Stephen Hawking Proves Even So-Called Geniuses Can Be Economically Illiterate

luddite-main_fullI’m not sure how much of a genius Stephen Hawking actually is versus how much his intellect may be inflated in the public consciousness due to his ALS and his miraculous survival with it. The moniker of smartest man alive has somehow stuck with him where I doubt 99.9% of the people who see him that way have any idea of his work aside from a Brief History of Time. That’s really all I ever read from him. Admittedly I have no mind for complex mathematics and physics.

But I do have a mind for praxeology and logic and deductive reasoning. Apparently, I’m much better at it that Stephen Hawking, who seems quite the dolt on the subject.

Yes, Hawking beats me on physics and hard sciences, 100% I concede. But he like most others suffer from the Luddite Fallacy and thinking only one step deep when it comes to simple qualitative deductive logic.

Says Hawking:

The automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining.”

With not only jobs but entire industries disappearing, we must help people to retrain for a new world and support them financially while they do so,” he added.

Facepalm. The automation of anything does not lead to lasting unemployment. It never has and it never will. Factories themselves didn’t lead to the unemployment of those who make things by hand. Most of that employment merely shifted industries to making the machines. Automated factories will simply move factory workers to some other industry where labor is needed. Why does this even have to be explained to Stephen Hawking? What is the block in people’s heads that prevents them from understanding this basic truth?

It’s not an observation. It’s a logical necessity. Unemployed labor factors is a market that clears at a certain price. All markets clear by necessity, therefore all labor displaced by automation clears in some other form of employment. The only thing that can perpetuate unemployment is welfare and minimum wage, because these are coercive rather than market phenomena.

The more automation, the more labor is freed up to do other things, the higher the supply of stuff and the lower the prices of stuff. Standards of living rise. That’s what happens because of automation, so even if a group of workers is displaced into lower income jobs, the tendency is that the price of goods and services drop more relative to that drop because of the very automation that displaced them.

Typewriters didn’t lead to the end of the human race for displacing transcribers. Computers didn’t lead to the end of the human race for displacing typists. Amazon did not lead to the end of the human race for displacing brick and mortar retailers. Airplanes did not lead to the end of the human race for displacing transcontinental shipping companies. Cars did not destroy humanity by unemploying horse and buggy drivers. Computerized farming equipment and cow-driven plows. Lab grown meat will not lead to the end of the human race by unemploying cattle farmers for God’s sake man!

A cure for cancer will not lead to the end of the human race by unemploying oncologists, and a cure for ALS will not lead to the end of the human race for unemploying the manufacturers of Stephen Hawking’s specialized wheelchair.

In the absolute worst possible scenario when our entire lives are automated by machines and nobody can think of anything else that needs to be done, nobody would have to do anything anymore and we could all learn Gemara all day. Or physics. Or spend our time figuring out how to cure ALS. Or whatever.

It’s certainly an amazing thing that Stephen Hawking doesn’t get this. The phenomenon as to why he doesn’t get this should be studied. To me it is more interesting to solve than the problem of ALS, because economic illiteracy is ubiquitous and very dangerous. It leads to the outlawing of automation, which is what Hawking seems to be proposing. Doing that would kill many more people than ALS.

ALS research is part of my work, actually, since I analyze cutting-edge pharmaceutical research.


2 thoughts on “Stephen Hawking Proves Even So-Called Geniuses Can Be Economically Illiterate

  1. Hawkins proposed RETRAINING the workforce who are currently unemployed and will become unemployed due to automation. He did not say anything about “destroying the human race”. He did not argue that automation must be stopped. Technological advancements and industrialization always leads to changes in the types of employment. Hawkins argues that society – government – should provide training for the unemployed to adapt to a new economy and support them while they do so to adapt to the changes in the economy and automation. Hawkins does NOT suffer from the Luddite fallacy, as he identifies “[automation] will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world. The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive.”

    Automation does not lead to lower prices automatically. Prices rise due to a number of factors, such as inflation and other market forces influencing supply and demand. And even the cheapest prices for goods is too high if people have no money to afford them because they have no jobs. Real wealth and wages have been stagnant for decades in America. Only the top 1% have been improving economically. And if labor markets are always self correcting, there would never have been mass unemployment after the Great Depression. Only vast government spending and WWII nationalizing the economy and employing millions as soldiers and sailors corrected the labor market.

    As automation leads to more unemployment, the human cost of even temporary labor market adjustment will result in widening inequality. Those who make the old jobs ‘obsolete’ will drive those who just became ‘obsolete’ into earning less.

    The current challenge in the AI and big data type of rising automation is that it directly effects the middle class. The original Guardian article makes it clear that Hawkins is concerned about the widening inequality leading to growing nationalism and mistrust of international cooperation that will be required to fix the pressing problems of climate change, epidemic disease, and acidification of the oceans.

    So anyway, good job on the praxeology and logic and deductive reasoning, if you truly believe you have it. However, you fail to understand the basic argument Hawkins was making and accuse him of having a fallacy that he does not have. He is not anti-progress or anti-market. He is for cooperation, retraining the workforce, and combating inequality in favor of international action for global priorities. You disagree with that, fine. Just make sure you’re not the one that makes others facepalm.

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