Thoughts for the Day

Excerpts of recent correspondence.

Robots, and their functional equivalents in specialized AI systems, can either replace people or make people more productive. I suspect that the latter has been true in the realm of medicine — so far, at least. But I have seen reportage of robotic units that are beginning to perform routine, low-level work in hospitals. So, as usual, the first people to be replaced will be those with rudimentary skills, not highly specialized training. Will it go on from there? Maybe, but the crystal ball is as cloudy as an old-time London fog.

In any event, I don’t believe that automation is inherently a job-killer. The real job-killer consists of government programs that subsidize non-work — early retirement under Social Security, food stamps and other forms of welfare, etc. Automation has been in progress for eons, and with a vengeance since the second industrial revolution. But, on balance, it hasn’t killed jobs. It just pushes people toward new and different jobs that fit the skills they have to offer. I expect nothing different in the future, barring government programs aimed at subsidizing the “victims” of technological displacement.

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It’s civil war by other means (so far): David Wasserman, “Purple America Has All but Disappeared” (The New York Times, March 8, 2017).

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I know that most of what I write (even the non-political stuff) has a combative edge, and that I’m therefore unlikely to persuade people who disagree with me. I do it my way for two reasons. First, I’m too old to change my ways, and I’m not going to try. Second, in a world that’s seemingly dominated by left-wing ideas, it’s just plain fun to attack them. If what I write happens to help someone else fight the war on leftism — or if it happens to make a young person re-think a mindless commitment to leftism — that’s a plus.

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I am pessimistic about the likelihood of cultural renewal in America. The populace is too deeply saturated with left-wing propaganda, which is injected from kindergarten through graduate school, with constant reinforcement via the media and popular culture. There are broad swaths of people — especially in low-income brackets — whose lives revolve around mindless escape from the mundane via drugs, alcohol, promiscuous sex, etc. Broad swaths of the educated classes have abandoned erudition and contemplation and taken up gadgets and entertainment.

The only hope for conservatives is to build their own “bubbles,” like those of effete liberals, and live within them. Even that will prove difficult as long as government (especially the Supreme Court) persists in storming the ramparts in the name of “equality” and “self-creation.”

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I correlated Austin’s average temperatures in February and August. Here are the correlation coefficients for following periods:

1854-2016 = 0.001
1875-2016 = -0.007
1900-2016 = 0.178
1925-2016 = 0.161
1950-2016 = 0.191
1975-2016 = 0.126

Of these correlations, only the one for 1900-2016 is statistically significant at the 0.05 level (less than a 5-percent chance of a random relationship). The correlations for 1925-2016 and 1950-2016 are fairly robust, and almost significant at the 0.05 level. The relationship for 1975-2016 is statistically insignificant. I conclude that there’s a positive relationship between February and August temperatures, but weak one. A warm winter doesn’t necessarily presage an extra-hot summer in Austin.


  1. Replacing people *is* making them more productive. Infinitely so – once you replace a person with a robot the same amount of production gets done with *zero* labor from the person.

    Food stamps, unemployment benefits, and similar programs only subsidize non-work if they’re contingent on not working (or having a low income due to not working). If they’re not contingent on poverty they don’t subsidize non-work. (In that case they subsidize *living*, and so may indirectly reduce the need to work – but that’s not the same as subsidizing non-work directly.)


  2. I follow Slate Star Codex via RSS reader, but seldom get very far into an entry. It’s like wading into a swamp of ideas. He should spend a lot more time editing himself.


  3. But the person being replaced isn’t producing anything. The robot is. And the user of the robot is “paying” the robot to do the work; that is, he is paying a licensing fee to the inventor or he is amortizing the development, production, and maintenance cost of the robot. If I were to fire an employee and replace him with a more productive one, would you say that the fired employee was doing the work of the more productive one? I hope not.
    You’re forgetting the disincentive to work that results from subsidies. It applies even to people who work but are poor. If they weren’t subsidized, some of them would strive to find better-paying work. Turn it around and consider the disincentive to earn more if by earning more you end up paying a lot more in taxes — and the net to you isn’t worth the foregone leisure.


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