Jaron Lanier's Ignorance Of History, Basic Economics And Efficiency Is Getting Ridiculous

from the please-make-it-stop dept

So... we'd already taken a stab at debunking Jaron Lanier's "gobbledygook economics" a few weeks back when it started appearing, but since then there's been more Lanier everywhere (obviously, in coordination with his book release), and each time it seems more ridiculous than the last. Each time, the focus is on the following economically ridiculous concepts: (1) there should be micropayments for anyone doing anything free online because someone benefits somewhere (2) modern efficiency via technology has destroyed the middle class. Both of these claims make no sense at all.

Let's start with Lanier's interview with fellow hater of the internet, Scott Timberg, at Salon, in which Lanier trots out this catchy line that is so braindead it made me wonder why Salon would sully its reputation by publishing something so easily proven stupid:
So Kodak has 140,000 really good middle-class employees, and Instagram has 13 employees, period. You have this intense concentration of the formal benefits, and that winner-take-all feeling is not just for the people who are on the computers but also from the people who are using them. So there’s this tiny token number of people who will get by from using YouTube or Kickstarter, and everybody else lives on hope. There’s not a middle-class hump. It’s an all-or-nothing society.
The Kodak/Instagram comparison comes up over and over again, and it's moronic. It makes no sense. To demonstrate, let's take something else that's old and something else that's modern that sorta-kinda seems similar, and compare the two: Very, very, very few people make money "auctioning" goods via Christie's. Yet, a few years ago, eBay noted that 724,000 Americans made their primary or secondary incomes from eBay sales, with another 1.5 million supplementing their income. In the simplistic world of Jaron Lanier, this should be proof that eBay is good, and Christie's is bad, right? But, of course that's silly.

The fact that Instagram only employed a few people and Kodak employed a lot says nothing about the impact of technology on modern society or the economic status of the middle class. Even if we take the ridiculous leap and pretend that the two companies are somehow equivalents (and they're not even close), you could just as easily point out that Instagram created a lot more value for people than Kodak did. First off, it didn't involve toxic chemicals that create massive amounts of waste and pollution. Second, because people don't have to buy expensive rolls of film to take pictures any more, they get to save money and put it to better use. Third, because we no longer have to worry about the expense of each photo, people are free to take many more photos and capture more memories and generally enjoy photography more. Fourth, because instagram makes the sharing of photos much easier, it enables much greater communication among family and friends, building stronger community bonds. I mean, you could go on and on and on.

But I'll let economics professor Donald Boudreaux go even further and explain how just because one company or industry employed a lot of people at one time, it doesn't mean crap about how modern technology is "destroying jobs" because it's just not true.
Mr. Lanier sounds profound, I suppose, to people unfamiliar with history. So let’s re-write Mr. Lanier’s prose just a bit in order to put his fears in historical context:

“At the height of its power, agriculture employed 90 percent of the population and produced output worth vastly more than half of U.S. GDP. It even invented countless plant hybrids and animal breeds. But today nearly all farms of the past have gone bankrupt (or, seeing the economic writing on the wall, were transformed to other uses). Agriculture today employs only about one percent of the workforce. Where did all those jobs disappear? And what happened to the wealth that all those good agricultural jobs created?”
Economic efficiency often shifts jobs around, but creates a much larger pie, which leads to new job creation. We can reasonably question whether the there are people who get left behind, or what kinds of skills are favored as industries become obsolete, but the idea that it destroys a middle class is just silly.

But it gets worse. Lanier repeatedly claims that the only reason we have jobs today is because of some sort of "social contract" that has been broken:
We kind of made a bargain, a social contract, in the 20th century that even if jobs were pleasant people could still get paid for them. Because otherwise we would have had a massive unemployment. And so to my mind, the right question to ask is, why are we abandoning that bargain that worked so well?
When did "we" make this "bargain" and, honestly, what is he talking about? There was no such bargain made. Jobs have nothing to do with whether they are "pleasant." And we didn't create jobs to avoid unemployment. We created jobs because there was demand for work, meaning there was demand for products and services, just as there still is today. But he doubles down on this crazy thought and says that when old jobs became obsolete it was this non-existent "social contract" that created new jobs:
Of course jobs become obsolete. But the only reason that new jobs were created was because there was a social contract in which a more pleasant, less boring job was still considered a job that you could be paid for. That’s the only reason it worked. If we decided that driving was such an easy thing [compared to] dealing with horses that no one should be paid for it, then there wouldn’t be all of those people being paid to be Teamsters or to drive cabs. It was a decision that it was OK to have jobs that weren’t terrible.
I'm just left shaking my head here because this statement is so ridiculous and so ignorant that it, alone, should cause people to assume that Lanier knows absolutely nothing about economics or history. New jobs were created because of demand, and because new technologies create efficiencies which create and enable new jobs. It has nothing to do with "decisions" being made or "social contracts." It has to do with efficiency and new things being enabled through innovation.

Next up, Lanier did an interview with Eric Been at the Nieman Journalism Lab and it was more of the same, except here he lays out his "theory" for a massive system of micropayments, in which any time you do anything that provides useful data to someone else, they need to pay you royalties. Let's take one example and think about how insane this process would be:
So, for instance, let’s suppose you translate between languages, and some of your translations provide example phrase translations that are used in automatic translators. You would keep getting dribbles of royalties from having done that, and you start accumulating a lot of little ways that you’re getting royalties — not in the sense of contractual royalties, just little payments from people that are doing things that benefited from information you provided. If you look at people’s interest in social networking, you see a middle-class distribution of interest. A lot of people would get a lot of little dribs and drabs, and it would accumulate over a lifetime so you’d start to have more and more established information that had been referenced by you that people are using. What should happen is you should start accumulating wealth, some money that shows up because of your past as well as your present moment.
Well, if he wants to create jobs, I guess adding the most incredibly massive inefficient bureaucracy and tollbooth for sharing any bit of information is one way to do so. The fact that it would cause the internet economy to come to a screeching halt apparently isn't figured into all of this. There are tremendous benefits to information sharing and information exchange. Putting a price tag and an ongoing royalty on every single such action would make it incredibly expensive to do anything that involves information, which would mean less information sharing, less information exchange and less benefit from that information.

This is the broken window fallacy exploded exponentially for a digital era. It seems to assume that the only "payment" is monetary. That is, if you do something for free online -- share a video or a photo, like a link, listen to a song -- that you're somehow getting screwed because some company gets that info and you're not getting paid. But that's ridiculous. The people are getting "paid" in the form of the benefit they get: free hosting and software for hosting/streaming videos and pictures, free ability to communicate easily with friends, access to music, etc. The list goes on and on, but Lanier seems to not understand the idea that there are non-monetary benefits, which is why various online services which he seems to hate are so popular.

Finally, we've got Quartz publishing Lanier's own piece claiming that "free information will enslave us all." Here he focuses on another one of his myths:
A token few will find success on Kickstarter or YouTube, while overall wealth is ever more concentrated and social mobility rots. Social media sharers can make all the noise they want, but they forfeit the real wealth and clout needed to be politically powerful. Real wealth and clout instead concentrate ever more on the shrinking island occupied by elites who run the most powerful computers.
This is bullshit, plain and simple. Under the "old" system, you had a smaller "token few" who found success via getting a major label contract or having a publisher accept them into the club of published authors. Most people who wanted to create did so as a total hobby and made no money whatsoever from it. You had a tiny tiny few who were able to do so. Today, lots of people can make some money creating -- it may not be a huge amount for all, but almost anyone can make some amount, and some of them can make a good amount, and unlike before the creators themselves are in control now. They're not signing contracts that give away 90% of the revenue and all control over their works. They still control it and they control where most of the revenue goes.

In fact, as I was finishing up this post, I saw the news that Kickstarter had now surpassed 100,000 projects, 44% of which got funded to the tune of $535 million. And the site has only been around for four years (and there are many more crowdfunding platforms). Compare that to the success rate of someone ten years ago who wanted to make a career in music. They likely wouldn't even get in the door. And, even if they did, the labels admit that nearly all signed musicians end up failing out of the system. This system seems a hell of a lot better.

It's as if Lanier is talking about a mythical past that never existed to make some point about the future. But all of the evidence suggests that more people are now able to make use of these tools to create new incomes and new opportunities to make money, while in the past you had to wait for some gatekeeper. Lanier, a beneficiary of the old gatekeepers, may like the old system, but he's confused about history, facts, reality and economics in making this ridiculous argument -- and it's a shame that those interviewing him or publishing his ridiculously misinformed screeds don't seem to ever challenge him on his claims.


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  1.  
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    jjmsan (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 7:37am

    Taxi!

    If he thinks driving is pleasent, he should try driving a taxi in Chicago or New York for a living.

     

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    jjmsan (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 7:40am

    Re: Taxi!

    hit send too soon.
    I pay people to do jobs:
    I don't want to do
    I don't have time to do
    I do seldom enough that I do not have the required tools to do it.
    I don't evaluate whether or not the job is pleasant.

     

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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 7:47am

    So when does this fool plan on launching his micropayment system that is going to save the world?

    I have this feeling that the underlying tone is we have this bargain and we need someone (like him) to make it all work for us simple little people who need to be paid a fair wage even if our jobs don't suck.

     

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    Zakida Paul (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 7:49am

    "gobbledygook economics"

    Hehe I like that term. Sounds like the brand of economics that governments work from in their policy making.

     

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    Pragmatic, May 29th, 2013 @ 7:52am

    New jobs were created because of demand, and because new technologies create efficiencies which create and enable new jobs. It has nothing to do with "decisions" being made or "social contracts." It has to do with efficiency and new things being enabled through innovation.


    Uh, I can't say I fully agree, Mike. Automation can and does put people out of work, usually shifting them to admin or service roles as manufacturing jobs dry up. That said, when technology shuts one door, it opens another so I wouldn't write it off as a job killer per se. I couldn't do the (admin) job I have now without the internet.

    ...if you do something for free online -- share a video or a photo, like a link, listen to a song -- that you're somehow getting screwed because some company gets that info and you're not getting paid.


    Okay, I agree with that. I've seen a lot of people get their panties in a bunch because they're afraid someone might make money or somehow benefit from "their intellectual property," e.g. photos of their dog, etc.

    I've had arguments over that. The bottom line is, you're right about real and imaginary scarcities. Selling real scarcities generates income (if there's a demand for it); trying to sell imaginary ones while people freely share the digital information that's been made available online is a stupid idea based on a false premise and an outdated business model.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 7:56am

    What destroys the middle class is anti-competitive laws. Never ending copy'right' extensions, govt established taxi-cab monopolies (which costs jobs), govt established broadcasting and cableco monopolies, patents (which deters competitors from producing something costing jobs), etc... These laws cost jobs and they create income inequality more than anything. But politicians love them because they get campaign contributions and revolving door favors in return.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 7:58am

    Also, the purpose of an economy isn't to create jobs. Otherwise we should all break windows.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_broken_window

    So go forth and break windows because it creates jobs for window manufacturers.

    No, the purpose of having jobs to begin with is so that we can have more stuff. If we can all have more stuff and do less work for it then that's a good thing.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 8:02am

    I'm just left shaking my head here because this statement is so ridiculous and so ignorant that it, alone, should cause people to assume that Lanier knows absolutely nothing about economics or history.

    Mike,

    It's stuff like this that just makes you look bad. If you think someone is wrong, then simply say you disagree and explain why. But saying he knows "absolutely nothing about economics or history" is just dumb on your part. Stick to his arguments. Stop attacking the man. This is EXACTLY what I was referring to yesterday when I said you love to attack people. It's sad that you can't just disagree with someone without resorting to such extremist rhetoric.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 8:11am

    "We kind of made a bargain, a social contract, in the 20th century that even if jobs were pleasant people could still get paid for them. Because otherwise we would have had a massive unemployment. And so to my mind, the right question to ask is, why are we abandoning that bargain that worked so well?"

    What. WHAT? This is the most backwards, outright insane thing I've ever seen.

    What a moron.

    Why are we giving audiences to people for them to babble about things they clearly don't understand? How do I get in on that action? I'm sure I could throw together a fascinating-sounding albeit entirely incorrect theory about the stranger parts of quantum mechanics if I could get some poor interviewer to sit with me for a few hours.

     

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    Richard (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 8:13am

    Globalisation

    There may be short term costs to technological change - but current unemployment problems are not caused by that. They are caused by the outsourcing of jobs to low cost countries where employment protection, healthcare, minimum wages etc etc are absent.
    In fact such outsourcing actually undermines technological progress by favouring cheap labour over advanced technology.

    THe problem here is that Lanier has noticed some relevant symptoms - but his diagnosis is awry and his proposed cure is ridiculos.

    The first point to make is this. Anything which actually saves labour or provides value is a benefit. The test for this is "If the whole of society were one big family (running on trust rather than accountancy) would you do it?"

    If the answer that one is yes then all that remains is to organise society to allow it to happen and to allow the benefits to be distributed fairly.

    Unlike some here I don't believe tha capitalist myth that this will happen automatically but nor do I believe that it requires the kind of intervention that Lanier proposes.

     

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    art guerrilla (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 8:13am

    that was a good laugh ! ! !

    "...made me wonder why Salon would sully its reputation by publishing something so easily proven stupid..."

    bwa ha ha Ha HAAAAA HAAAAA
    that there were funny...

    *obviously*, you have not been around saloon for quite some time, because it has been scraping the bottom of the barrel for desperation/faux-controversy hits for a LONG TIME now...

    really, ever since the estimable glenn greenwald left, it has next to nothing but tabloid crap, ultra-orthodox feministe carping, and sexy/pervy stories... it has become a steaming pile of libtard poop... (and i'm a libtard, too!)

    no, saloon is no more, it is a mere shell of its former superficial self-conscious palaver...

    art guerrilla
    aka ann archy
    eof

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 8:14am

    Re:

    Yeah Mike, you're like the Hitler of extremist rhetoric.

     

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  13. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
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    out_of_the_blue, May 29th, 2013 @ 8:17am

    Kodak is manufacturing; Instagram is re-distributive.

    Any economist would grasp that distinction at once. It's even possible that Mike hid such a distinction in his text, but no, I ain't reading all that when Mike's opening paragraph makes clear that he's going after a very easy target here. -- Just because Lanier is wrong doesn't Mike's other and unrelated notions right, but I think he's analyzing stupidity
    in order to build up his own credibility for such wacky notions as "give away and pray" and "piracy promotes sales".

    Tell ya what, Mike. For me to take you seriously, just put out ANY of your own original ideas, even your fantasies of what you'll do when elected Benevolent Dictator For Life. 'Cause right now, you aren't even wrong. You aren't in the game at all. You're just an academic kibitzer. I think you're afraid that some other smartass will easily pick YOUR pet notions to pieces.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 8:25am

    Re:

    or the economic system of the oompa loompians

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 8:30am

    His writing has the sound of someone that believes that society is like an all-serving parent (big brother?) that provides all of the essentials for life, just like our parents did for us when we were children. We didn't have to worry about where our food came from, our how much housing cost. Why should we have to deal with those things now?

     

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    Michael, May 29th, 2013 @ 8:32am

    Re: Re: Taxi!

    I don't want to do

    To be fair, whether or not the job is pleasant probably factors into that for you.

    I don't do heating and air conditioning repair for my neighbors, not because I am not capable or do not have the tools, but because I don't want to be in a 120 degree attic working with sheet metal.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 8:33am

    Re:

    You took Mike out of context. The argument made is so bad that it should cause people to assume a lack of knowledge. Which is true.

    It's like if someone said that the earth was flat and insisted on it. You would assume they know little to nothing about planetary geometry. It would be a reasonable assumption.

    Or if someone said the AIDS virus doesn't exist and that microorganisms are a fabric of the imagination. You would assume they aren't a microbiologist. and it would be a reasonable assumption.

    Likewise, when people make such stupid statements like the one quoted it is reasonable to assume they know little about economics.

     

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    Michael, May 29th, 2013 @ 8:33am

    Re:

    He's waiting for a former Kodak employee to build it.

     

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    crade (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 8:34am

    Re: Kodak is manufacturing; Instagram is re-distributive.

    For me to take you seriously, just write something that isn't a load of crap for once, and stop trying to mislead by repeating things that have already been addressed and pretending they are real issues. And stop using moronic ad hominem attacks and strawmen and lies.. own up when you are shown to be wrong, and don't just go and repeat the same wrong again on the next article...
    and.. and..
    wow, actually you know what nevermind, theres too much..

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 8:34am

    Re:

    You took Mike out of context. The argument made is so bad that it should cause people to assume a lack of knowledge. Which is true.

    It's like if someone said that the earth was flat and insisted on it. You would assume they know little to nothing about planetary geometry. It would be a reasonable assumption.

    Or if someone said the A I D S (sorry about the spaces but the filter doesn't like that word) virus doesn't exist and that microorganisms are a fabric of the imagination. You would assume they aren't a microbiologist. and it would be a reasonable assumption.

    Likewise, when people make such stupid statements like the one quoted it is reasonable to assume they know little about economics.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 8:39am

    Re: Re:

    I'm sorry, but lamenting someone's "ignorance" in the headline and then attacking them personally in the article is no way to disagree with someone in a civil way. It's how an extremist zealot would approach it. Mike can't just disagree respectfully. He has to attack the very sum and substance of the person he's disagreeing with.

     

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    Michael, May 29th, 2013 @ 8:40am

    Re:

    new technologies create efficiencies which create and enable new jobs

    when technology shuts one door, it opens another

    What is it that you don't agree with?


    Automation can and does put people out of work

    Historically, that is not true. It HAS put an end to specific jobs (telephone operators), but I cannot think of any large-scale technology impact that did not (at least eventually) produce more jobs than it eliminated. There may be specific people that refuse (or are somehow unable) to adapt to the change, and there may be periods of time between the job eliminations and job creations when people are out of work, but I cannot think of an example of a disruptive technology that didn't leave everyone better off.

     

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    Michael, May 29th, 2013 @ 8:42am

    Re:

    It's a good thing that we made that bargain.

    Before the 20th century, all jobs totally sucked and people only did them because it they didn't, some big guy with a whip would thrash him. Oh, and the guy with the whip - he had a HUGE blister on his thumb.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 8:43am

    Re: Re: Re:

    People can be ignorant. Calling them ignorant is not "extremist."

    The only zealot, as usual, is you.

     

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    Michael, May 29th, 2013 @ 8:49am

    Re: Globalisation

    They are caused by the outsourcing of jobs to low cost countries

    Lots of economists would disagree with you on that.


    In fact such outsourcing actually undermines technological progress by favouring cheap labour over advanced technology

    And you probably have an argument against this in your pocket right now, because without cheap labor, we would not have the iPhone, Android phones, iPhone and Android software development jobs, etc.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 8:54am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    We're all getting paid for this, right? That's the important part.

     

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    Ima Fish (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 8:56am

    Re:

    And don't forget, the wealthy stopped paying taxes. In the 60s we were able to fight a war, build expressways, and go into space. That money didn't come from nothing.

    Now we only fight wars.

     

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    Gavin Mueller, May 29th, 2013 @ 8:59am

    This is libertarian garbage. Technology destroys jobs -- thousands of people DIED with the destruction of agricultural employment via technology, and many more were immiserated. And our food system became atrocious and poisonous! It's never been harder for musicians to make a living at their craft, which is why employment in music is down 45% over the past 10 years. Where are your facts, man? Lanier plays fast and loose with the details, but it's not the complete garbage libertarian economics on display here.

     

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    Coogan (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 9:01am

    I'm assuming this guy has not heard of the open source movement, or his head would've exploded by now.

    "WHAT? People are volunteering to work on software that can be given away and/or freely modified?" KA-BOOM!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 9:07am

    Re:

    It's stuff like this that just makes you look bad

    Except it doesn't, jackass.

     

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    Coogan (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 9:08am

    Re:

    It's never been harder for musicians to make a living at their craft, which is why employment in music is down 45% over the past 10 years.

    Source?

    Even if that's accurate, I can make the argument that while music employment may be down FOR THE LABELS, music itself is up dramatic, both from a creative and employment standpoint. Being "employed in music" doesn't always mean that you're employed by a label.

    Technology destroys jobs

    It'd be more accurate to say it renders jobs obsolete. Otherwise you'd be working in that food system you love so much - digging a field with your bare hands to drop seed in. You think that the plow didn't put people out of jobs?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 9:09am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Bullshit.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 9:14am

    Re: Kodak is manufacturing; Instagram is re-distributive.

    The distinction really is that Kodak offered an entire solution. They made the cameras, the film, did the processing, etc...

    Instagram is only a small piece of a solution. They offer online storage of images (with a social networking component).

    To compare employee counts, you'd need to include the entire solution on the instagram side, which would include the phone manufacturers, cellular networks, the INTERNET, etc...

     

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    Votre (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 9:15am

    Re: Re: Re:

    And your point is what? That Mike's editorial style offends your personal sensibilities? FWIW, it's his article. And his words. If he continues to offend you after your repeated suggestions of how he should change his style to most appeal to your preferences, perhaps you might take the hint?.

     

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  35.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 9:15am

    Re: Kodak is manufacturing; Instagram is re-distributive.

    The distinction really is that Kodak offered an entire solution. They made the cameras, the film, did the processing, etc...

    Instagram is only a small piece of a solution. They offer online storage of images (with a social networking component).

    To compare employee counts, you'd need to include the entire solution on the instagram side, which would include the phone manufacturers, cellular networks, the INTERNET, etc...

     

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    Benjo (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 9:22am

    Kickstarter numbers

    "In fact, as I was finishing up this post, I saw the news that Kickstarter had now surpassed 100,000 projects, 44% of which got funded to the tune of $535 million."

    Any idea on how many of those projects were music related? I thought the arts projects had raised far less money than the technology projects. It's kind of the nature of the platform, since to get funding for a tech project you usually need a semi functional prototype.

    Music and film is a little bit harder, but I definitely believe Kickstarter has only been beneficial to artists.

     

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    Votre (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 9:24am

    It's the "doo"

    Can any explain to mehow a career in VR research, the ability to compose music, a penchant for collecting unusual musical instruments makes somebody eminently qualified to speak on business, political and economic issues? And more to the point, how that somehow adds credibility to the naive grad student level arguments he puts forth?

    I guess it just goes to show how much a really weird haircut plus an entourage can do for your credibility with what passes for the 'news' media these days.

     

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  38.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 9:25am

    Re:

    which is why employment in music is down 45% over the past 10 years.

    This is not true. You should find better sources.

     

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  39.  
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    Bengie, May 29th, 2013 @ 9:28am

    but.. but... but..

    Without demand for horse-and-buggys, the demand for whips will put many people out of work!

     

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  40.  
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    Leigh Beadon (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 9:28am

    Re:

    If you are arguing for a return to a pre-industrial world then, er, fine... that's your prerogative. You should probably stop worrying about 21st century music business models in that case though -- you've got way way way way bigger fish to fry.

    Also, as for the people who died as a result of the shift to an industrial economy, what about all the people who lived? Shall we drop 20 years off our lifespan, and bring back 18th-century infant mortality rates? Also, which 6 out of every 7 human beings on earth, or thereabouts, are you suggesting shouldn't exist? Today's population is only sustainable with the help of industrial practices.

     

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  41.  
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    TheLastCzarnian (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 9:33am

    Re:

    Actually, not automating costs more jobs. High wages and wide variance in output (quantities and specification tolerances) will close a factory. People aren't robots, and can't perform repetitive tasks with the same accuracy.
    I think a big reason why we have dropped manufacturing jobs in the US is the lack of automation. I talked to a robot salesman (no, he sold robots) who said that unless a robot could recoup its costs in one year, they wouldn't buy it. The normal recoup time was 2-3 years, but the accuracy gains were enormous. The lifespan of the robot was 7-10 years, and replacement wouldn't require the programming.

     

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  42.  
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    Robert (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 9:38am

    Re: Re:

    Same source as always Mike, the Trichordist, who then goes and gets manipulated data (I've seen the corrected figures, corrected for inflation and such and there's a huge diff).

    We know it is all in the label of "full time musician." However, I've not seen the survey, which could easily include "Are you a full time musician who has no other source of income?" type of questioning. That easily leads to bias. Some might have secondary incomes. Steve Vai created Light Without Heat and keeps bees, likely an additional source of income, but who would argue he's not a full time musician?

    So even though this person might source a study, without seeing the questions used for the study, we can't quite discount it, other than attack the credibility of the source, rather than the method used - which would increase our credibility.

     

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    dennis deems (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 10:12am

    Re: Re:

    Today's population is only sustainable with the help of industrial practices.
    That's an argument against today's population, not one in favor of industrial practices.

     

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  44.  
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    Franklin G Ryzzo (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 10:24am

    Re:

    I disagree... The quote Mike was referring to was absolutely ridiculous. I thought Mike's commentary was quite fair and rather tame.

    Lanier said: "Of course jobs become obsolete. But the only reason that new jobs were created was because there was a social contract in which a more pleasant, less boring job was still considered a job that you could be paid for. That’s the only reason it worked. If we decided that driving was such an easy thing [compared to] dealing with horses that no one should be paid for it, then there wouldn’t be all of those people being paid to be Teamsters or to drive cabs. It was a decision that it was OK to have jobs that weren’t terrible."

    Mike said: "I'm just left shaking my head here because this statement is so ridiculous and so ignorant that it, alone, should cause people to assume that Lanier knows absolutely nothing about economics or history."

    I think this was a pretty fair assessment of what he said. In my head I was thinking something like: "Mr. Lanier, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul."

     

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  45.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 10:29am

    How did that famously mis-attributed New York Times quote of Milton Friedman go?
    At one of our dinners, Milton recalled traveling to an Asian country in the 1960s and visiting a worksite where a new canal was being built. He was shocked to see that, instead of modern tractors and earth movers, the workers had shovels. He asked why there were so few machines. The government bureaucrat explained: “You don’t understand. This is a jobs program.” To which Milton replied: “Oh, I thought you were trying to build a canal. If it’s jobs you want, then you should give these workers spoons, not shovels.
    We're rapidly approaching a time when jobs will be optional.

     

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    Spaceman Spiff (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 10:37am

    Internet license

    Can't we just remove Lanier's license to use the Internet? Oh right, we have such a means - the DMCA take-down notice! Since bogus take-downs never result in meaningful backlash, what do we have to lose? :rolleyes:

     

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  47.  
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    Leigh Beadon (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 10:42am

    Re: Re: Re:

    While it's true that population has gotten out of hand, and there's a lot of debate as to what the true sustainable population of the globe is, I think it's fair to say that the responsible use of industry and advanced science could sustain a larger population than a purely agrarian society.

     

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  48.  
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    ChrisB (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 10:43am

    Re:

    Even more interesting, is piracy is the Broken Window Fallacy in reverse.

    Just like a broken window reduces society's wealth, but does slightly increase the wealth of glaziers, copying INCREASES society's wealth, but does slightly decrease the wealth of content creators. The problem is content creators vastly overvalue their content, and therefore think they are losing more value than they are. Not to mention there are way more content creators than glaziers, so each creator loses very little.

     

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  49.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 10:57am

    Re: Re: Re:

    i don't think ignorance means what you think it means. I think you are ignorant of the meaning of ignorant.

     

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  50.  
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    JEDIDIAH, May 29th, 2013 @ 11:00am

    You probably aren't the 1 in 7.

    Yes. But are you really willing to live by your rhetoric?

    If you are then you probably should stop wasting time and kill yourself already.

    You are likely one of those people that should never even have existed at all.

     

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  51.  
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    Gwiz (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 11:03am

    Re: Kodak is manufacturing; Instagram is re-distributive.

    ...I ain't reading all that when Mike's opening paragraph makes clear that he's going after a very easy target here.


    TRANSLATION: My mind is made up - don't confuse me facts!


    ...but I think he's analyzing stupidity in order to build up his own credibility for such wacky notions as "give away and pray" and "piracy promotes sales".

    TRANSLATION: I don't actually read very much on this site beyond the article titles and I really don't know what Mike's notions are so I will just make shit up so I can attack him anyways.

     

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  52.  
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    art guerrilla (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 11:07am

    Re: Re:

    just a reminder to all the kampers who think the world started with them:
    up until a FEW scant generations ago, 90-95% of the ENTIRE population were engaged in agricultural jobs, or jobs that directly supported agriculture...
    today, less than 1% of the population are 'farmers', and damn few are in jobs which support farming...

    (AND, -as with most technology- it is a two-edged sword: sure it is 'good' that a smaller percentage of the population can feed the majority, but at what cost ?
    land over-worked and made toxic from the habitual application of fertilizers that leave salts behind, farms doused in chemicals that we do NOT know the long-term consequences of using, factory-farmed animals with 'unnatural' diseases due to their super-concentration, foodstuffs processed just short of soylent green, etc, etc, etc...)

    but we're so fucking smart, surely we won't collapse the whole ecosystem around our stupid heads...

    i, for one, welcome our new cockroach overlords !

    art guerrilla
    aka ann archy
    eof

     

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    AC Unknown, May 29th, 2013 @ 11:07am

    Re: Re:

    Be mindful of Godwin.

     

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    Gwiz (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 11:09am

    Re: Re: Kodak is manufacturing; Instagram is re-distributive.

    err.... *with facts.

     

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  55.  
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    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 11:16am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Lanier paints himself as an authority on the subject. Pointing out and questioning his self-appointed authority is reasonable as anybody trained in critical thinking should do when statistics and opinion are presented as facts upon which they would, in turn, take to the government as policy change talking points.

     

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    kitsune361, May 29th, 2013 @ 11:30am

    Re: Kodak is manufacturing; Instagram is re-distributive.

    He has a point, just a terrible way of making it.

    Kodak did so much more than Instagram. Instagram is a software/hosting company for digital pictures. Kodak made cameras, film stock, chemicals for film development, slides, scanners, printers, slides, slide projectors. They still make digital video and audio recording devices, and LCD/DLP projectors.

    If you look at the breadth of their product catalog, their decline is more like that of HP who made calculators and electronics testing equipment before moving into computers and printers... only to wind up mismanaged, lose focus and lose market share so smaller more nimble competitors. I don't think HP makes oscilloscopes anymore, just like Kodak doesn't make film stock (or at least Poloroid film) anymore.

     

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    cpt kangarooski, May 29th, 2013 @ 11:35am

    Well, I've not got many kind words to say about Lanier, but I do disagree with Mike about jobs:
    And we didn't create jobs to avoid unemployment. We created jobs because there was demand for work, meaning there was demand for products and services, just as there still is today. But he doubles down on this crazy thought and says that when old jobs became obsolete it was this non-existent "social contract" that created new jobs:


    The US had a policy of full employment which it actually strove to practice for many years, and it worked pretty well, although it basically fell apart under the Nixon administration. Back in the Great Depression, the government very specifically had jobs programs to put people to work rather than have them to be unemployed and idle, and frankly, I'd like to see the revival of some of those programs today, such as the WPA and the CCC. (In fact the WPA even had art related jobs for unemployed artists, paid unemployed authors to write books, paid unemployed actors to act, etc.) Something like this could not only be very useful in these difficult economic times, but also help with an eventual transition to a leisure economy.

     

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  58.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 12:04pm

    Re:

    "No, the purpose of having jobs to begin with is so that we can have more stuff. If we can all have more stuff and do less work for it then that's a good thing."

    Less work?
    You know anyone who still works "9 to 5"...if they're working?

     

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  59.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 12:06pm

    Re: Re:

    So, according to Lanier, you owe Adam Sandler $0.00014? Is that how it works?

     

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  60.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 12:10pm

    "They're not signing contracts that give away 90% of the revenue and all control over their works."

    You've essentially described Amazon.com's terms for fanfic writers. Now THAT is a modern gatekeeping system.

     

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  61.  
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    Eponymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 12:28pm

    A Lack of the Basics

    It looks like you don't have to dig in too deep to destroy Jaron's theories when simply questioning him on his vernacular should suffice. It appears, at least from the quotes you provide, that he equates "real wealth" with income. Understanding the least bit about money creation one should know that modern currencies are debt, not "real wealth". So income is not "real wealth", but the transference of real wealth, a person's skill, labor, and knowledge, into a medium of easy exchange. This ignorance alone is enough to ruin any sense of credibility he may have for if he doesn't even understand what real, real wealth is how can he extrapolate out from that.    

     

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  62.  
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    Eponymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 1:05pm

    Re: Re:

    Tell that to all the poor horses which lost their careers to that infernal contraption called the automobile!

     

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  63.  
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    Eponymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 1:54pm

    Re: Re: Kodak is manufacturing; Instagram is re-distributive.

    If he has a point then what is it for I don't see you making it either. What purpose does the breadth of their product catalog serve when hardware and software can do it more efficiently and cheaper? I'm confused, for do we really need HP made oscilloscopes anymore, or Kodak film? You can lament the decline of film stock as an aesthetic preference, but the idea that it's societal loss is not a valid argument. Don't confuse your nostalgia for something as a rational argument, just because you may want things a certain way doesn't mean we need them that way. In the end there's high consumer demand for Instagram and not for Kodak film; the consumers have moved on and it's Kodak predicament that they couldn't keep relevant, not societies'. I see it as a loss of dead weight...

     

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  64.  
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    Karl (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 1:59pm

    Re: Kodak is manufacturing; Instagram is re-distributive.

    in order to build up his own credibility for such wacky notions as "give away and pray" and "piracy promotes sales"

    ...neither of which has ever been endorsed by Techdirt.

    You really never get sick of lying, do you?

     

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  65.  
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    Eponymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 2:11pm

    Re: Absurd Rant

    But what about all the hunter-gathering societies destroyed by the agrarian revolution? Also, hate to blow your mind with this disturbing factoid, but 100% of people in the past have died. Are you saying they died prematurely because of industrialization? How can you even hope to prove such a statement? Secondly, even if many did die prematurely, how can you prove that their, according to you,shorter lived, quality of life wasn't better than a longer lived, agrarian one?

     

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  66.  
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    Karl (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 2:24pm

    Re:

    employment in music is down 45% over the past 10 years.

    This is a lie, and it's obvious where you got that lie: a recent Trichordist story (which I won't even dignify with a link).

    Here's the truth.

    "Musicians and singers" employed as of May 2003: 50,600
    Source: http://www.bls.gov/oes/2003/may/oes272042.htm
    "Musicians and singers" employed as of May 2012: 42,100
    Source: http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes272042.htm

    Decline: 8,500 jobs - or, a 16.8% reduction from the 2003 levels.

    Also, keep in mind that the number of musicians employed from 2001 - 2003 was the highest number of employed musicians in history, so it's a biased comparison. In fact, over 4,000 of the jobs that were around in 2003 were created since 1999 - the year Napster arrived on the scene. Employment would not dip below the 1999 levels until 2009, after the entire economy went into recession.

    Don't believe anything you read on the Trichordist site: Lowery is an outright liar.

    In fact, just yesterday I submitted a link to Lowery's bullshit story. Who knows if it will get written up.

     

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  67.  
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    apauld (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 2:37pm

    I find it difficult to even imagining talking to people like this.

    He definitely comes off as the drunken oaf at your local dive bar who thinks their warped ideas are the only reality that could possibly ever exist. You know who I mean, the guy that if you try to disagree them even the slightest will just louder and louder. Debatting this guy would be next to impossible because if you were to get a word in here or there he'd probably throw an epic hissy fit; all while challenging people in the audience to step outside.

     

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  68.  
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    Karl (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 2:40pm

    Re: Re:

    By the way - in 2003, how many of those musicians and singers were employed by "Sound recording industries" (the BLS term for the recording industry)?

    880, total, across the entire United States. In other words, at the absolute height of the good ol' days that Lowery loves to pine for, the "old boss" hired less 4% of all working musicians.

    So, as long as the "new boss" allowed more than 880 musicians to make a living off of their works, Lowery is totally full of shit.

     

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  69.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 2:52pm

    Re: Re: Globalisation

    Well, if you think the pie is getting bigger in this country, and that life is getting better overall, you're the one not paying attention.

     

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  70.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 3:35pm

    I don't like this Jaron guy at all, he's one of the worst. I've read a lot of his stuff, and something about his mannerisms and speech techniques is genuinely distributing. He uses this flowery language that makes me feel more like he is trying to run a weird cult than make a point.

     

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  71.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 4:40pm

    Graduation Debt

    A lot of people would get a lot of little dribs and drabs, and it would accumulate over a lifetime so you’d start to have more and more established information that had been referenced by you that people are using.


    He ignores the fact then that everything we learn would also rack up charges. So by the time someone would graduate from high school they would be so far in debt it would make the college debt of today look like pocket change.

     

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  72.  
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    Anonymous, May 29th, 2013 @ 4:49pm

    He must live in some...virtual reality.
    Hey! Look at that phrase I made up: virtual reality. I wonder if it will catch on.

     

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  73.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 5:11pm

    Re: You probably aren't the 1 in 7.

    The problem is lawyer overpopulation.

     

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  74.  
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    TDR, May 29th, 2013 @ 5:30pm

    Mueller...

    *Cue Ferris Beuller music*

    Mueller... Mueller... Mueller...

     

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  75.  
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    dennis deems (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 6:13pm

    Re: You probably aren't the 1 in 7.

    Thank you for spreading some of your inimitable sunshine my way. I'd be the first to acknowledge that I should never have existed. I shall take your suggestion of suicide under advisement. Indeed, I probably would have killed myself already if there weren't others who depend on me. However, since before puberty I committed to refraining from reproduction, my too-much-deferred suicide is irrelevant in the long-term to the Earth's problem with human population.

    However, I see nothing in your post that has anything to do with the topic of agrarian/industrial duality. Do try to stay on-topic in the future.

     

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  76.  
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    dennis deems (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 6:26pm

    Re:

    Thanks for this. I'd wanted to say something about the WPA - in particular the Federal Theatre Project which employed thousands of artists between 1935 and 1939.

     

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  77.  
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    PaulT (profile), May 30th, 2013 @ 12:38am

    Re: Re: Kodak is manufacturing; Instagram is re-distributive.

    "...neither of which has ever been endorsed by Techdirt."

    Not to mention the fact that Mike has written at least one article specifically about how "give away and pray" is a very bad idea. Which ootb has been linked to many times in the past. So, he knows he's lying his ass off.

    I can't imagine what drives someone to not only comment to the degree that he does, but to lie so obviously all the time. Nobody can be desperate enough to pay him, so I wonder what the real purpose is.

     

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    dennis deems (profile), May 30th, 2013 @ 4:19am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    The key word being "responsible". Have we seen responsible use of industry at any time in history? My point is that there are perhaps virtues to be considered apart from whether a larger population could be sustained.

     

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  79.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 30th, 2013 @ 4:26am

    Re:

    I've always been creeped out by dreadlocks on white people.

     

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  80.  
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    dennis deems (profile), May 30th, 2013 @ 4:41am

    Where did all the jobs disappear?

    This recent vlog entry by Hank Green What's Up with Start Ups might serve as a rejoinder to some of Lanier's fretting. Like Lanier, Green is nonplussed by the ascendancy of certain internet businesses. But I think Green's angle is a lot more cogent, particularly in the wake of Yahoo's recent throwings-around of huge piles of cash.

     

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  81.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 30th, 2013 @ 8:48am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Damn, now I get why horse with no name has such a big hard-on for copyright protection...

     

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  82.  
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    TimothyAWiseman (profile), May 30th, 2013 @ 3:15pm

    I don't want to be paid for some things

    There are a lot of things I post to the internet that I suspect are useful, including some of the comments I leave on technical message boards and answers to technical questions, that I don't want to get paid for.

    I posted them hoping to help someone, like the person that asked the question, and the most payment I would even want is a "Thanks". I don't want to burden anyone helped by those things with the idea of paying me for them.

     

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  83.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 30th, 2013 @ 3:29pm

    Re: Re:

    I'm not sure they had Windows Product Activation clear back then.

     

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  84.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 3rd, 2013 @ 9:03am

    You don't seem to be too well informed either, so it seems that makes two of you!
    Social contract? That's called democracy when its working! You know one man, one vote? Thing is there is only the middle ground now so that doesn't count. What happens when all labour is done by machines? Three D printing is in its infancy but the fact that very few people can lay claim to intellectual property leaves a lot of people unwaged. Unemployed and without income, how do you survive?

     

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  85.  
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    Curt Welch, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 9:13pm

    Tech kills jobs

    I don't agree with Lanier's idea that a micro payment system is the solution to the dying middle class, but I do strongly agree with most the rest of what he says about the economic problems that are emerging. I've not read his book but some of the video I've seen of him shows he in fact is very cognizant of history and economics. More so than most in fact.

    However, I think what he's missed is just that as technology advances, information becomes very cheap. Google's indexing and collective actions like Wikipedia increase the quality of information and reduce the cost to the point that it is simply no longer possible to make a middle class living creating information. We can't expect to create a cash flow for work that simply has no real value.

    The problem with the economy is that tech is not killing jobs, but rather killing wages. It's a wealth creator, but it's also an inequality amplifier. When a person is displaced from a job due to technology, the economy always creates new jobs. But there's no guarantee that the new jobs, will have the same level of wealth sharing at the old jobs. And in fact, it seems to be a rule that just the opposite happens. The more tech we add to the economy, the greater inequality grows.

    There is no economic law that says capitalism will create a fair sharing of the economic wealth of a society. There is an economic law that says the economy can create a near infinite number of new jobs, but there is no law that says the jobs will pay enough, to feed and cloth even a single human. And that's the problem we are seeing develop.

    This is not a new problem. It's one that has been developing and growing worse for 100's of years all though the industrial revolution. Each new advancement in machines and invention and technology grows total wealth, but also grows inequality.

    It got really bad in 1929 and caused the great depression, but the great pain that caused pushed society to implement strong socialistic system to help the people. And those social problems, is what has offset the problems of inequality that was created. We made the rich, pay for the roads, and schools, and and welfare, to benefit the poor. The rich pay for the military and police and emergency services that protect the poor. The rich pay for the prisons that sadly house so many poor.

    But come the 70's, the rich got tired of paying for so much for the poor and had their own little revolt and forced "trickle down economics onto the world". 30 years later, inequality is back to what it was at the great depression, the shit hits the fan a second time with the great recession, but since we were smarter this time about how we reacted to the collapse, the pain was minor compared to 1929 and the poor haven't demanded a social revolution. yet.

    Advanced technology is growing exponentially. As the cost and skill of the machines approaches the skill of humans, we will see exponentially replacement of human jobs with machines, and an exponentially growing inequality.

    This growth of inequality is what Lanier has seen, but the cause is not becuase the internet was "done wrong". It's just the natural effect technology has on capitalism.

    The only solution is to do more of what we did back last century. Change society so we share more of the great wealth the machines are producing instead of allowing only the few to benefit.

    The correct solution is a Basic Income Grantee. Pay people not for worthless work, but pay them because we can. Pay them, because if we don't, the social contract will be broken, and they will rise up and tear down the society that fails to allow them access to the basic necessities of life. Pay them so they will continue to support a society, that will not allow them to work for a living. Allow them to donate their work, on the internet, and elsewhere to society for free, by taking care of their basic needs.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  86.  
    identicon
    Actual Intellectual, Mar 29th, 2014 @ 5:19pm

    You are wrong

    Odious analogies do not an argument make. Did you know that? Did you know that analogies are odious? No you didn't. Because you are just a mouthpiece.

    The world is chock full to bursting with specious apologia for neo-con socialism-for-the-rich free-market shell-game casuistry. Thanks for your completely un-original addition. Jaron Lanier may be imperfect. But at least he is sincere. You, on the other hand, are a patent, shameless shill.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  87.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Mar 30th, 2014 @ 3:54am

    Re: You are wrong

    Which competition are you trying to win? Least accurate username? Most amount of meaningless buzzwords in a comment that means nothing? Or just trying to demonstrate you can get angry over an article that's a year old without even trying to explain why?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  88.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2014 @ 8:34pm

    Your ignorance of Jaron Lanier is getting ridiculous

    I'm sorry, but all your "killer arguments" have already been pre-addressed by Jaron in talks (such as his Stanford one) that are all over YouTube. You're attacking a parody, a straw-man, rather than delve deeply into the complex issues he raises.

    I mean seriously, your counter-argument to the Kodak/Instagram example is "I don't like that one" and to literally re-write Jarons words to make your argument stronger. Fail.

    There's a reason he gets invited speak at Stanford, and you don't.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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