Bullshit Industry Part 2 - Dilbert & the Magnificent Navy On Land Section 1

Thursday, July 22nd 2010

More bullshit.

This follows on from The Bullshit Industry Part 1: Bullshit Work & Work Snobs.


This article is by no means the work of a communist agitator. The application of communist ideals have proven to be an abject failure. But Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto had this to say:

Will it be possible for private property to be abolished at one stroke?

No, no more than existing forces of production can at one stroke be multiplied to the extent necessary for the creation of a communal society.

In all probability, the proletarian revolution will transform existing society gradually and will be able to abolish private property only when the means of production are available in sufficient quantity. (my emphasis)

Marx's ideal was that if there were plenty to go around none of us are worried about going short. So we can share without fear of losing out.

Until recently this idea of "superabundance", of "the means of production being available in sufficient quantity" has never really been tested. How do people behave when they have plenty to go around?

Interestingly, we can start examining some areas of society where this is happening. Not in groceries, cars, houses, land, water, true. But in data. Zeros and ones.

The cost of re-producing and distributing digital files of various kinds (text, audio, video) is now very low. Where once it involved plastic disks, video tapes, newspapers, magazines and books, now it just involves transmitting zeros and ones from one computer to another.

For instance, at commercial rates the cost is now around US20c a gig, or .2c a mb. Storage is US10c per gig per month. Server usage is US10c per hour per server.

In many cases, you can scale your server capacity to meet demand, which means computing power is not a fixed cost anymore. Before, you would have had to have had enough server capacity to meet peak demand, and then some capacity would sit idle the rest of the time when demand was below that peak. Supply and demand can be adjusted to meet each other.

For higher quality uncompressed audio, a song will be around 5-10mb per minute. So around 7c to send to a 3 minute song. For an mp3, a compressed audio format, the file size of an mp3 is determined by the bit-rate and playing time - but a 3 minute song is around 3.5mb. So, around 0.7c to send.

It takes about two gigabytes to store one hour of average video on a DVD. So let's say 50c to send a movie. If you compress the video, you can get it down to half or even less of that. So it could be closer to 25c or so. The only fixed cost is storing the data (10c a gig per month). All the others can be directly adjusted to demand.

Then you have to take into account the costs for punters in downloading: this varies a lot, but it probably negligible as far as they are concerned, but let's double the prices to take it into account.

Conclusion: the price of distributing and reproducing any given work is less than US$1 for a video, and will probably be closer to a 1.5c for a song. For text and pictures the cost is even less. The economics of anything that is data-based are obvious: the cost of distribution and warehousing is very low! There is no stock to worry about, so supply can scale to demand.

Every year these costs go down. Eventually they will be close to zero.

And this does not take into account that music and videos compliment other businesses. The most obvious one being advertising for other things, such as cars, clothes, and so on.

When you read newspaper web site, or use a search engine, or watch a video, or look through an auction web site you are not usually the one doing the buying. You have already been sold. To advertisers.

Consider a search engine. The adverts you see with your search engine results are only valuable because people look at them and, more importantly, click on them.

The value of, say, an article on a newspaper web site is not what people pay for it directly minus what it costs to produce. Rather, its value is indirectly funded by how many people read it and then click on the ad shown with it, who then buy something as a result.

Eventually everything is a compliment to everything else. Price starts to turn into the cost of production and no more.

Yet movie buying a movie costs around $US12 and songs cost $US1 each.

Of course, you need to take into account the labour involved in creating a song or a movie. And it is the most significant part of the cost of production. To do this, government has to interfere in the market system and with technology. One interference is copyright.

In most cases, copyright is literally the "right to copy" a book, film, song, or whatever it may be. This is enforced by government. The ultimate sanction being jail sentence. Technology is hampered quite deliberately to protect the profits of people who make films, music, and so on, by granting monopoly rights to people who have the copyright over a given set of bits.

The argument for doing this is simple: if people don't profit making music, for instance, why would they do it? How would they have time to do it? It also defends their "natural right" to their work in the Lockean sense of the idea. If you create something, surely you're entitled to decide what happens with it? Most people would agree.

The problem is by enforcing this system you also actively discourage other forms of invention. Indeed, you are maintaing a legal system that - in some respects - actively stops the use of new technology or channels it is inefficient directions. We could, in theory, have a world wide library of virtually every song, book, recording, flm and video. Available for virtually free to anyone with an internet connection. Yet we don't. It's bullshit!

There's something wrong?

Make Work Bias & the Exchange Economy

Technology should create leisure time. The purpose of most technology is efficiency. Efficiency usually means more with less. Cars are more efficient at transporting people, but fewer people are required to make and maintain them. Computers are improving, but fewer people are required to program them, maintain them and manufacture them. And so on.

It's hard to be imagine someone standing up and saying "I'm not really doing anything useful now we have the new roombaTurk(tm) administration system, can I quit my well paid job, please?", even if he privately admits to friends that he could probably do his job in half the time. He has a vested interest in appearing busy and useful.

In the new millennium the trend has been for the number employed in Australia, for example, to increase, so much so that official unemployment rate hovers around 5%. But a more accurate description is that around 10-15% are left out, either partially or completely. But these statistics may obscure one of the bigger changes in employment: what people are doing with their time.

Perhaps humans, faced with obsolescence, can innovate in ways to make work for themselves. They certainly have a clear motivation to do so; if they are no longer useful, they will fall into relative penury.

Moreover, they may be part of a system where they are actually useful to others in individual transactions, even if, at a systemic level, they are entirely superfluous to actual production and distribution. This sort of work creation promotes social stability in the face of technological change.

Bryan Caplan writes:

Inside of a household, everyone understands what Cox and Alm call "the upside of downsizing". You do not worry about how to spend the hours you save when you buy a washing machine. There are other ways to spend your time. Bastiat insightfully observes that a loner would never fall prey to make-work bias:

No solitary man would ever conclude that, in order to make sure that his own labour had something to occupy it, he should break the tools that save him labour, neutralise the fertility of the soil, or return to the seas the foods it may have brought him ... He would understand, in short, that a saving in labour is nothing else than progress.

he existence of an exchange economy is a necessary condition for the make-work confusion to arise.

But exchange hampers our view of so simple a truth. In society, with the division of labour that it entails, the production of consumption of an object are not performed by the same individual. Each person comes to regard his own labour no longer as a means, but as an end.

If you receive a washing machine as a gift, the benefit is yours; you have more free time and the same income. If you are sacked, the benefit goes to other people; you have more free time, but your income temporarily falls. In both cases, though, society conserves labour.

Bryan Caplan coins the phrase "make-work bias".

The public often literally believes that labour is better to use than conserve. Saving labour, producing more goods with fewer man-hours, is widely perceived not as progress, but as a danger. I call this make work bias, a tendency to underestimate the economic benefits of conserving labour. Where non-economists see the destruction of jobs, economists see the essence of economic growth -- the production of more with less (The Myth of the Rational Voter, p.43).

Simply put, people want to have something to trade. Most people trade their labour, so most people want their skills to remain useful to others. In most cases, that means they are still useful as employees.

If a labour saving device is employed by industry and puts people out of jobs, then people find it unsettling, object to it, and often protest about it. It's only natural. To some it means they'll be out of work. To others, they could be next. To a businessman, it could mean the end of his business model. These are all manifestations of the "make-work bias".

There is also another problem. You can pay people based on what they do, or based on how long they take to do it. If you have to build something and it takes you 4 hours, then you get paid for four hours. Then you do something else. If you take 8 hours to do the same thing, then you are less productive; but get you get paid more to do it.

Of course, a good employer will realise the problem. Hence all the talk about "productivity"; how much people get done in given amounts of time. But productivity is notoriously hard to measure in any sophisticated economy. Measuring hours is much easier.

The Magnificent Navy on Land

In November 1955, Cyril Northcote Parkinson made his famous satirical "Parkinson's Law" public. In an article in The Economist, he observed that between 1914 and 1928, while the Admiralty's number of men and ships went down, the number of people involved in administration went up. Parkinson wrote:

The criticism voiced at the time centred on the comparison between the sharp fall in numbers of those available for fighting and the sharp rise in those available only for administration, the creation, it was said, of "a magnificent Navy on land."

He went on to write:

What we have to note is that the 2,000 Admiralty officials of 1914 had become the 3,569 by 1928; and that this growth was unrelated to any possible increase in their work. The Navy during that period had diminished, in point of fact, by a third in men and two-thirds in ships. Nor, from 1922 onwards, was its strength even expected to increase, for its total of ships (unlike its total of officials) was limited by the Washington Naval Agreement of that year. Yet in these circumstances we had a 78.45 percent increase in Admiralty officials over a period of fourteen years; an average increase of 5.6 percent a year on the earlier total.

He theorised that there were two factors in this apparently incongruous state of affairs, they were:

Factor I. An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals and

Factor II. Officials make work for each other.

He describes one of his laws, "The Law of the Multiplication of Subordinates". He postulated that when a person, Parkinson called him dryly "A", finds himself overworked (or thinks he is overworked), he can either resign, "ask to halve the work with a colleague called B" or "demand the assistance of two subordinates to be called C and D". Parkinson suggests nearly everybody demands the assistance of some subordinates. Why? Obviously, he does not want to resign. Creating a colleague of similar standing means there is competition for promotion. Creating two subordinates, neither of which have a complete idea of what A does means he is safe from competition.

He describes how this growing work force makes work for itself, and he called it the "Law of the Multiplication of Work":

"... A is a conscientious man. Beset as he is with problems created by his colleagues for themselves and for him-created by the mere fact of these officials' existence-he is not the man to shirk his duty. He reads through the draft with care, deletes the fussy paragraphs added by C and H and restores the thing back to the form preferred in the first instance by the able (if quarrelsome) F. He corrects the English-none of these young men can write grammatically-and finally produces the same reply he would have written if officials C to H had never been born. Far more people have taken far longer to produce the same result. No one has been idle. All have done their best. And it is late in the evening before A finally quits his office and begins the return journey to Ealing. The last of the office lights are being turned off in the gathering dusk, which marks the end of another day's administrative toil. Among the last to leave, A reflects, with bowed shoulders and a wry smile that late hours, like gray hairs, are among the penalties of success."

In the 1968 classic satirical book The Peter Principle, Laurence J. Peter came up with another grand insight. The idea was that every person in a hierarchy is judged by those further up based on how well that person performs in their given position. That person will be promoted on that basis. Gradually the person will rise to a point where he or she no longer demonstrates any particular talent, and so promotion ceases. Peter summed it up as: "In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence."

Scott Adams, who writes and draws the famous Dilbert cartoon strip, wrote a book in a similar vein called "The Dilbert Principle". He summed the book up in an interview:

... when I originally started drawing Dilbert, I was just writing a funny little comic about a guy who had a job that was a lot like mine. People read into it that workers were brilliant and bosses were stupid. But that's only half true-what I really thought was that everybody was stupid, including me. But it was far more commercial to go with what people wanted. This is where the MBA helps out. I just did the math: For every boss there are about ten employees. Do you want to sell a product to one boss or to ten employees? I had to go with the ten-to-one advantage. Even so, I wrote The Dilbert Principle around the concept that in many cases the least competent, least smart people are promoted, simply because they're the ones you don't want doing actual work. You want them ordering the doughnuts and yelling at people for not doing their assignments-you know, the easy work. Your heart surgeons and your computer programmers-your smart people-aren't in management. That principle was literally happening everywhere.

What Makes Bureaucracies Tick

Administration is all about recognising and making the most of others' talent, allocating resources; measuring resources, assessing them, organising them, ordering them, dispersing them, and so on. Done well it is one of the most important positions in an organisation. It is also one of the most interesting and creative, and it can attract talented people.

But, first and foremost, it is about the administrator's position and the resources he can accumulate for his own ends (whatever they are). The rest is usually a means to that end. Management and administration aren't the realm of the incompetent, any more than any other realm of human activity. They just give that impression to some people!


Advertisers don't have ads that say:

"Buy our stuff because we want to make more money!"

Even though that's their "unofficial" reason for producing what they produce. Instead their "official" line is:

"Buy this and you'll be happy with the product, we've made it with your needs in mind!"

In the same way, the official role of a person in an organisation or a trade is to be useful to others, to carry out work others can benefit from. That is what gives that person authority in a meritocracy under the division of labour; the benefits he offers everyone else in the hierarchy, or at least those immediately above and below him. The unofficial role of the person is to gather resources for himself.

The mistake Scott Adams and Lawrence J. Peter make is to see the criteria for assessment as the person's level of "productivity" or skill in whatever the person's official role is. That is important officially of course, but unofficially, what is more important is to move up the hierarchy and make decisions about more and more resources. If someone moves up the hierarchy they are, by definition, doing well. Ipso facto, they are playing their unofficial role very well! People may mock these folks, as Adams does very amusingly in his comic strip, for being incompetent in their "official" role, but they have demonstrated talent in their "unofficial" role!

Obviously, people need to make sure the entire organisation is functioning well enough to bring in resources, and they need to make sure they are doing enough for others so those people support them; but this needs to be balanced against their unofficial work; maintaining their position or improving on it. The official and unofficial may happily coincide, but when they clash, the unofficial role will trump the official one nearly every time. It is clear which one is the priority!

A person starts out as someone dealing with production and distribution. Besides attempting to minimise competition, align others with his interests, and defeat competition, he organises scarce resources. He knows that the more resources he has at his disposal, the more he can allocate to himself and to the projects that he favours. A lot of people want more and more resources to make decisions about.

For this reason, the tendency is for all decision making to become more and more centralised: the leeway for decision making further down the hierarchy lessens over time. But the central system can't make decisions about everything all the time.

Gradually, to keep control, it enacts protocols and rules for underlings to follow. This also means activity is systemised, meaning it not dependent on any given person. The chains of people required to make a decision increase, with each person deferring responsibility further up the chain and making a small part of the decision. The organisation grows more and more rule-based and more and more detached from the original activities to do with production and distribution (an increasing proportion of which are automated); to the point where the original tangible activities cease to actually have much bearing on day-to-day activity.

Because administrators (these could be business people or bureaucrats) generally make decisions about where resources go, over time resources are poured into administration. Some administrative positions gradually move to the top of hierarchy because they become the best paid and most powerful position in the organisation. Hiearchies stretch and get bigger, as it is both a sign of status and protection against competition.

Once the original creators of the organisation move on to pastures new, they leave behind them a legacy of rules and precedent; these systems serve to guide the organisation. People in the hierarchy have a vested interest in maintaining the existing rules that support their positions, and in creating more of them where necessary so they can defer some decision making without deferring too much control. Modifying existing rules, or introducing new ones to consolidate positions or improve them is common as well.

As a whole, the organisation becomes self-perpetuating; the unofficial reason for the existence of the organisation becomes the perpetuation of the organisation; an extension of the unofficial reason for the existence of the all the positions in the organisation is the perpetuation of each person's position.

Officially it looks like this. Professional administrators only really know about administration, that is their forte. People promoted upwards are likely to have demonstrated some talent in their former non-administrative positions, but few will have the skills to be administrators; they will have risen to a position of incompetence as administrators, in accordance with the Peter Principle. Or they will have been promoted to the position because they are no threat to those further up the hierarchy or because their official role will not clash too much with their unofficial one. Decisions about allocating resources are left up to either those who know little about what they are administrating, or those that know a fair bit about it, but know nothing about administration. Facetiously, you could say work life turns into a Dilbert cartoon and Scott Adam's assessment of a typical office seems true enough! This is what it looked like "officially", anyway! But "unofficially" things are working out as you would expect them to.

Governments don't generally go bust and aren't faced with competition except from other governments - so they can operate more easily under these sorts of principles. Private enterprise can go bust; it must provide goods and services at prices lower (or at a quality that is better) than the competition to stay in business. Unless, of course, the business is in a monopoly or oligopoly position or is being protected by government from competition - in which case it turns into something more like government, and starts operating more freely under Parkinson's Laws, and other Laws like them. But as most business tends toward monopoly, and government is a monopoly, most activity gradually tends towards monopoly or oligopoly and so moves toward a more Parkinson-like state.

Superimposing Make Work Bureaucracy on Technology

Humanity superimposes this social system on top of the technology. As the technology automates more and more it becomes more and more automated and more and more complex. Initially it is an attempt to simulate human trading behaviour and so on. It will take this sort of form:

In a nutshell, when a simulation of a complex phenomenon (brains, weather systems) reaches a certain level of fidelity, it becomes just as difficult to figure out what's actually going on in the model-how it's organized, or how it will respond to a set of inputs-as it is to answer the same questions about a live version of the phenomenon that the simulation is modeling. So building a highly accurate simulation of a complex, nondeterministic system doesn't mean that you'll immediately understand how that system works-it just means that instead of having one thing you don't understand (at whatever level of abstraction), you now have two things you don't understand: the real system, and a simulation of the system that has all of the complexities of the original plus an additional layer of complexity associated with the models implementation in hardware and software. (Techcrunch)

However, that "simulation of the system" will eventually start to turn into more than a simulation, it will start to operate in its own, distinct way. It will grow more and more distinct from the original model. It will grow and more and more incomprehensible to the humans interacting with it. The humans will have a limited ability to control how it works.

In theory, ponderous administrative organisation will invariably be faced with competition from more efficient organisations providing better goods and services at lower prices. The sclerotic organisation will be subject to what Joseph Schumpeter called "creative destruction" and the disruptive effects of entrepreneurs and innovation. True to a point.

But this is where technology comes in. Imagine a car. When you sit down to drive it, you might turn the ignition, slip into "drive", and the use the accelerator to go down the road. Steering using the steering wheel, braking with the brake. You don't need to know how the steering wheel works, or how the gears work, or how the ignition works, or the ins and outs of the drive shaft, and so on. That is all "hidden" from you. In most cases, you'll be able to drive another sort of car pretty easily - it will operate in much the same fashion as any other car.

Now let's consider computers (again!). At its base you have the actual hardware - silicon chips, switches, chips, circuit boards, magnetic heads for hard drives, or whatever level of sophistication the technology is at - and there are people who work at that level, with the actual physical structure of, say, a processor or a hard drive using sophisticated tools and so on. Then there are the people who do "low level" programming of the hardware, say at a binary level. Then there are various degrees of "abstraction" from the hardware; operating systems, hardware "drivers", to what are called "high level" programming languages that operate in an entirely abstract way, to the user interface, which might be a web site or a computer game, or a graphic user interface or some 3d simulator.

Each level of abstraction from the tangible (physical hardware) to the intangible (more and more abstract software) is contingent on the one that precedes it. That means someone can program a computer in say Java or Ruby or Lisp and not have to know anything about how a processor works for example. If you programmed in C you would need to know more about how computer memory works and so on. Similarly, you don't need to know anything about how the underlying technology of switches and routers and TCP/IP (if you've even heard of them!), to be able to go and visit a web page and look at a funny video or read the news.

Technology reflects the way humans have created it; technological abstraction is the technical equivalent of the division of labour. It is a way to handle complexity; by breaking it into parts. As technology advances, more and more of the economy becomes technologically abstracted as technology takes over the tangible labour and economic activities. An indication that this is going on is the degree to which "work" is abstracted from tangible objects or the trade of tangible objects; money, for example, is a technological abstraction on top of barter, electronic transactions an abstract version of money, automated bill payments eliminate aspects of the billing cycle, and so on.

It is traditional to think that this means humans must be moving further and further up the chain, to more and more "high level" work that requires thinking and skills that can't be automated easily. This is true for some, but for many they don't have the ability to move up the chain; different skills are required to the ones they may possess. Put it another way: no matter how good I get with scythe, I will never be as efficient as a combine harvester. I could drive one: but one day I will not as efficient (or as cheap) as ... an automated combine harvester. I could repair automated combine harvesters, but as they get more reliable fewer and fewer repairmen will be required. I could then go and design new ones, but that requires different skills that most scythe wielders may struggle with. As the skills required become rarer it is fortunate that (usually) fewer people with those skills are needed.

This is simply because there are physical limits to what humans can do with their bodies and with their minds. As automation becomes better, more mental and physical skill is required to stay ahead of the automation. Eventually, you can't.

But we must consider what we discussed earlier; that tangible work is increasingly being done by automated systems; moreover, they actually carry out most of the production and distribution. The economic exchange process itself is automated, too; trade, bidding, competition and so on are "invisible" for the most part.

The inner-workings of the invisible, automated economy may be complex, but the complexity will be hidden from humans. The human superstructure will then interact with the invisible economy in a minimal fashion, in the same way you drive a car.

With the invisible economy, instead of steering or braking, we simply make our preferences known - and the automatons get on with the work of making it happen. Even making preferences known could be automated - by machines observing your behaviour and learning about what you want that way. Who gets what is entirely a matter for the administrative superstructure that has access to the various parts of the invisible economy and can make requests of it.

The interesting thing is, the administrative superstructure will be, for most intents and purposes, gradually more and more superfluous from a technical, production and distribution point of view. It will be there to deal with the tendencies of Economic Man, the tragedy of the commons, and to decide who gets what, even though so many humans are actually obsolete having nothing tangible to trade.

Remember when I wrote that automated agents in the invisible economy would bargain down prices to minimal levels, and goods and services would end up being priced at the level that covers costs, but no more or less. As everyone has these automated agents bargaining on their behalf, it should also be clear that each person will all call upon the same commodified goods and services provided by the invisible economy.

Competition will take the form of competition for positions of administrative control, rather than on superior economic performance: everyone will harness the same level of economic performance from the invisible economy. Only administrative regulation - the rules of the market system - would adjust this process; it follows that how much each person will be allocated will depend on how much say they have over those "rules", which may turn out to be monopoly rights on various forms of information or ways of processing them for instance.

This competition will be positional. Positional competition tends to be zero-sum: that is, if I have a a position then you can't have it. If I have the flashiest car, to have to get a flashier one. And so on. And so many humans work just as hard as before to secure adminstrative positions for similar reasons.

In other words, the administrative system will not have traditional competition on skill or resources, but rather administrative competition. The Politics of Obsolecence, if you like. The human element will increasingly be about organising the hierarchy, adjusting some criteria for the automated systems, by precedent and by the rules generated by successive administrators, inventing new rules to operate under, fulfilling a mixture of official and unofficial criteria, and so on. The more successful an administrator is at doing this, the more say he will have over what the underlying automated economy does and the more resources he will get to make decisions over.

Humans will be competing with one another to make decisions about how automated goods and services are distributed, they will do less and less of the work involved in organising those goods and services, beyond deciding what ones they want and where they should go in a general sense.

(Eventually even that process will be automated, however)

Ye Olde Sticks

This does not mean everyone will have a position in this administrative superstructure. They probably won't. Not officially, anyway. Officially, they will be "looking for work" in it. Unofficially, they will be "paid" in much the same way as anyone else.

Australia, for example, is a relatively civilised place, and unemployed people (and people with disabilities) can usually avail themselves of income support that varies from around $200 to $450 per fortnight (in 2009), administered by "Centrelink", the government organisation that deal with processing and helping people on income support, amongst other things.

For people who are unemployed or underemployed and receive support, they have to fulfil criteria set by government legislation, which is administered by 22,000 or so Centrelink employees. People who are looking for work can either fulfil the criteria or be "breached"; that is, have their payments reduced. They usually have to engage in "work for the dole", engage in "intensive assistance", where they have to attend interviews and courses to help them try and get work. These are provided by private third-party organisations, also funded by the government.

Interestingly, this all operates under the philosophy of "mutual obligation", not far from the notion of "balanced reciprocity", where you give in return for what you take over time. That is, in return for income support, a person must do something. Interviews, courses and other activities being examples. The person must look for work, or make themselves more employable than the people they are competing with for a given job.

Of course, income support is a one sided transaction. It is not a reciprocal relationship at all, a person receiving income support doesn't give anything in exchange of higher value to the government (or the administrator allocating the funds), in return for income support. They don't have anything to offer. If they did, they would be paid in a normal trading transaction. The "mutual obligation" part is an artificial, bureaucratic construction designed to deal with Economic Man's trading psychology.

This system operates on the basis that some people find some work time consuming, poorly paid and boring. So one of the aims of the bureaucracy is to maintain what is called the "compliance effect". One of the roles of the bureaucracy is to make being on the dole more time consuming, poorly paid and boring than having a typical time consuming, poorly paid, boring job. This makes "bludgers" get off the the dole and into time consuming, poorly paid, boring jobs.

Tony Abbott MLC puts it this way:

Work can be made more attractive than life on welfare by changing the rewards of work or by changing the conditions of welfare. No government could cut unemployment benefits, because living on $170 a week is hard enough already, but this Government has changed what's expected of people who have been on benefit for some time.

Work for the Dole marks the end of the era of permissive welfare. It's the most important single change to the culture of employment and unemployment since 1972. Budget changes specifying that all job seekers under 40 on benefits for more than six months must do Work for the Dole or other structured activity, and undergo new cycles of activity as long as they stay on benefit, complete the new institutional architecture begun with the Job Network in 1996.

These changes are designed to make work more attractive than the alternative without increasing labour costs and without making anyone on welfare financially worse off. Another way to make work pay is to make non-work not pay. If the alternative to working for a wage is working for the dole, there's much more incentive to take work, particularly the entry-level and temporary jobs that employers often find hard to fill even when unemployment is high.

Make welfare more shit than low paying jobs, in other words.

"Work for the dole" is part of the "compliance effect", there are other aspects too. Paper work. Forms to fill in. Appointments to go to. Courses to attend. And so on. This gradually turns into a "make-work" scheme for all involved.

We have a combination private/public bureaucracy distributing billions a year to various recipients fulfilling various criteria, administered by various administrators, distributing letters, carrying out courses, and so on. This is, in part, a work creation scheme for everybody involved.

Traditionally, government is a source of this sort of activity, but anybody who has worked in a large organisation knows the trend toward Parkinson-esque job creation. The government welfare program under the auspices of "mutual obligation" and the "compliance effect" is an more obvious version of the wider, administrative make-work scheme.

Now, if people are made obsolete by technological change and the invisible economy, they can either be employed in a Parkinson-like way, as seems likely for some, or simply left out, but then unofficially employed in the same superstructure through some sort of "welfare" system. Perhaps this process will continue, and people will continue to work hard even when its only function is so they can secure an income, it is totally unnecessary from a production point of view. I would imagine the advanced roombaTurks of the future will look at the humans with some bemusement!


It is possible people will feel psychological distress at carrying out unnecessary work, of feeling "useless", or that they're "wasting their time". The rule-based hierarchical superstructure may remain quite inflexible and impersonal for a time, and people will possibly feel dehumanised by it. That is, they cannot interact with humans using their own creativity, but rather only using the rules that have been set down for that interaction. Information process workers may find themselves carrying out repetitious, fairly uncreative tasks that don't use their actual talents and meet their basic need to do "real work".

People may also find that there is not a commensurate reduction in work as technology grows more sophisticated and the automated economy grows more productive. Rather, more (hopefully less onerous) work will simply be created. It will probably be less physically strenuous, but it will be mentally taxing in the sense that it will be designed to take up time. If a person does not create work for himself, or maintain his position, he will be officially "left out", and be able to make few decisions about what he does with his life because the only economic exchange he can engage in - at best - will be the one-sided welfare exchange. So, the fear of being left out will remain officially, so people will not feel particularly secure.

In the January 1989 issue of "The Physics Teacher", William DeBuvitz wrote about a new chemical element he called "administratium":

The heaviest element known to science was recently discovered by investigators at a major U.S. research university. The element, tentatively named administratium, has no protons or electrons and thus has an atomic number of 0. However, it does have one neutron, 125 assistant neutrons, 75 vice neutrons and 111 assistant vice neutrons, which gives it an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together by a force that involves the continuous exchange of meson-like particles called morons.

Since it has no electrons, administratium is inert. However, it can be detected chemically as it impedes every reaction it comes in contact with. According to the discoverers, a minute amount of administratium causes one reaction to take over four days to complete when it would have normally occurred in less than a second.

Administratium has a normal half-life of approximately three years, at which time it does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which assistant neutrons, vice neutrons and assistant vice neutrons exchange places. Some studies have shown that the atomic mass actually increases after each reorganization.

Research at other laboratories indicates that administratium occurs naturally in the atmosphere. It tends to concentrate at certain points such as government agencies, large corporations, and universities. It can usually be found in the newest, best appointed, and best maintained buildings.

Scientists point out that administratium is known to be toxic at any level of concentration and can easily destroy any productive reaction where it is allowed to accumulate. Attempts are being made to determine how administratium can be controlled to prevent irreversible damage, but results to date are not promising.

The problem is an over-dose of administratium remains inevitable while humans remain attached to their current ways of acting and thinking. While they remain Economic Men. We have no way of distributing goods and services - even when they are produced automatically - without sticking with outmoded forms of social organisation. Anything else isn't compatible with most of humanity's trading psychology.

But somewhere most people have a sense that the invisible economy and the game-like structure we build on top of it seems irrational, perhaps even stupid. It's bullshit. And eventually the smell will get to us and there'll be change.

I hope :-).