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Thread: The Failure of Socialism (And Whether We Can Fix It)

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    Zombie Jesus Bloody School Daze's Avatar
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    The Failure of Socialism (And Whether We Can Fix It)

    So over in the jobs are for machines thread, Madrigal made some excellent points about automation, how on an individual level a company can only profit from it by shelling less money out to workers, and how on a broad level this would mean that you'd have to accept lower profits or lower demand, the first of which would preclude companies from taking the plunge, and the second of which could cause recessions in the worst-case scenario, and in a better-case scenario leave a very large underclass.

    She then went on to argue that socialism was a solution to this, and for that sort of problem I would say that either it or very left-leaning capitalist policies would be the answer. But then again...look at socialism! It's never really done well, historically, and as such I'd want to question its implementation here. Are there negative side effects worth considering? Do they matter at a stage of our economic development so great that robots can do all our work for us?

    You decide!

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    igKnight Hephaestus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vortex View Post
    how on an individual level a company can only profit from it by shelling less money out to workers, and how on a broad level this would mean that you'd have to accept lower profits or lower demand, the first of which would preclude companies from taking the plunge, and the second of which could cause recessions in the worst-case scenario, and in a better-case scenario leave a very large underclass.
    Except the premise isn't true. Companies also profit by using cheaper materials and improving processes. The former is pretty obvious: if you can either find a less expensive source for material, or a less expensive material, you can cut costs on production. Happens all the time--it's why many foods have ingredient lists with qualifiers like "May contain some or all of the following". It's also why early production runs are often more robustly built than final production runs.

    Another thing is improved processes or simplification of assembly. This is a broad topic that includes Taylorization, but that's hardly the end of it (save by the most broad application of the idea). The early version of the Waldorf Blofeld (pre-production version) was all handmade bits. The production model replaced all that with a chip or two, and off the rack potentiometers. Obviously way cheaper to build--and simpler.

    As another example, something already in the realm of automation: CNC programs. Much of CNC programming today is automated. Software generates "a solution" to the problem of carving a part out of a piece of billet. That doesn't mean the solution thus created is a good one.

    There are two main vectors for improving that solution, each provides value add in reduced costs of production without reducing the pay or benefits to workers (save perhaps by being so efficient you run out of work, but that's a different problem).

    The first vector is tool choice. In my limited experience, these automated solutions end up with tools that work, but aren't ideal. It's common for the first iteration to call for tools much much longer than necessary. This increases cost because the longer the cutter, the greater the likelihood of breakage (especially if the tool is overlong therefore less supported by the work) and the greater the likelihood of mis-cuts. Axial runout (the difference between the circle of rotation at the spindle end of the tool, and how big a circle the business end makes) can be a serious problem when your tolerances are small. Improved tool choice will reduce costs by reducing tool breakage, and reducing scrap, neither of which remove from worker pay--though in the long run, the higher those costs are, the less workers will be paid.

    The second vector is improved tool path. Sometimes the fixes are subtle, sometimes they're really really obvious. Improved tool paths reduce machine run time per part. To a point, reduced run-time means more parts per hour, which means mo' money, mo' money, mo' money. The limits on this are mostly human operator limits. It still takes time to unload finished parts and load new material, and the operator still needs to inspect the finished part and do the basic accounting involved with production tracking.

    But, it's a very relevant concern regarding automation, as it means that even in the mythical fully automated factory, there's still some profit to squeeze by improving the automation and reducing runtimes. There are hard limits on how much you can squeeze that way, but those limits are less than the costs of having human workers do the labour. If you could make more profit by replacing your automation with human work, there is something really wrong with your automated process.

    The real problem of a fully automated planet isn't not having human workers to squeeze for profit, but not having people with earnings to spend. It's the lack of market, not labor that would kill commerce as we know it.
    --Mention of these things is so taboo, they aren't even allowed a name for the prohibition. It is just not done.

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    Zombie Jesus Bloody School Daze's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hephaestus View Post
    [spoiler]Except the premise isn't true. Companies also profit by using cheaper materials and improving processes. The former is pretty obvious: if you can either find a less expensive source for material, or a less expensive material, you can cut costs on production. Happens all the time--it's why many foods have ingredient lists with qualifiers like "May contain some or all of the following". It's also why early production runs are often more robustly built than final production runs.

    Another thing is improved processes or simplification of assembly. This is a broad topic that includes Taylorization, but that's hardly the end of it (save by the most broad application of the idea). The early version of the Waldorf Blofeld (pre-production version) was all handmade bits. The production model replaced all that with a chip or two, and off the rack potentiometers. Obviously way cheaper to build--and simpler.

    As another example, something already in the realm of automation: CNC programs. Much of CNC programming today is automated. Software generates "a solution" to the problem of carving a part out of a piece of billet. That doesn't mean the solution thus created is a good one.

    There are two main vectors for improving that solution, each provides value add in reduced costs of production without reducing the pay or benefits to workers (save perhaps by being so efficient you run out of work, but that's a different problem).

    The first vector is tool choice. In my limited experience, these automated solutions end up with tools that work, but aren't ideal. It's common for the first iteration to call for tools much much longer than necessary. This increases cost because the longer the cutter, the greater the likelihood of breakage (especially if the tool is overlong therefore less supported by the work) and the greater the likelihood of mis-cuts. Axial runout (the difference between the circle of rotation at the spindle end of the tool, and how big a circle the business end makes) can be a serious problem when your tolerances are small. Improved tool choice will reduce costs by reducing tool breakage, and reducing scrap, neither of which remove from worker pay--though in the long run, the higher those costs are, the less workers will be paid.

    The second vector is improved tool path. Sometimes the fixes are subtle, sometimes they're really really obvious. Improved tool paths reduce machine run time per part. To a point, reduced run-time means more parts per hour, which means mo' money, mo' money, mo' money. The limits on this are mostly human operator limits. It still takes time to unload finished parts and load new material, and the operator still needs to inspect the finished part and do the basic accounting involved with production tracking.

    But, it's a very relevant concern regarding automation, as it means that even in the mythical fully automated factory, there's still some profit to squeeze by improving the automation and reducing runtimes. There are hard limits on how much you can squeeze that way, but those limits are less than the costs of having human workers do the labour. If you could make more profit by replacing your automation with human work, there is something really wrong with your automated process.

    The real problem of a fully automated planet isn't not having human workers to squeeze for profit, but not having people with earnings to spend. It's the lack of market, not labor that would kill commerce as we know it.[/spoiler]
    I don't actually disagree with any of this--you'll note I said "lower profits or lower demand", and not simply lower profits. The lower profits component comes from an idea I had for an attempted fix of the problems of large numbers of workers not having enough money to buy what they usually do (because the plant didn't need and fired them), which you and I both acknowledge, which would have been an attempt to redistribute money back to the workers that lost their jobs through the corporate profits of the people that fired them.

    There are other ways to fix this stuff during the transition, but once everyone's automated managing it is trickier...and it'd involve tax increases, which aren't great things to impose simply to maintain a status quo.

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    igKnight Hephaestus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vortex View Post
    There are other ways to fix this stuff during the transition, but once everyone's automated managing it is trickier...and it'd involve tax increases, which aren't great things to impose simply to maintain a status quo.
    I don't see how you can fix a lack of currency to flow through taxation. Taxation is always a economic retarder.
    --Mention of these things is so taboo, they aren't even allowed a name for the prohibition. It is just not done.

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    Hasta Siempre Madrigal's Avatar
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    Sorry, did you just say that you can bust the labor theory of value by using "cheaper tools"? Have you told capitalism about this?

    Whether your tool costs 1 dollar or 1 million, it will give you its corresponding worth in production because another capitalist won't sell it for less. The variable element you can pay for less than it's worth is still going to be labor. If by any miracle, the one-dollar tool and the million-dollar tool produce the same results, the poor bastard who built the second one will quickly go bankrupt and possibly devote himself to anything but business, because everyone will buy the 1-dollar tool. You won't get a cheaper tool than the next capitalist for very long.
    Everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent. - Mao

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    igKnight Hephaestus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Madrigal View Post
    Sorry, did you just say that you can bust the labor theory of value by using "cheaper tools"? Have you told capitalism about this?

    Whether your tool costs 1 dollar or 1 million, it will give you its corresponding worth in production because another capitalist won't sell it for less. The variable element you can pay for less than it's worth is still going to be labor. If by any miracle, the one-dollar tool and the million-dollar tool produce the same results, the poor bastard who built the second one will quickly go bankrupt and possibly devote himself to anything but business, because everyone will buy the 1-dollar tool. You won't get a cheaper tool than the next capitalist for very long.
    Nope. I didn't say that at all. I said you can improve your profits by using cheaper materials. I said you can improve your profit margin by making better tool choices--ones most apropriate to the job thereby less prone to error and breakage. And I said you can improve your profits by improving your processes.

    I also said that at a certain point in improving and automating processes, you can't squeeze the worker because the worker is the problem. You have to cut them out because they are slowing down production by existing. The maximal profit point is beyond the moment when your worker is 100% waste.
    --Mention of these things is so taboo, they aren't even allowed a name for the prohibition. It is just not done.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hephaestus View Post
    I don't see how you can fix a lack of currency to flow through taxation. Taxation is always a economic retarder.
    1. Spending, being the inverse of taxation, would therefore have to create economic growth.
    2. What about the multiplier effect? There's reason to think it'd be important here.

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    Hasta Siempre Madrigal's Avatar
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    You're not improving your profit by improving your tool choices or processes. You're only improving your output. The profit is still the portion of production that gives more than it's paid for. That's still the human being. At some point in the production of a commodity, someone put in value that they didn't get paid for. Additionally, if a tool exists that needs no labor input to produce, run, maintain, repair and improve, nobody will sell it to you because that is the chicken that lays golden eggs. It doesn't exist.
    Everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent. - Mao

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    igKnight Hephaestus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Madrigal View Post
    You're not improving your profit by improving your tool choices or processes. You're only improving your output. The profit is still the portion of production that gives more than it's paid for. That's still the human being. At some point in the production of a commodity, someone put in value that they didn't get paid for. Additionally, if a tool exists that needs no labor input to produce, run, maintain, repair and improve, nobody will sell it to you because that is the chicken that lays golden eggs. It doesn't exist.
    Improving output is improving profit. It's a direct cost reduction. That's why we do it. More things made per hour with less material cost to produce for the same price is more money. Your premises are flawed and one of those flaws is the belief a human being is necessary to the production of goods. Another of those flaws is the belief that the human cost is the only one of relevance to reduce. That's just a rhetorical foolishness.

    If normally a job costs me $500 in tool breakage per 100 parts, and by choosing better tools (more suited to the task) I reduce my tool cost to $250 per 100 parts, and still get my same price, how is that not an improvement in profit? If I'm able to improve my processes so that instead of 3 parts per hour I produce 5 parts per hour--all selling--with no increase in my costs, how is that not an improved profit?
    --Mention of these things is so taboo, they aren't even allowed a name for the prohibition. It is just not done.

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    I see a successful implementation of socialism (either that, or literally everyone just becoming so wealthy that it's no longer necessary, such as in the case of a post-scarcity society) as a necessary next step of human evolution. As in, we either manage to get society to that point, or our best days are behind us and it's just worse from here. I entirely expect the majority of society to be a semi-feudal shithole again within a few centuries though, because I don't think that humanity is going to make that leap. I think we're capable of it, but it has been intentionally made difficult to impossible to achieve.

    If there were parallel realities where historical events stacked up differently, I bet this would be one of the more dystopian ones.

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