chagrined, responds: "Well, yes, it is." And the whole class rolls their eyes and thinks: Economists.

For most of modern history, inequality has been a manageable problem. The reason is that no matter how unequal things get, most people are born with something valuable: the ability to work, to learn, and to earn money. In economist-ese, people are born with an "endowment of human capital." It's just not possible for one person to have everything, as in the nightmare example in Econ 101.

For most of modern history, two-thirds of the income of most rich nations has gone to pay salaries and wages for people who work, while one-third has gone to pay dividends, capital gains, interest, rent, etc. to the people who own capital. This two-thirds/one-third division was so stable that people began to believe it would last forever. But in the past ten years, something has changed. Labor's share of income has steadily declined, falling by several percentage points since 2000. It now sits at around 60% or lower. The fall of labor income, and the rise of capital income, has contributed to America's growing inequality.

WHERE IS THE MONEY GOING?

What can explain this shift? One hypothesis is: China. The recent entry of China into the global trading system basically doubled the labor force available to multinational companies. When labor becomes more plentiful, the return to labor goes down. In a world flooded with cheap Chinese labor, capital becomes relatively scarce, and its share of income goes up. As China develops, this effect should go away, as China builds up its own capital stock. This is probably already happening.

But there is another, more sinister explanation for the change. In past times, technological change always augmented the abilities of human beings. A worker with a machine saw was much more productive than a worker with a hand saw. The fears of "Luddites," who tried to prevent the spread of technology out of fear of losing their jobs, proved unfounded. But that was then, and this is now. Recent technological advances in the area of computers and automation have begun to do some higher cognitive tasks - think of robots building cars, stocking groceries, doing your taxes.

Once human cognition is replaced, what else have we got? For the ultimate extreme example, imagine a robot that costs $5 to manufacture and can do everything you do, only better. You would be as obsolete as a horse.

Now, humans will never be completely replaced, like horses were. Horses have no property rights or reproductive rights, nor the intelligence to enter into contracts. There will always be something for humans to do for money. But it is quite possible that workers' share of what society produces will continue to go down and down, as our economy becomes more and more capital-intensive. This possibility is increasingly the subject of discussion among economists. Erik Brynjolfsson has written a book about it, and economists like Paul Krugman and Tyler Cowen are talking about it more and more (for those of you who are interested, here is a huge collection of links, courtesy of blogger Izabella Kaminska). In the academic literature, the theory goes by the name of "capital-biased technological change."


Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2012John Boehner—who could make a mint on pipeline—whines about President Obama delaying Keystone:

With the Obama administration's refusal to kowtow to the arbitrary and politically motivated Republican deadline to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, Speaker of the House John Boehner was one of the first out of the gate to express his fauxrage:
Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah …
What he didn't say?
... in December 2010, according to Boehner’s financial disclosure forms, he invested $10,000 to $50,000 each in seven firms that had a stake in Canada’s oil sands, the region that produces the oil the pipeline would transport.
So in the coming days, as Republicans crawl out of the woodwork to denounce the president's decision, ask yourself what's in it for them besides scoring political points.

Tweet of the Day:

"i got it, guys, instead of governing, we'll come up with a twitter hashtag. then it trends, and... well..."
#NoBudgetNoPay
@owillis via web




On today's Kagro in Morning show, Greg Dworkin with more polling on guns, and evidence of a shift in intensity shifting the ground, post-Newtown. Armando joined for our interview with former Hostess bakery worker Mike Hummel, aka bluebarnstormer. Hear the details the traditional media skipped in telling the story. See today's podcast post for a link to Mike's short film on the whole debacle. You won't believe what the hedge funders get away with!


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