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The Internet's Network Efficiencies Are Destroying the Middle Class 674

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the computers-don't-kill-executives-do dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Joe Nocera writes in an op-ed piece in the NYT that the same network efficiencies that have given companies their great advantages are becoming the instrument of our ruin. In the financial services industry, it led to the financial crisis. In the case of a company like Wal-Mart, the adoption of technology to manage its supply chain at first reaped great benefits, but over time it cost competitors and suppliers hundreds of thousands of jobs, thus gradually impoverishing its own customer base. Jaron Lanier says that the digital economy has done as much as any single thing to hollow out the middle class. Take Kodak and Instagram. At its height, 'Kodak employed more than 140,000 people.' Kodak made plenty of mistakes, but look at what is replacing it: 'When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people.' Networks need a great number of people to participate in them to generate significant value says Lanier but when they have them, only a small number of people get paid. This has the net effect of centralizing wealth and limiting overall economic growth. It is Lanier's radical idea that people should get paid whenever their information is used. He envisions a different kind of digital economy, in which creators of content — whether a blog post or a Facebook photograph — would receive micropayments whenever that content was used. 'If Google and Facebook were smart,' says Lanier, 'they would want to enrich their own customers.' So far, he adds, Silicon Valley has made 'the stupid choice' — to grow their businesses at the expense of their own customers. Lanier's message is that it can't last. And it won't." The micropayments for content idea sounds familiar.
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The Internet's Network Efficiencies Are Destroying the Middle Class

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  • by Luthair (847766) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @09:27AM (#45887083)
    Kodak was replaced by a whole slew of companies that make components for digital cameras, cell phones, picture hosting, digital frames, etc.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @09:41AM (#45887221)

      I think you might be missing the point. He's saying that the new information/digital economy requires less people to run it and is therefore reducing the overall number of jobs.

      Whether he chose Instagram/Kodak as an example or any of a variety others doesn't really matter. His point isn't wrong. Though I think the micro-payments that he's pushing sound like permanent DRM and something out of Stallman's "Right to Read" story.

      • by BobMcD (601576)

        Whether or not his point is wrong is completely disconnected from that terrible example. The quality of that comparison is rather like how a peanut compares to a car.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Mashdar (876825)

          The quality of that comparison is rather like how a peanut compares to a car.

          There are a whole lot of peanuts out there. The complexity of products is growing swiftly, and engineering hours are reasonably well paid hours. Complete vertical integration is pretty much dead, so comparing any empire of the past to any consumer front-end today is disingenuous.

          As for whether or not overall worker pay is lower, nearly all free and competitive markets are a "race to the bottom" because consumers are rarely informed enough to purchase anything other than the least expensive (or most hyped) p

          • by hubie (108345) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:28AM (#45887743)

            because consumers are rarely informed enough to purchase anything other than the least expensive (or most hyped) product.

            I think they're plenty informed; I just think they don't care as long as they can get it a few pennies cheaper somewhere else and it fits in with their short-term outlook. In the 70's and 80's the autoworker unions were very militant about buying US-made cars, going so far as to ostracize their fellow workers who owned imports and made them park in lots off site of the factory. In that case you were supposed to spend more on a comparable car because they saw it as an issue that went straight to their job security. However, there was never any qualms about buying other cheaper commodities made in China and other countries. In that case you were "stretching your dollar" (those weren't their jobs) and finding great bargains and being an otherwise wise consumer.

            I recall an interview with an airline executive many (20?) years ago. He said they heard and listened to customer complaints about the quality of air travel, in particular leg room. He said they tried all sorts of quality of flight improvements, including putting less seats in the plane, but in the end people made their choices largely on the price of the ticket, so they ended up going back to cramming as many seats in the plane they could.

            • by Rob Y. (110975) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @01:22PM (#45889605)

              I don't suppose any of them considered keeping the legroom, making a little less profit per ticket, and making it up by not flying half-empty...

              No, instead they just cancel your flight if it's half empty and make you wait a few hours to be crammed onto the next flight. But if they weren't able to do that - say, by law - you might have competition based on cheap prices for shitty service and tons of profit. There's a place for regulation of industry, and there's a reasonable balance between profit and the general good. Total protectionism is bad, but so is a wide open race to the bottom. Striking an appropriate balance is the hard work of government - much harder than ideological hard-lining.

          • by AlphaWolf_HK (692722) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @02:02PM (#45890197)

            That isn't true at all, in fact quite the opposite. The information age has empowered customers over the last two decades, and marketing departments have to work with this fact (the exact words I've heard used are "more powerful customers," which are customers described as having easier access to competitors as well as doing research on the internet.)

            With a lot of the cheap stuff I buy, I've had so many of these companies follow up and ask me to write a review of their product, because it tends to be a lot harder to sell something with few reviews (or negative reviews) and that is a direct result of customer empowerment.

            And I don't know what all this talk about shit products is either - the quality of everything I buy these days is much better than before, and I pay less for it. I very rarely have to replace something because the old one broke, it's almost always because I wanted something new and improved instead. I own a lot of material goods that are very nice, ranging from my Nexus 4 to my 55" Sony TV, both of which I paid peanuts for relative to what stuff used to cost a long time ago, and it's much better than the stuff I bought back when. If this so called "race to the bottom" of yours was true, then my Nexus 4 would be something worse than the 90's brick phone, and my old big rear projection 55" HDTV that cost $3,800 back in 2001 would have better picture quality than the 55" $1,500 LED-LCD HDTV I have now - yet it doesn't, it looks like garbage in comparison.

            Personally I think these changes are working out great. I know you socialist types reject anything that isn't somehow "organic" or "wholesome" but I prefer working smart over working hard, and that's exactly what these changes are. Being able to avoid using somebody's services is a good thing because it frees up that labor resource to work on something else. On the down side you get frictional unemployment, but on the up side the economy grows. This is why today's poor are wealthier than ever, and food is cheaper than ever.

            In other words, who needs a middle class when the poor have a higher standard of living today than the middle class and even some of the wealthy of any period earlier than the 60's? The difference between middle class after all is just an arbitrary number on a spreadsheet that some government bureaucrat decided upon.

          • by Zynder (2773551) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @12:40AM (#45895151)
            I think this may be the first time I have ever seen you post and I am thankful of it because you appear to be a sociopath. You want to blame the fact that we, as workers, have been replaced by the megacorps because we demand cheap shit. Did you ever stop to think we demand cheap shit because that very same megacorp is full of greedy bastards that won't pay us a livable wage? They make record profits quarter after quarter but that's our fault the CEO needed a half million a year salary with a Platinum Parachute (cause gold is for chumps) because we wanted dollar bars of pcb soap and some shitty lead-laced crackers? The company could have just as easily made that dollar soap here in the US but instead they outsourced that shit to China because it made their bonuses bigger. Your logic amazes me. You're right, it's never the fault of the folks who have the power, control, wealth, and means, no, it's us scummy bottom feeding peons who are to blame.
        • My car holds two nuts, slightly salty, roasted slowly through Texan summers.

      • by MightyYar (622222)

        It's not only "Stallman-esq" DRM (can I say that?), it doesn't change the fundamental problem. People aren't providing free content because it is too hard to get paid for it. They are providing free content because that is what is expected from the internet - people won't pay for it. You can have the most convenient, zero overhead cost currency possible and people still won't click on the pay article or video, they will click on the free one.

        And any DRM scheme that is pervasive enough to protect all content

      • by Joce640k (829181) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:21AM (#45887653) Homepage

        I think you might be missing the point. He's saying that the new information/digital economy requires less people to run it and is therefore reducing the overall number of jobs.

        Whether he chose Instagram/Kodak as an example or any of a variety others doesn't really matter. His point isn't wrong. Though I think the micro-payments that he's pushing sound like permanent DRM and something out of Stallman's "Right to Read" story.

        The counterpoint is that the cost/ease of photography has dropped almost to zero (it was also an incredibly polluting industry that we're better off without...)

        Yes, 140,000 people had to find a different job but the overall productivity and cost of living improved for the other 7 billion living on the planet.

        Mr. Joe Nocera should be made to walk everywhere and not use any electricity for month or two before he's allowed anywhere near a modern word processor again.

        • by alexander_686 (957440) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @12:33PM (#45888951)

          I think he is trying to make a different point, but maybe not very well articulated.

          In this case there was a slow decline from traditional photography to digital photography. Kodak and 1 hour photomarts steady lost ground while makes of chip makers and “photo quality” printers gained ground. So some workers lost their jobs while others gained. Maybe not the same people nor the same region, but the decline was steady. (Except for the very end but everybody knew it was coming).

          Overall a modest loss of middle income jobs spread over 20 years. Society can handle that. The trickery question is where will the new jobs come from.

          I think a better compassion is between Ford and Istagram. Ford (and Kodak) needed thousands of moderately trained (and hence middle class) employees to execute their brilliant transformative ideas. Instagram (or Facebook, or whatever) only had to hire 10s or 100s of people. Technology let a few people leverage their abilities. When there are brilliant new companies, they are not minting thousands of middle class ideas like the days of old.

          So maybe the new jobs won’t be coming down the same route as before, which is a uncertain thing which creates anxiety.

      • by djdanlib (732853) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:35AM (#45887807) Homepage

        I partially disagree. The point may or may not be good, that is irrelevant to the parent poster's gripe. If an author wants the audience to respect his point, his supporting writing needs to be good. If he gives me comparisons that bad, I have a hard time believing the rest of the message was any better thought out.

        Specifically, the issue is a comparison of a photography company that decided not to pursue digital for fear of cannibalizing paper and film, versus a company that made software which takes already-processed digital photographs and applies filters and shares the images. It's a very bad comparison of a source to a processor, like comparing a farmer to McDonald's, or a miner to an auto repair shop, or pizza & Mtn Dew to a programmer. There are a lot of large camera companies (mostly cell phone manufacturers) that I would call equivalent to a new Kodak, and that would have been a great comparison.

        • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @11:27AM (#45888277)

          a photography company that decided not to pursue digital for fear of cannibalizing paper and film

          This is not really accurate. Kodak knew that digital was coming, and did try to transition. But it didn't matter. Digital photography just inherently needs way, way fewer workers to support it. Even if Kodak had controlled 100% of the new digital industry, they still would have had to shed employees. But, other than the lens, digital and film photography are completely different technologies, so Kodak had no significant advantages. They didn't fail because they were dumb or lacked foresight, but simply because there were no good options.

          • by djdanlib (732853) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @12:16PM (#45888759) Homepage

            You should read up on it. Talk to some of the incredibly bitter ex-Kodak people. Here's a timeline.

            1975, Kodak invents digital photography. Management does not see value in developing it to the point where it can be sold to consumers. (Why should they, film is doing multiple billions of business per year!) Patents are filed.

            1980s: People decide to give digital a try. Kodak decides film is still better and pursues the medical diagnostic film market. Fujifilm eats away at their domestic consumer film sales. Kodak tries to enter the battery market and gets properly served by Duracell.

            1990: Kodak introduces Photo CD because they just don't 'get it' that it's a huge waste of money when you can just exchange photographs in GIF or JPEG format. It's not very successful, and R&D costs are high.

            1991, Kodak releases a 1.3 megapixel digital camera. It's not very good.

            Mid 1990s: Various sub-par digital cameras are made while the bulk of their focus is still on film and paper. The film business is really, really good. New film products continue to be developed and introduced to the market.

            Late 1990s: Kodak introduces APS, trying to divert consumer attention from the growing digital 'fad'.

            2001: Kodak unveils the Easyshare system, which is years behind upon release. The gallery website you're supposed to use is terrible, the product is the epitome of crashy TWAIN junk. Image quality isn't comparable to film. Around this time, they have a series of market-dominating digital cameras, but that's not because they're good - that's because they're selling it so cheaply that they are taking a loss on every unit sold in the hopes that their consumables (Kodak photo paper and inks and Photo CDs and website products) will make up the difference. Maybe they're hoping enough people will have a bad experience that digital gets written off as a bad idea?

            Mid 2000s: Nikon and Canon eat their lunch in digital cameras because they (and Sony, and Sigma, and Pentax, and Olympus, etc etc) saw fit to pour huge R&D into digital camera development, while Kodak was going strong after film, which made them a lot of money at the time. Epson, HP and Canon also destroy them in the inkjet printing space while Kodak attempts to enter the market with a small thermal printer, which fails because it can't compete on price and also can't be used to print the kids' homework. Profits fall because digital starts a major takeover once it reaches 3 megapixel resolution, which is about the minimum you need for a 4x6 or 5x7, and they aren't ready with good products in the consumer space. Proprietary interconnects and dodgy online galleries aren't helping. Stocks plummet. It gets so bad they are removed from Dow Jones. The death spiral begins. Shedding employees neuters digital R&D and puts them even further behind, which accelerates their decline.

            Late 2000s: Cell phone companies, particularly Nokia and Apple, are now the biggest digital camera manufacturers in the world. They do it without Kodak's products. Kodak is a distant single-digit percentage of the market. They resort to lawsuits to try to sustain the business, which is barely surviving on medical imaging and cinema film at this point.

            Early 2010s: After filing for bankruptcy, they have sold large portions of their patent portfolio. They have closed or sold many parts of the business. Film and paper are sold. Online galleries are sold to Shutterfly. Pension plans are outright cancelled, leaving many retirees without any options.

    • by Thornburg (264444) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @09:55AM (#45887353)

      I'd like to say "mod parent up", but it's already at 5.

      This "article" lost all credibility the moment they claimed that Kodak was replaced by Instagram. Kodak was functionally dead long before Instagram was a twinkle in someone's eye. If I was going to try to pin one company as replacing Kodak, it would have to be Apple, since more photos are taken with iPhones than with any other single manufacturer's cameras. I guess that's a less sensational claim, since Apple employs ~90,000 people and is still growing.

      As to the real reason for Kodak's demise, they waited too long to go digital, and they screwed it up when they did go mainstream digital. For example, early mainstream Kodak digital cameras used more compression on their JPGs so you could fit more into the tiny built-in memory or small Smartmedia cards. Unfortunately for Kodak, most people care more about the quality of the images than the number they can fit on a card. I'm sure that market research said people wanted to be able to take more pictures, but it didn't actually drive sales. Kodak persisted in this for long enough that the reputation for poor image quality stuck even after they stopped using excessive compression by default.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Kodak cameras were just always horrible to use, with the worst interfaces of all the major names. Except, sadly, sometimes polaroid of all people would screw it up worse

      • by jythie (914043) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:12AM (#45887559)
        Eh, the 'real reason' for Kodak's demise had little to do with Apple or consumer products in general. Kodak was killed by corporate raiding, a corrupt CEO got stock payoffs for short term gains due to selling off one profitable division after another, leading to long term failure of the company. We tend to focus on Kodak's consumer products on sites like this because, well, we are average consumers and our world revolves around us, but we are not the only market and the lion's share of Kodak's revenue did NOT come from retail products.
        • by Solandri (704621) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @12:13PM (#45888731)
          Kodak died because film is a consumable - you have to continuously buy more as you use it. They weren't late to digital - they invented digital photography with the first working digital camera in the 1970s, and the first digital SLRs [wikipedia.org] in the 1990s when a consumer digital camera had 0.25 MP and cost over $1000. But the digital sensor means you can take almost infinite pictures with a single purchase. Furthermore, the rapid advancements in electronic tech meant that the cost of the sensor quickly plummeted to almost nothing.

          This shifted the economic emphasis away from the film/sensor which was Kodak's specialty, and to the camera/optics. Whereas before a casual photographer might spend 50% of his lifetime equipment costs on the camera/lenses and 50% film, he will now spend 100% of his costs on the camera/lenses about 1% of which is the sensor cost. Consequently, companies which specialized in making cameras (Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Sony, etc) or lenses (Canon, Nikon, Zeiss, Tamron, Tokina, etc) are doing fine. Companies which specialized in making film (Kodak, Polaroid, Fuji) suffered greatly. Fuji only managed to survive because they branched out into making point and shoot cameras in the closing days of film - they now have a line of half-decent digital cameras. Kodak used to make cameras but pretty much gave up after the disc camera. Their most successful camera in the last half century was the disposable camera - not much need for that in the digital age. Polaroid's camera was entirely a delivery system for their instant film.

          For a while Kodak was hanging on with sales of movie film. But their number was up when movies finally made the transition to digital.
      • by MightyYar (622222) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:18AM (#45887627)

        they waited too long to go digital, and they screwed it up when they did go mainstream digital.

        They didn't wait too long - they were one of the first, if not the first, to go digital. Their cameras were also good sellers. What Kodak couldn't cope with was the change in culture needed to go from the insanely high-margin consumables business to the insanely low-margin commodity camera business. The Kodak of the 1980s would never even want to be a Nikon or Canon.

        Anyway, Eastman Kodak didn't really go away. The chemicals division is still cranking out chemicals, having been spun off in 1993 and still sits in the Fortune 500. Much of the valuable business was sold to other companies. Even the old films parent company still exists, though only in the commercial world, and it has over $4 billion in revenue.

        • by OldeTimeGeek (725417) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @11:47AM (#45888475)
          Yay! Someone with a good memory. For a long time, the highest quality, highest resolution digital cameras were Kodak. But they were for professionals only. Kodak's big mistake was not wanting to cannibalize their film market and for that they paid dearly.

          As the GP said, they still exist. Those of us who still use film (I have two medium format cameras) can still buy Kodak color or black and white film and motion picture film is still available.

      • by unixcorn (120825) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:44AM (#45887893)

        I'm sorry but you are not exactly correct. In 1975, Kodak invented the device that utilized the CCD chip to ultimately cause its own demise. That device is the digital camera. Kodak was the market leader in digital imaging technology and their position was enhanced by both Apple and Adobe. However, as devices became more prolific and other manufacturer's quality and usability increased, Kodak was unable to capitalize on its own technology. Without a successful next generation product, the decline in the use of film which was their high margin bread and butter is what caused them to seek bankruptcy protection.

      • by globaljustin (574257) <justinglobal@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @12:11PM (#45888713) Homepage Journal

        As to the real reason for Kodak's demise, they waited too long to go digital, and they screwed it up when they did go mainstream digital.

        Yes. It was a **management** mistake based on decisions made by stock-price obsessed MBA-type leaders who were absolutely, completely disconnected from their users.

        Kodak had a 'cult' favorite in the Polaroid. They discontinued it, citing the 'digital revolution', right exactly at the time when people were backlashing against digital photos and **wanted** and old-school, nostalgic analog product like the Polaroid.

        Everything about Kodak's decisions was exactly backwards and wrong, and it was **MANAGEMENT** who is to blame, not some dumb notion of the internet this guy is pimping.

        Article author is an idiot.

  • But how... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @09:28AM (#45887091)

    ...do we throw our wooden shoes into the Internet?

  • by cbeaudry (706335) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @09:32AM (#45887137)

    This guy is a moron.

    He's completely ignoring all the new jobs in the last 10-15 years that have been created over the years:

    - Build and maintain networks
    - Building data centres (construction)
    - Network management and services (ISPs, etc...)
    - IT support (hundreds of thousands of jobs and probably millions, small consultant companies and mom and pop shops)
    - Research has tremendously increase

    Seriously, his story is almost the same as "Robotics and Automation" is stealing all our jobs. But then they forgot the support industry for these new technologies.

    Things change, its the way of things, people need to adapt and go back to school... or become salesmen :)

    • That just says there are sectors that are booming. This shift has left a lot of people behind. what you are ignoring is all the lower skill jobs. Now when I say lower skill, I don't mean McDonalds; I mean any job you could do with a 2-4 year non-technical degree and on the job training.

      It used to be, you go to college, prove you can read, write, and take training, and you were almost garaunteed a middle class lifestyle supporting job. The entire economy was based around the plethora of these jobs.

      My favorite example is the paralegal. They still exist, yes. However, it used to be a single lawyer with a big case would hire an auditorium full of paralegals just to study case law and review documents. Those days are gone, that job is done by a small handful of people. An entire auditorium reduced to maybe 2-4 people.

      That is why you are seeing people with college degrees working at McDonalds and those with less education struggle to get even the shit jobs that they used to be considered "stuck with". We have seen the huge rise of part time, low wage employment.

      But yes, our sector is booming and it is great. That is partially because we empower everyone else to hire less people, and use the ones they do hire more efficiently.

      • by trackedvehicle (1972844) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:09AM (#45887523)

        I decided to log-in and repost my answer as non-AC:

        In both cases (digital economy/Internet and robotization) the net result is increased productivity and a smaller workforce. It is true that some new jobs are created, but they are fewer than the ones replaced.

        The only solution, really, is some sort of socialist system, with higher taxes for the high-earners so that everyone has a fair share of the increased productivity. And with bigger strides in robotization, this will be mandatory, or else we'll have revolts and heads will literally roll, which would be unpleasant.

        • by rjstanford (69735) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:30AM (#45887765) Homepage Journal

          Very true. With companies not "sharing the wealth" and favoring owners over employees in almost every case, this becomes a very real problem since most people are employees first and foremost (often only).

          There's plenty to go around, too - our country's GDP is booming. Its just that none of that wealth is being shared. Oddly enough, the pain when a recession comes is shared very quickly.

        • by frinkster (149158)

          The only solution, really, is some sort of socialist system, with higher taxes for the high-earners so that everyone has a fair share of the increased productivity.

          This is not the only solution - although you are right that we need to give more people a share in the economy. Our society needs to recognize that highly productive people work too much [chicagobooth.edu] and would be happier if the worked less and earned less. Yes, one of the world's elite business schools says that productive people work too much.

          We have become much more productive—output per hour worked increased more than fourfold between 1950 and 2012... In the United States, the average working year went from 1,963 hours in 1950 to 1,790 hours last year, a drop of less than 10%.

          Research shows that highly productive people would be far happier (and still have plenty of economic security) if they worked fewer hours. If the amount of work to do doesn't ch

        • I don't really believe we can or should tax our way out of the problem. Taxes can do many things but they are not the be all and end all solution to systemic problems. At some point is it not the case that adding more sumps is not the real answer to the boat taking on water.

          The thing is, corporations are government chartered. They recieve limited liability in exchange for meeting certain regulations, without which, they would have trouble existing and operating as they do today.

          Corperate structures account for far more of the economy than the government. Simply shuttling money up through them isn't the answer, you need to fix the corperate structures to not require as much central redistribution.

          Frankly, I think we need to look at funding models and how to create more independent companies that are not beholden to stock markets and venture capital. Companies built around the idea that profits are part of the means by which we do our job and put food on our tables, not the be all and end all target for their own sake.

          To use a simple example. A coffee shop should be opened and chartered to provide the community with excellent coffee and atmosphere for social gathering. Profits keep it in business, and keep the owner and workers able to do it, and able to live and enjoy these things like everyone else. It is entirely backwards to look at providing coffee as a means to profit.

      • and then you may see more people working less people pulling 60-80 weeks as is cheaper then hiring 2 people for 40 each.

      • by MightyYar (622222) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:31AM (#45887775)

        There are many problems, and we aren't going to work them all out on Slashdot :)

        One reason that people work at McDonald's with college degrees is that the traditional, elite "liberal arts" education is sold as a job-getter to non-elites. Sure, a wealthy man can find a job for his liberal-arts educated son. Good luck to the liberal-arts educated guy whose dad is a factory worker, or even in prison. For most people in the middle or lower classes, college should be used to develop an actual skill. A liberal-arts education is great, but it is a luxury unless one can be assured that they will attend graduate school.

        With the disappearance of factory jobs, we really are leaving our high-school graduates hanging out to dry. Good paying jobs require more skill now, and I think if we want to maintain a non-college track, we should seriously consider extending free pubilc education through associates-level courses.

        Massive numbers of factory jobs are gone. Probably forever. We can blame robots, China, or whatever but the reality is that they are gone. We need to be realistic about what the next generation of kids needs to have a shot at a middle class lifestyle.

      • by Koreantoast (527520) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:34AM (#45887797)
        Completely agree: the economic impact of this shift cannot be overstated. This shift is what's driving the hollowing out of the middle class: all of those white collar, skilled jobs are being wiped out by greater efficiencies. True, it's probably employing a software programmer somewhere, but that is at the expense of thousands of paralegals and even lawyers. The brutal reality is this: the system rewards the small handful of top performers at the expense of thousands of rank and file / competent but mediocre folks underneath them. Society is going to have to figure out what to do with all these people, or there will be hell to pay.
    • by TWX (665546) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @09:53AM (#45887329)
      Unfortunately there's way too much neglect in the industry right now. I drive around the city that I live in and more than half of the pedestals are cracked open, with plastic bags wrapped over the distribution blocks to keep water off of them. The cable and phone companies are neglecting their infrastructure and given the number of years that this has been a problem, they don't seem interested in hiring the staff or paying for the materials to fix these problems correctly.

      As far as data centers, network management, and the like, the industry has headed toward ever smaller and more powerful machines, virtualization, and equipment that needs less knowledge to support it. Autoprogramming switches, that sort of thing. It's also becoming more prevalent to outsource instead of having staff on-hand, so that's not exactly helping to push us toward full employment either.

      In short, it's all screwed up.
    • by DogDude (805747)
      None of the things you mention provide many jobs, especially compared to the industries being replaced. It's not as simple as you seem to be making it out to be.
    • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:08AM (#45887507)

      - Build and maintain networks
      - Building data centres (construction)
      - Network management and services (ISPs, etc...)
      - IT support (hundreds of thousands of jobs and probably millions, small consultant companies and mom and pop shops)
      - Research has tremendously increase

      Continued developments in server and infrastructure technology are introducing major efficiency, automation and density improvements that will significantly reduce the need for jobs in all but the last of those points. So you better start looking for the next trend now.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by DarkOx (621550)

      Most of those jobs are white collar though and often require substantial investments in education which statistically pays off, but statistically works out and works out for an individual are not always the same.

      There are still jobs like welder, that people can still go get hired and trained to do right out of high school but these are rapidly disappearing.

      Labor saving technology created opportunities for just about everyone on; automation is creating opportunities for capital owners, and certain groups of

    • by Above (100351) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:23AM (#45887683)

      Actually I think if you look at the number of jobs created in those industries, and a realistic picture of the number of jobs they replaced in other industries the numbers are still significantly negative.

      Let me use one simple example of the old way, compared to the new way, looking only at jobs in America. 20 years ago a product built in China would be shipped here on a boat. A team of 20 or so long shore man would unload the boat. 200 truck drivers would take the goods to an importers warehouse, employing another 200 to sort them. 5 customs inspectors would go over everything on the boat and make sure it passed muster. Another 200 drivers would set out across America to middle man warehouses. Each of those 200 warehouses would employ another 200 people to unload the trucks, break down boxes, sort, pick, and build new bundles, and send them to mom and pop stores in their area. Each mom and pop store would then employ 10-20 people to stay operating.

      The new way is that your iPhone is ordered online by a computer run by a fraction of personafter all a sysadmin these days can take care of a few thousand machines. It is made in China and put on a FedEx plane. A team of 3 pilots brings it to the US. 1 customs inspector spot checks a few things match the computer generated invoice. Perhaps a hundred folks at the FedEx shipping center help sort that package. Another 3 pilots take it to the destination city, where 1 loader puts it on a truck for 1 driver to drop off at your door.

      That is supply chain efficiency. No inventory in warehouses, which means no warehouses. No middle men. No or limited retail stores. Handle the package a minimum number of times, don't let it sit around collecting dust and depreciating while tying up capital. It's all driven by computerized supply chain management.

      And this doesn't even address the issue that many of our goods are so cheap now as to be disposable, eliminating whole industries of repair. Remember when their used to be TV Repair Shops? Yeah, those all went away when a new TV became $200.

      So yes, there are millions of new jobs, but there's also no shortage of information suggesting that workers are more productive with technology, which means one new worker can do the job of more than one old-school worker. That's net negative for the job market. When we were at full employment that was good, freeing up some people to do new things, but now that we're at less than full employment it could quickly become a downward spiral as there are no new jobs, people go unemployed, lose skills, and stop contributing to the economy.

      • by Hulfs (588819) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @12:06PM (#45888663)

        As someone who has worked in the logistics industry now for about 10 years, currently pretty much everything about your post is factually incorrect.

        iPhones are shipped via ocean cargoships, they are domestically warehoused, and domestically shipped primarily via truck. I know this because my previous employer handled the supply chain logistics and domestic warehousing/staffing for the iPhone.

        Also, look to the trade consortiums and trade lobbies for why there are fewer customs inspectors - not electronic/mechanical efficiencies.

        Until planes can carry hundreds of shipping containers worth of goods or the number of air routes is vastly increased ocean shipments are going to be vastly less expensive for all but niche markets - .ie seafood is one current market where a majority of product is air shipped.

    • Also he completely ignores the motivation "Greed is good" behind using technology to gain an advantage and instead blames the technology. Technology will advance and corporations have exploited it just like they've exploited natural resources like oil. Don't blame the technology for how people decide to use it. For example, what lead to the financial crisis was the fact that everybody was chasing the next big score on Wall Street. For them that meant trading in unregulated derivatives with credit defaul
    • Seriously, his story is almost the same as "Robotics and Automation" is stealing all our jobs. But then they forgot the support industry for these new technologies.

      There's quite a lot of evidence that job creation has ground to a halt in the US.

      During the Clinton administration, the average annual increase in jobs created was over 2.5% per year. With a couple of exceptions, the figure has always been over 1% at least.

      Since 2000, that figure dropped to 0% and 0.21% during GWB's two terms. Obama's first term was also 0.21%. There's not much indication that his second term will create many more.

      Once you factor in population growth, job growth has actually been negative

  • by little1973 (467075) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @09:34AM (#45887151)

    limited resources divided by more people = people are poorer

    More efficient use of resources can somewhat mitigate this process but see Jevos paradox:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox [wikipedia.org]

  • by Jason Levine (196982) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @09:35AM (#45887167)

    Here I thought the financial crisis was caused by lenders approving loans they knew people wouldn't be able to pay off and then packaging those loans together and pawning them off on other people and so on through the pyramid until the entire scheme inevitably collapsed. Nope. It wasn't greed on the part of the bankers and lenders. It was the Internet! Technology is to blame. And do you know who's behind technology? Scientists! Yup, if we'd all go back to being completely ignorant and subservient to the rich folks who tell us what to think then everything would go back to those wonderful days when everyone was happy.

    [/sarcasm]

    Wait... who put these extra-strength rose colored glasses on my face?

    • by netsavior (627338) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:02AM (#45887437)
      There is a kernel of truth there. The 1990s saw a radical re-tooling of our banking infrastructure, especially in home loans (this is where I worked from 1998-2012). Internet transactions allowed banks to outsource, consolidate, and "internetize" things like credit checks (even credit disputes and recoveries), appraisals, surveys, title policies, tax settlement, flood hazard determinations, insurance policies, and even underwriting. By 2005 the large bank I worked for could literally do 100% of the paperwork in 36 seconds (that was the fastest recorded time for all 5 phases while I worked there) once data collection was done on the client side. This was an impossibility before radical adoption of the internet.

      30 days and 50 eyeballs would have caught MANY irregularities that slipped through during the subprime heyday. The re-tooling allowed executives free reign to dial in risk to whatever level they wanted, independent of all of the "people" based safety nets in the past. Real people, who are really face to face with a young family aren't going to sell them a foreclosure bomb as eagerly as a system that is told to run at 10% expected default rate will.

      So, while widespread subprime exploitation by executive mandate did cause the financial crisis, it is impossible to defeat the conscience of 200,000 employees, but internet enabled lending workflows intentionally had no such safety mechanism.
      • by dkleinsc (563838) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @11:48AM (#45888483) Homepage

        30 days and 50 eyeballs would have caught MANY irregularities that slipped through during the subprime heyday

        I worked for one of the companies that was handling the title policies and such for a well-known subprime lender for about 6 months back in 2005 (hey, my alternative was not paying the rent). Those kind of mortgages weren't "irregularities", they were the majority of the mortgages I saw in our database. I was not surprised when the company that was issuing those mortgages went under.

  • Once upon a time (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @09:38AM (#45887185)

    Once upon a time 100% percent of GDP was produced by farmers but rising farming efficiency rendered many farmers unnecessary. Once upon a time the vast majority of the middle classes worked in factories but rising efficiency from automation made many redundant. Once upon a time all administrative tasks where written and calculated by hand by vast numbers of office workers. New forms of economy rise whenever efficiency pushes people out of work. But I can't pretend that I'm not a little worried. Any such new form of economic activity will need time and stability to form.

    • The internet now makes it possible to blow up industries faster than ever before - so fast we don't have time to retrain and reabsorb the people displaced by the changes.

      Any one change is good for the consumer and bad/disruptive for the producers, because the particular good or service is now cheaper.

      The problem comes in when everything changes at once, and all the changes make people less necessary.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @09:38AM (#45887191)

    I stopped reading the summary right there - that was one of the dumbest things I've seen claimed in a long, long time.

    Maybe network efficiencies caused Hurricane Sandy to hit New York, too...

  • by mbone (558574) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @09:39AM (#45887199)

    The billionaires are destroying the middle class, by extracting their wealth; Internet efficiencies are just one means they use to do that. This is, simply put, not inevitable, and if the power structures were different, the Internet would be enriching, not destroying, the middle class.

    How to change that, and the end game if it is not changed, are left as exercises for the reader.

  • by davidannis (939047) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @09:40AM (#45887213) Homepage
    even if the problem was not oversimplified. The problem is less that productivity increased but more that political power is more concentrated. I get micropayments for some of my content now, using Google's adsense. It's not enough to buy a cup of coffee a day and I've worked at it. Fundamentally, the problem is how society is structured and the balance between the power of labor and capital. We've seen other great revolutions in productivity from the agricultural to the industrial revolutions. When society distributes those gains more equitably, civilization flourishes and standards of living go up.
  • by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @09:50AM (#45887293) Journal
    Marx barked about this back in the 19th century. This is not news. The most expensive part of a business is labour. If profit is the most important thing, then labour must be squeezed. So, if online profits are the most important thing, then online labour at no cost is perfect. Lanier is wrong - this is not a call to micropayments, this is a call to (a non-soviet form of) socialism, a socialism of organised networks based on telekommunist principles of contribution and guaranteed wages in a socialised economy.
    • by dermond (33903)
      100% agree. its already in the manifesto: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch01.htm [marxists.org]

      .. In these crises, there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity — the epidemic of over-production. Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation, had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Be

  • my take... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Connie_Lingus (317691) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @09:54AM (#45887349) Homepage

    ...is that this guy's girlfriend left him for the web developer at his company.

  • by evilRhino (638506) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @09:56AM (#45887365)
    It's not as though this is a new problem, wealth concentrated in few hands. It can be solved the same way it was in the past. Increase the income tax at the highest levels to 75% for incomes over $1 million and use the revenue gains for public works projects. Make University level education free. Invest in research like the human genome project. Rebuild all the countries bridges and highways. Demolish ruined buildings and create public parks. The money is there and the manpower is here.
    • by rjstanford (69735)

      I'd take that a step further; an effective estate tax at around ~$20 million or so. The trouble with wealth concentration is that it snowballs; if you have a situation in which people are roughly equal then you'll be sharing the wealth nicely (after all, America's GDP has more than recovered from the last recession, its just that the employees haven't significantly benefitted from the recovery).

      Once you have even a bit of wealth concentration, unchecked you'll eventually end up with a massive problem thank

  • by bravecanadian (638315) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:03AM (#45887455)

    I think it is only one of the methods.

    We might have finally reached the tipping point where there will be no new sector for all the displaced workers to migrate to.

    Agriculture > Industry > Knowledge workers.. each shift seems to have required progressively less workers which is why we now have the Service sector. ie. crap jobs where people are treated like disposal items.

    With the price of automation falling and the playing field internationally being so unfair to manual labour in most developed countries.. how can there continue to be a middle class? I don't see it.

    Where are displaced people supposed to find jobs now when every industry has become more and more efficient with technology while using less and less people?

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:03AM (#45887457) Journal

    This smells distinctly like someone had an idea ("The internet is destroying the middle class!") and then busily started beavering away trying to jam every square peg into that round-hole of conclusion.

    Kodak was absolutely NOT destroyed by the internet, not by any way. It was annihilated by digital CAMERAS. It's only with a staggering misunderstanding of recent history and a stunning lack of historical memory that someone could assert that something released in 2010 destroyed a company that was shedding jobs a half-decade before. (15000 jobs cut in 2004 alone).

    To suggest that "the internet" led to the financial crisis is simply ignorant; the (most recent) financial crisis had its roots in the subprime-mortgage industry, which (depending on whom you believe, and probably your politics) was a failure of collusive non-regulation, unbridled mercenary greed, the Democrats, the Republicans, or the Illuminati. Only by a complete misunderstanding of the circumstances could one believe that electronic trading (I guess?) might have had something to do with it, but EVEN THEN fund traders don't use the interwebs, they have dedicated lines because even a 0.5 second delay would mean a massive competitive disadvantage.

    NETWORKS are allowing companies of any size to compete successfully around firms like Wal-Mart and Target (who themselves destroyed small-town businesses). Networks mean everyone's competing in a flatter environment, informationally - that's a good thing, pretty much per economics 101. (Well, it's not good for the non-competitive; are they a 'protected class' now?)

    Joe Nocera, by the way, is a "business" columnist/commentator who has a penchant for taking a reasonable position to silly extremes, so I guess this isn't such a surprise.

  • Businesses always choose their own profit margins over the wellbeing of their customers. They consider customers are only there to be exploited, without considering the long term effects...
    For instance look at outsourcing production to places like china... The cheap laborers who make your goods in china aren't paid enough to buy them, and neither are the now unemployed people in your home country. By keeping people employed back home you might have to pay your workers more, but a healthier economy would also ensure more potential customers.

  • by sandbagger (654585) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:09AM (#45887515)

    The internet is a component of that. I have a deck of COBOL cards in a box somewhere and yep, it all goes back to that. All of the clerking and moving bits of paper around jobs are gone. There are no more mail rooms in companies, no more box stacking jobs, there are no more middle managers. I could buy a car anywhere in the world using my phone in under a minute.

    We're either looking at medieval rates of income disparity or much higher taxes to prevent revolution. I think what will happen is that some countries (the EU/Canada/Australia/Japan) will use the US as a dirty lab for some of the higher risk stuff of capitalism while maintaining a firewall to maintain civilization.

  • Shocking facts (Score:5, Informative)

    by StripedCow (776465) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:15AM (#45887587)
  • by Krneki (1192201) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:17AM (#45887611)

    The problem is not automation (we are doing this since the industrial revolution), but the distribution of wealth.

    Stop wasting time in the wrong direction FFS.

  • not the goal (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Torvac (691504) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:31AM (#45887785)
    the fruits of modern technology abused for corporate interests. that is a big part of what is killing classes. instead of making life better and easier for everyone its all about profits for a few lazy thiefs. ofc those in power have an interest in destroying the lower classes, else their system cant work - be it technology, silly laws, propaganda and religion.
  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:43AM (#45887881)

    Just write in railroad everywhere you see internet.

    It's pretty idiotic. The internet led to a massive economic boom in the 1990's. 10's of millions of new jobs created.

    What we are suffering from now is the aftermath of a debt collapse that has nothing to do with the internet.

  • by nimbius (983462) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:45AM (#45887903) Homepage
    im pretty sure the death of the middle class was ushered in by a combination of wanton and reckless deregulation which encouraged predatory and fraudulent lending markets leading to a subprime lending crisis that precipitated massive foreclosures which in turn plunged major economic sectors into default requiring trillions of dollars of subsidies be paid to a concentrated minority of powerful multinational companies. historical analysis confirms this sharp decline was predicated by liberal trade deregulation and labor union suppression in the form of the north american free trade act and the reagan PATCO strikebusting event of 1981 as well as various lesser publicized pension reforms and right to work legislative endeavors which relegated blue collar jobs once responsible for middle class lifestyles to the working poor.

    but yeah, i can see how billionaires could mistake that complex chain of events for the turbo button on their linksys
  • Baby steps - (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Darth Snowshoe (1434515) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:47AM (#45887915)

    It would be an awesome first step if we could all just agree that the middle class (at least in America) is in decline from what it was one generation or two generations ago, and that that has several bad consequences, and that we should try to think of ways to reverse this trend.

    I think it would be reasonable to admit that it does look as though a lot of currently-existing good-paying jobs (and even notso good) are being automated away, and that we don't really have much sense of what jobs all those displaced workers might be doing a decade or two in the future. I can easily google up lots of examples of current attempts at automating away whole classes of workers - bus drivers, teachers, care-givers for seniors, farm workers, guards and night watchmen, legal and actuarial staff. Logically, if the costs per unit output were more for these automated methods, (once the design, support, IT etc was included) than for the labor-intensive solution, then no one would be pursuing them. I don't see anything in recent economic history that leads me to believe the higher profits yielded by these automated techniques will be shared with the remaining workers. I doubt that too many of the displaced bus drivers or farm workers are ever going to be retrained as robot maintainers (or whatever new jobs are created.)

    Most likely outcome: management is going to develop and use automation wherever it can, let go as many workers as the automation allows it to, and keep the profits. Productivity goes up, but the remaining workers don't get much in higher wages. Economic value (e.g. money, capital) continues to be concentrated at the top of the economic pyramid, where it is stockpiled and rendered useless.

  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:54AM (#45887973)

    May it's time to change full time to 20-32 hours a week with an say min level of say 100K+COL to have someone on NO OT salary.

    Maybe also have forced comp time / any use it or lose it use it or lose vacation policy must pay out the lost time as some people can't get the time off and or comp time goes to vacation but the work load is to high to use it all.

  • by MarkvW (1037596) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:56AM (#45887999)

    We're getting Wal-Marted to death, and the libertarians want to argue about Kodak.

    There's no convincing them. They'll be touting the virtues of the unrestrained free market right through the next depression.

  • by ErichTheRed (39327) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @10:57AM (#45888001)

    I do worry about what's coming next for the middle class, and that's coming from someone who's firmly in the "knowledge worker" camp. The reality of this is that the traditional "corporate drone" job is rapidly being replaced by software automation or cheaper labor. Futurists who see a bright Star Trek-style utopia at the end of this change, in my opinion, are overlooking some very big problems:

    - The loss of safe, stable corporate employment is going to cause a huge shift in people's standard of living. There are millions of people who get up, get in their car, go to an office, take a stack of input work, perform some process on it, forward it to the output queue, and repeat this 5 days a week. I think most IT people can relate -- we support lots of people doing these jobs. All of that is going to disappear. Now you're going to have a chunk of the population who is suddenly unemployed, broke, and has no way to support itself to the same standard. Think about the office environment of the 60s vs. now -- no more secretary, no more typing pool, way fewer bookkeepers, way fewer middle managers. All those workers in the 60s made enough to buy houses, cars, vacations, etc. and keep the economy running. Now most people who want to consume are forced into debt.

    - There's no getting around the bell curve. It's impolite to say, but not everyone is or can be a knowledge worker. (I'm no genius either, so I'm not trying to be snobby or elitist.) We've already hollowed out the lower end of the curve by killing manufacturing jobs. Someone with an IQ of 98 is much better suited to performing a repetitive assembly line task with no independent thought. Those people used to be able to work in factories at a wage that at least allowed them a few nice things once in a while. Now, all those people are working minimum wage jobs or unemployed.

    - Right now, there is no appetite for ideas like providing everyone a subsidy. Unemployment insurance in the US is a joke and the idea of a universal income will never fly with those who have more than average.

    I definitely don't want to go back to a world without computers and automation, but I think we need to seriously consider the problems that complete automation of all routine tasks will create for society in general. The standard answer when anyone brings up concerns is that better, new jobs will get created. What will these be? I can't see a future form of employment that takes the full spectrum of people's abilities into account and makes everyone's lives better. When you can't even fall back on fast food, or driving a taxi, what's next??

  • be prepared (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo (965947) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @11:03AM (#45888055) Homepage Journal

    If you want to replace people with "efficiencies" then be prepared for, and learn to live with, a larger welfare state.

    You only need so many greeters at Wal-Mart. Only so many domestic workers. Further, there is a limit to how much a domestic worker will be paid. Remember, in the England of "Upstairs/Downstairs" the domestic workers were forced to wear different bonnets to church so they wouldn't be mistaken for proper ladies. Rich people don't want poor people to live as well as they do.

    We just might be reaching a point where there just aren't enough new things for people to do to make a living. So, we can either accept that we will have to have a larger, more equitable and robust welfare state, or start being willing to embrace some very ugly solutions like mass population reduction. And except for the most ardent neo-libertarians, people usually aren't comfortable with forced population reductions.

    The thing you CAN'T have when people are being put out of work by efficiencies is an expectation that people work longer hours for less pay and higher productivity.

    Here we are, in the 21st century, and people are working longer hours. I don't think technology was supposed to result in people working harder, and more people at the bottom. Technology wasn't supposed to result in less economic and social mobility. Technology wasn't supposed to result in a lowering of standards of living and greater economic uncertainty.

    You want that increased efficiency? Then be prepared for people working fewer hours for more pay. For two or three people doing jobs that were once done by one person. And for a much stronger social safety net.

    • by stenvar (2789879) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @11:35AM (#45888341)

      Imagine we could make everything we make today with half as much work. What would happen? In a rational society, everybody could choose to work half as much, earn just as much, and enjoy the extra leisure time. Why isn't that happening? Simple: hiring two workers that each work less is a lot harder for companies than hiring a single "full time" worker: there are all sorts of costs and overheads associated with each new worker. Additionally, taxes and regulations mean that it is hard simply to exist as a part time worker, since there is a high "cost of entry" simply for existing as an independent human being in this society. The fault isn't with "rich people", it's with progressive social policies that are increasingly harmful.

      What you propose, a massive welfare state, isn't the answer to these problems; half the nation working "full time" while supporting an underclass of jobless is demeaning and wrong. The answer is to remove the obstacles and to allow people to live and work more flexibly.

  • by Agent0013 (828350) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @11:22AM (#45888221) Journal
    This kind of reminds me of the book Extras, the fourth in the Pretties series by Scott Westerfeld. I takes place in a future world driven by a reputation economy. Many people have hovercam robots that take video of events to post on the internet. The more your feeds get watched the more money you earn. There are other ways to have reputation, like being famous or whatever, but the main character does the news feeds thing. The whole series was pretty cool actually. In fact, the author has many other books I ended up reading that I really enjoyed also.
  • by stenvar (2789879) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @11:28AM (#45888281)

    If you want to get micropayments for content you create, go ahead, try to charage: if your content is good enough, people will pay. They are paying, after all, for apps, digital subscriptions, etc. The legal framework exists, all you need to supply is a product.

    Charging "every time your information is used", however, is a non-starter. In a free society, being able to talk about each other freely is essential. Trying to restrict this amounts to fascism. But, then, a lot of these gurus that promise to reorganize our society in better ways are really fascists at heart, both on the left and on the right.

  • by erroneus (253617) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @11:35AM (#45888335) Homepage

    Oh we don't need to look any further than the constant concentration of wealth.

    The wealthy want more. Where can they get it? From the greatest consumers of all? No. Those are the poor. Of all the people who are famous for living beyond their means, it is the poor. Mostly, that's why they are poor. So that's not it.

    The middle class still believe the harder you work, the better you will be. That's an endless amount of drive. Surely they will continue being middle class even after they become poor. What's killing the middle class? Lack of working opportunities. Where are they going and why? We know these answers. What gets me are all these consumer oriented businesses who can't see they are destroying their customers and when they are gone, where will they turn?

    Idiots.

  • by erp_consultant (2614861) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @11:52AM (#45888537)

    The Kodak reference really hit home for me. My father was an immigrant and came to America with little in the way of marketable skills or education. But he worked at Kodak his whole career and made a good salary. They treated him well and even gave him a pension for all his years of hard work. My aunt - his sister - also worked there. You know what her job was? She stuffed little tins of film into little boxes on an assembly line. Not a very exciting job I'm sure but it afforded her a decent middle class lifestyle.

    Those jobs are largely gone today, and with it, the opportunity for many people to reach up and join the middle class. Those of us in IT are fortunate to be on the right side of the digital divide. Not everyone is cut out to be a software engineer or a doctor or a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Who speaks for them?

    It used to be only assembly line jobs that were being replaced by cheap overseas labor. Now it's moving up the chain and we're seeing IT jobs being moved to cheaper markets. We've seen it disrupt the careers of Travel Agents, Real Estate Agents and people that sell cars. I think the medical field is next. It won't be long before your annual checkup is done by a Doctor in India via Skype. All in the name of progress....and profits.

    I'm closer to retirement than college now so I don't worry about me. I worry about the younger generation and what kind of world we are leaving for them.

  • by ewibble (1655195) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @12:48PM (#45889155)

    Its not the internet's fault, it the economic systems fault, there is nothing wrong with 13 people to replacing 140,000 peoples jobs, I know its not exactly an accurate example, but if it is true its a good thing, isn't it? It is about still providing an environment in which those 140,000 people can live, be happy, and contribute to society. Our current economic system was set up in an environment where we needed to produce more just to get the basics of life. That has changed, now we seem to be producing more for the sake of consuming more.

    As we get more an more efficient and it takes less and less people to produce items (e.g. imagine a robot could replace a person) the natural result in our current economic system to concentrate the wealth with fewer people (the robot manufacturer).

    We as a society need to rethink our goal as an economy, is our only goal to continually increase GDP, or is it to become a happier, healthier society. After a certain point they are not the same thing. How do we distribute wealth? I don't support just giving people an equal share, people work try hard should be rewarded, but to what level? The entire human race has contributed to the knowledge we now have, not just a few individuals. Is it fair that a few individuals can claim the rewards? I think we will loose a lot if remove the rest of the population from the people who are enabled to create/innovate, because they are reduced to just trying to survive, or don't survive at all.

    I don't blame the rich, they are just doing what comes naturally with the system, trying to make themselves richer, after all isn't that what we are told is the definition of success? I think that definition of success is wrong.

  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @02:07PM (#45890259) Homepage

    Basic truth: it just doesn't take that many people to make all the stuff any more.

    In the US, 14% of the workforce makes all the stuff - that's manufacturing, mining, construction, and agriculture. 50 years ago, that number was around 40%. In the 19th century, around 90%. For most of history, the big problem was making enough stuff. Today, that's a solved problem. There are no significant shortages of anything in the developed world.

    So what will people do? Here's US employment by sector. [bls.gov] For a few decades, additional employment in service industries took up much of the workforce. It still does in the US. That's where computers and the Internet have made a big dent. Much of the middle class was doing some form of manual "information processing". Computers do much of that now, faster and more cheaply. Paper pushing is a dying industry. (The paper industry itself is in deep trouble. We passed "max paper" a few years ago.)

    That's only getting started. There are many legacy sectors which still employ large numbers of people, and they're being gradually knocked off by less-labor intensive approaches. Retail is the next to go - Amazon is replacing brick-and-mortar retail. No new indoor mall has been built in the US in the last ten years. Computers even sell now - that's what all the "ad targeting" and "recommendations" do.

    Employment growth is mostly in health care, leisure and hospitality, and professional services. Eventually, health care will solve its paper-pushing problem, which will downsize that sector. Most of the rest of the new jobs in those sectors are low-paying ones.

    This is a great achievement. Our society has no clue how to deal with it. Where a market-based system takes us is a world with a few winners and a huge number of losers who can't generate enough wealth through work to buy much. France, Germany, and the Scandanavian countries are trying to develop policies to deal with it. Maybe they'll find something that works.

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