Several weeks ago during the brief attention paid by the media to fast food workers on strike, one of my friends shared this grammatically inept meme on Facebook:


This is the sort of bizarro-populist right wing message that resonates with Regular Americans with no particular interest in or knowledge of politics, economics, or anything else relevant to the topic. It's a mildly amusing take on a remarkably dark undercurrent in the psyche of our business and financial elite: the yearning for some future techno-society in which robots will do everything and human beings with their pesky wages and benefits and refusal to work 24 hours per day will become totally unnecessary. Once our economic betters have figured out how to get you to work for minimum wage and without benefits, the logical next step – the only means of further Controlling Costs, in fact – is to find a way to avoid paying you at all.

Whenever I hear something that touches on this theme I cheer myself up with thoughts of the times "We'll replace you with robots!" has been tried and ended in miserable failure. Here's an example: did you know, despite this fact being absent both from Michael Moore's ultra-liberal documentary and ten thousand mainstream media accounts of GM's bankruptcy a few years ago, that the financial collapse of what was once the world's largest corporation was precipitated by Roger Smith's bright idea to replace all of the autoworkers with robots? True story. General Motors under Smith spent $90 billion on robotics and automation in nine years.

Think about that for a second. Ninety billion dollars. $90,000,000,000.00. Of course none of it worked, with factory robots breaking down constantly, painting one another, and welding car doors shut. It's easy to say that the company got what it deserved and forget about it. But think for a second about the mindset of a group of people so committed to the concept of eliminating the workforce (and the UAW) that it would piss away ninety billion dollars trying to do it. Even if the Worker Bots worked flawlessly, how could that possibly make financial sense? How many decades and centuries of "savings" from lower wages to earn back those sunk costs? And how much money would the Robo-Factories demand in the future for maintenance, upgrades, and eventual replacement with newer and better technology? For $90 billion, GM simply could have purchased Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and most of its other foreign rivals – several times over. Of course, in that scenario they'd still have to pay people to make cars.

The fact is that General Motors didn't go bankrupt, it committed financial suicide because its executive culture fostered a loathing for the UAW and the hourly workforce that was so extreme that it obliterated basic logic and business sense. The idea was not to replace the workers with Japanese robots (GM Robotics was acquired from Fujitsu) because it would save money; it was to replace the workers with robots because fuck the workers. Try to picture the mindset of people who would rather run their company into the ground than give their grunt employees a Cost of Living raise. It's like an airline that would rather blow all of its planes up on the runway than give passengers an entire can of soda.

But enough about Delta.

When GM finally circled the drain we were treated to hundreds of tales of largely symbolic and irrelevant white collar largesse – Executives used private planes to fly to Washington and beg for a bailout! – and uppity auto workers livin' large; the preferred strategy in most of the right-wing media was to bleat the phrase "JOBS BANK!" like a kid with Tourette's and a two-word vocabulary. No one seemed to remember that GM was doing just fine until Roger Smith, a man who had clearly watched too many episodes of The Jetsons at half-mast, ruined the corporate product line (Have worse cars ever been made in the United States than 1980s GM products?) and decided that getting rid of anyone who didn't have a white collar job was worth any cost.

Most people in charge of major corporations like fast food chains are just as greedy as Roger Smith but not nearly as stupid. McDonald's hasn't turned its restaurants into a giant automated vending machine because they know it won't work. But I bet their boardroom is full of people dreaming of a future in which it will.


  • Also ignored…if every company is trying to replace workers with robots so we can avoid paying them…who exactly will buy the product?

  • Chomsky made a somewhat similar point. It's not (as) irrational though, if you see as one of the objectives of the ruling class to never relent on a (largely one-sided) class war. Every once in a while they overextend, but as with their opposition to universal healthcare, the point is also to prevent the emergence of a society where human solidarity–rather than libertarian wankerism (but of course directed at the generally already powerless)–becomes institutionalized.

  • I seem to remember Arby's gave self order touchscreens a try back in the 90's. The effort didn't last long.

  • I know a couple of German guys who wrote on this subject. Automation would be just wonderful if you lived in a society(more specifically a mode of production) where more stuff was considered a good thing. In capitalism, the more easily you can produce something(and thereby produce more of it), the less it's worth. Therefore they keep running into this contradiction. More importantly, it is human labor that actually creates surplus value, i.e. profit. That labor is often much cheaper than automation in many cases, which acts as a disincentive to innovate. Why spend all that extra money just to end up driving the price of your commodities down?

  • Sideshow Bill says:

    I used to have a technician at a major battery manufacturer who had been a quality engineer for GM at their facility in Atlanta. She joked about the robots brought in to do the spray painting and how they used to randomly flip car bodies over off of their holders. She was also there when they tried a primerless paint system, seems it worked great in a lab, but not in the Atlanta sun.

    It always amazes me that management is so dismissive of labor, that they won't even ask for their input. It's how I usually get the problems in production solved, ask the guys making the product what can be done to fix it, and try to figure out how it got that way in the first place.

  • I don't know why, but the thought of two assembly line robots spray painting each other makes me giggle, like it's the robot version of a sexy pillow fight.

  • The irony is, it is much easier to replace a specialist's job than a generalist's job with a robot.

    So, IBM's Watson outperforms Roger Smith (or Senators, or cancer doctors, or hedge fund managers), but we have to keep the welders and machinists and piperfitters that can come up with ad hoc workarounds.

  • @akabruno

    It's an example of the tragedy of the commons – in this case, the commons are a workforce with spending money.

    If you, the capitalist, don't pay workers, you keep that money. As long as SOMEBODY pays their workers, then people still buy your products. Maybe slightly fewer than before, because your scroogishness has slightly reduced the number of workers in the economy getting paid, but this effect is small compared to the money you save.

    Of course, every business owner faces the same rational decision-making process, and you can see where that goes.

  • @jazzbumpa: that restaurant sounds like Henry Ford, who realized if he paid his people enough to buy his cars, he then had a built-in customer base.

  • Fun question to ask said RW "populists": if all the low-skill jobs have been taken by robots, what then? "Get a shitty McJob, slacker" is the goto RW response to unemployment – what happens when there aren't any more of those jobs?

    I mean, even the 1% can only consume so many blumpkins per-capita: at some point, either we have to get over the whole "no work no food" nonsense or we're going to need to put half the poor to work digging graves for the other half.

  • Rightwing blogosphere losing its shit about GM executives flying private jets to bailout hearings and this being exclusively the fault of Obama and or Hilary and or unions in 5,4,3….

  • I worked for UPS for a couple years in (lowest possible) management between the time they bought the company I'd worked for for 15 years and the time they bought another similar company and eliminated my (and a lot of other peoples') position. The Teamsters strike of 1997 was still fresh on their mind, and they were so anti-union as to push legality. As in "we'd rather destroy your entire company than even think about unions getting a foothold there". (They ended up doing that anyway.)

    Also, Boeing. You'd think all the problems with the 787 "Crapliner" would have taught them a lesson about outsourcing, but no. Gotta screw the workers that have made them one of the most prominent and profitable in the world.

  • As anyone who's working in service before (fast food, telecommunications), customers are almost deliriously happy to talk to a human being, let alone one that speaks english natively. The idea that customers would TOLERATE losing phone support to an automated machine is laughable.

    Now, McDonald's moving from self-serve ordering menus isn't a bad idea, but the thought that they will be able to replace the cooks, store-cleaners, money-takers, and food handers with machines and still have good service and speed is nothing short of insanity.

    AT BEST a fast food restaurant could remove 1-2 jobs per store with "machines" at most before everything breaks down. And half your customers would be more upset to lose their favorite worker (the regulars at a store are treated really well because they treat us well) while the other half would be passive about it. In other words, there is no upside.

    I haven't had a job in 2 years, and the entire time Taco Bell has been trying to replace a spot by offering… 8/hour. There is no way in hell I would take a 33% pay cut from my last few shitty jobs to work at fast food again for THOSE wages. And they wonder why college students and 30+ year olds aren't finding jobs, yet that one fast food place is hiring so OBVIOUSLY unemployment has been defeated.

  • I'm so old, I remember reading in a high school textbook that Henry Ford decided to pay his workers $5 a day because an American consumer class with enough income to buy his products was somehow seen as in his company's financial interest.

    It's too bad our executive class hasn't matched the high-water mark established by that paranoid anti-Semite.

  • The irony of the Smith experiment was that Toyota went 180 degrees in opposition to the robotic world and developed the Toyota Production System which everyone emulates today. Lean manufacturing facilities don't really care whether there is a union or not–the system and the worker are interactive. They (TPS facilities) generally co-opt worker dissatisfaction by incorporating worker input automatically into the line systems.

    This worker based system faster, better and cheaper than all the automation, because automation rapidly becomes fixed in a world of agility. This system is also the driver for the record worker productivity you read about in Department of Labor statistics.

    Worker compensation has not followed these gains–but that is a separate question. Ed is correct, automation is will not be driven by wage equalization–there are too many other factors that weigh against it.

    Smith was a fool because of linear thinking. He saw the factory floor and posited that it would always remain the 19th and early 20th century-legacy hammer and tongs hellhole. He just could not imagine a different way to do things–so he automated his mistakes.

  • wow, $90B on robots? That's absolutely insane.

    It reminds me of a story I read once about the early days of gunpowder in Europe. At that point gunpowder was still very experimental, and pretty much inferior to crossbows in every way. But the generals who saw it, for whatever reason, were so impressed that they all started using gunpowder units in battle. And they kept using them, in large quantity, spending massive amounts of money and manpower on them, but it still took a few hundred years of development before gunpowder weapons finally started becoming better than crossbows.

    I think business executives must respond the same way to seeing robots- they get such a money boner at the idea of having a 24/7 workforce that works for free that they completely lose their mind, and don't notice how crappy the robots usually are compared to real workers.

  • robotswillstealyourjobs says:

    Hey look, my handle is apropos! While I think ultimately the labor force is going to be replaced with robots sooner or later (shortly after which our entire economic system is going to have to be replaced), I don't think robots are coming to the Golden Arches just yet. There are too many tasks like cleaning and cooking that are too fiddly for anything but a human-like robot (and when we get those, it's far more than McDonalds workers who are going to have to worry….)

    arglebargle, the reason gunpowder was used despite the fact that the bow was superior at the time is that the bow takes years of training and fitness to use effectively (remember how Englishmen were by law required to practice the longbow?), whereas you could equip a bunch of guys off the street with muskets and be able to guarantee that within a few weeks they'd be able to march as a unit, point, shoot, and kill something, even if it was the guy three guys to the left of the one you were aiming at. Technically, the bow was a superior weapon than the musket; but an army that can raise five companies of musketeers will always beat the one that can only raise a single company of archers.

  • As less and less easily accessible oil and coal are available and the alternatives have less return on energy invested the whole machines will steal your jobs issue will at some point become moot anyway. In a hundred years expect to see a lot more bulls and horses in agriculture, a lot more horses in transport and a lot more humans in whatever production will be left.

    Arguments against such a scenario boil down to wishful thinking.

  • Death Panel Truck says:

    (Have worse cars ever been made in the United States than 1980s GM products?)

    Yes. 1970s Chrysler products. Cars were coming off the car haulers with bumpers literally falling off. Quality control was practically non-existent.

    OTOH, I had a 1981 Chevy Citation X-11. Bought it used, and put 140,000 miles on it.

  • History check:

    Yes Ford instituted the $5 a day program. You were eligible for it so long as you were willing to live your life the way Henry Ford thought you should, and submitted to being spied on to ensure you were doing so.

    Re: Gunpowder- argle was talking about crossbows, not traditional bows. So ease of use wasn't the issue. The issue was how to protect handgunners and musketeers from cavalry, since their weapons were slow to reload, inaccurate, and unreliable. The answer was in most cases- pikes.

  • I'll bet you Ed's car that Roger wouldn't give any thought if one of these robots maimed or killed an employee, but would have lost his $#]+ if someone so much as dinged the paint on one of them. Anal-pores like him tend to put things over people.

  • Weird Old Tip says:

    In a hundred years, expect to see a lot more bulls & horses in agriculture, a lot more horses in transport…

    Not disputing the point, but wanted to mention that humans can also pull plows, as well as walk.

  • @Arslan: Yes Ford instituted the $5 a day program. You were eligible for it so long as you were willing to live your life the way Henry Ford thought you should, and submitted to being spied on to ensure you were doing so.

    This is no different than the way many Americans are living right now.

  • @Nick B: "And half your customers would be more upset to lose their favorite worker (the regulars at a store are treated really well because they treat us well) while the other half would be passive about it. In other words, there is no upside."

    I subscribed to my local big-city paper for about 20 years…and then they outsourced their service department to the Phillippines (guess India was too expensive). Then the paper stopped being delivered. In the good old days, I used to be able to call my delivery person directly, then I had to call the office, and at the end, I had to call a I-800 number, hit a couple dozen buttons, and deal with an overseas connection that was the equivalent of a tin can and a string…all to try to explain to someone for whom English wasn't even an aspirational dream that my newspaper hadn't arrived (I was stationed in the PI and have some Tagalog, but not enough to get my point across). It was like a bad SNL skit, trying to explain that I didn't get a paper for which I was paying.

    I tried emailing the newspaper, calling during business hours…nothing worked. So, after two decades, I cancelled my paper subscription. The newspaper has since sent me plenty of 'come back, we miss your money' advertisements, but the bottom line is that there's no way of speaking to an English-speaking person to convey why I stopped the paper.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    And if an Editor took a screwdriver and shorted out a laptop's motherboard, it could write Peggy Noonan columns, saving the cost of vodka for her real screwdrivers.

  • There's an anecdote about Henry Ford II showing off his then-new assembly line robots to the President of the UAW.

    "Good luck getting these robots to join your union" – quipped Ford.

    "Good luck getting them to buy your cars Henry" – replied the UAW President.

  • How did this get to be "populist" anyway? Populism implies a paradigm or movement to erode the power of "The Man," but in this case the so-called "Man" is a worker who is either barely literate or over-educated and unable to find a better job; either way they're working shit jobs that pay shit for money, and they're one major financial disaster away from permanent bankruptcy (if they're not there already). Methinks there are too many Horatio Alger wannabes running around loose.

  • That's one way to see it, Ed.

    However, as it's the business of business to continue to be in business, the other view would say things like: it's worth at least $90 billion to rid ourselves of the troublesome, Luddite, non-cooperative slackers who stand around giggling when the wrong objects are being painted and who likely actively ensure that this outcome is achieved.

    It was never about the workers, it was about creating a more cost-effective, hence more competitive, product. With 20/20 hindsight vision, isn't it more likely that the failure of Smith's plan was the result of poor execution, rather than the plan itself?

    And how much more would you have been prepared to pay for your newspaper to maintain the status quo? There's a whole world out there, populated by people who whine about the disappearance of all the Mom & Pop stores, so essential to the 'character' of place where they live, who yet go shopping at the giant supermarket built last year on a green field at the edge of town.

  • Oh Carrstone: showing up late as usual just when you think it's safe.

    Thanks for the lesson in economics, however you seem to have slept through Econ and Bus 101 — late nights tugging to Ayn I'm guessing — and didn't read the first post.

    Here's the TLDR version:
    Unemployed people don't buy things.

    Hope that's not too many words for you.

  • If you are interested we published a 90 second video summing up the basic economic logic for raising the wages. It was designed mostly to help advocates for minimum wage increases stay on topic, though it has since been spread more widely.

  • So many angles here, but one stands out to me, the .1% seem to be hosting a pernicious meme, that reassures them of their superiority, almost like a mental illness spread on the golf courses. Hope they get over it soon.

  • What a terrific article. Thanks, Ed!

    I grew up in the Detroit area, lived there til I was 30, and I never heard this issue explained from this angle – despite lots of reading on the subject in addition to the lifetime of anecdotal evidence.

    @akabruno and others: it is amazing to watch the American corporate sector ripping its own guts out, cannibalizing itself – sacrificing a customer with every job sent overseas. "Cost savings" today, for sure, but what kind of future is there?

  • A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to tour a car factory in Germany that isn't normally open for public tours. They had hundreds of robots on the assembly line and there were several sections that were completely automated. But there were also plenty of human workers and lots of places where the humans and the robots were working together, e.g. a robotic arm would swing a part into place and a human would attach it.

    At the end of the tour there was a question from my group (mostly Americans) about outsourcing. The guy who gave the tour (a mid-level manager of some sort) said the factory was in no danger from outsourcing because they had invested so heavily in automation. They could theoretically save some money by moving to a low-wage country in Eastern Europe, but the labor savings wouldn't make it worth moving the factory by the time you added in all the costs of training new workers, getting a new facility up to speed and finding bilingual managers, etc. etc. He admitted the plant employed far fewer people now than when it was built (I think it was originally built in the 50s or 60s), but that they had reduced the size gradually as people quit or retired and the company was committed to retaining jobs where they were as long as they could do it profitably. He also praised the local union for agreeing to a flexible contract in which overtime hours were paid with extra vacation time instead of higher overtime rates. That kept costs down for the company and in turn workers were allowed to schedule very long vacations (up to two full months if they had enough hours banked) in periods when demand was low. The attitude towards workers and the union was so different than anything you ever hear from US businessmen.

  • As someone said earlier in the thread, it's just the Tragedy of the Commons played out in the workforce. You (the filthy-rich executive, and I do mean filthy) can hoard even more money for yourself by fucking your workers, but fucked workers don't buy products. If all of the filthy-rich executives decide to fuck their workers, then all workers will be fucked and none of them will buy products. And then there won't be any more money for the filthy-rich executives.

    And we all know what happened the last time a filthy-rich asshole decided that he could get by just fine by fucking 47% of the population.

  • Oh, Carrstone, you are predictable in missing the point! So, in your world, a company *should* strive to lose customers because it makes it impossible for the customers to buy their products. Yeah, that's real smart thinking, there.

  • Great column, Ed!

    But one thing that nobody seems to have mentioned yet is the existence of foreign markets. Sure, viewed from a US-only perspective these companies may seem myopic in their attempts to cut costs by impoverishing American workers. But there are 5.7 billion other people in the world, many of whom live in places with rapidly rising living standards. These are new consumer markets just waiting to be tapped.

    The "race to the bottom" in wages and other business costs might look like a bad thing from America's perspective at the top of the consumer pyramid (for now at least), but super-low-cost production will probably suit these emerging markets quite nicely.

    It seems to me that mega-corporations increasingly view the US market as largely played out. We pay our workers too much and demand quality too high. Emerging markets offer much better margins… and they're also very plentiful in number, so they won't be depleted for a loooong time.

  • @Anonymouse
    I'm full of admiration for your determined effort to make it all about you. And yes, a company should strive to lose those customers who are not contributing to its profitability. And your reported ranting behavior would indicate that you are one of those who are 'lost' gladly.

    The unemployed may not 'buy things' (how inane was THAT statement!) but everybody else does and they're entitled to the best possible price for the item, a price that does not hide a subsidy for the great unwashed.

  • This has already been astutely observed, but who the fuck do they expect to buy their crap without money to pay for it? The current trend has most people living from paycheck to four days before paycheck and it only seems to be growing. You kind of need a little demand to stimulate a functioning economy.

  • @ Carrstone: "And how much more would you have been prepared to pay for your newspaper to maintain the status quo? "

    While I don't know the specifics of Anonymouse's paper, if it's like most American papers, the reason for all the cost-cutting has less to do with rising worker costs than it does with paying off enormous loans incurred in the building of a media empire. And, like with GM, the people who really end up paying are workers and the public, all because of some fat-cat's "vision".

  • Carrstone, cutting labor compensation in the hope that someone else will pay your customers enough has become a chump's game, the first ones did great, but the returns have diminished. These "Masters of the Universe" will be as cattle when someone hatches a better idea.

  • Management philosophy these days can be summed up as "Eating our seed corn".

    Anything to get a bump in next quarter's earnings report, long-term be damned. I've got my golden parachute and I'll be at some other company by then so who cares?

  • Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    I think business executives must respond the same way to seeing robots- they get such a money boner at the idea of having a 24/7 workforce that works for free that they completely lose their mind, and don't notice how crappy the robots usually are compared to real workers.

    For every problem, there's an answer which is clearcut, easy to understand – and wrong.

    And this whole topic demonstrates a fundamental problem with capitalism. Increasing productivity – being able to do more with less – SHOULD be a benefit to society. Instead, it's grinding the working class against the capital class and threatening to bring the whole system to a halt.

  • @Carrstone: I believe you, sir or madam, are projecting in making it all about you. "And yes, a company should strive to lose those customers who are not contributing to its profitability." Yes, of course, those pesky customers who pay money for things–who needs them? Why there are hundreds of sweatshop workers in China who would be thrilled to pay money for a newspaper in an American city that doesn't deliver to its own customers, much less foreign ones. What a genius you are to spot this!

  • @Dave: "While I don't know the specifics of Anonymouse's paper" . The problem was not the cost of the subscription; the problem was that it simply was not being delivered by the delivery person (some guy in a pickup truck). To maximize profits, the newspaper owner decided to shift all customer functions to the Phillippines, to workers who didn't speak English. Tired of spending huge amounts of time on the phone trying to explain in very. simple. English. that the paper wasn't being delivered at all despite being paid for in advance, I chose to stop paying the subscription rate. For some reason Carrstone is offended by my refusal to subsidize incompetence. I wasn't the only one to make this financial decision, and the newspaper is now in deeper trouble than it was before they decided to out-source its services. How this makes financial sense is a mystery, but apparently Carrstone and its business-loving mentality thinks this is a win.

  • I like pomegranates enough to buy them whole and clean them myself. Using the New York Times Spanish-whack-em method [not as exciting as it sounds, son, simmer down], it only takes a few minutes, but it's still a tedious mess.

    So some genius has invented a machine to clean pomegranates. Picturing the typical agriculture-product assembly line of illegal-therefore-paid-a-pittance immigrant workers, my first thought was that, thanks to the wonderful machine, actual human beings wouldn't be forced to do such boring, boring, awful work for hour upon hour day upon day.

    Then…what do you do for work if all you can get hired at is cleaning pomegranates?

    Seems like a good reason for a guaranteed national income, shaking the 1% until the golden leaves rain down.

    The 1%, however, seem to view the situation as a good reason to unleash the anthrax and cut the population down to just the right number to furnish servants.

    They might bone upon on the 14th century, and see how well that worked out for employers.

  • @Anonymouse
    Good heavens, I'm not 'offended' by your self-righteousness! It's all quite simply a matter of choice, really. In this instance THEY decided that providing you with the service to which you had become accustomed was no longer viable and YOU decided, in retaliation, to terminate your subscription – quite a normal process. Isn't capitalism wonderful?

  • One key difference between what GM tried to do then and the state of robotics now: tremendous advances in both computing power and robotics. Worker replacement by machines is coming.

    I often wonder if everyone here in WV will be so eager to suck the coal industries penis once said industry figures out how to mine coal without humans.

  • @Heisenberg:

    Your argument is a cornerstone of the "globalization" idea. And it seems like every day we read about the rising middle class in places like India and China; surely they will buy American products? Surely their custom will keep American companies afloat even as American unemployment skyrockets, and we outsource everything?

    But the problem with this notion is that India, China, etc. are also doing a marvelous job of developing their own manufacturing firms (Huawei, for example) that are perfectly capable of meeting their local needs. Better able, in most cases.

    So, unfortunately for the American corporate sector, "we'll find customers somewhere else" isn't going to keep working for much longer.

  • Won't matter. Once we don't need workers any more there will be little demand for robotically mined coal because nobody will have any money to buy the products that it goes into.

    The economy will be reduced to the Walton family selling their mansions to each other.

  • @Phoenician blah, blah, blah
    "Increasing productivity … SHOULD be a benefit to society." This is already so or are you so blind that you haven't noticed that prices per unit effectively keep falling – what did you pay for a new model TV 10 years ago? And what, after inflation, do you pay today? For what kind of product? That's what the market does for you.

    I have to mention inflation; it's a factor created by government/Fed econ. policy and skews the market to the consumer's detriment. But that doesn't suit the liberal meme and so the name-calling of business, the straw man, flourishes and successfully hides the damage being done in the name of equality and fair shares for everyone.

  • "With 20/20 hindsight vision, isn't it more likely that the failure of Smith's plan was the result of poor execution, rather than the plan itself?"

    As far as I can see, the uniquely American problem is the failure to execute.

    I remember talking to my newspaper's (very local and American) customer service. I remember talking to AOL's (very local and American at that time) customer service. Repeat that scenario ad lib. They each failed because they have been told to HURRY UP! If you keep trying, you'll eventually talk to an actual human who is not an idiot. Success!

    Kmart put in self check-out computers. The one I used did NOT have a "Back" button on screen in case you made a mistake. Apparently written by a moron and put into production without a second thought.

    The error in the essay and in most of the comments is that execution eventually improves. The company (GM in this case) might be long gone by that time but the robots eventually will run the factories. If Roger's error was to think car making would continue as it had in the past, commenters error is to think that work for pay is somehow set in stone.

    Change happens. Too bad it happens so slowly.

  • In this instance THEY decided that providing you with the service to which you had become accustomed was no longer viable and YOU decided, in retaliation, to terminate your subscription – quite a normal process. Isn't capitalism wonderful?

    That bears no resemblance whatsoever to the anecdote that Anonymouse relayed.

  • @Jestbill

    You're absolutely right, of course. Even Obamacare, once they remove the apparatchiks from its helm, may get more efficient over time (d'you think?).

    Most of the commenters on this blog are living in a cloud-cuckoo-land in which they think that their 'power to the people' attitude will gain them the respect of their peers, a commodity which very few will ever have tasted. I'm convinced, though, that although they will never admit it, they would sacrifice an arm or a leg if they, too, could suck on the corporate teat.

  • It should be clear that once carrstone gives up on argument and starts trolling that we should reclaim the conversation, no?

    The basic question is do we as a country have a right to ask anything of businesses beyond that they pursue their profits. Carrstone and your average libertarian – for whatever reason – can't really think of much – while most readers of this blog can think of many things that we can ask of them – without doing them undue harm. Even as far as contributing to the common good.

  • Don't blether, man! What you guys spew can't be called a 'conversation', but just ask your question and be damned.

  • The thing about automation is that it ALSO requires a workforce, one that can repair the robots. That workforce also has a cost. Although its is likely that GM would think they could swap to robots to get rid of their workforce, what they really did was change their workforce so that they needed even more expensive people who were trained in operating and running robots.

    In many ways this is GOOD long term because robots are what should be doing the sort of work that causes repetitive stress injuries or is so tedius that it effects the workers mental health.

    However, this doesn't eliminate very many blue collar type jobs because it requires an army of guys trained to keep those machines going to keep your product coming.

    Sure Mcdonalds could swap the people who take your order a kiosk. However, they would then need to keep all the rest of the staff for the kitchen, they would need a regional staff of programmers to upload their menus, they would need somebody who stands near the kiosks and stops people from putting in fake orders. They would need to keep somebody around who knows the old system for when the thing breaks so you don't have to shut down the whole restaurant.

  • @arglebargle
    Quite apart from shock and awe, which probably was the most compelling reason, guns had more benefits. Like, simpler ammunition: Back then, a city had to be ready for a siege at any time, yet might not be besieged for decades. Where do you keep thousands of crossbow bolts and how long can you keep them before they get all banana-shaped? Not to mention the sheer volume, which matters both in storage and on the march. Coming to think of it, powder & shot might even be more lightweight.

    @TomW, about german unions:
    I'll probably never comprehend the many ways in which american unions are so different from ours. There appears to be an Alternate History of Labor or something.

    Our unions are often accused of being too tame, or even in bed with the employers; common adjectives are "wimpy" or "puny" but certainly not "radical": they tend to demand little and get even less. Then again, they get at least something. All in all, they're somewhat popular in a grudgy, all-things considered way.

    We have no concept of a "unionized workplace" or "union jobs" — in US terms, Germany is a right-to-work state but most jobs are union jobs. That's because agreements are legally binding throughout the entire industry: so the metalworker's agreement is effective in all businesses that somehow have to do with making or shaping metal, and all the workers therein, regardless of membership. Actually, the IG Metall agreement reaches even farther, as it shapes expectations for the whole country.

    Union membership across the whole workforce is perhaps 20%. I don't know many members, but the common reason to join apperas to be that "It's not that expensive and somebody has to do it". Followed by a sigh.

  • We have no concept of a "unionized workplace" or "union jobs"

    To add to Laie's point, there are few remaining instances of 'closed shops' in Europe, because they are widely held to be incompatible with Art. 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Under this article, states are required to protect an individual's right to a negative freedom of association, i.e. that an individual should be able to choose with whom not to associate.

  • are you so blind that you haven't noticed that prices per unit effectively keep falling

    That must mean that houses and cars are getting cheaper, right?

    Houses have been around pretty much forever so they should cost about a buck-fifty by now I suppose.

  • @major kong: "Houses have been around pretty much forever so they should cost about a buck-fifty by now I suppose." Yeah, clearly carr lives on a different planet, one where reality is whatever carr dreams it is.

  • One of the editors on a podcast made a really prescient point: We're slowly moving to everyone's future dream of where robots do menial tasks. It's just that we have no clue what to do with people who don't have to do that job the robot can.

  • @Laie – Germany may be "right-to-work" under a strict definition of that term, but there are various aspects of labor law, corporate governance, and a more generous social safety net that make that a poor comparison. Things are far from perfect in the German labor market, but most workers are still in a much better situation with many more protections and guarantees than workers in many "right-to-work" states in the US.

  • @TomW
    The whole "right-of-work state with mostly union jobs" doesn't make sense to an american reader. Or so I hope. That was kind of the point I tried to make, namely that things are so different that even simple terms and phrases no longer have the meaning you're familiar with.

    That said, I hope that someone gets hooked on "The Alternate History of Labor" — that'd be a book I'd really like to read.

  • "After spending an astounding $90 billion in the 1980s on new plants, equipment and acquisitions, GM is nearly broke"

    While I get Ed's point, I kinda figured that the article he cited would – at the very least – point out the $90 fucking billion burned totally on robots he bitched about in his rant.

  • For what it's worth, I've really enjoyed watching Carrstone being savagely bested at every turn for his completely uninformed opinions.

    Carrstone, this is a forum frequented by people who are much better informed than you. I think you would do well to read, absorb and think about the new information that runs counter to your own beliefs. In the end, you may discover that there are things in life that are more important than making your boss rich.

  • Nunya, you have spoken blasphemy against the Lords of Mankind. Beware, lest Commander Suzdal's lamentable fate be yours.

  • Carrstone is just the run-of-the-mill wannabe troll you find on 4chan /b/. Basically he still holds to the idiotic belief his parents and the media taught him, that successful people work hard and are more intelligent, and the rest are, to use his term, unwashed masses. Remember the comic book guy on the Simpsons who always carries himself with an air of superiority even though he is a complete loser? That's him. Most likely he works in a shitty, insecure job himself, but he's got a laundry list of reasons why that's someone else's fault, not his own.

  • It seems that in the Randroid world view, expecting a company to actually *deliver* upon a **paid** for product/service is too much to expect from a company. Having to hand over said product/service will affect profits. Therefore we we should all be good "takers" and not complain when we have the privilege to just hand over our money to our Galtian overlords without expectation of return.

  • @MajorKong – The rules vary according to the legal form and size of corporation, but yes, most German corporations are required to have either union representatives or some other type of worker representatives on the Board of Directors. At an even more basic level, workers in any workplace with more than five employees have the right to form a Betriebsrat (worker's council) and the management is required to consult with the Betriebsrat on a variety of workplace issues. The Betriebsrat gives workers some union-like advantages without actually being a union.

  • @Arslan & Nunya
    Let me quote from the American Institute for Economic Research's article on the 'Every Day Price Index': "… the prices of (constant quality) televisions, personal computers, and other information-processing equipment have plummeted, primarily because of improvements in quality and features." I won't quote the accompanying figures because I'm convinced that, in your self-claimed erudition, you already were aware of this factoid but enjoy the argument for its own sake.

    I'm always uplifted by being insulted by the likes of you and your masturbatory friends. It confirms my suspicion that, as long as there are whiners like you lot out there, the doers and shakers will survive because you pose no threat, neither physically nor (excuse my mentioning it) intellectually.

    In this instance, for example, I asked for your questions and get calumny in response, presented in a tone that reeks of your need for the approbation from like-minded pygmies. I mean, look at the 5:47 Xynzee comment – have you ever seen anything so silly?

    Ah well, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

  • Carrstone… Shhh! The adults are talking, honey.

    I honestly don't know what the point of your blatantly obvious quotation was. It's a well-known fact that the easier it becomes to produce something, the less it will cost. This actually becomes a problem for capitalists because in order to do this they must invest more and more into the latest production technology and techniques, yet the result is that the price of the commodities they produce falls. I don't know what you are trying to prove with that red herring but if it's that you're not a total dipshit then you failed.

    As for silly things I've seen, I'd say the silliest thing I've seen this week is a certain anonymous dipshit pseudo-intellectual who likes to pretend that he's a "mover" and "shaker" on the internet.

    Oh shit- Don't forget to shoehorn more French and Latin phrases into your comments. That will TOTALLY distract everyone from noticing your childlike, just world fallacy-based worldview.

  • I always love how dipshits think a word-a-day calender is going to make them sound intelligent. The key to eloquence is knowing when to use the right words and the proper register. When a dipshit like Carrstone writes, you can see how slavishly he works to construct sentences which essentially say very little(if anything), yet are loaded with SAT prep vocabulary.

  • @Arslan
    The reason for the quote, had you been paying attention, was that some of your fellow wishful thinkers had opined that production efficiencies are not reflected in product pricing, a patently erroneous bit of liberal waffling.

    You, too, appear to suffer a lack of realism: your thinking that capitalists "must invest more and more into the latest production technology and techniques" is such obvious crap that I'm amazed you even wrote it. There's no MUST about it – they have the choice not to do so.

    By the way, I'm not the one with the chip on my shoulder about why the world won't do what I want it to do – that's clearly your bailiwick.

  • You're right, I do think about the structure and content of what I write before putting pen to paper, to do anything else would be rude and unmannerly.

    I'm ecstatic to see how much I've got to you.

  • "There's no MUST about it – they have the choice not to do so."

    Oh I'm sorry I forgot you need everything explained to you in the most painstaking detail otherwise you're totally lost.

    Capitalists "must" invest in said technologies and production techniques IF THEY WANT TO REMAIN COMPETITIVE….with their competitors…in the business that they are in…they being the capitalists. If they do not remain competitive, they fail, and thus they can't be capitalists anymore(assuming they run out of a source of capital) Do you need that broken down even further or is the hamster wheel that represents your brain still spinning?

  • "I'm ecstatic to see how much I've got to you."

    That's EXACTLY what would make a successful "mover and shaker" businessman ecstatic, arguing on the internet.

  • @Arslan
    So glad you got the message about taking care how you say things.

    And you're off-target again in your assumption that investment is done for the sake of gaining a competitive edge. That's just marketing handbook babble – in reality it's about safeguarding gross profit margins.

    But then, you know everything about being gross, wouldn't you?

  • "And you're off-target again in your assumption that investment is done for the sake of gaining a competitive edge. That's just marketing handbook babble – in reality it's about safeguarding gross profit margins."

    Once again, everything needs to be broken down for you to the smallest detail. Yes, the END goal of a capitalist is profit. But there are other capitalists who have the SAME end goal. Ergo you have competition.

  • Carrstone has reminded me of an evening at university, in which I was so awkwardly sexually harassed by a crank caller that I felt a rush of pitying embarassment for him.

  • Everyone needs to leave poor carrstone alone:) Engaging with him makes the same mistake as people who think their pets understand their words. It's not his fault that he's only reacting to signals and doesn't really comprehend complex concepts.

    It's always easier to fool someone than to show them they've been fooled.

  • That article at the link is from 1992, and they spent $90Bn in the 1980's. What's that in adjusted dollars?

  • As Gregor Carrstone awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a tiny human being.

  • Carrstone, are you still here? Good Lord, just admit defeat and slink back under your bridge to lick your wounds. I'm almist starting to feel sorry for you.

  • Phoenician in a time of Romans says:


    This is already so or are you so blind that you haven't noticed that prices per unit effectively keep falling – what did you pay for a new model TV 10 years ago?

    Roughly five to six weeks on the unemployment benefit, making it unaffordable if the unemployed person wants to keep a place to live and food to eat.

    Which was sorta the point that zoomed right over your pointy little head…

  • @Nunya

    Defeat? I'm not aware that there was a fight, only a laughable attempt at mobbing. It's not surprising that America's youth is going to hell in a hand-basket when people who should know better set this kind of example.

    And I don't need your snarky sympathy; next thing I know you'll want to pray for me.

    I will admit, though, that I rather enjoy getting you guys all wound up and spewing vitriol, you're all so transparent in your fervor and predictable in your opinions; if you weren't, I wouldn't be able to rile you as much.

  • Carrstone, I know you're desperate for attention and probably consider yourself the most intellectual person in your trailer park but you are out of your depth with this group of commenters.

    You haven't so much riled anyone up but you're like a housefly that continually buzzes around the room until someone decides to stand up at swat it with a newspaper.

    Don't flatter yourself into thinking that your pedantic musings swayed a single reader. All any of us saw were the mutterings of a brainwashed Ayne Rand follower who is convinced that one day he will be rich and looks forward to lording his success over the lesser people in society.

    You are trying to argue through the naiive mind of a child against the collective wisdom of people with much more real-life experience than you have and refusing to learn a thing from them.

    You should be very afraid about your future employability if you take such pleasure in riling up your coworkers and refusing to learn from the collective wisdom of those who have seen more than you.

  • I think I smell the blood of an educator. You certainly all pontificate like many of the teachers and docents I've met, arrogant in their tenured position, spouting book-learnt left-wing tat while hiding behind Nanny State's apron, living lives of not so quiet desperation 'cause all your efforts to make a mark don't add up to a row of beans.

    I'm right, aren't I?

  • Bitter Scribe says:

    GM's first steps may have been missteps, but automation has cut a lot of jobs out of the auto industry, along with many other industries. The reason is simple: A cost-effective , reliable robot offers quality control that's simply unattainable by human beings. And since industrial computing has improved and progressed right along with other forms of computing, today's robots are cheaper and more reliable.

    Is this a good thing or a bad thing, since it means fewer manufacturing jobs? It almost doesn't matter, because it's inevitable either way. When companies can make products better and cheaper through a manageable investment, they will.

  • Davis X. Machina says:

    I'm right, aren't I?

    I bow in the presence of the Übermensch. Forget Reardon metal, people, we have Carr stone.

  • You should be used to this by now but you are incorrect on all accounts. I am not an educator, much less a tenured one. I have never belonged to a union and have worked in the private sector for my entire life.

    I am in management, however, and my political opinions are based on actual experience in board rooms, with venture capitalists and with senior management almost all of whom are devoid of any concern for their employees or, ultimately, their customers.

    I am not against Capitalism but I understand that without serious regulation, it turns into Feudalism in short order. America's current version of winner-take-all capitalism is threatening the security of the nation and poisoning its future ability to compete on the global scale that seems to be the obsession of those in power.

    I was raised to think like you do. I used to view the world strictly in economic terms but, with experience, economics are only part of a much bigger world.

    Compassion for your fellow man and a willingness to incorporate new ideas will enrich your life more than you can imagine. You can focus exclusively on building your career and making as much money as you can but without considering your duties to your nation and your community, you're in for a sad, shallow life.

  • It's a shame we can't get Carrstone to give us the information on the industry and/or company where he makes his living. I am presuming, of course, that he owns the company. I would love to see him put his own theory to the test, regarding the viability of getting rid of his workforce while still continuing to maintain a revenue stream, by having all of his employees get up and walk out on him in the middle of their shifts.

  • Davis X. Machina says:

    I used to view the world strictly in economic terms but, with experience, economics are only part of a much bigger world.


    All that is, can be bought and sold.
    All that cannot be bought or sold, is not.
    All that can be bought and sold, must be bought and sold, and at the best price. For this is the whole of the Law, and the Prophets. The rest is but commentary.

    Baruch atah ha Shuk, dayan ha emet.

  • Carr's actually readily identifiable. He's your basic 4chan /b/tard. Basically he identifies with the rich "movers and shakers" though he's not one of them and has never been close to their world. Everything is always the direct fault of the individual, unless said individual is rich, in which case their decisions are correct and it's the poor who are dragging them down. In reality, people like him are basically in the same shitty situation as everyone else, but they side with the people screwing them because they're convinced that they'll soon join their ranks.

    Go to 4chan /b/ and you'll see dozens of psuedo-intellectual, self-important losers "debating" each other over who is a "pleb" and who is superior. The truth is that real businesspeople, especially successful ones, do not spend time initiating flame wars on the internet. Of course Carr would shoot back with something like, "OH YEAH? WHY DO YOU HAVE THE FREE TIME TO BLA BLA BLA…" But the fact is that when you make more than $1000 in a week while only working 8 hours, it leaves you a LOT of free time.

  • Anonymouse: "I tried emailing the newspaper, calling during business hours…nothing worked. So, after two decades, I cancelled my paper subscription. The newspaper has since sent me plenty of 'come back, we miss your money' advertisements, but the bottom line is that there's no way of speaking to an English-speaking person to convey why I stopped the paper."

    I salute you, Anonymouse. You have gone Galt. Your newspaper failed to serve you, so they lost your business.

    Predictably, going Galt always brings the "conservatives" (in reality, communist/statist crybabies) out of the woodwork to complain about how inappropriate it is to simply demand goddamn satisfaction for your goddamn dollar.

    John fucking Galt doesn't listen to that shit. You think John F. Galt would even fucking READ a comment from some conservative whining that he should keep feeding money to a contemptible, shitty newspaper? That newspaper deserves to die, and its stockholders deserve to starve, if they don't have the sense to run their business right. IT'S CALLED CAPITALISM, and I'm sick of the commie-servatives telling me that I can't even drop a newspaper subscrption without thinking of how my actions will affect the company. Or, even better, they tell me that if I don't want their product, then I'm not mature enough to deserve it.

    The rules are simple, herr conservative comrades:

    You want to run a fucking newspaper? Then run it fucking right, or fucking starve. Big Daddy Government isn't here to provide you with shiny playthings to break, and NEITEHR AM I.

    What the fuck is this McDonald's meme? "$15 AN HOUR? MEET YOUR REPLACEMENT." Are you fucking kidding me? Guess what, commie-servatives. If a print publication wants to outsource their customer service to people who can't speak English, they need to put on their best suit, comb in some dippity-doo, and maybe even lay on the Aqua Fucken Velva because they are about to meet the computerized replacement we have all ready for them. IT'S CALLED THE INTERNET. What does it do? It slays the weak, and drinks their blood. THAT IS WHY PRINT JOURNALISM IS DYING.

    Don't want me as a customer? WHAT MAKES YOU THINK I FUCKING CARE? Guess what, comrades: that isn't your decision to make.

    You think newspaper rejects you, comrade? Eh? Newspaper rejects you, no? NO. YOU ARE NOT LIVING IN RUSSIA. In America, you reject the business. Big Mama Russia is not here to squirt me, JOHN F. GALT into your toothless, mewling crybaby maws as an unwilling customer. Big Mama Russia isn't here to make sure everyone stands in line for hours to buy a fucking potato from your business because you're the only game in town.

    TL;DRL Anonymouse's newspaper didn't reject her as a customer, any more than Scarlett Johanssen will ever reject you as a sex partner, STATIST EUNUCH.

  • Arslan said: "Once again, everything needs to be broken down for you to the smallest detail. Yes, the END goal of a capitalist is profit. But there are other capitalists who have the SAME end goal. Ergo you have competition."

    Jesus fucken Christ. There's an old WB cartoon about a Russian mouse who comes to America and learns the basics of capitalism. You know, an educational cartoon for children.

    Arslan, the fact is that Limbaughskyites fundamentally don't share our worldview. They need cartoons before they can even begin to understand. The very idea of Capitalism is utterly foreign to them. They can't see beyond their sick, ignorant COMMIE vision of a country where:

    * Citizens serve industry, instead of vice versa. (Hence the inability to understand that bad service loses customers.)

    * The press is the mouthpiece of government

    * A secret police spies on the entire populace

    * Citizens are imprisoned, tortured, and killed by their own government, without even being charged with a crime.

    When I was a kid, the Soviet Union was the big bad guy. Everyone was proud to be an AMERICAN, because everybody knew that real Americans BY DEFINITION didn't put up with that Commie bullshit.

    Can you imagine someone in 1980 saying you OWE LOYALTY to a shitty newspaper, and are a bad person for going to a competitor?

    Hell, can you imagine a REAL AMERICAN putting up with some of this Commie bullshit we got when Alabama deported all the Mexican slaves? WTF- you tell me white people are lazy because they won't pick tomatoes in the hot sun for less than minimum wage? Jesus Christ- are you kidding me, comrade? It's not about white people. FREE people have better things to do than VOLUNTEER to take orders from a COMMIE slave driver. If you deport your slaves, no problem. I, JOHN F. GALT, will personally pick your tomatoes. For a price. It's the American way. Can't meet my price? Just remember that every day my price goes up, and sooner or later they'll rot on the vine. Enjoy picking the tomatoes yourself, comrade. If you're too dumbshit to successfully negotiate with a FREE MAN in a FREE MARKET, you will deservedly starve.

    TL;DR: Ass, grass, or gas, COMRADE.

  • John F. Galt/ Anon says:

    Well, this is embarrassing:

    "TL;DRL Anonymouse's newspaper didn't reject her as a customer, any more than Scarlett Johanssen will ever reject you as a sex partner, STATIST EUNUCH."

    Should read…

    "TL;DRL Anonymouse's newspaper didn't reject her as a customer, any more than you will ever reject Scarlett Johanssen as a sex partner, STATIST EUNUCH."

    Accuracy is indeed the soul of wit!

  • @John Galt

    A delete button, rather than an edit button, would serve your post far better. Anyone who likens the United States today, with its passion for market-solutions and privatization, to the socialism of the Soviet Union has basically proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they don't know anything about capitalism, socialism, or Soviet history. I don't care if American capitalism doesn't resemble the non-existent utopia dreamed up by Murray Rothbard. Capitalism is as capitalism does. Please leave your no-true-Scotsman fallacy at the door and refrain from expounding on history or countries you clearly know nothing about.

  • "Accuracy is indeed the soul of wit!"

    Not sounding like a dumbass Redditor who lives with his Mom and dreams of "going Galt" plays a role too.

  • John F. Galt/ Anon says:

    Jesus Christ, Arslan- I was expressing sympathy with your frustration, and this is how you treat me?

  • Funny, I heard the if-we-raise-wages-everyone-will-get-robots argument on MPR earlier this week. The punch line was that this would make the change occur 'faster'. Most of the reasons given to not raise minimum wage were veiled threats like that- business would hire fewer people, goods and services would cost more, you will be replaced by a robot sooner than you would have been replaced by a robot.

    Today, I hear that minimum wage was never a 'real' wage. It is for training, and if people are only making minimum, that is a failure of education (and their own slackerness!).

  • My in-laws tell me that the UAW destroyed GM. It never gets old. I ask them why GM execs made so much money if the union was running things? Wouldn't it be silly to have executives if the union was in charge.

    In other news, the housing bubble was caused by the people who forced lenders to give them mortgages.

  • Actually, the robots did take over, and there is a lot less human labor in an automobile than ever. It took over 300 hours to make a car back in 1910, but less than 100 in 1930. By the late 1980s it was down below 24, but it dropped further to 20 (in US owned plants) and 18.2 (in foreign owned plants). My guess is the number of labor hours is even lower today.

    It wasn't just automobiles. In the early 1990s productivity of white goods (refrigerators, washers and so on) went up four fold in terms of labor hours. Some of this was robotics, some was replacing complicated controllers with small computers. There used to be dozens of white goods manufacturers. I think there are three or four today, though they use a lot of different names.

    There was an article (3/6/12 The Atlantic – Making It In America) about manufacturing employment, and basically the machines keep getting better. They are more dextrous, more efficient, easier to set up, easier to operate and so on. Human skill is less and less important. The joke is that cotton mills have two employees, a man and a dog. The man is there to feed the dog, and the dog is there to keep the man away from the machines.

    Let's face it, manufacturing has been using less and less labor since the start of the 20th century and the percentage of workers employed in manufacturing has been on a downward slope with a hiccup for Warld War II. Maybe all those companies have been strictly motivated by a shaft the workers policy, but they were going to automate anyway because it would let them lower prices or increase profits whether they cut salaries or not. That the decreasing number of jobs made it easier to cut wages was a bonus.

    If you looked at the figures for 1910 versus 1930, you can see how flat wages through the 1920s led to the Great Depression. We managed to get out of it, but it takes some serious rethinking of how and why we allow people to command goods and services.

  • Nate,

    "It's just that we have no clue what to do with people who don't have to do that job the robot can."

    Sure we do, we incarcerate them. For profit.

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