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gwern comments on The Robots, AI, and Unemployment Anti-FAQ - Less Wrong

47 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 25 July 2013 06:46PM

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Comment author: gwern 24 July 2013 06:02:23PM 103 points [-]

The difficulty with supposing that automation is producing unemployment is that automation isn't new, so how can you use it to explain this new phenomenon of increasing long-term unemployment?

Clearly computers are exactly the same, and ought to be expected to have the same effects, as steam engines. Just look at horses, they're doing fine.

Now there's been a recession and the jobs aren't coming back (in the US and EU), even though NGDP has risen back to its previous level (at least in the US). If the problem is automation, and we didn't experience any sudden leap in automation in 2008, then why can't people get back at least the jobs they used to have, as they did in previous recessions? Something has gone wrong with the engine of reemployment...But this must mean something new and awful is happening to the processes of employment - it's not because the kind of automation that's happening today is different from automation in the 1990s, 1980s, 1920s, or 1870s; there were skilled jobs lost then, too. ...even I can see all sorts of changed circumstances which are much more plausible sources of novel employment dysfunction than the relatively steady progress of automation.

And there are also issues like labor hoarding and sticky wages/ratchets and tipping points and technologies reaching break-evens. Let me describe another plausible argument: "since computers and software have increased their usefulness smoothly albeit exponentially, we would see productivity gradually increase over time due to computers/software, and computers/software as so great that this would be obvious to the dimmest person using the most gross aggregate figures". This argument would be dead wrong, you would see essentially zero benefit from computers up to the '90s, and this massively counterintuitive and unexpected fact is dubbed the productivity paradox.

You don't even show that we didn't see this sort of abrupt jump in disemployment back then! For all you know, during the various panics and busts, there were huge disemployment effects as companies were forced or enabled to automate, but the people were able to switch sectors or find new jobs, which is the principle claim here.

Or to be less extreme, there are lots of businesses who'd take nearly-free employees at various occupations, if those employees could be hired literally at minimum wage and legal liability wasn't an issue.

Part of ZMP, as you should be aware, is that it's perfectly possible to have lots of humans who you would not hire at any wages at all, completely aside from the issue that the much-ballyhooed disemployment effects of minimum wage have been surprisingly hard to observe. For example, how many people would hire a black kid from the inner city to do their dishes for $0 an hour? Not many. How many would do so if they learned that like distressingly many such people, the kid in question has been convicted of some crime or other? I am guessing less than 100% of people would hire them. This is an obvious case where you would not hire someone at any price; ZMP simply extends this to say that there are many more such people.

We do not literally have nothing better for unemployed workers to do. Our civilization is not that advanced.

Sure we are. One video of an employee spitting in customer's food can go viral and do more damage to a chain's sales than that employee would earn for the chain in a hundred years. One person in an o-ring process can do an incredible amount of damage if they are only slightly subpar; to continue the NASA analogy, one loose bolt can cost $135 million, one young inexperienced technician can cost $200 million. Isolated examples? Well, just calculate the expected-value of reducing the number of such incidents by even 0.01%...

Many industries that would otherwise be accessible to relatively less skilled labor, have much higher barriers to entry now than in 1950. Taxi medallions, governments saving us from the terror of unlicensed haircuts, fees and regulatory burdens associated with new businesses - all things that could've plausibly changed between now and the previous four centuries.

What happened to your smoothness argument? It applies just as well to your libertarian examples here - better, actually, because many of your examples have origins in the Great Depression, for example, NYC taxi medallions in 1937.

Human beings, including employers, are very averse to downside risk, so this could plausibly be a major obstacle to reemployment.

What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Why doesn't this apply to firing people as well and fully explain how automation could be smoothly progressing while disemployment cyclical?

We need some new factor to explain why this wasn't true in 1950, and obvious candidates

No, the obvious candidate is the increasing skilledness and fragility of production as automation and precision and all-around technological sophistication increases. You want to know what manufacturing looks like in 2013, and not 1950? http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/01/making-it-in-america/308844/?single_page=true is as good a place to start as any.

A. Then it's odd to see so many news articles talking about AI killing jobs, when plain old non-AI computer programming and the Internet have affected many more jobs than that. The buyer ordering books over the Internet, the spreadsheet replacing the accountant - these processes are not strongly relying on the sort of algorithms that we would usually call 'AI' or 'machine learning' or 'robotics'.

Those were AI. "AI is whatever we don't know how to do yet", remember? Look at the MIT AI Lab, and what it and other AI places were doing in the '70s and '80s due to and to support their work: intranets, Internet, hypertext, interpreted languages with garbage collection, GUIs, single-person workstations, parallel processing, online chat and email, networking algorithms and on and son.

And then there's all the robotic warehouses which help online retailers like Amazon compete. Hm. I bet in a past era those warehouses would've been run using humans.

Even then, the total number of people driving cars for money would just be a small part of the total global economy; most humans are not paid to drive cars most of the time.

The trucking industry alone employs ~3% of the entire American population. That's not trivial by any means. And how many of those employees do you think are skilled operations research PhDs who can easily find employment elsewhere in logistics?

If we imagine that in future decades machine intelligence is slowly going past the equivalent of IQ 70, 80, 90, eating up more and more jobs along the way...

Q. Could we already be in this substitution regime -

A. No, no, a dozen times no, for the dozen reasons already mentioned. That sentence in Hanson's paper has nothing to do with what is going on right now.

Oh yeah? Alright, here's a kid with IQ 70. He can lift things under 40 pounds and put them where you tell him to. I'm afraid he can't read past a third-grade level, or anything like that. It's probably not a good idea to let him near any moving machinery either. Fortunately for you, he doesn't throw any violent temper tantrums and he doesn't steal - he's a sweet kid, willing to work. Just dumber than a stack of bricks. Take him down Main Street and see if anyone will hire him. How many job offers did he get?


More generally, Eliezer, you seem to completely fail to grapple with the real proponents of these ideas like Autor or Brynjolfsson or heck, even Cowen. What is the point of this 'anti-FAQ' if you aren't dealing with the actual arguments (never mind steelmen)?

Comment author: brazil84 27 July 2013 03:26:03PM 18 points [-]

The trucking industry alone employs ~3% of the entire American population. That's not trivial by any means

I just thought I'd mention that driverless cars can be expected to have a lot of ripple effects. Parking lot attendants; traffic court clerks; insurance claim adjusters; auto body repairmen; the guy whose job it is to calibrate breathalyzers; meter maids; etc. All of these people could face a good deal of unemployment if driverless cars come in.

As far as your larger point goes, I think you make a good point. By looking at AI in a narrow way, Eliezer is giving short shrift to a lot of technological improvements which have the potential to cause unemployment. For example, if a business starts scanning documents and keeping them electronically, it will probably need fewer file clerks and mailroom guys. Does this count as AI? Perhaps and perhaps not, but when people assert that unemployment is due to advances in computers, they certainly are referring to these types of changes.

As far as unemployment itself goes, I also agree with you that even if the theoretical model is correct, there is still surely a lag in reemployment which has the potential to cause disruption. How quickly did the need for blacksmiths drop down to nearly zero? Probably pretty slowly and gently compared to what might be happening now. Perhaps a 50 year old blacksmith would have urged his son to find a different line of work but would have had enough business to see him through.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 24 July 2013 07:11:12PM 25 points [-]

(Upvoted.) I've been reading Tyler and I read McAfee. So far, your comment here is the most impressive argument for this position I've seen anywhere, and so I don't feel bad about not addressing it earlier. I'm not sure you really address the central point either; why can't the disemployed people find new jobs like in the last four centuries, and why did unemployment drop in Germany once they fixed their labor market, and why hasn't employment dropped in Australia, etcetera? (And note that anything along the lines of 'regional boom' contradicts ZMP and completely outcompeted humans and other explanations which postulate unemployability, not 'unemployable unless regional boom'.) Why is the IQ 70 kid not able to do laundry as so many others once did earlier, if the economy is so productive - shouldn't someone be able to hire him in his area of Ricardian comparative advantage? Maybe eventually AI will disemploy that kid but right now humans are still doing laundry! Again, the economy of 1920 seemed to do quite well handling disemployment pressures like this with reemployment, so what changed?

Quick question: To what extent are you playing Devil's Advocate above and to what extent do you actually think that the robotic disemployment thesis is correct, a primary cause of current unemployment, not solvable with NGDP level targeting, and unfixable due to some humans being too-much-outcompeted, rather than due to other environmental changes like the regulatory environment etcetera?

Comment author: Halfwitz 24 July 2013 07:50:06PM 15 points [-]

To what extent are you playing Devil's Advocate above and to what extent do you actually think that the robotic disemployment thesis is correct, a primary cause of current unemployment, not solvable with NGDP level targeting and unfixably due to some humans being too-much-outcompeted rather than due to other environmental changes like the regulatory environment etcetera?

Gwern on neoluddism: http://www.gwern.net/Mistakes#neo-luddism

Comment author: gwern 24 July 2013 09:13:08PM *  41 points [-]

I've been reading Tyler and I read McAfee.

Cowen says some interesting things but I don't think he makes the best case for technological unemployment; not sure what you mean by McAfee - Brynjolfsson is the lead author on Race Against the Machine, not McAfee.

I'm not sure you really address the central point either; why can't the disemployed people find new jobs like in the last four centuries,

As my initial comment implies, I think the last century is qualitatively different automation than before: before, the machines began handling brute force things, replacing things which offered only brute force & not intelligence like horses or watermills. But now they are slowly absorbing intelligence, and this seems to be the final province of humans. In Hanson's terms, I think machines switched from being complements to being substitutes in some sectors a while ago.

and why did unemployment drop in Germany once they fixed their labor market, and why hasn't employment dropped in Australia, etcetera?

I don't know nearly enough about Germany to say. They seem to be in a weird position in Europe, which might explain it. I'd guess that Australia seems to owe its success to avoiding a resource curse & profiting heavily off China in extractive industries, along with restricting its supply of labor.

(And note that anything along the lines of 'regional boom' contradicts ZMP and completely outcompeted humans and other explanations which postulate unemployability, not 'unemployable unless regional boom'.)

ZMP is 'marginal'; if the margin changes, ZMPers may change. During booms, a lot of margins might change. And even factors like human capital can change in importance: you can hire more dishonest employees if you switch to automated cash registers which they can't easily steal from. Or even the most dishonest evil wretch can be profitable to hire to stand on the sidewalk in a costume if you're in the middle of a real estate bubble.

Why is the IQ 70 kid not able to do laundry as so many others once did earlier, if the economy is so productive - shouldn't someone be able to hire him in his area of Ricardian comparative advantage?

Ricardian comparative advantage isn't magic pixie dust; it doesn't guarantee there's anything worth hiring him for. Another example: imagine you have this IQ 70 kid who can do laundry - I personally don't know how to do laundry well for anything but my own clothes and would ruin someone else's stuff, but let's assume you spent a few weeks training this kid how to do laundry, how to read the tags, separate clothes correctly, treat lingerie differently, not to mix bleach and chlorine, properly treat the different kinds of stains etc* - what makes you trust him with your laundry? He can be impulsive, short-sighted, not understand other peoples' emotions or responses. Well, what can he do with your laundry besides clean it that's so bad? Here's a random thought: he could masturbate with your underwear. Question: how much money do you think a random woman would pay to know that the guy doing her laundry is not fishing out her lady-things and masturbating with them? Ask the nearest women, if you dare, how much they would pay. Even allowing for CFAR/MIRI people almost completely lacking the purity moral axis and reasoning consequentially and being highly deviant compared to the general population, I bet the figure is non-zero...

* and until you've actually tried this, don't assume I'm exaggerating here. You live in a high IQ bubble.

Again, the economy of 1920 seemed to do quite well handling disemployment pressures like this with reemployment, so what changed?

People had many fewer clothes in 1920, for starters: the task was intrinsically simpler. Here's an interesting quote:

In 2008, Americans owned an average of 92 items of clothing, not counting underwear, bras and pajamas, according to Cotton Inc.'s Lifestyle Monitor survey, which includes consumers, age 13 to 70. The typical wardrobe contained, among other garments, 16 T-shirts, 12 casual shirts, seven dress shirts, seven pairs of jeans, five pairs of casual slacks, four pairs of dress pants, and two suits—a clothing cornucopia. Then the economy crashed. Consumers drew down their inventories instead of replacing clothes that wore out or no longer fit. In the 2009 survey, the average wardrobe had shrunk—to a still-abundant 88 items. We may not be shopping like we used to, but we aren't exactly going threadbare. Bad news for customer-hungry retailers, and perhaps for economic recovery, is good news for our standard of living. By contrast, consider a middle-class worker's wardrobe during the Great Depression. Instead of roughly 90 items, it contained fewer than 15. For the typical white-collar clerk in the San Francisco Bay Area, those garments included three suits, eight shirts (of all types), and one extra pair of pants. A unionized streetcar operator would own a uniform, a suit, six shirts, an extra pair of pants, and a set of overalls. Their wives and children had similarly spare wardrobes. Based on how rarely items were replaced, a 1933 study concluded that this "clothing must have been worn until it was fairly shabby." Cutting a wardrobe like that by four items—from six shirts to two, for instance—would cause real pain. And these were middle-class wage earners with fairly secure jobs.

There were many more jobs suitable for the mentally handicapped, like agriculture, which was far less automated and scientific than it is now.

Maybe eventually AI will disemploy that kid but right now humans are still doing laundry!

Certainly, but to compare with 1920, laundry got way easier with the invention of washing & drying machines (I spend more time folding my clothes and putting them away than I do 'washing' or 'drying'), and we value our privacy way more than we used to, one of the luxuries of the rich. Even drycleaning is more complex than it used to be, as the process is evolved to be more environmentally friendly, among other things.

Quick question: To what extent are you playing Devil's Advocate above and to what extent do you actually think that the robotic disemployment thesis is correct, a primary cause of current unemployment, not solvable with NGDP level targeting and unfixably due to some humans being too-much-outcompeted

See the sibling comment's link. I am of mixed minds about it, but I think your counter-arguments are bad. I don't know how much of current American unemployment is due to it but if it exists, I think it's pretty much insoluble since there are no more remaining IQ boosts left like iodine, the Flynn effect seems to be hollow gains, and so on. We're basically stuck until some miracle happens (AI? Hsu's embryo selection?), and so America would benefit from serious discussion of things like Basic Income and consolidating the current patch-work of welfare which encourages things like fraudulent disability.

Comment author: SimonF 26 July 2013 09:32:16PM *  9 points [-]

Regarding the drop of unemployment in Germany, I've heard it claimed that it is mainly due to changing the way the unemployment statististics are done, e.g. people who are in temporary, 1€/h jobs and still receiving benefits are counted als employed. If this point is still important, I can look for more details and translate.

EDIT: Some details are here:

It is possible to earn income from a job and receive Arbeitslosengeld II benefits at the same time. [...] There are criticisms that this defies competition and leads to a downward spiral in wages and the loss of full-time jobs. [...]

The Hartz IV reforms continue to attract criticism in Germany, despite a considerable reduction in short and long term unemployment. This reduction has led to some claims of success for the Hartz reforms. Others say the actual unemployment figures are not comparable because many people work part-time or are not included in the statistics for other reasons, such as the number of children that live in Hartz IV households, which has risen to record numbers.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 24 July 2013 09:36:47PM 14 points [-]

As my initial comment implies, I think the last century is qualitatively different automation than before: before, the machines began handling brute force things, replacing things which offered only brute force & not intelligence like horses or watermills. But now they are slowly absorbing intelligence, and this seems to be the final province of humans. In Hanson's terms, I think machines switched from being complements to being substitutes in some sectors a while ago.

The key Hansonian concept is that replacing humans at tasks is still complementation because different tasks are complementary to each other, a la hot dogs and buns; I should perhaps edit OP to make this clearer. It is not obvious to me that craftspeople disemployed by looms would have considered their work to be unskilled, but as that particular industry was automated, people moved to other jobs in other industries and complementarity continued to dominate. Again the question is, what's different now? Is it that no human on the planet does any labor any more which could be called unskilled, that nobody cooks or launders or drives? Obviously not. But there are many plausible changes in regulation, taxes, phasing-out benefits, college credentialism, etc.

I'd pay $5/hour for someone to drive me almost anywhere if availability was coordinated by Uber, but not taxi prices. House cleaning and yard work is not possible for me to find at a price I'd currently pay ($150 can't pay someone to trim your trees, at least not well). I strongly suspect that things would have appeared otherwise to me in 1870, when maids etc. were far more common. This looks to me like a barrier-to-entry, regulatory-and-tax scenario, not "Darn it we're too rich and running out of things for labor to do!"

Unless you want to pin unemployment on changes in people's trustingness, there is nothing obvious about your stated fears of the IQ 70 kid which would have prohibited equal fear in 1920. More to the point, a change in this characteristic is not a change in automation. A few weeks of training may indeed be necessary - I'm sure I live in a high-IQ bubble but I try to be aware of this - but people managed to get jobs requiring a few weeks of training in 1920.

I would favor Basic Income, though I would favor zero taxes on the bottom 20% even more. But this has to do with my beliefs/model/worries about distribution of gains and negotiating power, more than a belief that unemployability due to machines outcompeting many humans at literally everything is the source of the Great Recession and possible Long Depression (though I'm not sure we can get properly stuck in a Long Depression while China, India et. al. are still growing).

Comment author: EHeller 24 July 2013 11:15:23PM *  7 points [-]

Somewhat irrelevant, but:

$150 can't pay someone to trim your trees, at least not well

I think you need to find an enterprising teenager? I currently pay a local kid $100 a month to do the overwhelming majority of my (very elderly) parent's yardwork. He mows the lawn, does the edging, weeds the flower bed and trims back the bushes. He butchered things a few times the start, but he has gotten quite competent and I fear the day he realizes he is worth more than ~$10 an hour + a christmas bonus + free lunch served by my mother when he is working.

Of course if you have trees > 20-30 feet tall you'll probably need a more expensive professional service.

Comment author: Davidmanheim 01 August 2013 08:16:16PM 2 points [-]

How do you know this kid? Do you know the parents, and are you implicitly relying on that trust network?

Comment author: EHeller 02 August 2013 02:32:56AM 1 point [-]

How do you know this kid?

He has been doing the work for about 3 years now, and was the third kid I tried to hire. The first two didn't work out. My parents know him decently well now, because my Mom usually insists he come in and have lunch with them during days he is working. None of us knew him when he started.

Comment author: novalis 24 July 2013 10:17:27PM *  8 points [-]

I'd pay $5/hour for someone to drive me almost anywhere if availability was coordinated by Uber, but not taxi prices... This looks to me like a barrier-to-entry, regulatory-and-tax scenario, not "Darn it we're too rich and running out of things for labor to do!"

Federal minimum wage has been falling relative to productivity for decades. Also, Australia has a much higher minimum wage than the US but a lower unemployment rate. They also don't have at-will employment, implying that the risks of hiring are larger. So I'm not sure the regulations are actually the problem here (that said, I oppose many of them anyway on various grounds).

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 24 July 2013 10:22:53PM 4 points [-]

Sure, there can be more than one solution to a problem; Australia and Germany took different paths, one regularizing NGDP, one deregulating labor markets, but neither is suffering from unemployment despite robotics. Basic Income might also solve it. Getting rid of huge marginal tax rates on the poor might solve it. Or making it easier for someone to sign up with an online service that lets them offer me a ride somewhere for $5 might solve it. Since I don't think unemployment problems are due to literal lack of labor that anyone can be paid to do, there are potentially all sorts of things that might solve it.

Comment author: alexgmcm 19 August 2013 09:10:56AM *  0 points [-]

This would also require some amount of decreased taxes on the next quintile in order to avoid high marginal tax rates, i.e., if you suddenly start paying $2000/year in taxes as soon as your income goes from $19,000/year to $20,000/year then that was a 200% tax rate on that particular extra $1000 earned

Am I misreading this part? As in the UK the tax-rates are done on % of your income in a certain bracket, so you pay nothing on the first £15k, then 20% on £15-30k (I forget the exact brackets) then 30% on £30-45k and 40% on everything above that.

So if you were earning £19k a year for example you would pay nothing on the first £15k, then 20% of the £4k you earned that sits in the higher bracket. So you don't suddenly pay loads of tax as it only affects the income that sits in the taxed brackets so if you earned £35k you would pay (0*15)+(0.2*15)+(0.3*5)=4.5k in tax and so you avoid having any massive discrete leaps.

I thought that's how all progressive taxation systems worked as otherwise people could be better off refusing to take raises etc. and I'm almost certain that isn't the case anywhere in the world.

Comment author: khafra 19 August 2013 11:09:30AM 4 points [-]

He's talking about effective marginal tax rates--the USA has a lot of welfare programs with hard cutoffs, which effectively mean more gross income can lower your net income until around $20k or so.

Comment author: Davidmanheim 01 August 2013 08:07:51PM *  3 points [-]

OK, so I'm trying to understand what evidence you need to update your belief that the economy seeks equilibrium at a point where employment is high. I'll try to make a structural/theoretical argument against the economic theory in the mean time.

One Micro-economic assumption is that the marginal value of their work is positive, which you claim is true.

I'll point out that coordination costs are significant, and the dynamic of creating and maintaining trust systems for small tasks is very significant - structuring monitoring so that your cost is still negligible is hard. (In the 1920s, the social enforcement mechanisms for preventing defection in contracts were stronger - local work, local families, etc.)

As direct evidence, I'll also point out that your time to invest in employing others to do low-value tasks is limited, and I'm going to guess that despite having significant excess income compare to the US average, you employ very few people (even indirectly) in these ways, and your friends also do not do so. (Is that useful evidence?) Instead, there are tasks you simply chose to leave undone, or avoid needing. For instance, most well to do people I know buy non-iron shirts (for a large premium, $40-$50 extra) instead of having the laundromat, or other cheap labor iron their shirts (99c/shirt to clean and iron them, where I am.) The coordination issues around dropping off, picking up, and remembering the dry cleaning make it annoying, so we avoid it.

Another example; do you have a human assistant in India or China that you farm routine computer based tasks out to? (Emails, editing, managing your schedule, researching random things you saw last month, etc.) Your time is limited, so why not? I'd assume it's trust, training time to get them up to speed on what you need, ongoing costs of coordination driving down value, (and whatever else are you thinking of.)

(Post-post edit: I realize that you are looking at computer replacement of human jobs, but I think that structural unemployment is high because there are few jobs left that it's worth having anyone do who is not highly trained and smart, and as Gwern said, we live in a high-IQ bubble.)

Comment author: Jiro 26 July 2013 06:12:08PM 6 points [-]

Unless you want to pin unemployment on changes in people's trustingness, there is nothing obvious about your stated fears of the IQ 70 kid which would have prohibited equal fear in 1920.

In 1920 if that kid was caught doing something like masturbating with the laundry, and he got fired, he might starve to death. Also, even barring that, the fact that upper class people could do almost anything they want to lower class people could lead to serious sanctions (for instance, all his family could be fired as well, or he could be beaten up) that serves to deter such behavior.

Comment author: sketerpot 28 July 2013 09:09:58PM *  1 point [-]

You'd think that more severe punishment would have a correspondingly greater deterrent effect, but that doesn't seem to be the case. What matters much more than the severity of the punishment is its likelihood. Sure, you might starve in the streets if you get caught jacking off in some high-born lady's nether-garments -- if you get caught. And, let's be honest: you're probably not going to get caught, and if you get caught, you're probably not going to be reported to your employer.

In any case, all that talk of starvation is far-off, way in the future; the laundry is right here, and offers immediate gratification. IQ is pretty strongly correlated with the ability to delay gratification, and (though I don't have a citation for this) people seem to care about the future a lot less when they're horny.

Comment author: Jiro 29 July 2013 03:02:56AM *  4 points [-]

Not treating starvation as important will lead to the 1920's person repeatedly doing such things until he gets unlucky, at which point he'll starve and he'll have selected himself out of existence. You can't just say that people will ignore deferred gratification under circumstances where ignoring deferred gratification will lead to not surviving--natural selection will ensure that the only ones remaining are the ones who don't ignore it.

Furthermore, starvation isn't such a remote threat for people who are on the edge of starvation anyway.

Comment author: Davidmanheim 01 August 2013 08:14:36PM -2 points [-]

What evidence would get you to revise your thought that evolution via natural selection would work in such short time frames? (OK, now what about updating your evidence about starvation levels in the 1920s? Until 1929, almost no-one would have been starving, full employment was normal.)

Comment author: Jiro 01 August 2013 10:28:30PM *  3 points [-]

I didn't use the word "evolution".

If servants who do stupid things starve, the only surviving servants will be the ones who don't do stupid things. This does not involve evolution; the servants are not passing the information down to another generation. It does however involve natural selection.

And there's no point in "updating evidence", unless you have some evidence that deals specifically with the case of lower class people who work as servants and routinely piss off their employers. Whether people in general starved is irrelevant.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 July 2013 09:53:42PM 2 points [-]

though I would favor zero taxes on the bottom 20% even more.

Do you mean zero income tax, or zero all taxes, or something inbetween?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 24 July 2013 10:26:57PM 22 points [-]

I mean that when somebody in the bottom quintile gives me a car ride to Berkeley for $5, nothing else happens to them. They don't pay Social Security on the $5. They don't have their health benefits phased out. They don't have to fill out a form. They just have an additional $5.

I know this is a completely radical concept.

Comment author: Grant 24 July 2013 10:49:19PM 3 points [-]

Roughly half of Americans don't owe anything to the IRS each year. Pre-recession I believe this figure was about 40%. They of course pay other taxes, such as payroll (social security, medicare, which most people consider taxes), state sales tax, property taxes, etc. It'd be nice if they at least didn't have to file tax returns.

http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3505

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 24 July 2013 11:02:18PM 13 points [-]

The problem isn't just all those other taxes but phasing-out of benefits - this is what leads to the calculations and observations by which somebody making $25,000/year isn't much better off than someone getting $8,000/year.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 25 July 2013 06:40:04PM 24 points [-]

ADDED: Also, any paperwork can easily be an extreme barrier to that IQ 70 kid that Gwern was talking about.

Comment author: Kawoomba 25 July 2013 07:05:42PM 26 points [-]

It's an extreme barrier (in the sense of an ugh-field) even for smart would-be employers.

Comment author: Grant 24 July 2013 11:19:10PM 0 points [-]

I'm not very well informed on this topic, but isn't something like that always going to be the case in a society with a safety net? e.g., if we make sure everyone has at least $25k to live on, anyone making $8k a year isn't going to be any worse off than someone making $25k.

Of course I'm not sure how well America's arcane maze of benefits, tax deductions and whatnot fit into this simple abstraction.

Comment author: jaibot 25 July 2013 12:18:56AM 18 points [-]

Safety net should be a slope, not a cliff. Earning your first dollar shouldn't mean you get $1 less in benefits - there's actually a good argument for subsidizing the first $X of income - which is what the EITC is. Basically negative income tax.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 August 2013 03:25:52PM 1 point [-]

You mean about half (actually 46%) of all American households did not pay any income tax (which is different from "not owing anything to the IRS") in 2011.

20% of all Americans don't pay income tax by virtue of being too young to work.

Comment author: Kenny 17 August 2013 02:05:27PM 0 points [-]

I thought they wouldn't need to file taxes, but I just completed a "tax assistant" wizard at the IRS website, for a single, non-retirement-benefit-receiving, single individual with $20k in gross income ... and I was told they'd have to file a return.

Comment author: MugaSofer 31 July 2013 01:30:30PM 0 points [-]

Is it that no human on the planet does any labor any more which could be called unskilled, that nobody cooks or launders or drives? Obviously not.

I don't know, I'm not sure I would call those "unskilled", exactly. Indeed, these days most people achieve those for themselves, so the level of skill required to offer it as a premium, as it were, has only increased.

I suspect there may be better examples out there, though.

Comment author: syllogism 28 July 2013 05:06:42AM 13 points [-]

Why is the IQ 70 kid not able to do laundry as so many others once did earlier, if the economy is so productive - shouldn't someone be able to hire him in his area of Ricardian comparative advantage?

In addition to gwern's objections, what if his RCA price-point turns out to be, say, 50c an hour? The utility curve is not smooth. Past a point, a starvation wage is still a starvation wage. Even in a hypothetical world where there were zero welfare and no opportunities for crime, he'd be better off spending the time looking for low-probability alternatives than settling on spending 40 hours a week working for sure starvation.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 July 2013 06:55:27PM -1 points [-]

An awful lot of people on this Earth would be very glad of 50c/hour.

Comment author: AndrewH 28 July 2013 08:35:08PM 9 points [-]

This reminds me place premium, an interesting concept that someone doing the same job in one country can earn more than in another. Though we are talking about some kid who can't even get a job in the first place, this concept works well.

For example if a homogenous region such as country, city, or even suburb, has automated to such a degree that menial jobs are few. Has attracted the best people, and the best people to serve the best people. Such a region has 'place premium' as the top creative jobs, programming, finance, design work, etc, pay extremely well to entice the best. These people demand, via their wealth, the best service and so entice those that are skilled, good looking, whatever attributes required for service. Continuously filtering people.

I'll also argue that the US is a special case in that US dollar holders get a subsidy to living via the petrodollar/global reserve currency. Payed for by any foreigners wanting to by [relative to them] foreign products. This only increases the place premium of living in the US, and thus earning a wage in USD.

For the IQ 70 kids, perhaps there ARE no jobs for them in the region they live in. They have been filtered out by better (in the sense of selected for the jobs in that region) people after the region's 'place premium'.

The solution is to move somewhere else, go opposite the flow of people moving to higher 'place premium' locations; the one they are in has been saturated by above average people. Perhaps even it is time to think of immigration to one of those countries where they can earn 50c/hour.

Of course with the advent of nation states there is no longer free flow of people, so without welfare these kids might just starve to death, denied the freedom to move.

Comment author: Randy_M 30 July 2013 02:45:17PM 5 points [-]

"The solution is to move somewhere else, go opposite the flow of people moving to higher 'place premium' locations; the one they are in has been saturated by above average people."

The problem, besides foreign countries wanting to get rid of their own low IQ pop., is in admitting to oneself that they should be in the out-going group rather than, say, assume one just needs more education.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 28 July 2013 08:18:55PM 25 points [-]

Yes, but location isn't fungible, and not all jobs are telecommutable. A 50c/hour wage in the Bay Area is a death sentence without some supplemental source, even if someone in the Congo might live like a king on it.

Comment author: Estarlio 28 July 2013 07:37:15PM 8 points [-]

Why is the IQ 70 kid not able to do laundry as so many others once did earlier, if the economy is so productive - shouldn't someone be able to hire him in his area of Ricardian comparative advantage?

The left tail on the distribution for inventive, creative, bright people seems highly likely to be fatter than the right tail. You need to be genetically gifted enough and have had the right encouragement, and lived in the right intellectual environment, to go on to create neat inventions and research and so on - that automation supposedly frees people up for/ If it is, then rather than freeing people up for better jobs, it frees people up to compete for a finite number of worse jobs.

Or, in other words, it seems to me like there's a non-trivial possibility that the people who were doing admin tasks are being displaced into doing laundry tasks instead. That what would have been being done by the 70 IQ kid is now being done by a 100 IQ adult.