If there is genuine interest here I will go into more detail but right now I should lay out some brief responses.
In the future there will be robots. These robots will have their wages driven down to subsistence level. Yes, robots will have wages. Yes, they will have a “subsistence level.” Just go with it. If doesn’t make sense we can take care of that issue in later posts.
Matt Yglesias says
If the “robots” are really mere machines, then it should be easy to peacefully divide up the surplus more-or-less equitably, we’ll transition to socialism and everyone will be happy—it’ll be like Star Trek. If the robots are sentient beings, then we’d presumably be looking at an eventual slave revolt and Communist revolution.
Bryan Caplan responds
Yes, the robots will be mere machines. But these mere machines will be owned by people. And though these people will be awfully rich by our standards, even rich people rarely take the "transition to socialism" lying down. They (or their robot stewards) will have every reason to resist expropriation like any other capitalists. In the short-run, that means investing less and consuming more – and capital flight if the transition to socialism looks serious.
So I am just going to stake this out hardcore. The robots will be people. The will not be Stems, the term I use. Stems are flesh and blood people like you and me.
The robots will be EMs. But, they will be as much a person as you or I. Indeed, they will likely remember having been a Stem.
This is because the most feasible way of making a robot is to just copy a flesh and blood human brain. Since we don’t know how the brain works, we have to replicate it wholesale to get a robot brain just as powerful.
You are going to want a robot brain as powerful as a human one. Sub-human robot brains will be driven out of the market.
This means the robots get the ability to feel jealousy right along with the ability to engineer new products. Unless, someone figures out how to separate one from the other, we are getting both.
However, the analogy isn’t as Matt suggests a return to the late 1800s. It’s a return to the 1600s. The Stems won’t be capitalists. Indeed, robots will probably own and control most of the capital, and earn relatively low profits doing so.
There is an issue with intellectual property but I am betting that the intellectual property rights are significantly weakened in the wake of the Em revolution. Many minds means that thinking is much cheaper and the monopoly rents from IP will be less tolerable.
The Stems will be landed gentry. Their wealth will come from the fact that Stems own the natural resources of this world and those will be in extremely high demand.
I am willing to bet that all Stems will enjoy some level of extreme wealth because it will be given to them by other Stems. Not as high as the richest Stems, of course, but far far above an EM. Being wealthy will likely be seen as a Stem birthright; something that differentiates us, from them. Since, this birthright is cheap to confer and it supports a status hierarchy I think it is likely to evolve.
Further, the EMs will likely not be slaves because there will be no reason to enslave them. The rent on land will exceed the profits from running a slave operation.
Lastly the EMs will not revolt because there will be little to gain. The enormous wealth of the Stems comes from the fact that there are so few of them in comparison to the EMs. If land commands no larger fraction of world income then it does today, it would be trivial to redistribute it.
However, if world population is literally billions of times higher, then STEMs are extremely wealthy because you are taking a tiny slice of a huge amount of economic output and then giving it to an incredibly tiny fraction of the population.
Lastly, I haven’t bounced this off of Robin, but I tend to think democracy goes the way of the Great Abundance. That is, into oblivion. There is no reason for the common EM to bother being involved in politics when no policy can change the basic living standards of your class.
The future is oligarchy.