Robots, Pixels and People’s Lives

Published by GERALD SAMMS

 Photo credit: ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

CURRENTLY, THE WORLD’S ENTIRE DEBT is worth over three times the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of every nation combined. Take a second to read that over one more time. This particular statistic has the spectacular effect of numbing anyone who actually reads it — so be warned. Here’s another that you should know by now if you read my articles often: In the year 2017, only eight people have just as much wealth as half the planet’s population. Essentially, why I bring up these facts right away is because we’re all collectively working ourselves to death and the numbers prove it.

We’re trying to pay off a debt that will never get paid in our lifetime and our incomes are progressively disappearing into a few people’s humongous bank accounts.

No wonder why most of us feel increasingly stressed out because of money issues. Combining our nonexistent discussions about the effect of taxes, the inflation of the dollar and the coupling rising cost of living makes our petty earnings seem to be ever worthless as time goes on. We notice nothing but the loss of income that we experience. Our honest hard-work is not recognized by our employers as it once was and we feel isolated and alone in the most technologically advanced and connected time in human history. Why is this? Just because of the GDP, the smartphones, and income inequality?

There are many subjects which contribute to inequality — such as off-shore bank accounts, tax evasion, social welfare spending, entitled teenagers, and greedy oligarchs. But I want to bring up two specific topics which I think are the most overlooked right now: the minimum wage and technological advancement. These are both primarily to blame for the economic crux that we find ourselves in.

On the one hand, politics stepped in to legally mandate that employers were only allowed to pay employees a certain amount to work for them in certain countries. In other words, the government intervened with the economic market in a substantial way by essentially eliminating the opportunity for there to be low-paying jobs: say for young workers with no actual experience.

On the other, the automation of the machines went on its natural way to replace millions of entry-level jobs in almost every industry too: ei, basic manufacturing, production, customer service, forms of media… The economy itself had created more efficiency by letting the employer take people out of the equation by substituting workers — who will ask for a raise eventually — with robots who are much cheaper in the long run.

These two situations combine to create the conclusion that this entire recession has been for the general benefit of the people in developed countries. Wealth has apparently gone up for most people, in part because of regulating the minimum wage that a person can be paid and conveniently having the lower paid jobs being taken over by the new technologies that were being invented. Essential jobs — which were taken away because of the minimum wage — have still not had any inventions take its place.

One small example: Think of those fast food joints where a driver would park and have someone wearing rollerblades come up to their car to serve them. This low paying job, in part, disappeared because of the set minimum wage. Yet no machine is there doing that job now. The industry kind of just shifted to drive-thrus that we know now. Why not have these lower-than-minimum wage jobs still around? Is it so bad to pay teenagers, new immigrants and others who are looking for entry-level jobs such a low wage in a developed country? Or is it bad to eliminate the opportunity for smaller companies who cannot afford to pay the wages that are set by the government?

It’s tough to say either way. I mean, people who have to make money are going to get around the minimum wage issue. Usually by moving towards illicit activity to make their profit. By moving offshore, companies are able to get away with anything lately so why not just let them operate. Why push them to the “developing world”?

A lot of opportunity and incentive has been taken away from developed countries because 1) the government has set a minimum wage that businesses can pay their employers (and by doing so has limited the number of companies that can operate) and 2) many of the human capable-only jobs have been wiped out because our inventions and technology hasn’t caught up with our demands yet. Keep in mind that billions of people around the world live off of wages that are nowhere close to what westerners get and our standard of living is so high because of our high taxes to our governments and our expectation of a lot of social welfare that is not provided to billions of other people around the world. The fact that 8 people have more wealth than half the world’s population means that 50% of the world is broke: the 8 people have that wealth instead. There is a huge gap in the wealth gap.

Can I justifiably fight for either side because what is better? They get paid pennies and have governments which aren’t so caring, ei: provide services, health care, retirement pay, disability pay, infrastructure, education — all of the things that most westerner’s now take for granted. We get paid a lot compared to them and have minimum standards for the work that we’ll do, while we rely on social services to get through our rough economic times and in the end, we become much more docile in a competitive market of thieves. Depends on where you’re coming from. This has made us so disconnected in the most connected time in human history. We feel isolated about the concentration of wealth; about the rising competition over that less available cash in the market. We’re afraid to talk about it with others even though we all know it’s happening.

On both sides, the redistribution of wealth is already happening all of the time anyway, so we don’t need socialists like me to ask for more of it. Without the social programs we have now, the ideologies we hold so dear — such as democracy and capitalism — would cease to exist. The issue that I want to mention is not that redistribution is taking place in the first place but that the Global North and the richest citizens of the world have catalyzed the allocation of capital in their own favor and not for the benefit of the Global society.

This has left a financial system in the developed world — the Global North — which capacitates the immoral hoarding of funds which public services, education, housing, and welfare all depend on. Global elites live even more luxurious lifestyles than they did before, while the rest of society gathers debt and struggles to make a living on the same or less actual wealth than before. The people of the Global South, minus the elites, are constantly put through the same stress that a worker in the Global North is faced with — yet we live in the “developed world” and they don’t?

A disengaged workforce

The American workforce has more than 100 million full-time employees. One-third of those employees are what Gallup calls engaged at work. They love their jobs, enjoy their teams and customers, contribute, have great ideas, believe in the mission, feel their job uses their strengths — and they make their organization and America better every day.
At the other end, 16% of employees are actively disengaged — they are miserable in the workplace and seem to exist only to destroy what the most engaged employees are building.
The remaining 51% of employees are not engaged — they’re just there.
These figures indicate an American leadership philosophy that simply doesn’t work anymore. One also wonders if the country’s current dismal, declining productivity numbers point to a need for major workplace disruption.

The current practice of management is now destroying their culture — a staggering 94% of Japanese workers are not engaged at work.
Only 15% of the world’s one billion full-time workers are engaged at work. It is significantly better in the U.S., at around 30% engaged, but this still means that roughly 70% of American workers aren’t engaged. It would change the world if we did better.

Actively disengaged employees spread discord on the job and thwart organizational performance, and their negative outlook may not be confined to the workplace. Countries with high percentages of actively disengaged employees tend to have lower percentages of residents who are giving back to their communities. Of the 90 countries Gallup surveyed, about one in four (26%) residents in the countries with the highest percentage of disengaged workers gave money to charity in the last month, compared with nearly half (47%) of residents in countries with the lowest percentages of actively disengaged workers.
Residents of countries with fewer actively disengaged workers and more engaged workers are more likely to donate money, to volunteer and to help a stranger than are residents of other countries. Many factors potentially contribute to this correlation, including broad economic and cross-cultural differences across countries. As such, Gallup cannot conclude the causal direction in the present data.
Still, residents who face daily uncertainty and strife in their countries experience more negative emotions, which makes it more difficult to see the benefit in altruistic behaviors. They are more likely in a “fight or flight” mindset. An engaging workplace can provide a source of stability that increases the likelihood of positive emotions such as enjoyment and interest. Positive emotions tend to be associated with a higher likelihood of altruistic behaviors, which then benefit the overall community or country.

Gallup Polls


BACK IN THE 1940S, 50S, AND 60S things were very different. They were arguably the most productive and prosperous decades in modern history because of Keynesian economics and the New Deal — which had implemented redistribution of wealth and social welfare on a mass scale in the United States. High taxes on the rich made these systems possible. Taxes as high as 94 per cent ensured that the nation’s purse was not going to be dependent on austerity measures as a solution to economic ills. When the affluent and the business owners were pitching in, there were definitely noticeable effects.

But beginning in the 1970s and 80s, this all changed. Existing until today, lower taxes on the rich and corporations, tax avoidance, mass privatization, the complete elimination of the New Deal programs and of public national companies has been the ongoing trend towards the future. This has many names — such as Reaganomics, trickle down or neoliberal economics. Instead of gathering wealth and redistributing it to the neediest, conservative politicians passed new laws which removed virtually all taxes on the rich, and in doing so, they have torn down the safety net which hundreds of millions of people literally depend on because of the modern limited economy.

Uncertainty — as a result of advanced technology and globalization — has led to the rise of social democracy to counteract the ruthlessness of the free market. Even after a half-century-long Cold War against an “evil” economic system — from which the west adopted many policies from — the confusion remains. The totalitarianism of the Soviet Union or China were not liberal enough to allow positive freedom to flourish and by not concentrating on personal selfish desires, central planning and egalitarian force were applied instead to direct the future.

The rich must pay high enough taxes and see for themselves the social and economic benefit of their contribution. Otherwise, they will find ways to get away with not paying them and attain a larger profit than they did last quarter. That’s what capitalists do; they make more money. That’s why governments are there to limit what they do with it. When comparing the percentage of deductions taken from the average worker and business owner — the amount that’s left over for a worker is hardly enough to survive off of without borrowing because wages have not gone up relative to the inflation of the dollar and because they’re employment literally depends on the underpay they receive so that the capitalist gets their surplus in the end.

The amount that’s left over for a business owner is very high and that “profit” can either be used to elevate societal conditions or to raise the material wealth of a single person or their family. The question of fairness concerning taxation comes down to the predictability that a capitalist won’t pay their whole share if there isn’t someone laying the smack down on them. They will always find ways to dodge their governments with shell companies and offshore bank accounts — which are virtually not available to the poor. We see this happening now with the Panama papers and the Paradise papers. Every paycheque an employee receives already has their “fair share” removed from it. No questions asked. But the employer is left with many ways to write off their shortcomings. Is that fair?

The tax which each individual is bound to pay ought to be certain, and not arbitrary…
The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. A tax upon house-rents, therefore, would in general fall heaviest upon the rich; and in this sort of inequality there would not, perhaps, be anything very unreasonable. It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion…
Every tax, however, is to the person who pays it a badge, not of slavery but of liberty. It denotes that he is a subject to government, indeed, but that, as he has some property, he cannot himself be the property of a master…

All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.

–Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith

If we the people are forced to pay full taxes and remain entirely transparent while doing so, then why is it that a handful of oligarchs can get away with laundering vast amounts of money, withholding their privacy, evading their moral responsibility of being the “masters of mankind” and legally turning themselves into ghosts?

I believe that increased spending, as well as increased taxes and the elimination of the minimum wage would be the ultimate solution to creating a capitalist system that works for everyone. Cutting any programs and letting austerity do its job is not the answer we should be looking for. People (ei. workers) who have less and less income — need those programs and then some (like universal healthcare). And the rich and corporations need to pay for those programs in their taxes — otherwise, it will all fall apart again.

I think the major issue here is not that politicians are freezing their pay. It’s that we blame politicians and expect them to freeze their pay for what is happening in the inequality arena. When it’s the really any rich person who is guilty and getting away with offshoring all their wealth instead of paying their fair share. Celebrities, bankers, CEOs of pharma, food, alcohol, tobacco, communications, media companies, all of the young start-up millionaires — they’re all guilty.

Let’s start looking at what’s making these criminals and stop attacking the public officials who literally do their work for the people. I’m not saying politicians and public officials get a free pass but they aren’t the richest by any means. The system is creating oligarchs, not jobs. It’s shifting those jobs from the poor people in developed countries to the poor people in undeveloped ones.

There are “masters of mankind” in industry, in contrast to those in government, who are much more responsible for paying their fair share to society in taxes because they are much more wealthy, and therefore, much more powerful than the system that created them.logo