Whether deliberate or not, given that society needs people to do unpleasant jobs, there must be a way to induce people to take such jobs. People who do such jobs do not make enough money to educate their children or even properly feed them -- do the children of people who belong to the lower class economically tend to remain in that class? (I suspect they do?)

Will automating such unpleasant jobs away (dishwashing, hotel room cleaning, etc.) in the long run benefit the lower economic classes? (Even as such automation initially displaces people with such jobs.)

  • 1
    That would be an economics question.
    – armand
    May 2, 2021 at 12:32
  • i disagree. it is almost certainly a sociological question with economic aspects.
    – releseabe
    May 2, 2021 at 12:51
  • 2
    What exactly is the question? Whether this is deliberate? What the way to induce doing those jobs is? Will automation solve the problem of upward mobility? The title is also odd considering that it is your proposed solution that is intended to work by limiting (undesirable) opportunities. Because of that it is hard to see how it would work by itself, without subsidizing education and re-education, which should help regardless of automation.
    – Conifold
    May 2, 2021 at 21:43
  • @relesaebe economics or sociology are independent fields of study, both distinct from philosophy. Don't get me wrong the topic is interesting, but it does not belong on this site.
    – armand
    May 3, 2021 at 0:11

3 Answers 3


In the US in particular, and industrial capitalist states in general, financial policy aims to keep an unemployment level of between 4%-8%. You'll notice, for instance, that if the unemployment rate in the US gets too low, the Fed will raise interest rates, putting a financial hindrance on businesses that forces them to lay off workers. This unemployment rate is carefully managed: if unemployment gets too high, it begins to impact the economy, as employees start to fear for their jobs and start being cautious with their money, resisting buying anything except necessities; if unemployment rates drop to low, wages start to rise, which impacts corporate bottom lines.

When the properly small but significant unemployment rate is reached, it forces people in that unlucky 4%-8% group to scrabble after any work they can get, no matter how unpleasant or badly paid. That's the only reason why places like McDonalds and Walmart manage to attract employees at all.

As a rule, people in the lowest economic bracket are squeezed financially. They cannot afford private schools or college tuitions; they may suffer from housing or food insecurity. Children from poor strata begin working at a younger age, and work harder and longer hours than children from wealthier families, which impacts their education level and future economic prospects. Poor families are extremely dependent on public educational institutions and scholarships to have their children advance, but (outside of college sports) public educational institutions are poorly funded and badly equipped, and scholarships are rare and difficult to acquire (often being offered to wealthier students who have the leisure to study and access to better education and training courses, which raises their 'on paper' qualifications).

  • Germany has a law which involves a mandatory policy of full employment, which is typically reached at 2-4% unemployment rate. That's due to there being more jobs than people looking for jobs at that point. Do you have any reliable source for your claims?
    – Philip Klöcking
    May 2, 2021 at 17:56
  • 1. You forgot to mention the main way that they keep unemployment from getting to low, they open the borders to millions of immigrants. Trump was naive. He thought a low unemployment rate was a good thing, as that's one of the reasons he had to go. One of Biden's very first actions was to throw the border wide open. May 2, 2021 at 18:39
  • 1
    David, your comments don’t look like philosophy but US Republican propaganda.
    – gnasher729
    May 2, 2021 at 18:56
  • 1
    @DavidGudeman: The antithesis to propaganda is scientific analysis. There is no basis in fact for any of the claims you've made — in fact, all of your points except #4 rest on 'bad actor' imputations bordering on conspiracy theory, and your point #4 is old-school Horatio Alger style rags-to-riches mythology — so you are clearly indulging in propaganda. Everything I've said is either common sense or easily verifiable through reason or simple-minded google searches. It hardly needs academic references, though you can find plenty of those as well. May 2, 2021 at 19:30
  • 1
    The above comments are exactly the kind of random semi-informed political rants I try to avoid by coming to Philosophy SE (T-T)
    – armand
    May 3, 2021 at 0:25

It depends where you are. Many European countries, like Scotland, have free education to graduate level. The US has extensive bursary & scholarship funding, although this tends not to cover arts subjects - students of subjects such as anthropology & philosophy disproportionately run NGOs, and those subjects become class indicators that can bias selection to the wealthy.

The industrial revolution created more jobs than were lost. But impacted those with existing skills expecting to earn from them, and benefitted those ready to learn. The end of industries, like the winding up of coal, and the dieing fishing industry, or off-shoring of automotives, has seen automation reduce jobs as they fade out, in a double hit that sees whole regions decline, and generations experience very high unemployment - gin lane, & opioid damage follow.

Basically, societies decide their priorities. And when poor groups have too tough a time with no support, they are apt to start rebelling. Especially where a there is a surge of demographics towards a youthful population. The riots in London were linked to areas where this was the case.

This could be analysed as class contention, or intergenerational conflict (violation of the Burkeian social contract for the ages). I like Cory Doctorow on the dangers & ways forward with the social media giants, an increasingly key player in modern politics and culture. Lack of faith in institutions, has tended to see people switch allegiance to a 'strong man' they think will guard their special interests. Faith in institutions is easy to undermine, hard to build up. We discussed game theory and evolutionary dynamics in relation to the social contract here: Is the tyrannicide perpetrated by William Tell morally legitimate?

Denmark is ranked the most upwardly mobile country globally, and almost all of Europe is ahead of the USA at 27th out of 82. There is a known pattern of people reacting much more strongly to loss of status, than rise of status of others beyond them. This makes dynamics in a rising economy very different to in a failing one - this is stabilising China, for instance.

There are a range of ways to look at the causes & ways to help those in an underclass. It's interesting to look at the case of Dalits in India, where there is in some places still an almost feudal assignment to do jobs like clean toilets, by birth. Certain jobs like seasonal crop picking are almost entirely done by immigrants - often illegal immigrants.

It can be asked why the industrial revolution didn't happen in the Roman Empire, given it had many of the precursors. The answers usually focus on slavery, which has always reduced incentives to invest in increasing productivity. The British Empire were among the earliest major power to ban slavery, and led industrialisation. The Union beat the confederacy. Anomolously low workforce productivity like in the UK may be linkable to a relatively large disempowered underclass. The US has high workforce productivity, but should be considered state by state, and has a long history of investing dramatically more in research and development than other large countries.


One simple dynamic stands at the heart of this question. Most economic activity is driven by private enterprises where labor is the primary cost. Increasing profits and shareholder value is not only the necessary purpose of private enterprise and a matter of survival, but a legal obligation. This means, quite simply, that reducing labor costs is a ceaseless underlying motive built into the economy at the enterprise level.

Of course, at the global level, each company wants the workers of other companies to be paid more in order to consume more. The contradiction here leads not only to cyclical overproduction and recession, but increasingly to an offloading of labor costs to government, consumer debt, and, above all, government debt. Education, for example, is a necessary labor cost that companies collectively wish to offload to government and, better yet, the governments of other countries outside of the company's own tax base.

Automation does not solve these problems, but rather displaces, depoliticizes, and conceals them. After all, the machine that replaces labor does not make itself. It requires labor elsewhere to build the machines, to mine the metals in the machines, to feed the miners who mine the metals, to parent the farmers who feed miners who mine the metals, and so on...like the house that Jack built.

There is some increase in productivity, but far less globally than we observe locally. The entire system, "capitalism" if you will, continually generates a periphery of impoverished, displaced, migrating, and regularly unemployed labor. While there may be absolute gains in some areas, the levels of poverty relative to owners of capital, or "shareholders" does not close the gap. Since the entire system depends of a continually growing global population to absorb a continually growing debt and has been regularly punctuated by global wars that "clear the books," it is too early to say if any gains are permanent.

In short, we really do not have a very clear global, longterm view of poverty and unemployment across billions of people in all stages of life, from embryonic to aged. But the fundamental structure of the world economies, as observed at the enterprise level, tends to generate relative impoverishment and automation itself does not resolve this, but rather displaces and reorganizes it.

  • So -- if there's not real decrease in poverty, what is driving the rise in life expectancy?
    – Mary
    May 3, 2021 at 0:04
  • That is a very valid point and one of the areas where you can quantify "progress." There are many complicating factors to my simplified argument above. However, lifespans rise and fall and eliminating child mortality often paints a different statistical picture. Both urbanization around 5000 years ago and industrialization 200 years ago brought sharp declines in lifespans for most. The global rise in lifespans is somewhat recent and runs alongside the largest global wars in history. At present, lifespans are declining even in developed countries like the U.S. as inequality rises. We'll see! May 3, 2021 at 2:49
  • @Mary: Life expectancy is falling in the USA & UK. Infant mortality in the US is 25% higher than that in Cuba (CIA Factbook figures).
    – CriglCragl
    May 3, 2021 at 11:45
  • Infant mortality is generally not comparable because the USA counts all babies born alive in it. Many countries -- including Cuba -- call some of them "stillbirths."
    – Mary
    May 3, 2021 at 12:55

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