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Is The Average Human Brain Immune To Creative Destruction


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Whenever the prospect of technology destroying jobs in large numbers is discussed the argument is often made that this will never happen- an argument based on historical precedents that show that as technology advances it produces an effect called 'creative destruction' in which new jobs are spawned even as the old jobs are destroyed.

But there is a possible flaw in this argument if the average human brain is considered as an applied technology. Because from this perspective the average human brain should logically be subject to the rule of creative destruction itself- and so will one day find itself on the wrong side of the process.

So the exact luddite argument often levelled at those who say that automation will in the end replace large numbers of jobs can itself be levelled at those who deny this possibility.

What could be more luddite than to insist that the average human brain could never be replaced by technology. Is this any different than the original luddites insisting that they were-or should be irreplaceable?

So if creative destruction is the process by which older technologies are replaced by newer ones- is there any reason to believe this process cannot also apply to the technology represented by the average brain? I don't think there is.

So while it's possible to claim that at the cutting edge of discovery and innovation human brains will continue to dominate into the far future- the role of the average person's brain in that future may well be more limited than is supposed- barring any sudden evolution in the abilities of the average citizens level of intelligence and creativity.

So there is nothing in the logic of the creative destruction process to offer special status to human brains- they too can be made redundant by newer technological solutions that may not duplicate entirely the humans involved- but can duplicate and surpass their input in the production process.

Which leads to another really obvious point that is rarely even discussed; why is it that robots can create supply, but not create demand?

I have no problem with the idea that a machine can be productive- but have a real problem with the idea that machine could be a 'consumer' of product- the end user of a product.

So while production can be adequately described in terms of purely mechanical inputs and outputs- consumption seems to require more than this mechanical model to capture it's essence. In order to explain consumption we need to incorporate the ideas of desire and aspiration- ideas that are almost spiritual in nature.

To put it crudely we cannot imagine a robot consumer because we know that a robot has no 'soul'- no inner being who can want things- this 'wanting' seems to unique to living organisms in general and humans in particular.

So we end with a paradox. The more we automate our production and exclude humans from that process the less need there is for that production to take place because those humans no longer have the means to input their desire into the process- they have no wages.

So the more productive we become- the less need there is for that productivity. Only human desire gives meaning to the productive process- yet we seek to remove humans from participation in that process.

So we start from a place where all that matters is the cold hard logic of productivity and efficiency but discover that none of that matters in the absence of something that is neither hard nor logical- the innermost wishes and desires of the human heart.

We are the ghost in the productivity machine- without that ghost there may be production- but there can be no fulfilment.

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Blimey !

One problem though is the fact that the world seems to be becoming more not less complex. Its true that older simpler models of employment may become redundant but the future would seem to require highly adaptive (that is to say conscious) brains.

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Do not forget that one can meld man and machine. The brain can be improved/augmented by technology - in the past this was a simple effort of using tools, today it's by being able to use (and actually have) a laptop computer, in the future it will be a much more integrated matter of biological brain and man-made technology.

What matters is that the "human" part of us doesn't die out - that would be the end of humanity. But a fusion of man and machine - which has been happening since the first tools thousands of years ago - is what will keep humans productive and necessary even with robots etc around.

It does mean of course those humans who are not equiped/upgraded will be scrap. Basically if you're third-world around about 2035 you're fcked forever. Probably why the Chinese are doing their best to be first-world by around then.

Edited by Chuffy Chuffnell
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I think you're worrying a bit prematurely about this one - robots are a long way off from serving our every need.

However, when the day does come, the concern should be about how the spoils of such automation should be shared, not whether it should occur or not. Rent seeking through intellectual property monopolies could be counter productive. Open source robots on the other extreme could share the wealth very well.

edit: typo

Edited by Traktion
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Whenever the prospect of technology destroying jobs in large numbers is discussed the argument is often made that this will never happen- an argument based on historical precedents that show that as technology advances it produces an effect called 'creative destruction' in which new jobs are spawned even as the old jobs are destroyed.

Aye aye.

But there is a possible flaw in this argument if the average human brain is considered as an applied technology. Because from this perspective the average human brain should logically be subject to the rule of creative destruction itself- and so will one day find itself on the wrong side of the process.

Can't see why that would ever happen. The ability to make housing out of logs out in the woods is still available, even if you can't access modern methods, you can just use old ones.

So the exact luddite argument often levelled at those who say that automation will in the end replace large numbers of jobs can itself be levelled at those who deny this possibility.

What could be more luddite than to insist that the average human brain could never be replaced by technology. Is this any different than the original luddites insisting that they were-or should be irreplaceable?

Yes, of course it is. The luddites wanted to maintain their standard of living rather than face the fact that they weren't worththat much any more, and then got violent about it.

So if creative destruction is the process by which older technologies are replaced by newer ones- is there any reason to believe this process cannot also apply to the technology represented by the average brain? I don't think there is.

So while it's possible to claim that at the cutting edge of discovery and innovation human brains will continue to dominate into the far future- the role of the average person's brain in that future may well be more limited than is supposed- barring any sudden evolution in the abilities of the average citizens level of intelligence and creativity.

So there is nothing in the logic of the creative destruction process to offer special status to human brains- they too can be made redundant by newer technological solutions that may not duplicate entirely the humans involved- but can duplicate and surpass their input in the production process.

Which leads to another really obvious point that is rarely even discussed; why is it that robots can create supply, but not create demand?

I have no problem with the idea that a machine can be productive- but have a real problem with the idea that machine could be a 'consumer' of product- the end user of a product.

So while production can be adequately described in terms of purely mechanical inputs and outputs- consumption seems to require more than this mechanical model to capture it's essence. In order to explain consumption we need to incorporate the ideas of desire and aspiration- ideas that are almost spiritual in nature.

To put it crudely we cannot imagine a robot consumer because we know that a robot has no 'soul'- no inner being who can want things- this 'wanting' seems to unique to living organisms in general and humans in particular.

So we end with a paradox. The more we automate our production and exclude humans from that process the less need there is for that production to take place because those humans no longer have the means to input their desire into the process- they have no wages.

So the more productive we become- the less need there is for that productivity. Only human desire gives meaning to the productive process- yet we seek to remove humans from participation in that process.

So we start from a place where all that matters is the cold hard logic of productivity and efficiency but discover that none of that matters in the absence of something that is neither hard nor logical- the innermost wishes and desires of the human heart.

We are the ghost in the productivity machine- without that ghost there may be production- but there can be no fulfilment.

Ok, hhhm so let's say everyone else is beaming about in sky cars and hoverbikes powered by AI or whatnot and you can't join in and so have to live a lot more primitively, in some cave somewhere - why is this an issue for you?

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So the more productive we become- the less need there is for that productivity. Only human desire gives meaning to the productive process- yet we seek to remove humans from participation in that process.

No, it is not. Once we have enough (and without the parasite levying public and private taxes to ensure that we have to find more to feed the parasites), then we can produce stuffs to suit our intellectual curiosities rather than looking to sell them.

If we have a self cleaning house and food-replicator, then we can focus on understanding higgs-bossom, quarks and blackhole...

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No, it is not. Once we have enough (and without the parasite levying public and private taxes to ensure that we have to find more to feed the parasites), then we can produce stuffs to suit our intellectual curiosities rather than looking to sell them.

If we have a self cleaning house and food-replicator, then we can focus on understanding higgs-bossom, quarks and blackhole...

I think wonderpup's point is (and I am sure he'll correct me if I have this wrong) that if you cannot afford a self replicating food dispenser and a self cleaning house because you have no value in the marketplace then you won't get to do those things.

I'm just confused as to why he thinks that is an issue. Go live in a cave like your ancestors did. It'll be fine.

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I think wonderpup's point is (and I am sure he'll correct me if I have this wrong) that if you cannot afford a self replicating food dispenser and a self cleaning house because you have no value in the marketplace then you won't get to do those things.

I'm just confused as to why he thinks that is an issue. Go live in a cave like your ancestors did. It'll be fine.

So we have this idea of an economy that could easily produce enough for everyone to have this stuff, but doesn't because of ideological constraints. Which is madness, in many ways. Indeed, it reeks of something Orwell commented on - the deliberate creating of scarcity and poverty, such that people will sacrifice their freedom and dignity to feed their families. Even if this process impoverishes everyone, it still enhances the status of those at the top.

In a better version of Wonderpup's world, we extend education, allow for plenty of time 'off' work for child raising, and lengthen retirement. Thus - for a given population size - reducing and upskilling the workforce in line with the reduced amount of work that is present. Everyone gains. Indeed, giving large numbers of people free time may make them more productive than they would be in a menial job. The problem is, that in order to do this with our current system of money and finance, taxes would have to rise; if one person can now do the work of 10 than that person will have to pay the taxes of 10, one way or another (since the workforce is gradually being automated away).

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So we have this idea of an economy that could easily produce enough for everyone to have this stuff, but doesn't because of ideological constraints.

What would those be?

Which is madness, in many ways. Indeed, it reeks of something Orwell commented on - the deliberate creating of scarcity and poverty, such that people will sacrifice their freedom and dignity to feed their families. Even if this process impoverishes everyone, it still enhances the status of those at the top.

I'm not too sure how not sharing with someone is the same as creating poverty. People are born with nothing and unless they do something to change it, stay that way forever. Poverty is the norm.

In a better version of Wonderpup's world, we extend education, allow for plenty of time 'off' work for child raising, and lengthen retirement. Thus - for a given population size - reducing and upskilling the workforce in line with the reduced amount of work that is present. Everyone gains. Indeed, giving large numbers of people free time may make them more productive than they would be in a menial job. The problem is, that in order to do this with our current system of money and finance, taxes would have to rise; if one person can now do the work of 10 than that person will have to pay the taxes of 10, one way or another (since the workforce is gradually being automated away).

With the serious issue that one person doesn't want to pay taxes* (and has a larger and larger amount of money to spend on avoiding.)

Taxes won't fix anything. And besides, who wants to be kept as some sort of bipedal pet anyway, whichis what this all amounts to. People vastly more capable than yourself chucking resources at you for sentimental reasons. Gilded cage.

*No one does.

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What would those be?

Yours.

Look at this scenario:

I own a machine that - thanks to the wonders of automation - can produce as many widgets as I choose with no incremental cost. However, in order to maximise the amount of money I personally make, I deliberately restrict widget production, and go to great legal lengths to make sure that no one else can produce these widgets.

From a personal perspective, this seems rational enough. Indeed, the current economic system virtually forces it on me. Yet from the point of view of society, unlimited production surely enriches all.

We can even see this at work in the music business - draconian laws are enacted and people put in prison to protect the value of scarcity. Utter, utter madness. Large number of people specifically employed to stop production.

If we extend this to the concept of a fully automatic factory, which combines 3D printing with fully programmable assembly, then again, your incremental cost of production would fall to minor levels - energy and raw materials. Again, you'll be forced to restrict production to increase profitability.

Again, this is crazy.

I'm not too sure how not sharing with someone is the same as creating poverty.

Most moral philosophers would disagree. If I have food than I can eat, most would regard it as a moral imperative to give some to a starving person.

With the serious issue that one person doesn't want to pay taxes* (and has a larger and larger amount of money to spend on avoiding.)

Taxes won't fix anything. And besides, who wants to be kept as some sort of bipedal pet anyway, which is what this all amounts to. People vastly more capable than yourself chucking resources at you for sentimental reasons. Gilded cage.

So basically, you'd choose mass poverty, economic stagnation and technological stasis in order to keep your ideology intact?

Hmmm. Ever had a chat with Uncle Joe?

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Yours.

Look at this scenario:

I own a machine that - thanks to the wonders of automation - can produce as many widgets as I choose with no incremental cost. However, in order to maximise the amount of money I personally make, I deliberately restrict widget production, and go to great legal lengths to make sure that no one else can produce these widgets.

From a personal perspective, this seems rational enough. Indeed, the current economic system virtually forces it on me. Yet from the point of view of society, unlimited production surely enriches all.

Right. But so what? People don't make machines to enrich all, they make machines to enrich themselves. No enrichment of self, no machines at all.

We can even see this at work in the music business - draconian laws are enacted and people put in prison to protect the value of scarcity. Utter, utter madness. Large number of people specifically employed to stop production.

Ah, no. This isn't the same thing at all - this is preventing other people from producing, not ceasing production yourself. Rather obviously you have no right to stop others from producing.

If we extend this to the concept of a fully automatic factory, which combines 3D printing with fully programmable assembly, then again, your incremental cost of production would fall to minor levels - energy and raw materials. Again, you'll be forced to restrict production to increase profitability.

Again, this is crazy.

Why? Looks just fine to me. I stop working as hard and get paid more money. Ace.

Most moral philosophers would disagree. If I have food than I can eat, most would regard it as a moral imperative to give some to a starving person.

Most moral philosophers are wrong. There is no imperative to help others.

So basically, you'd choose mass poverty, economic stagnation and technological stasis in order to keep your ideology intact?

Hmmm. Ever had a chat with Uncle Joe?

I'm not choosing mass poverty. That's already there, always has been, always will be - unless people fix it for themselves. I'm not preventing them from doing that, I'm just not helping them, which is fine. Nobody owes me anything, and I don't owe them anything either in turn.

This doesn't mean I won't help them due to empathy or interest or because it's fun - it means I don't owe anything and they don't owe me.

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Right. But so what? People don't make machines to enrich all, they make machines to enrich themselves. No enrichment of self, no machines at all.

Ah, no. This isn't the same thing at all - this is preventing other people from producing, not ceasing production yourself. Rather obviously you have no right to stop others from producing.

Why? Looks just fine to me. I stop working as hard and get paid more money. Ace.

Most moral philosophers are wrong. There is no imperative to help others.

I'm not choosing mass poverty. That's already there, always has been, always will be - unless people fix it for themselves. I'm not preventing them from doing that, I'm just not helping them, which is fine. Nobody owes me anything, and I don't owe them anything either in turn.

This doesn't mean I won't help them due to empathy or interest or because it's fun - it means I don't owe anything and they don't owe me.

What you're advocating here is survival of the fittest - "keep what you can defend".

You're essentially saying it's every man for himself, and people will act in their own best interests, and not societies best interests.

thus, if it is in someones best interst to steal - then that is what they will do. To bring it back to wonderpups analogy - what's to stop a group of the "cave-dwellers" mobbing the households of the god-like rich, to get hold of a replicator so that they can have a similar lifestyle? What possible motivation would they have for not doing so? Morality? A sense of right or wrong?

Indeed, what is to stop the super-rich "employing" (or enslaving, to put it less eloquently) to act as their own police force / army? Compared to cave-dwelling, they could be given a life of luxury, at essentially zero cost to the gods, with the benefit that there are no rules to stop them just killing anyone trying to leave, or question the decisions of the god.

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What you're advocating here is survival of the fittest - "keep what you can defend".

Not at all.

You're essentially saying it's every man for himself, and people will act in their own best interests, and not societies best interests.

I'm just pointing out that is how it is.

thus, if it is in someones best interst to steal - then that is what they will do. To bring it back to wonderpups analogy - what's to stop a group of the "cave-dwellers" mobbing the households of the god-like rich, to get hold of a replicator so that they can have a similar lifestyle? What possible motivation would they have for not doing so? Morality? A sense of right or wrong?

Yes, exactly.

Indeed, what is to stop the super-rich "employing" (or enslaving, to put it less eloquently) to act as their own police force / army? Compared to cave-dwelling, they could be given a life of luxury, at essentially zero cost to the gods, with the benefit that there are no rules to stop them just killing anyone trying to leave, or question the decisions of the god.

Absolutely nothing stopping that from happening.

Apart from morality, of course.

Which puts your position into a bit of a bind. If it's morality that stops the god like rich from wiping everyone else out, then those others had better be pretty moral themselves, yes? People are hardly likely to act morally towards those who have shown they don't deserve such treatment...

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Not at all.

I'm just pointing out that is how it is.

Yes, exactly.

Absolutely nothing stopping that from happening.

Apart from morality, of course.

Which puts your position into a bit of a bind. If it's morality that stops the god like rich from wiping everyone else out, then those others had better be pretty moral themselves, yes? People are hardly likely to act morally towards those who have shown they don't deserve such treatment...

So Injinworld is actually a dysfunctional society is a world of uber-gods with everything, and the power to be able to force everyone else to bow to their will, or be destroyed. Nice.

Oh, I appreciate that this is similar to what we have at present, however remind me to fight tooth and nail to keep this system over yours.

I'd be interested to see Tracktion comment on your utopian ideal...

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So Injinworld is actually a dysfunctional society is a world of uber-gods with everything, and the power to be able to force everyone else to bow to their will, or be destroyed. Nice.

Erm no, at no point did I say anything like this.

Oh, I appreciate that this is similar to what we have at present, however remind me to fight tooth and nail to keep this system over yours.

I'd be interested to see Tracktion comment on your utopian ideal...

It all depends on your position on owing other people something just because they exist.

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Right. But so what? People don't make machines to enrich all, they make machines to enrich themselves. No enrichment of self, no machines at all.

Indeed. This is why it is not a simple problem. If all are NOT enriched, of course, it becomes hard or impossible for an individual to enrich themselves.

Ah, no. This isn't the same thing at all - this is preventing other people from producing, not ceasing production yourself. Rather obviously you have no right to stop others from producing.

When the marginal cost of extra production is sufficiently close to zero, there is little practical difference.

I'm not choosing mass poverty. That's already there, always has been, always will be - unless people fix it for themselves. I'm not preventing them from doing that, I'm just not helping them, which is fine. Nobody owes me anything, and I don't owe them anything either in turn.

This doesn't mean I won't help them due to empathy or interest or because it's fun - it means I don't owe anything and they don't owe me.

I do not accept that there 'always will be' mass poverty. Indeed, mass poverty was close to eliminated in the UK - and other western countries - in the 1960s and 1970s. Poverty is a political choice; and it's people such as yourself who help to make that choice, whilst presenting is as 'the natural order of things' or somesuch.

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Indeed. This is why it is not a simple problem. If all are NOT enriched, of course, it becomes hard or impossible for an individual to enrich themselves.

I don't actually see how it's related, to be honest. I go and plant a seed that I hope will become a tree, it does and it grows. I have enriched myself by 1 tree. Nobody else has lost anything and I am richer. Now lets say that while I was doing that, someone else grew two trees. Did I somehow lose? Nope I gained 1 tree. Me and the other guy are not related in any way.

When the marginal cost of extra production is sufficiently close to zero, there is little practical difference.

Time.

I do not accept that there 'always will be' mass poverty. Indeed, mass poverty was close to eliminated in the UK - and other western countries - in the 1960s and 1970s. Poverty is a political choice; and it's people such as yourself who help to make that choice, whilst presenting is as 'the natural order of things' or somesuch.

People are born with nothing. Being utterly skint, homeless, shirtless etc is the natrual way of things - it takes effort and time to move away from that position. Poverty is not a political choice, it is a personal one - though politics CAN stop people from exercising their choice to become wealthier, which is what I suspect you are truly referring to.

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So Injinworld is actually a dysfunctional society is a world of uber-gods with everything, and the power to be able to force everyone else to bow to their will, or be destroyed. Nice.

I don't see where you got that from? All he was saying was that an individual makes stuff because it benefits them and that you don't owe (as in, are in debt to, morally or otherwise) anyone anything.

Oh, I appreciate that this is similar to what we have at present, however remind me to fight tooth and nail to keep this system over yours.

I'd be interested to see Tracktion comment on your utopian ideal...

Injin is just pointing out truths, without much of a sugary coating.

He didn't say that people wouldn't help one another. He said that they didn't owe anyone help. These are two very different things.

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What you're advocating here is survival of the fittest - "keep what you can defend".

You're essentially saying it's every man for himself, and people will act in their own best interests, and not societies best interests.

The reality is that you can't stop this. All you can do is point out that people are better off if they don't steal stuff from one another.

When you keep the fruits of your productivity, you are more likely to be productive, increasing the size of the pie. If someone steals them from you (ie. seeks rent), then the pie shrinks (due to the overheads of stealing).

If enough people understand this, then theft will be seen as a crime (which largely, they already do). Ofc, it still doesn't stop people committing a crime, but that is an enforcement problem (with exclusion/ostracism being a good solution), rather than a problem of definition.

thus, if it is in someones best interst to steal - then that is what they will do. To bring it back to wonderpups analogy - what's to stop a group of the "cave-dwellers" mobbing the households of the god-like rich, to get hold of a replicator so that they can have a similar lifestyle? What possible motivation would they have for not doing so? Morality? A sense of right or wrong?

Indeed, what is to stop the super-rich "employing" (or enslaving, to put it less eloquently) to act as their own police force / army? Compared to cave-dwelling, they could be given a life of luxury, at essentially zero cost to the gods, with the benefit that there are no rules to stop them just killing anyone trying to leave, or question the decisions of the god.

As we have a state, that is the situation which needs to be overcome. People have to recognise theft when they see it and act according to their principles.

Pretending that their is a God and a King is doing his work may have worked centuries ago, but people don't fall for that crap any more. Once you see that a spade is a space (ie. that taxation is theft to start with), people can call BS on this stuff and we can try something more sane.

Edited by Traktion
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I don't actually see how it's related, to be honest. I go and plant a seed that I hope will become a tree, it does and it grows. I have enriched myself by 1 tree. Nobody else has lost anything and I am richer. Now lets say that while I was doing that, someone else grew two trees. Did I somehow lose? Nope I gained 1 tree. Me and the other guy are not related in any way.

Not sure you've been outside recently, but in a money-based market economy, the main way of enriching yourself is to sell something. Goods, services, labour, skills, whatever.. because if people specialise, then they become more productive, and therefore we all become richer.

Now, in order for this to work, I as a seller need to find buyers. However, if work has become scarce and poorly rewarded, I won't find many buyers. So I have less as well. So yes, indeed, you and 'the other guy' are economically related. To act as if there is no such relationship is to impoverish both of you.

People are born with nothing.

They just pop into existance?? This statement is just wrong.

Being utterly skint, homeless, shirtless etc is the natrual way of things - it takes effort and time to move away from that position. Poverty is not a political choice, it is a personal one - though politics CAN stop people from exercising their choice to become wealthier, which is what I suspect you are truly referring to.

The natural way of things is for most people to die in childhood, women to die in childbirth, young men to die violently and infections to kill off many others. Even so, most are usually fed, clothed and housed by their parents. So it would appear that your starting assertion is incorrect (that's a polite way of saying that you are talking s**t).

And if political power is used to restrict economic opportunity - for example, through tuition fees, internships, recruitment through connections, anti-competitive behavior, etc - then yes, poverty will be the result and that is certainly NOTHING to do with individual effort. Keeping a link between effort and reward is something that requires constant political attention.

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Not sure you've been outside recently, but in a money-based market economy, the main way of enriching yourself is to sell something. Goods, services, labour, skills, whatever.. because if people specialise, then they become more productive, and therefore we all become richer.

Now, in order for this to work, I as a seller need to find buyers. However, if work has become scarce and poorly rewarded, I won't find many buyers. So I have less as well. So yes, indeed, you and 'the other guy' are economically related. To act as if there is no such relationship is to impoverish both of you.

Ohm, you are assuming the monopoly on money forcing you to associate with others is still there. Ok, cool. Could have said that though..... but that of course would be another problem.

They just pop into existance?? This statement is just wrong.

Babies are born naked and hungry and with ****** all, last I checked.

The natural way of things is for most people to die in childhood, women to die in childbirth, young men to die violently and infections to kill off many others. Even so, most are usually fed, clothed and housed by their parents. So it would appear that your starting assertion is incorrect (that's a polite way of saying that you are talking s**t).

It is true that currently, in the west, the overwhelming majority of babies are looked after by their parents in that way. But this is cultural and not the default. Throughout history killing the newly born in various ways (for example if female/disabled) has also been done.

And if political power is used to restrict economic opportunity - for example, through tuition fees, internships, recruitment through connections, anti-competitive behavior, etc - then yes, poverty will be the result and that is certainly NOTHING to do with individual effort. Keeping a link between effort and reward is something that requires constant political attention.

That's keeping people in poverty by forbbidding them to break out of it, which is not the same thing as causing poverty.

If I hold my hand over your mouth and nose and stop you from breathing I don't cause your need to inhale oxygen, and removing my hand will not fill your lungs. You have to do the breathing bit for yourself, just like people have to do the creating wealth bit once free from the restrictions you state above.

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However you may not plant any trees to enrich yourself because I own all the land. No matter how much you save and offer me, I shall never sell you any. If I did that would allow you to escape my clutches. Your labour is useless if I own all the resources you can apply that labour to.

As soon as one stops fulfilling one's own needs and starts meeting those of others, the isolationist argument breaks down. I may start a supermarket in the town, all by own efforts. Yet the town is not large enough to support two supermarkets. If you choose to compete, by building another, we will both lose money. Thus I have locked you out and operate a supermarket monopoly.

This same argument goes for manufacturing. If my factory already meets all the markets needs, any further productive capacity is overcapacity and thus is not built. The incumbent is able to extract a rent, in the form of profit, free from competition.

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So the original question of this thread amounted to "what happens when robots get cleverer than humans"? This has been causing angst amongst those group of people whose job it is to predict future trends. Indeed it's got a special term: the singularity.

It's called that because we can't predict with any certainty what will happen when minds far greater than our own are in control. In future-predicting terms it's pretty much the same as a map that says "here be dragons". Basically it's just a cop-out to say "I don't know".

On a lesser scale regarding increasingly sophisticated automation, the great economist Adam Smith's invisible hand theory basically says that lots of individuals working separately for their own selfish ends somehow ends up benefitting society as a whole. Thus a highly automated factory producing thingammybobs at very low cost produces profits for its owner but also serves a useful purpose to society.

Once it's possible to produce a certain sort of manufactured item at very low cost, the owner could try to restrict production to maintain his profits, but what's to stop a competitor setting up and pricing his products cheaper than yours? Economic theory says that in a real captalist economy prices tend to find the right levels on their own, which in this case would be downwards to reflect the cheaper cost of production.

Although writing this, I can't help but notice just how much this doesn't apply to house prices in the current fixed market. Sure, demand has dropped thanks to sense returning to the mortgage market, but prices haven't dropped much to reflect this new reality...

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