Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Elites Look to the Future and See A Surplus Population

Global warming and environmentalism. Artificial intelligence and robotics. Unsustainable public pensions. All of these have in common a vision that there will be an unnecessary, or surplus, population. 

Notwithstanding that the world's population will begin to decline after 2050, there is a firm belief that there are too many people chasing after too few resources. For instance, from the Population Institute, on "Why Population Matters":
With the world confronting a host of major crises relating to climate, energy, severe poverty, food, the global economy and political instability, why should anyone be concerned about population? The simple answer is that virtually all of the major problems that confront the world today relate in some critical way to population growth.

While public concern about rapid population growth has subsided in recent decades, world population is still growing at about 80 million people a year, or about 220,000 people per day. If current trends persist, there will 2.5 billion more people on the planet by mid-century, bringing the total to about 9.2 billion. That projected population growth raises a host of questions about the future of humanity and the planet we inhabit.

Most importantly, will we be able to feed 9.2 billion people? This year, for the first time in history, over 1 billion people go to bed hungry every day. High food prices and the global economic recession have pushed 100 million more people than last year into chronic hunger and poverty. And, looking ahead, we know that climate change, rising energy prices, and growing water scarcity will make it harder, not easier, to grow the crops necessary to feed an expanding population. Mounting soil erosion and the loss of farm land will also add to the challenge of boosting food production.

And it's not just food that's potentially in short supply. Water scarcity is a growing concern. In many parts of the world today, major rivers at various times of the year no longer reach the ocean. In some areas, lakes are going dry and underground water aquifers are being rapidly depleted. And climate change, of course, will make the water situation even more critical. Drier areas will be more prone to drought, wetter areas more prone to flooding, and the summer runoff from snowpack and glaciers will diminish.

As food, water, and other resources are strained by the escalating demands of a growing world population, the number of environmental refugees in the world will rise…and so will the potential for conflict and civil war.
This is nothing new. Malthusian beliefs underlie many of the programs and caused championed by the progressives.

Much as I hate to agree with any aspect of Marxist theory, there is a certain amount of truth to this observation from Charles Derber:
Long-term high unemployment is a grave problem – but it’s also just the most visible sign of a deeper one. This larger problem, currently one without a name, is the prospect of an America in which many millions of Americans are destined to become “surplus.”

Here’s the issue: We have more people who need or want jobs than our existing economic structure provides.
This is borne out by labor statistics. As Jim Clifton points out, the currently low unemployment rate is a lie because it does not include the chronically unemployed (those who have given up looking for work) but includes many that are only marginally employed. This is reflected in the the low labor participation rate.

Technology will further reduce the need for human workers. The last several years have seen plenty of articles warning of the impending loss of jobs to automation. For instance, this 2012 NBC lists 9 jobs that will be lost to automation. Natural News has proclaimed: "Robotics revolution to replace most human workers in three generations; labor class to be systematically eliminated." The Guardian reported that nearly 50% of workers would lose their jobs to automation, including highly trained jobs such as medical professionals. (See also this Oxford study: "The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation?"--PDF). It may not just be economic efficiency contributing to the replacement: this New York Times op-ed, for instance, suggests:
Machines aren’t used because they perform some tasks that much better than humans, but because, in many cases, they do a “good enough” job while also being cheaper, more predictable and easier to control than quirky, pesky humans. Technology in the workplace is as much about power and control as it is about productivity and efficiency.
While the standard belief is that automation will pave the way to job growth, albeit in different jobs or economic sectors, that outcome is not certain. This Pew Report reports on a survey of experts, where nearly half (48%) expected robots to replace more jobs than are created. In fact, some experts have suggested that this type of job destruction, without replacement, has been going on for some time. MIT Technology Review, in an article entitled "How Technology is Destroying Jobs," begins:
Given his calm and reasoned academic demeanor, it is easy to miss just how provocative Erik Brynjolfsson’s contention really is. ­Brynjolfsson, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and his collaborator and coauthor Andrew McAfee have been arguing for the last year and a half that impressive advances in computer technology—from improved industrial robotics to automated translation services—are largely behind the sluggish employment growth of the last 10 to 15 years. Even more ominous for workers, the MIT academics foresee dismal prospects for many types of jobs as these powerful new technologies are increasingly adopted not only in manufacturing, clerical, and retail work but in professions such as law, financial services, education, and medicine.

That robots, automation, and software can replace people might seem obvious to anyone who’s worked in automotive manufacturing or as a travel agent. But Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s claim is more troubling and controversial. They believe that rapid technological change has been destroying jobs faster than it is creating them, contributing to the stagnation of median income and the growth of inequality in the United States. And, they suspect, something similar is happening in other technologically advanced countries.

Perhaps the most damning piece of evidence, according to Brynjolfsson, is a chart that only an economist could love. In economics, productivity—the amount of economic value created for a given unit of input, such as an hour of labor—is a crucial indicator of growth and wealth creation. It is a measure of progress. On the chart Brynjolfsson likes to show, separate lines represent productivity and total employment in the United States. For years after World War II, the two lines closely tracked each other, with increases in jobs corresponding to increases in productivity. The pattern is clear: as businesses generated more value from their workers, the country as a whole became richer, which fueled more economic activity and created even more jobs. Then, beginning in 2000, the lines diverge; productivity continues to rise robustly, but employment suddenly wilts. By 2011, a significant gap appears between the two lines, showing economic growth with no parallel increase in job creation. Brynjolfsson and McAfee call it the “great decoupling.” And Brynjolfsson says he is confident that technology is behind both the healthy growth in productivity and the weak growth in jobs.
(Underline added). (See also "The End of Labor: How to Protect Workers From the Rise of Robots" at The Atlantic).

The end result? Possible this, as described by Yuval Noah Harari, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem:
'I think it is likely in the next 200 years or so homo sapiens will upgrade themselves into some idea of a divine being, either through biological manipulation or genetic engineering of by the creation of cyborgs, part organic part non-organic.

'It will be the greatest evolution in biology since the appearance of life. Nothing really has changed in four billion years biologically speaking.
'But we will be as different from today's humans as chimps are now from us.' 
The technology to do this, however, will be restricted to the very wealthy, claims Professor Harari.
* * *
He added that the most interesting place in the world from a religious perspective is not the Middle East but Silicon Valley. 
Here, people are developing what he describes as a 'techno-religion' in which they believe death is just a technological problem. 
'Now we are saying we do not need God just technology,' he added.
It's worthwhile to consider what these "demi-gods" will do with the "surplus population" over which they reign.

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