17A004 Low Skills in the ZGS by Jim Davies, 1/24/2017   


Not everyone is born with a high IQ, or a determination to learn a valuable set of skills. There are, and always have been, people of small or modest abilities, who spend life in humble occupations and circumstances. Their work is just as important as that of others in society, and just as dignified; if nobody swept the streets and maintained the sewers, cities would not be healthy places to live.

A recent Mises.org article by Brittany Hunter noted that automation is accelerating, and opened up the question: will such low-skilled people be thrown out of work by robots in the near future, and will that not cause great suffering? The author reasoned that it would not; that such concerns have always accompanied labor-saving inventions and have never yet produced that result. Over in Strike the Root, Will Groves - who works in the design of robots - took the opposite view and said that such a danger is very real and imminent. That gave rise to a lively exchange of views.

Neither of them considered how the matter will change when government evaporates and leaves a zero government society (ZGS), so here I will repair that important omission. Will it be worse, better, or about the same?

I do not think that the demand for low-skilled labor will shrink at all; it may very well increase quite a lot. I'll illustrate this from my own domestic situation.

My home is built on a pleasant piece of New Hampshire land, which is however almost entirely untamed forest, see photo. The house has great views, and last Fall I did a lot of yard work to remove branches and shrubs so as to keep them open, but still there is far more work to do (to make it a really top-class lot) than I can, at my age, possibly undertake.

For that, I would need a lot of help. Trees and branches lie where they fell; all of them need clearing and burning or chipping. Trails need to be kept clear, and new ones laid. Young trees are growing so as to make whole areas impassable; they need to be thinned. A small stream crosses the property; it needs a few foot bridges to be built. It could also be dammed, so as to create an ornamental pond - surrounded perhaps by a flower garden.

Add to that the need to mow the lawn, clear the snow and do odd jobs of maintenance on the house itself, and I can see the possibility of employing a gardner-handiman full-time, or nearly so. Such an expense is, however, very far beyond my means; because an unwanted third party called government confiscates nearly half of what I receive and does the same to anyone I might employ; hence the cost of hiring him is around twice what it need be at the same time as I have only half of what I would otherwise have to pay him. That double whammy keeps him idle, and my property less than perfect.

He would not be highly skilled. He'd need no degree in forestry or agriculture. He'd learn all he needs for that job by being a teenage apprentice to someone with similar experience. And (given that he'd have available the kind of tools already on the market, like chain saws, tillers and chippers) his kind of work would likely never be replaced by robots.

At present, though, the job described does not exist, because government has made it economically impossible. The cause of that unemployment is not automation, it is government. And when government has gone, such jobs will open up - by the million.

At present, my more affluent neighbors do hire such help - ususally in the form of one of several competing yard-work contractor firms, which send a team of men out once a week or so; but that applies only to perhaps the richest 5% in town. When the parasites of government can no longer prevent formation of freely drawn contracts, that demand will come from perhaps 50% of us instead, possibly including myself. Hence my suggestion that in the coming ZGS, low-skilled labor will not only not be wanted, it will be wanted many times more often than today.

That illustration comes from just one work category, and there are of course very many. Some of them, admittedly, will see a shrinkage of opportunity due to automation; no matter. That has always improved the human lot, never brought damage. Long ago when some bright graduate of Flintstone University designed the first stone axe, there was an uproar and rioting by the Universal Brotherhood Of Gatherers Of Branches (UBOGOB) who shrieked that thousands would be made idle and the forests, denuded. But human ingenuity was not bound by such prejudice; more fires were lit with the extra wood, so improving the quality of cooking, and UBOGOB members temporarily idled joined other hunters and gatherers and so increased the food supply - two effects, which expanded the duration and quality of life. Others took the now less expensive wood and carved decorative and useful objects, like better spears. Trees, meanwhile, grew back in a decade or three to replace those cut down. Nature, human and otherwise, is resilient.

The cycle has repeated down the ages; Ned Ludd of Nottingham gave his name to the protests when machines replaced manual weaving, but in the century following vastly more people were employed, and for better wages, than ever before, in the incredibly prosperous Industrial Revolution. Having learned nothing from that history, Mohandas Gandhi repeated the error in India a century ago. Socialism followed, and only in recent years has some good living reached the plain folk of that vast land. When government gets out of the way there too, the country will become immensely prosperous.

Currently in America, the government-run system pays the low-skilled to stay idle. That is the net of the situation and it is profoundly evil. They suffer, being denied the dignity of earning their own living, and their potential employers lose too, for the work they might have contributed is not performed. This absurd and wicked situation is not the result of robotics, but of government. When the latter vanishes, so will unemployment.

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