What William Gibson's "New Rose Hotel" Got Wrong About the Future

Comments

1
Your question: "What on earth should we call this strange business of burrowing money to increase the returns of unproductive shareholders?

The 2-opart answer: OPM, or Other People's Money, which is they way they always perform their financial fraud scams, and

Science-mart, Privatizing American Science, by Philip Mirowski

Has to be 2-part answer since it is a complex situation.
2
I'm pessimistic along much the same lines.

On the other hand, nobody in the last gilded age could have predicted the events of the 20th century - the advent of the working middle class and so forth. We're just as blind to the contingencies in our future.

But all the current trends are discouraging.
3
“What on earth should we call this strange business of borrowing money to increase the returns of unproductive shareholders?”

How about the totally predictable outcome of Quantitative Easing?
4
Leaving "spot on, Charles!" as a comment would imply I understand economics more than I do, but I still enjoyed and agreed with this.
5
Wait, borrowing money to buy back shares?? That's a pure shell game. Would love to understand the motive and see the reactions from wall street analysts. I'd personally take that as a sign to sell the stock.

Also, automatic checkout machines are certainly an innovation, but they are designed to increase operating efficiency rather than improve customer service. If it works, the increased profits would either go to customers in the form of lower prices, or shareholders in the form of higher profits. This isn't nearly as senseless as the no-economy shenanigans.
6
corporations spending more and more money on stock buybacks rather than on developing new products

A better example of this are corporations like Apple and Microsoft who have such vast hoards of cash that they buy back stock rather than investing in new products. These companies literally have nothing better to do with their money than return it to investors in the form of share buybacks.
7
"Labor free"... eeexcept for low-paid/ coerced/ non-free labor in "developing countries". (Or hell, US prisons, for that matter). Factory production is either roboticized (Detroit cars, soon: Foxconn), or relies on captive, unfree labor.

Capitalism has always been about non-free labor. Or free resources (eg. mining, forestry). Now those workers who can actually organize, are being cast off. The US ain't no Germany.

@5 - "Lower prices"? When have you ever seen prices serious go down? (except for gasoline, which has other factors)
8
@7
Long distance rates dropped significantly after the phone companies automated there long distance operators out of jobs.
9
@7
Publishing… How much would it cost to self-publish a book 20 years ago vs. now that online publishing has transferred most of the work of designing a book from employees to customers?
10
"What on earth should we call this strange business of borrowing money to increase the returns of unproductive shareholders?" The simplest, most-obvious answer to me would be that it is motivation for a shareholder to be an active and thoughtful voter. Assuming their votes could make a difference in how the company works.

As long as there is sufficient economic incentive, automating service-based industries (after automating product-based industries) seems inevitable and irreversible. Even if it is just as a result of pinching pennies. First machines automate telephone systems, removing the need for human operators. Next machines automate the daily shopping experience with self-checkout (either in person or via web site), removing the need for human cashiers (and their unions). In the long run, it seems too easy to be too smart for our own good.