Friday, February 10, 2017

Labor Matters

“Machines are worshiped because they are beautiful and valued because they confer power; they are hated because they are hideous and loathed because they impose slavery.”
- Sceptical Essays, 1928, Bertrand Russell

"We need to overthrow, not the government, ... but this rotten, decadent, putrid industrial capitalist system which breeds such suffering."
- Dorothy Day , 1930's

"[Robots are] always polite, they always up-sell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case."
- Andrew Puzder, Secretary of Labor nominee, 2017

New Symposium: Rescuing Discourse from the Political Parties

The topic for Tuesday, April 18, 2017

“AI is killing Labor, but don't blame the Robots.”

In An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations 1776, Adam Smith argues
“that the economic system is automatic, and able to regulate itself. This is often referred to as the ‘invisible hand.’ The ability to self-regulate and to ensure maximum efficiency, however, is threatened by monopolies, tax preferences, lobbying groups, and other ‘privileges’ extended to certain members of the economy at the expense of others.” Wikipedia
 But in Das Kapital [Capital: Critique of Political Economy] 1867, Karl Marx proposes
“that the motivating force of capitalism is in the exploitation of labour, whose unpaid work is the ultimate source of surplus value.  The [capitalist] is able to claim the right to this surplus value because he or she is legally protected by the ruling regime, through property rights.” Wikipedia
And yet neither Smith nor Marx envisioned a world where human labor, replaced by capital including robots and artificial intelligence [AI], would become a useless, vestigial reminder of civilization past. Are we unexpectedly and fortunately on the brink of a brave new world … or have we predictably and tragically arrived at the end of the world as both Smith and Marx knew it? In order to answer this and related questions about our future, we need to consider our past and present to understand how we arrived at this juncture in the history of political economy. And that will be the topic of our next New Symposium ... because labor matters.

When and Where

Tuesday April 18 ... 7:00 - 8:30 PM ... Room 200, Business and Technology Building, Friends University (NE corner of the campus, near the intersection of Maple and Hiram).

Questions for Consideration 

"Artificial intelligence is killing labor, but don’t blame the robots.”  Then who or what is to blame?  The human heart?  Excessive expectations of profit?  The maladies or unfitness of the working classes? The Federal Reserve?  The educational system? Globalism? The demise of labor unions?
We hope each of you will have time to think through your own responses to the following questions, maybe even do a little research and reading on the topic. The competition between capital and labor is longstanding. Investors seek profits. Workers seek wages. At what point of severity does the competition become too destructive to community?
  • When communities are impoverished as investors flee to more profitable labor pools?
  • When investors place short-term profiting before anything else?
  • When relationships within the workplace grow embittered as reduced wages deny workers the traditional purchasing powers of the middle class?
  • What about the effects of fiat credit on the competition between labor and capital?
  • Where is the justice when investors can gain cheap credit through government monetary policy and no longer have to rely on borrowed capital built from the saved wages of workers?
  • How deeply is the love of money rooted in evil?
  • What will happen to human labor as investors find it easier and easier to replace them with “robots”?
  • What kind of a world is it when robots are taxed so that the government can issue welfare to more and more former workers?
  • Is human nature dependent on labor for personal dignity?
  • How will this competition between capital and labor play out?

Featured Symposiasts [Panelists] 

After some internal discussion, the trustees of New Symposium Society think it best to return, for the time being,  to a more "open format." We will retain a panel of principal dialogists but make room for significant questions and comments from those in attendance. Mike will act as moderator and govern the flow of dialogue, when helpful.  At any rate, we'll sit close and see what wisdom emerges.

Our list of panelists is now complete.
  • Robert Love was General Counsel and VP of Administration in the family business, Love Box Company, prior to his retirement.  His ability and willingness to bring profundity to any topic makes Bob a highly sought dialogist.
  • Russell Fox is Professor of Political Science at Friends University and is a frequent contributor to government forums and important local conversations on current affairs.
  • Malcolm Harris is Professor of Finance at Friends University. He has been an expert witness on market-based rates for pipelines, cost of capital, and accounting issues.
  • Joshua Shorter is the Quality Assurance Manager of Integrated Components, a family-owned business that specializes in contract manufacturing for OEM companies.
  • Father Patrick Reilley is an ordained priest currently serving the Sacred Heart Parish in Arkansas City.  He will represent the ethics of Catholic Social Teaching.

Why not join the dialogue? 

We hope you will browse the suggested reading list and join the dialogue immediately by simply going to the end of the blog page you're currently reading.
  • If no comments are shown, just click the small comments:” link in the middle of the line . . . and voila ... the existing Comment-Replies strands will appear!  Blog on!
  • You may add a Reply to the train of thought in an existing Comment-Replies strand or introduce a new train of thought by entering a new Comment to which others [including yourself] can then Reply creating a new Comment-Replies strand.
  • For readability, we try to limit the number of separate Comment-Replies strands by entering a new Comment only when it introduces a new train of thought ... and remember that you can Reply to another Reply and the blog will maintain the proper hierarchy within the Comment-Replies strand.
  • But just hearing your thoughts is most important regardless of how you blog them!
See the page on Blogging Tips for help if you are new to blogging. And if you come across well-conceived articles on our topic, please apprise us at and we'll be sure to review/list those readings. Thank you.


 THANKS to everyone for an evening of shared opinions and thoughts on a subject that is important to all who labor for their living.

If you missed, here is a link to Paul Soutar's fine AV recording of the evening.

A special thanks to Malcolm and Russell and Friends University for hosting us ... graciously as usual.

To improve the quality of an evening at New Symposium, YOUR CANDID COMMENTS are essential. Leave them below ... or email them to us at

We hope to see you again soon ... and hope you will watch here for info about the next meeting of the New Symposium Society !!

Suggested Readings

Low interest rates actually hurt the middle class, 2015, Marc Miles
Restoring America’s Economic Mobility, 2016, Frank Buckley
Career advice for my future, egg-harvested child, 2016, Elmo Keep
French Socialist: Tax Robots and Pay Humans Universal Income, 2017, Tyler Durden
Moderator's POV, 2017, Bob Love

The Ethics of Money Production, 2008, Jörg Guido Hülsmann
[Chapter 13: "The Cultural and Spiritual Legacy of Fiat Inflation", pp 175-191]
[Conclusion: "Two Concepts of Capitalism", p 237]
A Radically Beneficial World: Automation, Technology and Creating Jobs for All, Charles Hugh Smith


  1. A Comment by Chaerephon [your friend]

    Well, New Symposium is back in OPEN FORMAT for our April 18 evening on "Labor Matters", so I am not going to be BASHFUL about initiating the blogging [although I may do a little gentle BASHING before it's all over so please forgive me in advance].

    My emails today contained an urgent message on "How to Profit from the Coming Robotics Revolution." What the article did not explain was how this revolution is going to help a world of billions who were [and are still being] born with a God-given lifetime-reservoir of labor ... but no capital and few natural resources [since most of those were "taken" long ago].

    So have you ever tried to put a multi-part thing together without using the manufacturer's instructions only to find at the end that you had pieces left over? Are we looking at a world with alot of leftover parts [aka laborers] who are simply not needed for our political-economy to function properly? Or have we simply failed to follow the "maker's instructions" as we have pursued a self-focused, frantic and unprincipled rush to construct ways to control wealth? And, when things don't seem to "go right", have we finally reached the point where we are willing [to quote your world's central bankers] "to do whatever it takes"? It was said in ancient Athens [where I lived] that for somebody with a hammer everything looks like a nail. A timeless and timely truth.

    When Bob Love was the proposed moderator, he and I collected our thoughts on this subject and put them into a "Moderator's POV" under "Suggested Readings" along with some other articles. Now that Mike is moderator, we still stand by those thoughts. If/as you read them, we encourage you to remember two things.

    First, COLLECTIVISM comes in many forms which include deviations on the more common themes of socialism, fascism and totalitarianism. This is because the essence of collectivism is not on "the people" but rather on the centralization of decision making. However, INDIVIDUALISM [which comes to us from the Greek word for "indivisible"] always implies decentralization.

    Second, as you consider the various arguments you are going to hear on this subject, remember this quote from Milton Friedman:
    "The argument for COLLECTIVISM is simple if false; it is an immediate emotional argument. The argument for INDIVIDUALISM is subtle and sophisticated; it is an indirect rational argument. [But sadly] the emotional facilities are more highly developed in most men than the rational, paradoxically or especially even in those who regard themselves as intellectuals. … On both sides of the Atlantic, it is only a little overstated to say that we preach individualism and competitive capitalism, and practice socialism.” Preface to the 1994 edition of F.A Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom"

    Friends, perhaps, the only things that we should be "collecting" right now in our world are our carelessly illogical and badly scattered thoughts about political economy. You know where to look for mine [and Bob's].

    We hope to hear yours in the coming weeks of blogging ... right here ... so we can all discuss them face-to-face on April 18th in an "open format" evening of dialogue ... on "Labor Matters" ... at New Symposium.

    1. Reply: The Catholic principle of subsidiarity ???

      Dear fellow symposiasts,

      If, by your silence, you are telling me that God [to whom I referred in my Comment above] has no identifiable interest in the subject of our upcoming symposium, I would encourage you to consider some feedback on my thoughts [which I recently received via a 3rd party]:

      "[Chaerephon] correctly notes that when government gains control over money ... it moves resources around the economy (the capital/labor ratio) and steers it toward politically preferred ends. Since those ends may (and often do) conflict with the goals of the citizenry, this eventually leads to a supply/demand imbalance and disaster. ... [In this manner] the Fed’s low interest policies have distorted the capital/labor ratios. ... And [Chaerephon's] arguments for power being exercised at the lowest level possible is consistent with the subsidiary principle of Catholic theology."

      So what is the Catholic principle of subsidiarity ... is it applicable to questions of political economy ... and could it possibly have anything to do with monetary policy and the economic equilibirum between capital and labor?

      Is the Church failing in its mission to mankind ...

      ... because it does not [indeed cannot] understand and directly control all the BIG THINGS [like macroeconomics and monetary policy which comprise the complex, divine logos that connects all things from ethics to economics]

      ... or because it has neglected faithfulness in a few of the small things which it can understand and should obey [like the microeconomic principles of work, frugality, savings and charity]?

      It took centuries for the popes to rediscover and canonize God's principle of labor's subsidiarity [which the Apostle Paul set forth in Ephesians 4:28]. Perhaps, we can finally put it to some practical use in our modern political economy!

      I am excitedly looking forward to hearing your thoughts on these and other questions very soon.

      your friend, Chaerephon

      “In the nineteenth century, the French sociologist Frédéric LePlay, an astute and critical observer of the centralization of state power, established the moral principle of subsidiarity, according to which any problem should be solved by the—in political terms—lowest-ranking person or organization that is able to solve it. Pope Leo XIII then canonized this principle, in a manner of speaking, in Rerum Novarum (§§13, 35), without calling it by its name. Only in 1931, Pope Pius XI adopted the expression ‘subsidiarity,’ in his encyclical Quadragesimo Anno.” The Ethics of Money Production, pp 176-177, J.G. Hulsmann, 2008

    2. A Reply from Samson: the Metaphor for Labor
      Dear fellow symposiasts,

      I have been discussing your upcoming New Symposium topic on labor versus capital with a certain super hero I have come to know and he offers his own story to you for consideration as you seek to understand the issues you face. Please allow me to summarize his lengthy and exciting account.

      Born into the austere and frugal life of a Nazarite, Samson learned that as long as he obeyed a few simple commandments given to him by God, he would enjoy sure sight, sufficient strength, simple tools [like the jawbone of an ass], satisfying success and SELF-RESPECT. Of course, there were always those, given over to sloth and narcissism, who wished to enslave Samson for their own gain. But all their efforts to do so failed ... until they found his weak spot ... SELF-INDULGENCE.

      So Samson's enemies made sure he enjoyed anything he wanted as opposed to earning everything he needed. And suddenly one morning Samson awoke to find his strength was gone. His enemies first put out his eyes so he could not look ahead and plan for his future [literally could not exercise pro-vision]. He was then condemned to live day by day at their pleasure dependent on their leading. They harnessed him to their machine where he labored on a meager diet [once again] as their slave grinding out their profits at his expense in open humiliation. But as he returned to simplicity and work, he quite unintentionally began to grow stronger once again ... but, more importantly, to morally understand [if not physically see] what had happened to him ... what he had done to himself.

      In a final act of SELF-SACRIFICE to emancipate his people and assure their future, he used what wisdom and strength he had left to move the main pillar that supported the vast edifice of evil that had brought him into [and now threatened his people with] slavery. And although Samson died in the resulting collapse [he thinks you call it a recession today], that ending transformed the story of his life from a human tragedy into a divine comedy.

      Ever since then Samson has been quite insistent that labor has always been and will always be blessed by God. Paul reaffirmed this assurance in Ephesians 4:28. And Samson would warn you that labor has always had those who wished to enslave it for their own profit. And that, unfortunately, labor has often been foolish ... trading self-respect for self-indulgence ... consumption for provision ... surplus for debt ... like he did.

      At the end of his story, I asked Samson if there was any hope for the emancipation of labor today. And where it might lie. And which one is the main pillar that supports the many-columned modern temple of evil that has enslaved, exploited and humiliated labor in your day?

      His answer was clear and forceful: when labor has the will to work, God provides the wisdom and the strength needed to find and move the pillar that will bring down the slavemasters in any generation... for the sake of future generations ... because God wills men to be free ... and sound judgment is always stronger than mighty armies.

      Samson sends his best regards and wishes you wisdom and strength in the execution of your upcoming deliberations and your subsequent duties.

      your friend,

  2. During our polylog, I mentioned Nicholas Eberstadt's book, "Men Without Work: America's Invisible Crisis" published by the Templeton Press (2016.) The Cato Foundation's book forum on it is at:
    for those who prefer †o see and hear.

    You can buy the book at:

    A few related podcasts on EconTalk:

    David Autor on Trade, China, and U.S. Labor Markets
    David Autor of MIT talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the fundamentals of trade and his research on the impact on workers and communities from trade with China. Autor's research finds large and persistent effects on manufacturing jobs and communities where those jobs once were. Autor and Roberts discuss whether these results capture the full impact of increased trade with China and what the policy response might be that could help workers hurt by trade.

    Autor on Disability:
    David Autor of MIT talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. SSDI has grown dramatically in recent years and now costs about $200 billion a year. Autor explains how the program works, why the growth has been so dramatic, and the consequences for the stability of the program in the future. This is an illuminated look at the interaction between politics and economics and reveals an activity of government that is relatively ignored today but will not be able to be ignored in the future.

    Erik Hurst on Work, Play, and the Dynamics of U.S. Labor Markets:

    Erik Hurst of the University of Chicago talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the state of the labor market in the United States. Hurst notes dramatic changes in employment rates for men and speculates about the causes. Two factors discussed in detail are declines in the manufacturing sector and the rise of high-end video games as a form of leisure.

    You may also find very relevant the latest EconTalk:

    Rana Foroohar on the Financial Sector and Makers and Takers:

    Journalist and author Rana Foroohar of the Financial Times talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about her book, Makers and Takers. Foroohar argues that finance has become an increasingly powerful part of the U.S. economy and has handicapped the growth and effectiveness of manufacturing and the rest of the economy.