“Are we seeing the beginning of the end of work?”

That is a request from Hoover.  Catherine Rampell writes:

In February, for example, just 64.2 percent of adults were either in a job or actively looking for one, representing the lowest participation rate in 25 years.

At the same link you will see evidence that the number is likely to decline.  Some women are less eager to work, some men are quitting the search for work, and there is a general aging of the population.  Fewer students work while they are in school.  Here are further links to future projections.

That’s hardly the end of work but one thing dramatic recessions can do is to reveal new pieces of information.  By overturning the table, we (sometimes) see which pieces of the puzzle did not fit in the first place.  One result of this recession is that we will revise downwards our estimate of the labor force participation rate, both current and future.

A few questions are:

1. What is the political economy of a world where so few people work?

2. What kind of low-rent areas will evolve to accommodate some of these people?

3. Will we in fact move to some form of a guaranteed annual income?

Note that the answer to #2 will affect the feasibility of #3.  And our current notion of “protecting all the old people” against major health care catastrophes may someday be seen as an anachronism.  The more progress medicine makes, the harder this will be to achieve and afford.  Feasible future equilibria all seem to involve death panels, which actually may make #3 seem more attractive, relatively speaking, than spending so much money on Medicare.  Rationally or not, once the moral principle is admitted of not giving everyone absolute protection against every extreme health care event, this may encourage a shift toward cash transfers.


I still can't find a strong critique of the negative income tax. the primary obstacle seems ideological. the welfare state dictates how low status people spend their money, the NIT does not.

perhaps other commenters can point to some material of interest in this subject.


It would also take away some of the need for Keynesian stimulus by providing even stronger automatic stabilizers. Guaranteed annual income will eventually be a feature of a wealthy enough society. Those people who achieve a living equal to the poverty level will not ever be politically powerful enough to make the system worse like seniors have with Medicare and social security. (but mostly Medicare)

well sure it is inevitable given continued meteoric rise in productive capacity, the question is how much pain we go through getting there. Friedman pointed out that NIT was the only scheme he was aware of that was a politically and economically viable method of getting from here (welfare state) to there.

I still can’t find a strong critique of the negative income tax. the primary obstacle seems ideological.

How about fostering (intergenerational) dependency? If welfare does, and the payments are somewhat restricted in use and duration, what happens when its unlimited and unrestricted

Welcome to a world of genuine social democracy. It's kind of interesting to see a libertarian begin to grow up. Koch won't be happy.

Casting people moving in your direction as low status is not the best way to persuade. It feels selfishly good but you just failed at persuasion.

He's not moving in his direction.

Peter :


I wish there was a way to "like" comments here.

This reply technology is kinda of cool.... TINSTATGS.

"It feels selfishly good but you just failed at persuasion."

Who do you think I was trying (if I was trying) to persuade? Not the commenters below, I assure you. Perhaps you were looking for any excuse at all to avoid the obvious conclusions? It's ok. We all understand that human weakness here. We celebrate it! Its called freedom!

For evidence I just present the next 65 or so comments. I didn't know that libertarians were so banally sexist... learn something new every day.

Or, we'll lower the minimum wage. Your grad students already make less than minimum wage.

Where I am, grad students make 24K plus health insurance. This should be typical nation-wide, in large universities anyway.

Okay. $24k is probably a high end, but fine. Health insurance is bullshit. But what cash value would you like to give it?

Judging by the number of hours they put in, 24k is still probably minimum wage.

Health insurance premiums may be about $1200 give or take. That puts us at $25,200 using your numbers. In reality, this is dubious because graduate students are young and healthy and some have to pay their own premiums or some portion. Vacations are frowned upon, but but let's say they get to sneak 2 weeks a year. So, $25,200/50 = $504/wk. At $7.25 that would come to ($504 / $7.25/hr = 69 hours). 69 hours per week is not atypical for a grad student. In fact, 70 is what one professor recommended at my departmental orientation. Keep in mind we are dealing with the high end, aka fairy tale grad school. A lot aren't paid that much if at all and also have to pay tuition, fees, books, etc.

I don't see how Tyler is voicing any opinion significantly different from what he had before. If anything, he's make an anti-social-democracy point about the unsustainability of transfers to pay for healthcare. If you read Yglesias (a relatively neo-liberal "progressive" blogger), he constantly derides Paul Ryan's plan for voucherizing medicare as being too stingy.

At the same link you will see evidence that the number is likely to decline. Some women are less eager to work, some men are quitting the search for work, and there is a general aging of the population. Fewer students work while they are in school. Here are further links to future projections.

At the NYT link, I didn't see whether or not that number referred to all adults, or simply those in the 25-54. Either way, you're getting a lower labor force participation rate because of the aging of the overall population.

It seems to me that to answer your questions it is crucial to analyze the extent to which labor force participation varies *between* persons versus the extent to which it varies over the extent of the *same* person's life. To take an extreme case, consider two worlds:

1. each person spends 50% of adult years working and 50% not working
2. 50% of people spend 100% of adult years working, the other 50% spend 0% of adult years working

These two worlds will both have the same labor force participation rate. They will have very very different configurations of economic and politicial interests.

I don't see the linked articles addressing this question at all, but I could be missing something.

That's a big deal. The nightmare is that many people are simply unable to participate meaningfully in the economy. Given that nightmare, it's surely better that they get aid than that they starve or live in some kind of cyberpunkish high-tech squalor. But it's hard to imagine a society that works and thinks like ours does having a large class of unemployable people on the dole forever, and having it all work out well.

How do you expect the 50% working to feel about their forgone leisure? The stress they've assumed via work?

How do you make them not feel like suckers?

This presupposes that the wealth to pay the unemployed will miraculously continue to be forthcoming ?

That is true, even though there is no solid evidence to the contrary. Even countries that have heavily aged and dropped participation have continued to grow even when population shrinks.

Just like IQs depend a lot on genetics, the tendency to work and nature of work preferred also does. The most important thing to do in this connection, I think, would be to study the less successful people in society and their psychology closely and figure out how to turn them into productive and happy people : what kind of opportunities should be given, should we change the way success is glorified in society etc.

Unfortunately the society is controlled by insanely successful people who have figured out for themselves how to work hard to their own contentment, and these people don't have much clue of what it means to be a moron.

Don't really care about the happy part. If they want to eat they ad better be productive.

Oh, there are enough avenues for parasitic living, or living with very little work. 75% of the working women in Netherlands are part time workers. Which is why we wish to give some other incentive to them to work. At least, I think it is better for the world economy if people work. At least until the economies advance till the point where that can be avoided.

Are you sure you want to create incentives to lower the birth rate in NW Europe even farther? I may be accused of being sexist, but surely one reason there is lower full time workforce participation by women has to do with childbearing and rearing. Once upon a time (not out of living memory) a great many women in the US were not in the work force at all. Was this a problem?

This NYT article does seem to claim (I am not fully convinced) that women working does not lower birth rate :


I should confess, however, that I am not fully convinced with the above article, for instance it conveniently hides the "part time" part about Dutch women.

But the main point I wished to make is, the fact that many people are quitting work does not necessarily mean they will be out of food, as Tom above claimed. There exist ways to live parasitically, though also relatively frugally.

This, I think is because of the following. On one hand, a few people like Terence Tao enjoy their work, work hard, and find fulfillment in that. For most people, work sucks, career is some form of extreme pain, fraught with repeated humiliations and uncertainties, that they should somehow live through to make both ends meet. Pay might have increased, but so seem uncertainties and anxiety as well. Which is possibly, at least partly, why more and more people are choosing to stay out of work. Is it possible to make the "B"-graders start enjoying their career? Why does no one worry about that.

Also, JonF :

Once upon a time (not out of living memory) a great many women in the US were not in the work force at all. Was this a problem?

I can't make a binary decision on whether that is "good" or "bad", but I think that is **unfair** on an average to men - leaving them to face all the uncertainty and humiliation, while women get the routine, relatively pleasant, task of managing the house. It might favor the ambitious men against ambitious women, but it also favors ordinary woman against the ordinary man. Feminists have succeeded in making all gender-related discourse gynocentric, which is why such an obvious lack of fairness does not even get noticed.

Or maybe people who earn more money do hate all those late nights at the office, but they do what they gotta do while other people don't do what they gotta do.

Tyler, does this fit or conflict with the great stagnation theory? (not a rhetorical question) That curve of greatly increasing labor participation from the 50's-1995, then plateau/decreasing, looks an awful lot like the curve of prosperity you described (if I understood it correctly).

But there still seems to be lots of work that could be done but is not.

It's a cost problem. Lower profit work requires a lower cost structure. I predict they will get it in 10 years, in other words, by the time it is too late.

I thought Floccina was referring to work that is needed but not economically demanded, because the people who would benefit from the work don't have the money to pay for it.

Cost isn't the problem there -- lack of resources on the part of the needy is. The market doesn't serve people who arrive at the marketplace emptyhanded.

So, you are talking about people that can't do anything?

I meant that there are still many ways that low skill labor can help improve our lives. It is not like we have run out of things that low skill people can do for us, the puzzle is how to get them working. Now if more wives are opting to not work that is a good thing but men giving up on finding jobs is IMO bad.

I think an hourly wage subsidy might be a way to go if we can figure out away to police it.

IMHO, the first thing to do is slash any fixed cost imposed on employment. If nothing happens, then I was wrong and all we did was eliminate needless regs.

answer to #2: Portland, Oregon.

"Feasible future equilibria all seem to involve death panels, which actually may make #3 seem more attractive, relatively speaking, than spending so much money on Medicare. "

What? Don't you know this is just right wing hysteria?

Welcome to Obamanomics-its like Carternomics, only on steroids.

We of course need a control on death panels. The control is to make the responsible face the consequences first.The first to go should be legislators that voted for Obamacare, then "policy experts" that advocate them (either explicitly or otherwise), then amoral economics professors.

Having several nonogenerians in my family, I'm well aware of the indignities and infirmities of old age. I'm also aware of the dignity inherent in those people. (Unfortunately for the Kevorkians and Logan's Runner's, non has required extreme care-unless you consider antihypertensives, antiarthritics and the like to be extreme).

Most just want to know why a doctor's visit requires Medicare to send them a seven page tree killing statement that says "THIS IS NOT A BILL" in block letters. I tell them the massa' wants you to know he owns you.

These trend started well before Obama came on the scene. And they took off like a rocket in the last decade. The passing politics of the day aren't really an issue here. The causes lie deeper than that.

"These trend started well before Obama came on the scene."

True enough. But Obama is grand theft auto to Bush's shoplifting.

"Note that the answer to #2 will affect the feasibility of #3. And our current notion of “protecting all the old people” against major health care catastrophes may someday be seen as an anachronism. The more progress medicine makes, the harder this will be to achieve and afford. Feasible future equilibria all seem to involve death panels, which actually may make #3 seem more attractive, relatively speaking, than spending so much money on Medicare. Rationally or not, once the moral principle is admitted of not giving everyone absolute protection against every extreme health care event, this may encourage a shift toward cash transfers."

Universal healthcare squeezes the money out of the healthcare system. That is a good thing. Healthcare is unproductive sector. There are a lot of expensive new interventions with low benefits. The low hanging fruit is gone.

'Death Panels' is a needlessly emotive term. The fact is, human beings die and as they approach the end of their lives the cost of extending their lives and keeping them comfortable rockets.

In the UK, to keep NHS costs from spiraling upwards, a body called NICE assesses whether it is worth the state paying for particular treatment. The measure it uses is the Quality-Adjusted Life Year (QALY) which is determined by asking lots of patients how much of their remaining life they would give up to be completely free of their medical condition for the rest of that life.

Its not perfect, but its fair (unlike a market allocation of such resources) and has kept old age care free at the point of delivery without bankrupting the UK government (the financial services sector is responsible for our current crisis). Sadly, it got nothing but bad press, essentially being accused of killing cancer patients by pundits too immature to grasp the notion that the NHS is not a bottomless pit of money. Rationing of healthcare resources *has* to happen, and its better to happen by rationally assessing how much quality of life a treatment buys for the money, than by simply abandoning the majority who cannot afford the best end-of-life care to an unpleasant and undignified end.

"NICE" definitely sounds better than "Death Panel". May be here in the US we call it "TLC" (for Tanato-Legalistic Council, or something). Seriously, though, I found it appalling how low value NICE puts on an additional year of human life. Essentially, if I remember correctly, they will not pay more than $15k per year (please correct me if I'm wrong). But this is just the upper limit, in other words, if the drug is generic, $100 per QALY will do, which means that the average cost is what - may be half of the maximum price? That's why the outcomes are worse than in the US, and that's why people who can afford it take 'holidays' to Italy (mostly, for some reason) to get treatment that NICE doesn't approve of (they cannot get it at home because if they did, and if they pay for it themselves, NICE will require them to pay all of their medical bills, including the stuff that is covered).
Making these kind of decisions is hard, complicated and usually a dirty job. It seems to me that UK population acquiescence to NICE is caused by lack of understanding of how low value it puts on QALY and the fact that people that can afford it go abroad for treatment without rising much fuss.

Health outcomes are not worse in the UK than the US (We live slightly longer than Americans, and the only measures that the US performs better on are ones that aren't good measures, e.g. 2 year survival rates for prostate cancer). Furthermore, NICE does not deny people NHS treatment if they choose to also pay for private treatment. That sounds like something a teapartyer made up.

The notion that an American thinks they know better than a Briton how the NHS performs is utterly laughable. I have never encountered anyone, in my entire life, who has taken a healthcare holiday to escape the NHS. The opposite in fact, I know someone who fell sick in the US, and delayed treatment until they got back to the UK.

Healthcare without payment at the point of delivery is not only possible, it has been a reality in my country since 1948. And it has been consistently popular with the population, who know exactly how it works, since that time. It isn't that British people are blind to flaws in the NHS, its that they understand that they are a worthwhile price to pay for not having to worry about being financially ruined by suddenly falling sick.

"Health outcomes are not worse in the UK than the US (We live slightly longer than Americans,"

Average life span is not a medical outcome.

No, comparing broadly similar populations, it is a sanity check on whether those NICE death panels in the UK are actually leading to a lot of old people dying needlessly, to save a bit of money. Apparently, they're not, probably because most super-expensive medical treatments are way out on the margins, either applying only to extremely rare conditions, or buying an extra few months of expected lifespan after all the more affordable treatments have failed.

Maybe not, but most people would put it first on the list of things they care about in regards to their health.

"The notion that an American thinks they know better than a Briton how the NHS performs is utterly laughable."

Conversely, The notion that a Briton thinks they know better than an American how the US system performs is utterly laughable.

"I have never encountered anyone, in my entire life, who has taken a healthcare holiday to escape the NHS."

Well, perhaps you need to expand your social circle. One man's observations is anecdote, not evidence. However,even if it were, absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence.

Much of the rest sounds like something a Europhile would make up.

I notice how you clearly consider your own anecdote to be hard evidence, whilst my never having witnessed something you claim is common to be irrelevant is not. Double standard much?

Also, Europhile? Are you doubting I'm actually British, or are you implying my opinions on EU membership are relevant?

don't say "Death Panels", say "Quality-Adjusted Life Year Measurements"
don't say "Torture", say "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques"
don't say "War", say "Kinetic Military Action"
don't say "Truth" say "Needlessly Emotive Term"

I don't think it's a "needlessly emotive" term at all. I think it's a spade that should not be called a "dirt removal device." A panel whose job it is to decide to withhold lifesaving care to someone who might not benefit from the receipt of it is by necessity a Death Panel. That job is best left to the recipient and his loved ones.

The biggest problem with healthcare is that there is so much of it available now, and people have gotten the idea that they should have all of it without paying market prices for it. They don't mind paying market [prices for food, a genuine "NEED" but they really, genuinely believe that someone else ought to pay for ALL of their "healthcare," including non-theraputic abortions, and elective surgery like knee replacements. It could be argued that knee surgery is not elective, but not having it may affect your quality of life but would only in very rare cases be considered life-threatening. And yet someone suffering from chronic knee pain that can be relieved with a knee replacement truly believes that they somehow "deserve" to have that surgery. And that someone else should pay for it. Why? because they "need" it?

Obviously I'm not an economist but I'm still trying to wrap my mind around all the plusses and minuses of this stuff.

I had something like Nicholas Weininger's hypotheticals in mind, but I imagine that the more stable and equitable systems will factor in the length of the work week

3. each person spends 66.7% of adult years working 30 hours per week.

Haven't we been seeing this trend occur over the past century?

"‘Death Panels’ is a needlessly emotive term."

No, it is appropriately emotive because it was coined when boosters were lying that this was not what was intended.

I remember reading a quip that madmen weren't men who'd lost their reason, they were people who lost everything BUT their reason. Perhaps that's why it's "needlessly emotive". Much easier for nice reasonable bureacrats to pull the plug without any emotions involved.

Oh wait, "lying" is needlessly emotive...ummm....they were spinning...no wait...de-emphasizing...

That needs a "like" button.

Andrew, seeing as 'Death Panels' is a needlessly emotive and inaccurate description of an organisation like NICE, nobody was 'lying' when they said that US healthcare wouldn't require 'Death Panels'.

Maybe you should read this: http://www.cracked.com/article_19086_5-reasons-humanity-terrible-at-democracy.html

I don't need to read the cracked article because I get it now after you have repeated that the term is needlessly emotive AND inaccurate.

Are you seriously asking about what incentives would be given to those who work the more we subsidize those who do not?

How about Eternal Rest Panels? That's peaceful and not needlessly emotive. Or Final Reward Panels? Damned Sarah Palin!

I think some people have a very immature attitude towards death.

You will die one day. Worse, the world will largely not notice your passing. Please weigh this against the notion that no expense should be spared prolonging your existence another day. Even if its your own money, at a certain point isn't it better for it to go to your family or a charity than to be frittered away giving you a few more, painful, lungfuls of oxygen?

What's more, there is no way around the existence of death panels, whatever you call them. There is not an infinite pot of wealth from which to draw medical resources to treat anyone. Having that done more-or-less in the open is politically unpalatable, but it's probably better than having it done on the quiet by Medicare and insurance companies and medical providers.

This. Nice post.

And some people are a little to eager for death, when its somebody else's.

We might be seeing a part of that Eurpoean attitude, now cloaking itself as "mature" that gave us two world wars and the slaughter of millions.

I will however be happy to see that your demise isn't postponed by the expendiiture of a single pence.

If you are going to pin the damn holocaust on anybody having a serious discussion of end-of-life issues, you need to seriously grow up.

The phrase 'Death Panels' makes you sound like someone who watches Glenn Beck in his underwear whilst cleaning his 4 dozen guns and muttering to himself about the new world order. Going all Godwin on anyone who questions your fringe viewpoint doesn't help this either.

Are you auditioning for a job on the DPs? You would be perfect for it - you could just read that last paragraph to the unfortunate soon-to-be-deceased applicant, and then pull out your big stamp and proclaim "Request Denied".

Are you really coming to an economics blog to snark on people for pointing out the existence of scarcity?

Hmmm, maybe there is some alternative to having a government bureaucracy decide the cutoff point. Hmmm.. What could it be? Think...think....

If you're paying for your own healthcare, then the only limit is your available funds. If an insurance company is paying, then they are, indeed, going to be making judgments about whether or not to pay for marginal treatments, stuff that costs lots of money and doesn't seem to provide much benefit. If Medicare or Medicaid or the VA or Tricare or some future government healthcare provider is paying, they will also make those decisions.

To put this in perspective, imagine you're in charge of the national health service in a fairly poor country. With your budget, you can make sure everyone gets vaccinated, broken bones and infections and appendicitis gets treated, even the more treatable kinds of cancer get treated, but that's it. You have no more budget to spend. Someone proposes setting up a hospital in which you can do heart bypass surgery, bone marrow transplants, organ transplants, and similar high cost procedures. You can do this only by cutting back on those other things, and in cutting back, you'll lose more patients than you save. What do you do?

Here's the thing: In a political discussion on the internet, or a political debate in front of low-IQ media talking heads, you can get away with pretending that there are no constraints, and that it's some evil people keeping you from providing every medical resource imaginable. But in reality, someone has to decide what to provide. When it's a choice between setting 100 broken bones and doing one liver transplant plus lifetime expensive medical care for the transplant recipient, you have to actually make a tradeoff.

The only way we avoid that is if we're so rich relative to the cost of medical interventions that we can afford them all. This is the situation we're in w.r.t. food and shelter today, and a situation we weren't in a century ago--we can feed and shelter and clothe and school everyone without really spending all that much of our wealth, because we're so incredibly wealthy. I doubt that this is true for medical care, though my impression is that most of the stuff that currently gets denied as not cost-effective is stuff that doesn't help much anyway, so maybe I'm wrong. (That is, the super expensive monoclonal antibody therapy ends up improving survival times by eight months or something.) This problem definitely exists at Brazil's income level and Nigeria's.

Uh, if it's MY money, it's MY choice where it's better that it go. NOT my children's choice. NOT my doctor's choice, and NOT the government's choice. Although the government will steal a great deal of it.

What will it do to the politics of taxation. Wage earners will be a smaller portion of the total income and voting public. I anticipate a shift from wage towards consumption taxes.

Back of the envelope here:

In 1800 5% of (adult?) women worked. Because life expectancy was 40 and children started working at maybe 10, male adult and child labor participation overall must have been no more than 75%. (0.75 + 0.05) / 2 = 0.4. So in 1800 labor participation may have been around 40%.

I am new to this, but are we not returning to baseline in terms of participation?

I do agree that there is a problem because in hunter / gatherer societies, freeloaders were expelled or killed - or the tribe died. In agricultural slave/feodal societies, freeloaders did not exist.

A life expectancy of 40 did not mean that everyone keeled over on their 40th birthday. Mainly, that number was so low because so many children died. The survivors (who generally had superior immune systems) could look forward to 60-70 years.

You are right. I could not find any literature, but there are references, without source attribution, to people in the 1790's at age 20 having life expectancy to age 48-58. So then, male participation cannot have been more than (58-10)/58, or ~85%, thus labor participation overall (0.85+0.05) / 2 = 0.45, still substantially below 64.2.

Wy are you assuming that no women worked in the 1790s? It was quite the contrary: other than upper class women, almost all of them worked. Of course in 1790s many (most?) people, excluding slaves, labored at home, either on family farms or in home-based businesses.

"Some women are less eager to work...."

Stat for that assertion please! Are women really "less eager" to work? Or are they less able to find a job in this economy? Less able to afford daycare, given the stagnating wages American workers have experienced since the days of Reagan? Tired of working the double shift (parent & career) while their husband works just the career, leaving parenting and household stuff to the wife? Sick of getting paid less than a man for the same job?

Please don't let sexism creep into analysis.

You also say: "One result of this recession is that we will revise downwards our estimate of the labor force participation rate, both current and future."

Do you really mean that? Are you accepting this unacceptable level of high unemployment as the new normal? In my neck of the woods, I don't see people who don't want to work. I see people who cannot find decent jobs that offer decent salaries. The idea that we need to find more "low-rent" opportunities for labor in America seems a hike down the wrong path, not "steps to a better world."

I see people who cannot find decent jobs that offer decent salaries.

We should all be more specific what in your mind is a decent salary?

Less able to afford daycare, given the stagnating wages American workers have experienced since the days of Reagan?

Shouldn't some of those with stagnant wages start daycare centers lowering the cost of day care to the others?

I think the math doesn't work out too well for low-wage workers with kids to pay for daycare, at least not for small kids. (Obviously, once they reach age 5, there's a taxpayer-funded place to leave them for most of the workday.) This is true for the same reason it rarely makes sense for low-wage workers to hire maids.

Suppose I make the same hourly rate as the daycare worker, I have two kids in daycare, and the daycare has a 1/8 adult/kid ratio. Even in an ideal world with no overhead or taxes, a quarter of my wages would be going to pay for daycare. Add in overhead of the daycare, overhead costs of keeping a job (wardrobe, commuting costs) and taxes on everyone's wages, and I'll bet it's more like 1/3 to 1/2.

Basically, there's not much advantage to me paying someone to work for me at $X/hour, when I don't make quite a bit more than $X/hour, unless there's some reason I can't do the work but they can.

If only people making shit wages didn't need to pay taxes, it might make more sense.

Most of them don't need to pay taxes; but they don't file their w4's correctly, and then they feel like the government has been so generous when they get that fat refund.

"We should all be more specific..." but for you, right Floccina? What's a decent salary for you?

For me, a decent salary allows a family to buy an affordable home (not as a "sub-prime" borrower, put away money for college and retirement and pay for health care expenses without going into massive debt and afford an occasional vacation.

Ford pays its newly hired automotive workers $14/hr. For a year with no OT, that's less than $30K a year. I'm not that level of income qualifies a family of four for the middle-class any more.

And then there's the "low-rent" opportunities available for minimum wage, no benefits. Which apparently is the road we're heading down, if Tyler's right in his assumptions.

If your not willing to work for the wage offered, your not willing to work. American's are not worth as much as they think they are. There are a billion Chinese people who can do mindless labor too.

Thank you for this. That phrasing jumped out at me - women are "less eager" to work and men "quit the search." Well, if the men stop looking, doesn't that also mean that they are "less eager"? I'm suspicious of the unstated assumption that work is required for men and optional for women - something they only do if they are "eager." Is there analysis to back that up?

Exactly. My political philosophy definitely starts with libertarian principles, but in a world so technologically advanced that we can pretty much guarantee subsistence (that does not include high-end health care...) to everyone with almost no actual human labor required (robot farmers!), we should absolutely do so.

Isn't the point of technology to free up our time for more enjoyable pursuits? Instead of this being the priority, creating jobs are the priority, and technological advance that takes the place of human labor is vehemently resisted. Isn't it ridiculous that we're doing whatever we can to make more work for ourselves!? We kill ourselves to invent new ways to earn a living, whereas if we didn't have to eke out a living, most of us would still produce plenty of value, but have a much happier time doing it. I'm SURE that any "reduction" in GDP resulting from such a transition would be compensated for, many many times over, by the increased subjective quality of life. GDP is only meant to be a proxy for quality of life, after all...

Excellent thoughts, and mirror mine completely.

Back in the day, the utopian idea of the future was that we would all own 'machines' that would do our work for us, and allow us to be paid for that work. Obviously, that didn't (and will not) happen (corporations own those machines that have automized our work), but it's plausible that we can own the corporations instead of the machines, and people can exist solely by being investors.

Last time I checked, a human being made and maintained nearly every important good or service I use. I doubt this glorious future is coming in my lifetime.

Why do you equate work with income?

Just because someone doesn't work doesn't mean they don't have income.

There are many people who currently do not work at all but who have high income because of inherited wealth, for example. If they were lucky and accumulated wealth from not having their income taxed during the last decade, they will have higher income (from wealth) than those who will be paying future income taxes on their work.

If they were lucky and accumulated wealth from not having their income taxed during the last decade


Tell me, Bill- who were these lucky dudes that didn't have their income taxed during the last decade? The vast majority of Americans who actually accumulated wealth in spite of being taxed didn't accomplish it through luck.

cAfQTZ That's way the bestest answer so far!

if you look at the BLS stats going much further back it actually looks like we are reverting to a mean. perhaps we've been living in an anomaly. The two main differences I can think of are the participation of women and a now much older work force.

I would guess that less people working will lead to lower cost structure, the rise of 'cheaper' places and pressure/destruction on structures that depended on the higher working rate, including/especially those subsidized by the workers/tax payers. Cutting this structures down will necessarily also cut the cost structure down. Unfortunately it's a large inter-woven mess and will take a long time. To see what will occur in the interregnum, look to Chicago: the high-rent downtown core has seen a growth in population, but the city over-all declined by 200,000. The middle class are leaving in droves to cheaper suburbs. Or, look to a small town close to where I grew up in N Missouri. I asked someone there what it's like now and he described it has having a lot of people on the dole, living there for the cheap rent (drug use is way up too).

If there is a guaranteed income, all it would be doing is supplementing or replacing ssi and ssdi

I have been trying to avoid work all my life. I have failed miserably.

I suspect with healthcare the limitations will not be on catastrophic events, but on the more mundane stuff. High deductible coverage will become more common (even for the elderly), and ultimately we may see the public side limited to subsidies for the low to moderate income people, and as the (re)insurer of last resort for high dollar claims (which will be paid at very miserly rates).

The final line of the second link says it all: "We need more jobs".

If you look at the times when the employment rate was rising, taxes were significantly higher than they have been trending over the past decade. The rate flattened when Reagan cut taxes just once and then rose steadily as he signed tax hikes. The 90s began with multiple tax hikes. But the past decade has been tax cut after tax cut, and the rate of employment has fallen rapidly.

But hey, tax hikes are unacceptable so the future looks to be declining employment and a worsening economy as the nation's capital stock is consumed and no longer able to generate productive returns. The past several decades reflects an estimated $2 trillion consumption of the public capital stock.

Consuming capital is what you do in your end days. You stop working as hard, start earning less, stop saving, and begin selling off or shedding capital to live beyond your means.

"And our current notion of “protecting all the old people” against major health care catastrophes may someday be seen as an anachronism. The more progress medicine makes, the harder this will be to achieve and afford"

Huh? The better medicine gets, the less it can prevent catastrophes? Even if I give this a charitable interpretation, it amounts to saying that good health care is killing people by making them die of old age.

will, In all scenarios except the creation of a free and permanent treatment of aging, Tyler's analysis is correct.

Tyler's analysis leaves out a key fact: there's no such thing as an unpaid bill. If we rescind our guarantee of insurance to the elderly they will still run up catastrophic medical bills, and those bills be "paid" through bankruptcy and varous cost shifting mechanisms.

Is "work" always necessary for a society, though? Are we seeing the nascent stages of a very very slow transition to the point where humans (well, western society at least) finish automating so many of the things they need that fewer and fewer people need to really work. Everybody, except a smaller shrinking, core, just enjoys more and more leisure and need never really have to "work" save for boredom.

Sounds fantasy, but there is nothing theoretically really preventing it right? There isn't any law that says that we need to strive for high employment just for the sake of it? Using technology we might leverage things to the point where a single working adult can support the leisure of another thousand. Maybe this is another symptom that gets interpreted as the "great stagnation". It might be possible to have a 30% unemployed population and yet have a functioning, happy nation? Or not?

This is the kind of thing that will be funny to read when your starving family sends their son of to war to battle some poor Chinese bastard for whatever oil or arable land is left on this rock.

Is this even an issue? I mean, it's gone up from 60 percent to 68 percent and now down to 64 percent. What percent would constitute the end of work? 20? 40?

Some people are intentionally working part time and keeping their income low to qualify for financial assistance programs like education grants, food stamps and Medicaid. They're not lazy. It's just that if you're working full time, but your wage is so low you can't afford to pay for the education to advance, buy enough decent food and get health care, you may as well be poor.

The people I know who make between 30k and 50k are in debt up to their eyeballs and with a large chunk of their income going towards interest on loans...student loans, mortgages, car loans. And have health insurance with $5,000 deductibles. It's like spending money on nothing.

I have no stats. Just anecdotes. But if there are stats I am curious to know what the average person in different income brackets actually spends their money on. Maybe the end of work is really the end of it even being worth it to work unless you can make above 50k.

In the 50s and 60s the participation rate was in the mid fifty percentage -- 55%-57%. Assuming the real wages are similar to those periods one might think the political economy might be similar.

Why do we assume it's a bad thing to the labor force participation rate to decline. It appears to have risen more as a lagged response to the stagflation of the 70s and then more as a bubble response to both the dot com bubble as well as the loose credit and various asset bubbles in the 80s, 90s and 00s.

I'm not sure that reduced participation rates implies a growth in the population of those needing lower rent-rents areas, which then questions the need for a guaranteed income solution on the basis of a declining labor force participation rate.

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