Employment: Good or Bad

Incohesive Fragments

When I began this note I imagined a cohesive argument. I did not happen.
Economists and others quote employment figures and celebrate high employment. Recently this has often been in the context of worrying about automation. The ostensible reason to celebrate high employment figures is that more people are doing well. I agree with that. (Some of my values will gradually emerge in this note I think.) In many contexts far removed from economics it is often considered an inconvenience that “You have to go to work now.”. We explore this contradiction.

When we consider the ‘efficiency’ of a machine we divide its useful output by the burden upon it surroundings of keeping it going. To divide we put both of these into money units. When the machine is a factory one of the burdens is the labor effort to make it go. To the factory owner more labor means less efficient.


I am suspicious of the common thought that wages improve with productivity. Holding some labor sector constant, improved productivity decreases demand for labor and we know that decreased demand decreases prices (wages). The big hole is that laborers can move to other sectors and the general economy improves and that increases standards of living. I can take my decreased wages and buy better things than I could before!
Speaking of dividing, I find the term labor productivity problematic. I suppose it is the quotient of output of some process and labor input. What about situations where labor has been eliminated. We get infinity. Sometimes that is OK but it plays poorly with averages of number sets that include infinity. Labor costs would serve as well and avoid this problem.
I am not a radical in the sense that I have a plan to make everyone happy (at least the “good people”). I read with great alarm quotes from Lenin, Marx, Trotsky that portray them as people absolutely sure of themselves and their plans to solve the worlds problems. I have no such plans. Revolutions seldom have happy endings. I think we must find a way to muddle thru. It might help to find a good place, however, if we had a view of the larger landscape.
I am lazy. In this note you will find that ‘labor’ is something to be avoided. I have been lucky in that almost all of my life I was paid to do the things I wanted to do and I did not consider them to be ‘labor’. Many people are not so lucky. There are jobs that need to be done that I cannot imagine anyone enjoying, such as “Bill collector”. In my utopia I would like to minimize labor and yet increase most people’s standard of living. I don’t know how to do that. All utopias that have been tried have ended poorly. I suspect that you will have to pay bill collectors well. (Military too.)
I think it was Lenin who opined that running a factory took no more intelligence than working on an assembly line. He took it as manifest that the factory operator would get the same salary as the worker. I am not in favor of equality, except equality before the law. I might be in favor of more equality than we have now. I suspect that billionaire philanthropists usually do more good per dollar spent than most government handouts.
Who owns the robots? This is never discussed. How did they come to own the robots. If it was their innovation or management skills and it means that we can live as well while working much less, then they get some credit. I am a bit bummed that this aspect is seldom mentioned. True, it may be a bumpy road ahead before we get ‘there’.
Universal Basic Income?
Perhaps. I dread a democracy where people outright vote on their income. I am stumped.
Older note:

If you assume that people work to be paid so that they can consume, and work no more than they need to earn enough by buy what they need, and do not need much, then they will work little and the wealth produced and consumed will be small. It is conventional wisdom, I think, that people work a lot because they want to consume a lot. With modest consumption our working hours would presumably become modest.

If the economy is merely the efficient expression of division of labor, then the economy will shrink because the ultimate demand shrinks.

In some sense the people is the only element of the economy that does not need to make a profit.

Perhaps scaling the value of money with time makes this perspective align with classical perspectives.