Ming the Mechanic:
Computers and Employment

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Computers and Employment2003-10-02 14:07
20 comments
by Flemming Funch

Andy Oram wonders "Can computers help reverse falling employment?".
"The gigantic combine of capitalism has always obsessively pursued efficiency, and computers make the pursuit almost child play. Capitalism has succeeded in sowing a cornucopia of innovation up and down society. But capitalism is atrocious at distributing the fruits of innovation. Each labor-saving device means the idling of thousands of people, wasting their years of experience, rigorous training, and practical insights.

People who work with computers remain fixated on efficiency. Every week I hear the debates over whether businesses should use Linux or Windows, the commentators always wrangling over which systems will save the most money. I find this battle increasingly tiresome. I'm more interested in finding the systems that will put more people to work."
Well, the intention is good enough. Capitalism is quite likely to lead to a very small percentage of the population owning most of the very automated production facilities, and a very large percentage of the population being unemployed, because their work isn't really needed. So, isn't there something we can do with software and computers that can change things?

Oram's main idea seems to be essentially to think of some good things that need doing, and invite large numbers of open source programmers to work on them. I wish the economy worked that way. But it doesn't. In communism it sort of does, but the problem there is that individual creativity isn't particularly nurtured or rewarded. So that in itself wouldn't particularly be economically feasible without some kind of revolution. But as to this question that he proposes for systems people to keep in mind ...
"What can I do to bring average people back into the process of wealth creation?"
That's a different matter. If we can think more about how to get more people involved in creating wealth, which obviously involves being directly involved in how one makes a profit - that can make a difference.


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20 comments

3 Oct 2003 @ 12:36 by Chris Hagglund @65.95.162.71 : Wealth Generation
If we completely restructure society from the bottom up instead of from the top down as it seems to be now, then all people can have some partial share in just about any and all wealth generating activities. The result of this is that everyones time becomes an investment into the systems they help to build. water. This way everybody wins (except for the maybe the capitalists).

If we set things up so that, say for example, an hour I spend today helping to build some kind of salt water desalinization facility earns me an ounce of fresh distilled water produced by that facility for as long as it exists, then we'll have changed everything and be on our way to a society that can actually work (as opposed to this train wreck we're riding in right now)  



3 Oct 2003 @ 13:50 by istvan : Grassroots efficiency
Two of the most important basic needs housing, food buying and production are the fields where grassroots organization is essential.
Food: Returning to the food co-ops like we have done in the sixties and seventies would provide at tomes large savings on foodbills. Added advantage is that the food from the coops could come from organic sources and genetically adulterated foods could be eliminated.
Someone could write some software for coops to use with their shopping list, and daily log on to a website, pay by the hour to the site to get the healthiest and cheapest foods possible.
The authors of the software and the managers of the website could receive a percentage of of the business of each coop and that could be added to the purchase prices. I know it sounds boring, but it is workable.
Housing: Housing cooperatives could save tons of money for those who rent. Maintenance cooperatives for home owners. Intentional communities. Co-housing. Etc…
There are many other fields where more efficiency on the grassroots level would save much wasted money and energy. One of those is computing and technology. Much $ could be saved on cooperative buying of things that are durable and useful. On and on, but I wonder if people are willing to put the energy into them, like the corporations are doing it.

Besides more efficiency these things if successful might even open ways toward new civilisation.  



3 Oct 2003 @ 15:08 by ming : Bottom-up wealth
Hm, so what if everything were a co-op? Instead of being paid for my work, I'd invest my efforts into making the venture successful, and then I'd get percentages of the profits.

Of course, generally speaking, anybody is free to do that today. That's called going into business together. A partnership, a corporation, a co-op, it is all that some people form a business, putting efforts into it, hoping to get returns from it later. Of course a co-op spreads the sharing further than just the partners or share holders.

But it is sort of easy to see why people often choose the short-term easy alternative, of selling your soul to somebody else's corporation, in exchange for a paycheck next month, and the month after. That looks a lot more certain, and it will give you something to eat this month, which starting a business normally won't.

Of course most everybody would choose to be co-operative owners over being wage slaves, if it also included a solution to how they'll eat this month. That's the tricky part to solve. How can it become as relatively painless and quickly rewarding to contribute to a co-op business venture as it is to get hired for a job?

We essentially need that somebody securitizes grassroots co-operative business ventures. Is that the right word? Somebody would fill in the gap, and shift some amounts around to pay earlier in the cycle, based on qualified estimations of how likely it is to be successful. They would essentially provide insurance against failure as well. It is pretty much what a bank does for a big corp that borrows money for a new venture. People get paid even way before it is successful, and can keep the money even if the venture fails. But we need something for grassroots activities. Maybe just a better bank, with good enough access to information to be able to invest in small grassroots co-operative ventures.  



9 Oct 2003 @ 07:58 by Paul Seemore @217.235.145.203 : Grassroots efficiency
Someone could write some software for coops to use with their shopping list, and daily log on to a website, pay by the hour to the site to get the healthiest and cheapest foods possible.
The authors of the software and the managers of the website could receive a percentage of of the business of each coop and that could be added to the purchase prices. I know it sounds boring, but it is workable.  



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