In the Long Run We’re All Dead. In the Medium Run, We Have Things to Worry About.

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Perhaps today I will link only to people named Matthew. Here is Matt Yglesias on possible fears about the future:

I understand why people worry about technological unemployment. And I understand why people worry about rising entitlement spending burdens. What I don’t understand is why people worry about them both simultaneously. In the technological unemployment world, we’ll be able to give everyone a 2013 level of consumption goods with a radically diminished workforce, raising the question of what everyone is going to actually do.

….The other worry is the opposite of this one. It’s that in the future a very large share of our population will be elderly nonworkers and a very large share of our workforce will be dedicated to taking care of elderly nonworkers (“skyrocketing health care costs”), and that consequently younger people’s living standards will diminish or stagnate.

Either of those things could happen, but they can’t both happen.

Well, now, I’m not so sure about that. The question is: who will benefit from technological unemployment? Unless public policy changes fairly radically, the answer is: the owners of technology. In other words, the rich.

If technology really does keep improving and putting humans out of work, this means the rich will get ever richer. And in theory, we can tax away that wealth to take care of our entitlement problems. In theory. But I don’t think it’s entirely irrational to be worried that this might not be as easy as it sounds. As you may have noticed, rich people fight like crazed weasels to prevent their wealth from being taxed away. Do we think their political power is somehow going to decline as they become richer and richer?

This cycle can’t go on forever. Eventually the masses will rebel, or the rich will actually get less rich because nobody has any money to keep the economy going. (Robots have no need for houses or fast food restaurants.) Or something. But “eventually” could be a ways away. In the medium-term future, both technological unemployment and rising entitlement burdens could indeed both be serious problems simultaneously.

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WHO DOESN’T LOVE A POSITIVE STORY—OR TWO?

“Great journalism really does make a difference in this world: it can even save kids.”

That’s what a civil rights lawyer wrote to Julia Lurie, the day after her major investigation into a psychiatric hospital chain that uses foster children as “cash cows” published, letting her know he was using her findings that same day in a hearing to keep a child out of one of the facilities we investigated.

That’s awesome. As is the fact that Julia, who spent a full year reporting this challenging story, promptly heard from a Senate committee that will use her work in their own investigation of Universal Health Services. There’s no doubt her revelations will continue to have a big impact in the months and years to come.

Like another story about Mother Jones’ real-world impact.

This one, a multiyear investigation, published in 2021, exposed conditions in sugar work camps in the Dominican Republic owned by Central Romana—the conglomerate behind brands like C&H and Domino, whose product ends up in our Hershey bars and other sweets. A year ago, the Biden administration banned sugar imports from Central Romana. And just recently, we learned of a previously undisclosed investigation from the Department of Homeland Security, looking into working conditions at Central Romana. How big of a deal is this?

“This could be the first time a corporation would be held criminally liable for forced labor in their own supply chains,” according to a retired special agent we talked to.

Wow.

And it is only because Mother Jones is funded primarily by donations from readers that we can mount ambitious, yearlong—or more—investigations like these two stories that are making waves.

About that: It’s unfathomably hard in the news business right now, and we came up about $28,000 short during our recent fall fundraising campaign. We simply have to make that up soon to avoid falling further behind than can be made up for, or needing to somehow trim $1 million from our budget, like happened last year.

If you can, please support the reporting you get from Mother Jones—that exists to make a difference, not a profit—with a donation of any amount today. We need more donations than normal to come in from this specific blurb to help close our funding gap before it gets any bigger.

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