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#1 Egann

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Posted 06 September 2014 - 06:07 PM

So all over the nation fast food workers are going on strike. There appear to be a fair number of arrests...even if the numbers are getting exaggerated, and some opinions say the strikes are working.

 

The demands? $15 an hour and the right to form a union.

 

Personally, I think that the strikes are HALF of a good idea.

 

I really doubt the workers will get $15 an hour, and to be honest I expect they doubt it, too. Remember that fine dining restaurant I was a dishwasher for three years at? $15 an hour is more than the grill cook was paid--a position which required culinary training and several years experience. More likely they will get 10 or 12 with some benefits and a union to negotiate further.

 

I'm fine with that. I think the union is likely a bit of a waste of their money (especially when it will donate their hard-earned money to impotent politicians) but it is progress...in the short run. The problem is all these jobs are doomed. Unions come before automation, if you remember your car history.

 

Observe the future with automation. That is an artisan hamburger made by a machine. Heck, I can go one step further; let's get rid of pizza boys and replace them with the drones in this TED talks:

 

 

I imagine ordering a pizza in ten years (when this stuff is no longer proof of concept) will go something like this. Place an order online or by phone and pay with a credit card. Machine makes your food to order. Drone picks up your food and delivers it to your house.

 

How much cheaper than a human is that? The machines will need maintenance, of course, but they basically making two human jobs obsolete; the cook and the delivery driver. When you factor tipping into this, it becomes clear that a $30 pizza party order today will cost something like half that VERY soon in the future.

 

And this is just for pizza. Imagine how this will go when fast food chains start ditching drive thru's for drone delivery. Heck, when drones go mainstream every business will have drone delivery.

 

Remember that trope that machines would set humans free so we wouldn't have to work? Well, it's happening, and it isn't exactly pleasant. Turns out people who have bad jobs already are going to lose them to get there.

 

I could probably run my mouth longer, but it's time to open up the floor. DISCUSS.



#2 Selena

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Posted 06 September 2014 - 09:21 PM

To an extent, I agree -- automation will continue to phase out certain jobs. The major fast food chains cook pre-packaged food to meet a specific standard. That's something that automation can take over. It will be cheaper and remove human error. Of course, fast food also tastes like shit. And people are (fortunately) becoming increasingly turned off by it.

 

Small, locally owned burger joints are coming back to meet demand, though. They are on the west coast, at least. They aren't "fast" food by modern standards, since you usually have to wait about 5-10 minutes. But they use fresh, high quality ingredients. And it's hard to cook fresh, natural stuff to a specific standard due to the variations that occur in food that hasn't been pre-packaged. It requires on-the-spot adjustments. A machine isn't well suited for "judgment calls."

 

So, if those continue to get popular, that's where the workforce is going to shift. And a lot of these places don't have the "low wage, no worker benefits, high company profit-margins" business model the big retail and fast food chains do. So they usually pay their employees pretty well. Maybe not $15, but typically a few dollars more than the average retail worker gets.

 

That's kinda what fast food started out as, so I guess we're just coming full circle.

 

 

 

 

I do support higher wages for retail and similar jobs, though.

 

Most people respond to that idea with "You can't give some grunt more money than ~I~ make in my office job! An office job which required LEARNING!" Of course, the problem with that argument is that almost everyone is underpaid unless you're in a legitimately cushy job. Because pay rate has more or less remained stagnant since the 70's -- anyone in a "grunt" job is paid less than their counterparts were 30 years ago. Factory workers used to be able to maintain a household. Now that whole industry is gone, and in retail you typically have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Which is unsustainable. But companies do it because they can, and because it helps their profit margin.

 

I never buy the "we can't afford to pay our employees more" excuse, because other companies manage to pay their workers well and turn profits (see: Costco, who has a really low employee turnover rate). But they deliberately structure their business to accommodate decent pay.

 

It's usually the big chains who say stuff like that, because they've built their entire business model on taking employees for granted. The "Walmart" model basically overworks and underpays employees until they burn out and quit, at which point they just hire a new person from a large pool of people seeking any job they can get.

 

 

I also think it's unfair that companies can outright fire their entire staff if they attempt to form a union -- I think it's unethical that companies can even require you to sign a waiver like that. Unions -- like any organization -- can become corrupt with power. But I think they're an essential part of functional capitalism. So all the union busting that went on in the 80's? Really came home to roost. Because that's when a lot of the pay stagnation started. People at my old place of employment used to have near-full time jobs and decent benefits. Yeah.... that ended. Hardcore.



#3 JRPomazon

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Posted 07 September 2014 - 01:43 AM

Fast food workers are among the most expendable members of our workforce and have been almost since the very inception of that career route. Asking for $15/hour only made some sense to me if you worked in a city like New York where it remains a mystery to me why anyone would willingly LIVE there considering costs. The idea that these companies would even consider uping their pay seems ridiculous to me and honestly something I deem totally unrealistic. Fast food chains are doing everything in their power to keep their prices down but over the past few years they haven't been able to entirely avoid inflating the prices of double cheeseburgers and fries, the only thing they've managed to do is create new menus filled with cheap but stripped down versions of their pre-existing menu options. The idea of paying their workers more means this kind of progression in their menu becomes accelerated. Combine that with the growing disinterest with Fast Food chains, it's not a great outcome for these companies to remain as appealing to their customers. 

 

The long and short of it is that paying their employees more would directly influence how much your fast food is going to cost you and given how things are today for many chains, they need to keep their prices as low as possible to remain appealing. This doesn't even cover the fact that fast food jobs of any kind have and never were meant to be sustaining for anyone lower than manager. It's grunt work at best, I would know after the years I worked at McDonalds. The idea is that you work there for a bit and then move on to something after they see that you're competent enough to get a job and work in a professional setting. It was never meant to be long term unless you had plans to move up in the company (which is possible depending on your restaurant). But given how fast food is the only work many people can find these days, a lot of people are left stuck on this level because there is no other place to go.  If we are to assume that one day this economy is going to get better, the raising the wages of these workers (although showing some sense of humanitarianism) may cause more harm than good in the long run.



#4 Masamune

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Posted 07 September 2014 - 07:41 AM

The problem is that even if they were never meant to be long term jobs, we've developed a society where people are stuck in these jobs and don't get to move into a professional setting, regardless of whether they have other experience or higher education. I was reading up on this last night and the numbers point out that these jobs were once filled with teenagers, but now are populated largely by adults. Having put my time in McDonalds a decade ago, I know good and well it's not the kind of job you'd willingly stick with. I was able to move on to other stuff, but our experiences do not equal other people's experiences. 

 

That said, I'm wary of minimum wage raises. I agree that people are underpaid, because it makes surviving on your own (or even with one job) an impossibility. Rent is just too high. The numbers don't work. But at the same time, raising minimum wage runs a risk of narrowing the gap between poor and middle class, because the poor may get a brief boost in the short term, but once prices adjust to match the new labor force, all we're left with is the middle class seeing no adjustment in their pay, but suddenly having to more for everything they were buying before. When the middle class is dragged closer to poverty, nobody wins. Except the super rich. 

 

That said, I do hope this strike gets them better wages without having to resort to changing minimum wage laws. Getting to somewhere around 10-11 dollars an hour would be a major boost for people in these jobs. But I doubt that's the real agenda of the people running it. 



#5 SteveT

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Posted 07 September 2014 - 09:54 AM

To me, conversation about wages boils down to one major question:

 

Do companies in a capitalist market in a first-world country bear any social responsibility?

If they do not, then they are driven solely by greed, and wages go down.  The goal is to find ways to extract as much money from the market as possible, and keeping wages as low as they can while still finding employees is part of that.

 

If they do bear social responsibility, then they should be proactive about calculating a living wage, and pay their workers that.  They have responsibilities beyond profit and market share.  They have to deserve to be part of our society.



#6 Selena

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Posted 07 September 2014 - 11:04 AM

 

The problem is that even if they were never meant to be long term jobs, we've developed a society where people are stuck in these jobs and don't get to move into a professional setting, regardless of whether they have other experience or higher education.

 

 

 

To expand upon this point: This dilemma is a symptom of the massive changes that occurred in our economy over the last few decades. Which is where the heart of the "wage crisis" lies.

 

 

The Problem

 

* In the States, jobs in factories and agriculture used to employ a ton of people. 

* All factory jobs that didn't require an engineering degree were shipped overseas (in the interest of higher profits).

* Agriculture has shifted from small family-owned farms to corporate-owned farms (making it harder to break into the industry, for many reasons).

 

* Effectively losing these two industries resulted in a huge employment gap.

 

* The gap was theoretically "fixed" with the dot-com boom and resulting tech jobs.

* Except those jobs require university degrees and extensive training.

* And let's be real -- a lot of people cannot afford university. And employment is not guaranteed, resulting in threat of insane student debt that can't be paid off.

 

* The people who can't afford school -- or the people who are caught in the student debt trap -- then shift to the only available job markets left. Retail and fast food. 

* So, these jobs -- which were once meant for high schoolers -- are now primarily staffed by adults. Many of them with families.

* The huge number of people seeking employment allows companies to hack n' slash wages/hours. 

* So even retail jobs, which once had semi-decent pay, are effectively minimum wage.

 

 

Obviously, the Machines Are Coming. Tech jobs are the future. Due to the poor health of the population, so are medical jobs. But we have a huge problem there. You need higher education to break into those fields. And higher education has become insanely expensive over time, and costs are still increasing -- because higher education in itself is big business. It's becoming harder for people to get training.

 

 

 

The Solution

 

* Make it illegal for corporations to prevent the formation of unions, as they are a necessary part of functional capitalism. No unions? See: Industrial Era wages. It will prevent workers from being completely shit upon. My team leader was routinely "convinced" to work off-the-clock. Shit like that ain't right. Low wage workers deserve as much respect as the next person, because they're all still human.

 

* Ban companies from shipping their workforce overseas. This was always a shitty thing to do.

 

* State-funded university. If university is effectively as necessary as high school now, then public education should accommodate that. Take away the for-profit aspect of university, and impoverished people will actually have an opportunity to go without risking massive personal debt.

 

 

"But we can't afford that!"

 

Yes we can -- trim the insanely bloated military budget. The money is there. The money we wasted on the F-22 and Joint Strike Fighter programs alone would have likely paid for this program. When people hear "let's trim the military budget," they think it means reducing troop numbers or military power. It really just means trimming up all the unnecessary "projects" that blow through the budget with minimal gain. 

 

It will also help if we ban companies from having oversea tax havens -- that's a massive source of lost revenue.



#7 Wolf O'Donnell

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Posted 07 September 2014 - 11:53 AM

Yeah, Egann... pretty much all the jobs could potentially be replaced:
 

 
In the UK we all pump our own petrol. In supermarkets, we pack our own bags. Heck, supermarkets are even trying to get us to check out our own goods. Today, when I was at the supermarket I didn't go to one of the manned checkouts; I had already scanned everything myself as I went around the aisles. All I had to do was load the scanned data to the checkout machine and feed it the required amount of money. The machine gave me my discount coupons (£0.96, yay!), my change (or at least, it would have, if I hadn't paid by card) and calculated everything else. Heck, if it wasn't for the fact that I'd chosen the one day they had decided to do a random security check to make sure I'd scanned everything in my bags, I wouldn't have interacted with a single supermarket employee.
 
But I'm getting off track here.
 
What I want to know is what are they currently being paid and how does it translate in the long term of things?
 
In the UK, the minimum wage is £6.50 for those over 21.  In the UK, presuming a wage of £6.50 per week and a maximum 40-hour week day, that's £260 or £1,040 per month. Tax is on the whole annual pay, so the tax amount applies to the yearly salary of £12,480. Tax allowance is £10,000, so only £2,480 is taxable. Tax at the basic rate (to which this applies) is 20% since austerity measures. £496 gets taken off as a result. I'm not sure how the government works it out, but National Insurance payments for this kind of salary would be £542.88.
 
So:
 
£12,480 gross pay
 
Less
£496 tax taken off
£542.88 National Insurance deducted from pay
 
Net pay is £11,441.12 which at the current US exchange rate is $18,683.96..
 
Now, I'm going to use the Joseh Rowntree Foundation's figures for a minimum budget, because when i attempted to do the calculations myself, I ended up with a net take home pay of -£1,969.88, not including clothing or even transport costs.
 
Now the JRF calculated that a minimum weekly budget for a single working age person is £197.86. so a yearly budget is £10,288.72, which leaves a person with £1,152.40 of disposable income.
 
Now the fast food workers are asking for $15 per hour. Presuming the same laws limiting working hours to 40 hours per week, that's $600 per week or $2,400 per month. Yearly salary would be $28,800, which converts to £17,640. That's not too far off from my own salary and I'm an office worker doing 42 hours plus per week. So you see, I'm having difficulties judging what they're asking for. From looking at exchange rates alone, what they're asking for seems ludicrous.

 

But then again, using exchanges rates, I can determine that the US minimum wage of $7.50 is about £4.60.



#8 Selena

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Posted 07 September 2014 - 01:43 PM

Wolf: Your numbers are technically right, but with one correction. Most people in fast food and retail do not -- ever -- work 40 hours per week. Companies deliberately limit one's working hours to avoid paying out benefits. So you're looking at probably 10-20 hours per week for the average job. Maximum is about 35. Many people work multiple jobs, but it's hard to do that because of conflicting schedules. The less available you are for one job, the less likely the employer is to give you hours. 

 

For example, my coworker was available to work with us two days a week, because she was with another job on the remaining days. Our manager allowed this.... for a time. Eventually, because she was the least available teammate, she was cut from the schedule entirely. 

 

So while juggling multiple jobs is possible, it's very hard. Especially since most jobs require similar schedules. And if you get a night job and a day job, you have minimal time to sleep. Which is obviously bad.

 

My regular adjusted salary in retail was less than 10,000 USD / 7770 Euro. Insufficient funds to live on one's own (average studio flat is around $750 a month here).

 

 

 

Of course, it's more important to focus on pathways to actual careers than it is to focus on "adding luxury" to entry jobs. Although retail really could use a boost --- the old people who worked with us used to have fulltime employment and a long list of clients. New CEO took over, fired all the vets who got paid well. Replaced them with 3x as many workers -- all part-time twentysomethings who weren't paid well. Customer service tanked, customers were unhappy, and general store reputation went downhill. So it'd be good for salespeople to get some more attention. 

 

Most people do shop online nowadays, and there's self-checkout for easy things like grocery stores. But some retail businesses certainly do benefit from a well-trained, well-compensated staff.



#9 Masamune

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Posted 07 September 2014 - 02:10 PM

To me, conversation about wages boils down to one major question:

 

Do companies in a capitalist market in a first-world country bear any social responsibility?

If they do not, then they are driven solely by greed, and wages go down.  The goal is to find ways to extract as much money from the market as possible, and keeping wages as low as they can while still finding employees is part of that.

 

If they do bear social responsibility, then they should be proactive about calculating a living wage, and pay their workers that.  They have responsibilities beyond profit and market share.  They have to deserve to be part of our society.

 

If our government has allowed companies to become 'too big to fail' to the point where our tax dollars now becomes an insurance policy to their own failings, then they absolutely have a social responsibility. It would be an entirely different matter if they were smaller companies that competed on a local level and thus were subject to rising and falling based on their own merits. 



#10 Green Goblin

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Posted 07 September 2014 - 08:22 PM

Yeah, I've been preaching pretty much the same thing for the past 8 years, Selena.  I'm honestly not sure how these haven't been made a main point in any candidacy.  =/



#11 Egann

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Posted 07 September 2014 - 08:33 PM

Unions are basically privately owned companies. They should be treated as such, regulated as such, and it's a bad idea to let them donate money to politicians for the EXACT SAME REASON.
 
Think about it. They take dues from workers, making them paying customers, and deliver services: wage negotiation. So a union is not somehow a hole in free market capitalism. It's just a niche for another business. The only thing anti-capitalist about unions is that they tend to give massive wads of cash to politicians to make them look the other way as the union forms draconian (and sometimes abusive) local monopolies.
 
The problem I have with any company, unions included, giving money to a politician is not just that it feels incestuous, but that money rightly belongs to your stakeholders. The company should give that money to its constituents--be they shareholders or union members--and let them make that decision. It's exactly like the leadership doesn't trust you to give their buddies in Washington the correct cushy bribe when the money's yours and not some fictitious company's.
 
 
The other problem is taxation. Let me use Wolf's logic in reverse.On paper my wage washing dishes was $8.50, but let's take a close look at one of my checks to see what's actually going on:
 
Qty: 21.01 (# of hours)
 
Rate 8.5 (my wage)
 
Current: 178.64 (that week's pay)
 
Federal Withholding: 14.00
Social Security Employee: 11.00
Medicare Employee: 2.60
GA Income Tax: 4.41
 
Net Pay: 146.56
 
So...because of taxation my effective wage that week was 146.56/ 21.01, or $6.97 per hour. Granted, I got a fair bit of that back...BUT WAIT! IT GETS BETTER! See the ones labelled "Employee?" Those are withholdings the employer has to match. Crunch the numbers for those...my employer sees my wage as at least $9.15.
 
I hope you're starting to see the issue. Wages didn't just stop increasing in the 70s; what's keeping them flat or on the decline is the government abusing their ability to hide taxation on the employer's ledger. True wages--the difference between an employer's books before and after an employee works--have been increasing slowly, but at the same time taxation has been marching upwards, too.
 
 
So, on to discussion.
 
 
 

I also think it's unfair that companies can outright fire their entire staff if they attempt to form a union -- I think it's unethical that companies can even require you to sign a waiver like that. Unions -- like any organization -- can become corrupt with power. But I think they're an essential part of functional capitalism. So all the union busting that went on in the 80's? Really came home to roost. Because that's when a lot of the pay stagnation started. People at my old place of employment used to have near-full time jobs and decent benefits. Yeah.... that ended. Hardcore.

 
I kinda have this "necessary evil" view of unions. Unions aren't exactly a pleasant thing. They have a long history of death threats, intimidation, and make eyebrow-raising campaign donations...but at the same time they do increase wages and improve working conditions.
 
The problem I see is that unions are very much in bed with political machinery, especially on the democrat side. Blocking unions from donating to political entities may be the technically correct thing to do, but you know as well as I do that the major unions will act like end times have come and make death threats galore over it.
 
I know that most unions aren't that bad, but you never need to regulate the good ones. How do you regulate something that can go that sour? I know what I would do if I were starting again from scratch, but that's not a choice here, is it?
 
 
 
 

This doesn't even cover the fact that fast food jobs of any kind have and never were meant to be sustaining for anyone lower than manager. It's grunt work at best, I would know after the years I worked at McDonalds. The idea is that you work there for a bit and then move on to something after they see that you're competent enough to get a job and work in a professional setting. It was never meant to be long term unless you had plans to move up in the company (which is possible depending on your restaurant). But given how fast food is the only work many people can find these days, a lot of people are left stuck on this level because there is no other place to go.

 
Yeah, the whole "stuck there" thing is very unpleasant. I have a college degree now and I just about got stuck washing dishes for the rest of time.
 
If I had to ask for something which made sense, it would be employee training and employee scholarship programs. You know that most of these fast food joints are well connected enough to arrange something for their medium-term employees to make sure they don't truly get stuck flipping burgers. Heck, even just some online courses with certifications would be a great step forward, and you know that wouldn't cost too much in bulk when most of their employees won't use it.
 
EDIT: Continuing the post.


To me, conversation about wages boils down to one major question:

Do companies in a capitalist market in a first-world country bear any social responsibility?

If they do not, then they are driven solely by greed, and wages go down. The goal is to find ways to extract as much money from the market as possible, and keeping wages as low as they can while still finding employees is part of that.

If they do bear social responsibility, then they should be proactive about calculating a living wage, and pay their workers that. They have responsibilities beyond profit and market share. They have to deserve to be part of our society.


If our government has allowed companies to become 'too big to fail' to the point where our tax dollars now becomes an insurance policy to their own failings, then they absolutely have a social responsibility. It would be an entirely different matter if they were smaller companies that competed on a local level and thus were subject to rising and falling based on their own merits.

Somehow I don't think the Feds will ever bail out fast food. Particularly not this administration.

The social responsibility thing is something I'm half onboard with and half off. Strictly speaking, a corporation with social responsibility can't feed its customers revolting grease-bombs, even if they sell.

I really want these companies to meet half-way. I seriously doubt that most fast food companies can survive paying their whole staff $15 an hour, at least not without laying a third of them off and running the whole thing more efficiently. That said, I do think they should do something--like employee training; see above--which helps people along.

I don't think you can judge a company's social responsibility on just the wage they pay, but the effect they have on their employee's future. A good company with social responsibility may have, for example, unpaid interns, but I won't complain because the interns are gaining meaningful skills and experiences and are better workers because of it. That's not true here. Workers coming out of McDonalds and BK gained few meaningful skills or experiences.

That's not how it should work. You want to use our labor pool? Return the workers to the pool better than they were when you acquired them. Either the workers will be well paid or they gain skills and experiences from you which send them in a positive direction. Ideally both would be true, but I will settle for one or the other.

In the UK we all pump our own petrol. In supermarkets, we pack our own bags. Heck, supermarkets are even trying to get us to check out our own goods. Today, when I was at the supermarket I didn't go to one of the manned checkouts; I had already scanned everything myself as I went around the aisles. All I had to do was load the scanned data to the checkout machine and feed it the required amount of money. The machine gave me my discount coupons (£0.96, yay!), my change (or at least, it would have, if I hadn't paid by card) and calculated everything else.


Yes and no.

Technology isn't a substitute for human labor so much as a mechanical problem solving aid. You make technology replace human labor when you frame the issue correctly.

For example, in twenty years I think we'll have drones automatically pick up groceries for us. Give it a list of items, it asks for transaction approval, and then it goes to the store and fetches the order. There's no need to get into a vehicle and travel there when this is a mundane task you can delegate to a computer.

That last bit is my point. We aren't replacing labor so much as re-delegating the mundane and repetitive aspects, which frees the human labor up to move higher in the intellectual chain. For example, I now work in line-editing manuscripts for a university press, reading them in great detail to ensure there are no missing words or grammatical errors. It's a tedious and difficult job, in part because there are at least two styles in just American English you can edit toward; Chicago style and Associated Press style.

Eventually, a computer will be able to do my job for me. I don't think that will be soon because language inherently involves ambiguity and judgement calls, but it will happen. When that happens, my sort of labor can move up one notch to manuscript review and acceptance, which is more about abstractions.

What technology is doing is not replacing human labor but DISPLACING it. It's forcing it away from mundane and repetitive tasks and toward intellectual abstraction. It feels the same in the short run because you lose your job, but in the long run it is a completely different thing.

Edited by Egann, 08 September 2014 - 02:38 PM.


#12 Wolf O'Donnell

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Posted 09 September 2014 - 01:51 PM

Yes and no.

Technology isn't a substitute for human labor so much as a mechanical problem solving aid. You make technology replace human labor when you frame the issue correctly.

For example, in twenty years I think we'll have drones automatically pick up groceries for us. Give it a list of items, it asks for transaction approval, and then it goes to the store and fetches the order. There's no need to get into a vehicle and travel there when this is a mundane task you can delegate to a computer.

That last bit is my point. We aren't replacing labor so much as re-delegating the mundane and repetitive aspects, which frees the human labor up to move higher in the intellectual chain. For example, I now work in line-editing manuscripts for a university press, reading them in great detail to ensure there are no missing words or grammatical errors. It's a tedious and difficult job, in part because there are at least two styles in just American English you can edit toward; Chicago style and Associated Press style.

Eventually, a computer will be able to do my job for me. I don't think that will be soon because language inherently involves ambiguity and judgement calls, but it will happen. When that happens, my sort of labor can move up one notch to manuscript review and acceptance, which is more about abstractions.

What technology is doing is not replacing human labor but DISPLACING it. It's forcing it away from mundane and repetitive tasks and toward intellectual abstraction. It feels the same in the short run because you lose your job, but in the long run it is a completely different thing.


That's the sort of thing the video argued wasn't going to happen, but I'm not going to argue that point.




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