I wrote recently about the High Level Equilibrium Trap in which China had fallen to in the modern era. Point was that Chinese labor and infrastructure was just efficient enough so that developing new machinery was never worth the trouble. Not to say they didn't invent machines, but they never caught on, in a similar fashion to Classical Europe which we know was full of cool gadgets which the Graeco-Romans just couldn't be bothered to use. Accumulation of capital makes less sense when you're banging Thracian slaves in your Tuscan villa since puberty.
A famous anecdote is that China had automatic spinning wheels for hemp already in the 14th century, but after the introduction of cotton it fell into disuse. The funny thing is that instead of trying to develop something similar for cotton fibers, they just went back to hand spinning and never bothered automatic a process that had been automated for centuries. They just didn't bother. Or in modern parlance, the incentives just weren't there. Also see this story about why firearms never went mainstream in China: their bows were good enough.
This piece of history is universally acknowledged as a bad thing, as machines are good, more productive, and the inability to develop machines is a bad thing, a very bad thing as the subsequent history of China shows. People have this idea of China as being both an awesome ancient civilization and a huge modern powerhouse, which it sort of is. But it is also the biggest agglomeration of idiotic tacky annoying peasants the world has ever seen. I can really see how these guys didn't bother developing automated cotton spinning. S.A.M. Adshead had this story of how the brutal Mongol invasion utterly devastated the cosmopolitan and innovative Song civilization, and when the Ming came up from the ashes, a deep shift happened where population moved back to the countryside, were tied to the land, and commercial life was kept to a minimum, producing a new culture of provincial, isolated, hugely fertile farmers which kept to themselves.
All of this would be great and grand if it wasn't the case that youth unemployment is a big problem in China. As it is everywhere else. Which doesn't make much sense a priori because developed countries have low fertility, ergo fewer young people, ergo less supply for what supposedly is more or less constant demand. Alas in the labor market it is not only about supply and demand. Confused economists come up with confused concepts that they themselves don't understand too well, like "sticky wages". Which is close but not quite it. A better name would be "sticky status", or more accurately "sticky self-imagined status", where young people refuse to work not because they are offered too little money, but because the jobs that exist don't confer the status that they believe they are entitled to.
A common reaction to the recent articles on the Dire Problem as Moldbug named it, is that it doesn't make much intuitive sense. There is no reason that the market can't find jobs for people, there will always be stuff for people to do. And that's quite correct. In China, where the willing-to-work-for-peanuts generation and the entitled generation coexist, you can find people who stick protective films on smartphones for a living. There's always stuff to do if you are willing to do it and be annoying in pushing people to pay you for it. It doesn't even need to be like Cheap Chalupas or WRM envision, a return to a Victorian era of plutocrats employing dozens of servants for every minute task. In a society that places value in labor, people would find stuff to do. But the zeitgeist today is that people don't want to work. And I don't say that as a patronizing complaint, I very much avoid labor as much as I can get away with. Given the incentives, all human behavior is rational by definition.
The smart conservative reaction against complaints about labor shortages is to ask for wage increases, as Steve Sailer often does. Ron Unz, who not by chance is patronizing (I hope generously) Steve Sailer in his new website, has taken the argument to the end and is putting his own money into arguing for a 15 dollar minimum wage. To which libertarians, with their characteristic cluelessness, say this:
"What do we want?" "A $15/hour minimum wage!" "When do we want it?" "Shortly before our jobs are replaced with touchscreens and/or robots!"
— Joel Grus (@joelgrus) December 6, 2013
Libertarians don't get that the Sailerite argument for high wages is an ethnic one. If you're forced to pay 15 dollars an hour, more whites will be willing to work for that money, so the incentive to hire Mexicans ceases to exist. The overt case for minimum wage is that greedy bosses should share more of their wealth with their employees. The covert reasoning is that higher wages means low productivity people should move out of the place. But libertarians actually think diversity is good for the economy.
But back to the point, what if the Sailerite argument is obsolete. Maybe it's not about money anymore. The combination of low fertility, feminism and inequality make children enjoy a high standard of living, which gives them the illusion of high status, but a status that is never enough now that women have access to their own income and state patronage. And high inequality makes it worse by skewing the threshold for alphaness that women find acceptable, and feeding the all too common lottery-mind where everyone is obsessed with trying to make it Big and join the overclass, and making a normal, quiet living is no longer worth it.
Of course all this dysfunction feeds on itself, demotivated workers making companies more annoying, uninterested men making women more uppity, unambitious masses making rich people less generous, etc. A giant clusterfuck sized vicious cycle that drives the fertility rate lower still. But the tech companies haven't gone anywhere, and what can they rely on if not robots? The Romans amused themselves to death. Maybe we are amusing ourselves into Skynet.
And robots will see it that we are kept amused.