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wonderpup

The Eroei Of Labour

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I came across an article recently that presented the issue of labour's role in the current system in a way that seemed quite novel- to me at least.

The argument was made that in considering the whole 'Energy returned on energy invested' topic the consideration of labour as a form of energy investment should not be overlooked.

And indeed once it's pointed out it's blindingly obvious that any form of labour is indeed a form of energy expenditure/investment- and one that in order to be viable must return more 'energy' in output than was put into it.

The argument that the author was making seemed to be that this form of EROEI that was beginning to fail- in effect he was arguing that the returns to labour in the current system were beginning to fall below the level of resources that labour requires in order to maintain itself in a viable way.

Put more simply the suggestion seemed to be that for an increasing number of people their 'running costs' were starting to look like the running costs of a failing oil well that requires more energy to remain active than was actually produced by the activity it was undertaking.

To be honest i'm not sure what to make of this idea- there are at least two possible interpretations in my view;

1) Due to automation, outsourcing ect many people are now too expensive to employ (due to their sentimental attachment to a standard of living they can no longer be paid to sustain)

2) The carrying capacity of the planet is now so badly stretched that many people are simply unsustainable no matter how hard they work because the resources simply are not there to make their existence viable.

Other interpretations may exist that I have not thought of.

Apologies for not posting a link- I read so much stuff that I can't remember where I came across this idea- but I felt it was an angle that we have not really covered on here and so worth it's own thread-

Any thoughts?

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Haven't heard eroei applied to humans, sounds a bit like the following:

-having to pay someone tax credits and other benefits just to get them to do a sixteen hour a week job. You have to input more cash than they can out put in the 16 hours

Or

-Someone doing a none job in a company or for the public sector. Much of the work that is of use has been offshored or automated, at first 'society' thought you would be nice, making up jobs for the displaced, but now it is starting to be realised the economics of this are crazy.

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I first posted this on HPC probably almost 10 years ago. The price of anything is a reflection of the energy required to produce it, and in this sense labour is simply another energy input.

It's no surprise that the golden age of the west (probably early 60s to late 80s) corresponds to us having the biggest share of the energy pie.

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I recall a very scathing critique of the premise behind the Matrix film franchise- the idea of using human beings as an energy source- the point being that the costs of maintaining the humans would be higher than the energy they gave back- so it was a less than zero sum game that could never really work.

In a sense the entire history of our civilization could be framed in terms the ongoing state of the EROEI of human labour- when returns on labour output are high we have prosperity and when low we have poverty, with all the historical consequences that flow from these states.

All technology in this framing can be viewed as a means to alter that EROEI relationship- a man with a chainsaw sees a far better return on his energy output than a man with an axe.

The interesting question is what happens to a society when large numbers of people are in a negative EROEI relationship to that society? The term 'useless eaters' occasionally pops up in discussions about benefits and neatly encapsulates both the idea and the negative response to it.

For all our lofty talk of 'human rights' and the intrinsic value of human life the idea still persists that what a person is 'worth' is connected to their 'output'- their EROEI- are they 'pulling their weight'? Or are they a 'useless eater'- the point being of course that even those who may not add to our collective resources are still a drain upon them.

So while the idea of applying the EROEI model to human beings seems a bit odd, the truth is that we are doing this all the time- every time we meet a new person we tend to ask not who they are but what they do- because what really matters it seems is not the intrinsic value of the person themselves- are they kind, or loving ect- what really counts is their output value- it's their status as human converters of energy that seems to interest us the most.

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I don't think you have to get complicated about this.

Basically labour competes with automation. Capital chooses which is the best investment.

I think the main problem with current thinking is not in clearly separating out labour's TWO roles, the second being the object of demand. Therefore the simple fight between labour and capital for the spoils of production is out of date and therefore so is our political system which is based on this categorisation.

The bit where your analysis really bears fruit is in realising that the low value work that we force people to do at great subsidised cost is in fact net negative value, and cruel/pointless.

We basically need to ensure people have the dosh to create adequate demand in the economy and let them create their own value in the way they see fit rather than as slaves for gang masters.

I guess the interesting question that arises from this is why we much prefer the 'busy work' option to the idea of some kind of citizens income. I suspect that even if it could be proved that freeing people from the need to work in low productivity jobs via CI could actually lead to more wealth in terms of freeing people to be more creative and innovative with their time the idea would still be seen as unacceptable.

Given the choice most people would far rather that the unemployed be forced to do pointless futile work rather than be left to their own devices- even if there were no real jobs for those people to do- the cry would be for the state to invent some task or other- even if this cost more than simply leaving them alone to use their time in other ways.

But this emphasis on idea that everybody must work is problematic if work for more and more people is failing to deliver the required returns. A business can go bankrupt in this scenario- but a person does not have this option- if the return on their labour falls below the costs of maintaining themselves- due to competing technology or cheaper competitors elsewhere- they cannot simply 'shut down'- they have an ongoing need to eat and consume energy in the form of heating and cooking,not to mention the already unaffordable shelter problem.

Having loaded up the population with expensive to service debt- to replace their dwindling wages as a source of demand- the Capitalists of the west now complain that their fellow citizens are too expensive to employ- what with all the debt they are carrying ect. And it's true of course- some of the poorest people on the planet live in the richest places once you factor their debts into the equation- after all a goat herd in africa who owns the land his crumbling shack sits upon is far richer than the middle class western 'homeowner' whose personal wealth can be measured deep into the negative once his mortgage and other debts are taken into account.

The combination of automation, financialisation and half baked economics seems to have conspired to create a situation in which for many people the value of their labour is starting to fall below the sustainability level in terms of living costs and debt servicing costs- if these people were companies they would be in fact be bust and shut down.

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I recall a very scathing critique of the premise behind the Matrix film franchise- the idea of using human beings as an energy source- the point being that the costs of maintaining the humans would be higher than the energy they gave back- so it was a less than zero sum game that could never really work.

In a sense the entire history of our civilization could be framed in terms the ongoing state of the EROEI of human labour- when returns on labour output are high we have prosperity and when low we have poverty, with all the historical consequences that flow from these states.

All technology in this framing can be viewed as a means to alter that EROEI relationship- a man with a chainsaw sees a far better return on his energy output than a man with an axe.

The interesting question is what happens to a society when large numbers of people are in a negative EROEI relationship to that society? The term 'useless eaters' occasionally pops up in discussions about benefits and neatly encapsulates both the idea and the negative response to it.

For all our lofty talk of 'human rights' and the intrinsic value of human life the idea still persists that what a person is 'worth' is connected to their 'output'- their EROEI- are they 'pulling their weight'? Or are they a 'useless eater'- the point being of course that even those who may not add to our collective resources are still a drain upon them.

So while the idea of applying the EROEI model to human beings seems a bit odd, the truth is that we are doing this all the time- every time we meet a new person we tend to ask not who they are but what they do- because what really matters it seems is not the intrinsic value of the person themselves- are they kind, or loving ect- what really counts is their output value- it's their status as human converters of energy that seems to interest us the most.

..there are issues to be resolved ...in the past our warriors fought and died ..if this is not true today maybe we will become victims of an attack and our numbers reduced ...history is a mirror to the future.... :rolleyes:

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If say only the top 1% return more than they take, ie the strongest or the brightest You still need the dross of the 99% to get the top 1%. That's our job. To create the 1%.... Job done, where's the TV remote. :D

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If say only the top 1% return more than they take, ie the strongest or the brightest You still need the dross of the 99% to get the top 1%. That's our job. To create the 1%.... Job done, where's the TV remote. :D

..you forgot 'talented.'..and yes there is a place for the blinkered heavy worked Clydesdale (as in horse)....everything and everyone is interlinked...for a better life...and we need lifeboats for those struggling...that is human.... :rolleyes:

Edited by South Lorne

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If the online dating sites are anything to go by, virtually every female between the ages of 25-30 living in an urban area in the east midlands who isnt an obese 'full time yummy mummy', is a 'social worker'... which i presume means they get paid to chat to juvenile delinquents in costa coffee all day.

'Viable' and 'exists' are two different things. The government is busily ensuring the sale of the former to continue propogating the latter.

Edited by Executive Sadman

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..you forgot 'talented.'..and yes there is a place for the blinkered heavy worked Clydesdale (as in horse)....everything and everyone is interlinked...for a better life...and we need lifeboats for those struggling...that is human.... :rolleyes:

I meant it more in actually producing the best 1%, you know by, erm, shagging! It's a hard job granted, but somebody has to do it.

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I meant it more in actually producing the best 1%, you know by, erm, shagging! It's a hard job granted, but somebody has to do it.

..if you think you are in a select few that can do it ..then you are blinkered ...the best in my experience are more than 1%...you need to get out more often... :rolleyes:

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Anyone on any kind of government assistance, yet still in work - these people are a direct cost to the system. They will pay very little tax, and require subsidies from the tax payer in order for their boss to NOT say "wow, I can't afford you!". Now, what they do on the factory floor or in the cubicle might return more than the cost to the tax payer - that part is hard to measure. But that return goes into the pocket of their employer, not the system, asides from the tax on profit that the employer pays. Even if the employer has ethics and pays taxes even though he could probably legally avoid paying, that sliver of tax back to the tax payer from each individual employee is going to be less than all the tax credits and housing benefits added up. It's one of the reasons why the UK government is borrowing and borrowing and borrowing.

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Anyone on any kind of government assistance, yet still in work - these people are a direct cost to the system. They will pay very little tax, and require subsidies from the tax payer in order for their boss to NOT say "wow, I can't afford you!". Now, what they do on the factory floor or in the cubicle might return more than the cost to the tax payer - that part is hard to measure. But that return goes into the pocket of their employer, not the system, asides from the tax on profit that the employer pays. Even if the employer has ethics and pays taxes even though he could probably legally avoid paying, that sliver of tax back to the tax payer from each individual employee is going to be less than all the tax credits and housing benefits added up. It's one of the reasons why the UK government is borrowing and borrowing and borrowing.

..yes ..Government and tax payers are subsidising private industry...and their shareholders ...surprised the 'Eurofiles' are not complaining about unfair competition...of course many of these countries have similar schemes to varying degrees....is this our way of competing with low wage economies ...?... :rolleyes:

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If the system is essentially now a vast pyramid scheme then it's the debt slaves at the bottom who are it's foundation- if the slaves can't make enough to keep going and service their debt then the whole thing is in trouble.

It seems me that the PTB have spent the last 7 years trying to preserve the creditors at the top with cheap money while praying that this will at some point translate into more wealth at the bottom via the magic of 'trickledown'- but that has not happened- all they got instead was a bigger, taller, pyramid as the people at the top took that cheap money and leveraged up.

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I recall a very scathing critique of the premise behind the Matrix film franchise- the idea of using human beings as an energy source- the point being that the costs of maintaining the humans would be higher than the energy they gave back- so it was a less than zero sum game that could never really work.

Indeed, this was my main gripe with an otherwise great film. Shame they couldn't have just thought up a slightly more plausible reason for the humans to be kept alive.

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in regards to the use of humans as batteries in the matrix, the rumour doing the rounds was that the original script had humans, well their brains at least as CPUs for the machine rather than them being batteries. However this was considered too complicated by the producers and humans were reduced to batteries

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in regards to the use of humans as batteries in the matrix, the rumour doing the rounds was that the original script had humans, well their brains at least as CPUs for the machine rather than them being batteries. However this was considered too complicated by the producers and humans were reduced to batteries

A trained cyclist can produce about 400 watts of mechanical power for an hour or more, but adults of good average fitness average between 50 and 150 watts for an hour of vigorous exercise. A healthy well-fed laborer over the course of an 8-hour work shift can sustain an average output of about 75 watts.

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As a plausible scenario in which AI take over the world The Matrix is pretty weak- but as an analogy of the current relationship between the Elite and the Great unwashed it has a lot to recommend it.

Our world consists primarily of two groups- a large number of debtors who spend most of their lives working to pay off those debts- and a much smaller number of creditors whose lavish lifestyles are funded by the income streams generated by those debts.

So if we substitute debt for energy and replace the machines with the 1% whose wealth consists largely of debt based instruments we can make the case that keeping most people in the dark as to how the system really works is a vital function- with the role of the matrix in this analogy being played by the mind numbing pseudo reality of popular entertainment which presents the debt slaves with a range entirely fictitious realities in which they can lose themselves and thus remain docile and happy to go on servicing their debts.

I guess in this analogy sites like this one represent the red pill.

Debt is by far the most effective means of social control ever invented- partly because even those being controlled by it tend to agree that it's a fair system. It's interesting to note that even criminals like the Mafia intuitively understand that naked force alone is not sufficient to maintain their power- which is why creating debt obligations in their victims has always been a core aspect of their activities- put a man in debt to you and his ability to oppose you is undercut by the moral ambiguity of his position- after all if he owes you then is your brutality toward him not to some degree justified?

So where mere brute force might in time generate an effective opposition due to the manifest injustice of it's application- by inducing a state of indebtedness the moral force of the opposition is blunted and dispersed.

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Debt is by far the most effective means of social control ever invented- partly because even those being controlled by it tend to agree that it's a fair system.

Top post of the year.

Indebted nations are under the bank's control, just as individuals are. Control the creation of debt and you control the world.

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