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Mon Dec 31, 2012, 05:01 AM

 

Krugman: Rise of the Robots

The most valuable part of each computer, a motherboard loaded with microprocessors and memory, is already largely made with robots, according to my colleague Quentin Hardy. People do things like fitting in batteries and snapping on screens.

As more robots are built, largely by other robots, “assembly can be done here as well as anywhere else,” said Rob Enderle, an analyst based in San Jose, Calif., who has been following the computer electronics industry for a quarter-century. “That will replace most of the workers, though you will need a few people to manage the robots.”

Robots mean that labor costs don’t matter much, so you might as well locate in advanced countries with large markets and good infrastructure (which may soon not include us, but that’s another issue). On the other hand, it’s not good news for workers!


Twenty years ago, when I was writing about globalization and inequality, capital bias didn’t look like a big issue; the major changes in income distribution had been among workers (when you include hedge fund managers and CEOs among the workers), rather than between labor and capital. So the academic literature focused almost exclusively on “skill bias”, supposedly explaining the rising college premium.

But the college premium hasn’t risen for a while. What has happened, on the other hand, is a notable shift in income away from labor:


http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/08/rise-of-the-robots/

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Response to dkf (Original post)

Mon Dec 31, 2012, 05:15 AM

1. As a proud robot builder and owner I can tell you that finding a market is still the hardest part

Making shit is easy, getting people to spend enough money on the stuff you create to make it worthwhile on the other hand is hard.

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Response to dkf (Original post)

Mon Dec 31, 2012, 05:35 AM

2. I, for one, welcome our new Robot Overlords

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Response to dkf (Original post)

Mon Dec 31, 2012, 06:33 AM

3. my job assembling motherboards, modems, etc. got outsourced in the 90s

so whether people or robots are going to be doing it now, doesn't make much difference to me either way

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Response to dkf (Original post)

Mon Dec 31, 2012, 06:36 AM

4. We need to disable Skynet before it's too late!

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Response to dkf (Original post)

Mon Dec 31, 2012, 06:41 AM

5. Automation has been around for decades, and risen at the same time as has outsourcing

As long as its still cheaper to pay an 8 year old Chinese kid to assemble your product than buy an automated robot arm, and its easier to get away with dumping their toxic waste in some Chinese stream than have to pay for proper disposal, they will keep their factories in China. And you can imagine that even if the costs of doing business went down in America enough to make it more economically attractive, they might still keep the factories in China, just because a) theyre already there, and b) it helps fulfill the corporate goal of making the American worker desperate and powerless. The capitalist vultures arent always just about maximizing day-to-day profit, their real overall goal is the long-term maximization of surplus value. Theyll gladly lose a dollar today if they can gain further economic fear and depression of the workers tomorrow.

Still, probably the best (or only) thing we can do to swing the balance back away from massive outsourcing is to uplift these third-world countries as much as possible. Help fight to increase their wages and environmental standards. Capitalism's lifeblood is the continual exploitation of cheap third-world labor and resources. Take that away from them, and they will lose their leverage, and workers rights and fairness can begin to flourish.

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Response to Atomsk (Reply #5)

Mon Dec 31, 2012, 08:00 AM

7. No there is another way to fight the corporate robot monster.

Revolt. In fact Revolt is the only thing remaining for the people and workers to do. If things improve for workers in China, then the corporate monsters move to Indian sweat shops, child labor countries, prison labor or even slave labor. The corporate monster will find an abused segment of society, anyone's society, and exploit them for fun and profit. Robot still must be built by someone even the robots who build the robots. They have to be designed, planned, created and built. It has always been a line of BS when our oligarchy claims jobs are going away because of technology. Technology creates about as many jobs as it destroys.

We never had commuter programmers 50 years ago, automobile mechanics came into being about 100 years ago. We are still going to need robot repair mechanics. And then there are all those personal services that only a person can accomplish. And there is still a huge market for farm labor.

Technology may make our jobs easier and but it also creates jobs that never existed before.

The powers that be want you to believe that technology is what makes your jobs fewer. But it's really greedy little rich guys who makes them go away.

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Response to fasttense (Reply #7)

Mon Dec 31, 2012, 09:40 AM

10. Only to a point

They just completed a new chip fab at the high tech campus where I'm employed. We took a tour of the fab through viewing windows (it's a clean room, so you can't just walk through without the proper garments). In row after row of fabrication equipment, multimillion dollar robotics handle every step of the process without direct human intervention. With robots handing off the product between various stages of manufacture, there was a lone bunny-suited tech attending a station, whereas previous fabs required numerous 'operators' to control an already highly automated process. There are only so many automation engineers and techs required to keep this fab running 24/7/365. Nowhere even remotely close to the numbers employed here in decades past.

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Response to dkf (Original post)

Mon Dec 31, 2012, 07:10 AM

6. We need robots that can battle the zombies.

(Zombies being Krugman's term for discredited right wing economic ideas that keep rising from the dead despite being disproven time after time.)

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Response to dkf (Original post)

Mon Dec 31, 2012, 09:24 AM

8. This is why we should move to a 20-hour work week.

If that means we have to hire twice as many people for police, fire, hospitals and nursing homes, so be it.

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Response to dkf (Original post)

Mon Dec 31, 2012, 09:27 AM

9. Nothing new here in electronics

"Pick and Place" PCB manufacturing has been automated for a long time

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