Robot Demographics
And The Agrarian Response

Dateline: 3 September 2014

Baxter is an example of an affordable robot that can do functional work. I'm not sure how practical he actually is, but this machine represents a demographic trend that everyone needs to understand.

I have a friend who has a business that employs quite a few people. A couple years ago he told me that it was possible to buy a robot for $10,000 that could do some of the work that his employees are doing. He told me that robots are a big deal; that they are going to be doing more and more of the work that humans are doing. He wondered how this would affect the economy. And I thought to myself that if I could buy a robot for $10,000 that could dependably count out the poultry shrink bags I sell, I would get one.

Well, as I'm sure you know, robots are in the news a lot these days. We're being told that robots will, indeed, do more of the work that is now being done by people. A LOT more of the work. The following video is well worth watching to get some insights into the role that robots will be playing in the future. You might be surprised.

When you watch that movie, you will see which jobs will be largely eliminated by the newest generation of robots in the years ahead. It amounts to a very large percentage of America's work force.

Most surprising to me is the serious move to self-driving automobiles…

As I understand it, self-driving cars are now legal in three states. It is only a matter of time before they are legal in all states, and it isn't just cars, but all manner of vehicles, including commercial trucks.

My initial thoughts regarding the increasing robot-dependence of our economy is that it will eventually self-destruct. With complexity comes vulnerability, and the most vulnerable link in this technological chain is probably the electrical grid. When (not if) the electrical grid goes down, the robots will not function very well. But that day may be a long time in the future. Until then, the robots are clearly taking over. And we will need to deal with this reality.

How should those who are alert to the "robot demographic" respond? My own thought is to simplify, get back to the land, do more with less, learn how to grow food, fix things, make things, and provide as much for myself and my family without being dependent on the industrial system. You have, of course, heard that from me before (like, for the past nine and a half years). 

37 years ago, when I was a student at the Sterling School in northern Vermont, a friend of mine told me I was the most consistently consistent person he had ever known. My Christian and agrarian inclinations were well grounded back then, and they are even more well grounded today. 

Agrarian life predates the rise of the robots. A deliberate agrarian lifestyle (to some degee) can exist in the midst of the robot revolution. And agrarian life will once again be the norm when the centralized, computer-dependent, modern Babylonian system collapses. Robots aside, I think the active pursuit of a contra-industrial, deliberate agrarian lifestyle is really just an expression of wisdom in a world chock full of foolishness.


A funny thing happened yesterday, as I was thinking about writing this blog about robots. I received an e-mail from Russel L. titled, The Agrarian Lifestyle & The Rise of Robots. That was quite a coincidence. Here is what Russel wrote…


I have something for you to think about as it relates to the agrarian lifestyle.  Hardly a day goes by where there is not some story in the news about how robots will takeover more and more of the work previously done by people in the next few years. I believe that this is true.  Robots work 24/7 and require no wages or benefits.

The impact of robots in the workforce, not to mention the addition of millions of immigrants, will be more unemployment.  At the present, about 1/3 or 100 million people are not 'working' in the U.S.  How many social media sites, Amazon's, etc. do we really need?  That said, the most obvious 'jobs' for many of these people could be to help support themselves via an agrarian lifestyle.  It has enormous benefits, both physical and spiritual, but I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. America did this during WWII, when people grew 40% of their food in Victory gardens.

I do believe that we are to bloom where we are planted.  I live in suburbia, on 1/3 acre with HOA covenants and restrictions.  While my garden and gardening skills may not as advanced as people like yourself, it is somewhat respectable given the 27 months since I started gardening seriously.  We grow herbs, vegetables, have fruit trees and we store a portion of our harvest by canning or drying. We also share garden information and some of our produce with our neighbors, some of whom now also garden also as a result of our example.  Our garden does not supply all our needs, but it does contribute significantly to the household budget and the fresh nutrient dense food that we grow cannot be purchased at any price. Brent Markham of Markham Farms wrote in his book that his gardening takes about 10 hours each week and provides an economic benefit of over $50 per hour when compared to purchasing the same amount of food he produces.  If you do the math, that is $500 per week from a part-time 10 hour job.  Not bad for someone retired, unemployed or underemployed.  Much better to be in the garden than in front of a TV.

The agrarian lifestyle may not be for everyone, but it can go a long way towards building stronger families and reconnect us with lost values, like faith in God.  Keep up the good work.


Well said, Russel. I'm wondering if anyone else reading this has any insights into the robot demographic, how it might impact the work you do, and what you think of all this. Feel free to comment below.


willdbillb said...

we use robots all the time at work, and are always increasing the work they do. some thoughts:

impact on food/Agri: robots already run tractors, sprayers, swathers, etc on big-farms. this will increase and drive food prices/costs down, keeping food cheap, theoretically. this will put pressure on small farms on pricing.

impact on economy: goods will decrease in cost-to-produce, but i expect this will be seen in higher corp profits instead of lower priced finished goods. fewer Mfg or assembly jobs, cuts middle-class or mid-low class paying jobs out of the USA. this will be fewer decent wage jobs in the US and even China.

more robots will impact medical and geriatric services. home-care and self-driving cars will be a huge boon to older baby-boomers that want to stay independant. i expect i won't have to have that hard discussion with my folks when they are too old to drive... the robot will take them to where they want to be, and will monitor their needs remotely for me in their own home. this will be good, but increase the cost of retirement and elder care.

i agree we must be more independant in raising our own food, home production, etc. the challenge here is land $, prop taxes, and the vital need for self-education. land is too costly for most young people to get started, or even for many suburbites to start with anything more than 1 acre. hopefully you can find an acre of farmable land, have chickens, and find a means for cash income.

as governments around the world see the need to change their income from income-tax based, they will hit property tax harder. this is happening in Argentina, Greece, the EU, and even places in the US. if you have property, you are vulnerable to the gov requiring more. if you raise your own food, how will you find the $2K, $4K, or $10K for property tax? most of the county parks in our county were "aquired" by taking from private owners who did not keep up with taxes.

sorry this is so long. robots and computing power are so inexpensive (due to Moore's law) that they will always put tension on employing people. the people's option is to produce more and GET AS MUCH EDUCATION as possible. especially technical skills, but just as important are life skills.

and of course the most important education is to keep ourselves morally clean and close to the Lord. He provides and experience teaches that God knows the end from the beginning, and He will help us in our troubled times. His Son already overcame the world, and can easily handle any threat of a robot ;-)

Jonathan Sanders said...

I find the post interesting since I have been pondering the fact that your previous post was about how you were seeking to add a bit of automation to improve your productivity in the clothespin business... :-) BTW, I nostalgically yearn for the agrarian lifestyle of my great-grandfather, but earn my living supporting high-volume automation and programmable controls in the automotive industry. Three pointing back at me...

Jonathan Sanders said...

Also, please take my jab as a friendly one. I believe in practicing and preparing to live without the modern stuff, but why shun it while it is available? Grid electricity is currently *way* too cheap to force myself to make candles for 100% of my evening light, or say no to a refrig or running water...

roger u said...

It seems the Achilles heel of automation is once you pout enough people out of work, there's nobody to buy your products no matter how cheap. That or your corporate profits are taken to support welfare payments.

Something's gotta give.

Herrick Kimball said...

I appreciate your perspective. You have me thinking about some things I haven't thought about before. Thanks for the comments.

As a matter of fact, I was using some new automation (though not a robot) today as I was making clothespins. I like tools that make my work easier!

I agree with your opinion of grid electricity. I love electricity and the benefits that come with electricity. I especially like my electric water pump and electric hot water heater, both of which allow me to take a hot shower, or a soaking hot bath, with so little effort. We are truly a blessed civilization with technological benefits like that.

And I sure do appreciate the internet because it has allowed me to live in the country and make a living with a home business.

But I won't be surprised if these conveniences are one day no longer available. And I'm prepared to live a blessed and contented (though harder) life without them. Thanks for the comments.

roger u—
"somethings gotta give." That's a pretty good summation.

Anonymous said...

Hello Herrick,

I am intrigued by this development in robotics as many years ago I read a trilogy by Isaac Asimov which directly concerned robots and their complex relationship(s) with human beings. The first title in the series is "The Caves of Steel". They were admittedly written many years ago but the attitudes and details of the lives of the persons in the book are eerily similar to what may be developing now.

I also want to thank you most sincerely for all of your informative posts on gardening and other issues over the years. I have been working at becoming more agrarian and it is definitely a trial and error process! Your blog has been a real blessing. Ironically, it would not have been available to me without technology.


RonC said...

So what are we all going to do when we have no more work to do? Is that going to look pretty?

The devil tempts all other men, but idle men tempt the devil...

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Pamela,

It would appear that we are living in a science fiction era. I don't think technology is necessarily bad. It's what we do with it that makes it good or bad.

When modern technology like the internet, with blogs and e-mail and PayPal, allow me to run a business from my home, to break free from wage slavery and be here with my family in the rural countryside, that is good. When government and corporations (the centralized schemers) use the same technology to track and manipulate the masses, that's bad.

I'm reminded of George Washington's quote about government being like fire… it can be either servant or master.

Which always reminds me of the time when I was a kid and me and my friend, Billy, were playing with a pack of matches in a field. The fire took off in the tall, dry weeds and got out of our control. No serious damage was done, but it was a learning experience.

Thanks for the comment.

Herrick Kimball said...

Ron C.—

Well, isn't it just like fallen man to try and eliminate work!

As you know, the 6th commandment tells us, in part, that we should work six days of the week. It is interesting to note that part of the 6th commandment is usually left out.

And God doesn't say we should exercise 6 days a week. The commandment to work implies effort and creativity.

So I think the Christian response to the science-fiction era we live in should be to embrace productive, creative, physical work, regardless of the popular trend not to work (and spend our days, instead, pursuing leisure or being entertained and amused).

One excellent way for modern man (and woman) to embrace productive, creative, physical work is to grow a garden. In so doing, we are co-laborers with God. This was, of course, one of the reasons God created man, as explained in Genesis.

Thank you, Ron, for giving me an opportunity to say all of that. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hello Herrick,

I would like to add that the beginnings of the Arts and Crafts movement, in both England and the US more than 100 years ago, was a reaction both against mass-produced items and the separation of the designer from the manufacture of his product. The skills of handwork were admired and the use of "real" materials was emphasized (wood, linen,leather, copper, tile etc.). If you read articles by Gustav Stickley in his publication The Craftsman you see his emphasis on people doing many of the things needed for their lives themselves, and his designs for homes and furniture focus on what was, for the time, practical and attractive. I especially love his home designs and the idea that the room which contained the fireplace (usually the living room) become the heart of the home, where people gathered to read, work, and be together as a family. There is even an article about a Craftsman garden, considering carefully what can be grown most successfully with a moderate amount of labor.

This ethos has been very attractive to me for many years. It is the dream of my life to someday live in a Craftsman home. In the meantime I am doing my best to make my 1975 ranch as close as I can to the Craftsman concept.


Nick L said...

Hi Herrick

Another coincidence? I was just thinking about my modest garden and what I am able to produce with it. I was dreaming of a bigger plot and what it could produce for me and my family and I thought (or more likely, an angel whispered in my ear) 'Just keep plugging along with what you got and keep learning'. Then I read Russel's quote 'I do believe that we are to bloom where we are planted.' Then today on a co-workers tool box I see a sticker I never noticed before. It was a quote from Teddy Roosevelt, 'Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.' I don't think this is a coincidence, God is speaking.

I work as a technician repairing robots, automation, computers, etc. Robots are good for repetitive tasks that can cause stress injuries in humans or keep us away from hazards like welding or paint fumes. People who run automated machines have jobs that can cause repetitive stress injuries. As you can see this can feed on itself.

To paraphrase your previous statement, all technology can be used for good or evil. Keep the good uses.

Nick L

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Pamela,

I'm familiar with the Arts & Crafts movement, though I have not read a lot about it. Offhand, the idea of it resonates with me.

An interesting bit of trivia regarding Gustav Stickley: One of his brothers (Leopold) had a furniture-making business inside Auburn State Prison. (where I worked for 13 years and, thankfully, left over a year ago). According to a co-worker of mine, who is something of a local historian, the first execution in the United States took place at Auburn State Prison in 1890, and the electric chair was a Stickley.

One of the great mysteries of this story is the whereabouts of the first electric chair. Nobody knows what happened to it.

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Nick,

Thanks for the comment.

I was not aware that Teddy Roosevelt said that. I say that often (or some variation of it) and probably picked it up unawares from reading about TR. It's good advice.

Sheila Gilbert said...

One very obvious point of the video is, what will people do, not that many years from now, for work or income, or even to live.

Because I believe that this is one of the most serious problem that we face today, (along with many others) I purchased the property next to mine, and although it is very, very small, I intend to continue to purchase new lots, for as long as the Lord provides me the ability to do so, and purchase as many as I can for my family's future.
Just a couple days ago my daughter and her husband purchased the property next to the one I purchased. That one is willed to her, and one of her brothers, and it connects to mine. It's only 1/2 acre total together, but is more than we had before. On the other side, is a property that is willed to 2 of my other sons. They are all connected, and hopefully we can purchase the last one that connects to make it a total acre.
If nothing else, it will provide a place to grow food, and is very low in property taxes.
If my family can eat, it can live, and grow, and honor the Lord, knowing that He was the one who saved them from the future ahead.
No jobs, means control by others, unless you have a way to "live" and having property is not the "All Time Best Answer" but it is a means to eat and live, and that is a start.
I have started a library of very OLD books, that will help my children learn more than I can ever teach them right now. Learning the way it was done before chemicals, could mean the difference between life and death.
E.P. Roe, Henderson, etc. LOL some of the ones you have written about! I have them and so many more. Many new ones too, especially about what makes for good food for plants, and what natural items make them grow.
and Last, A BIBLE, the most important book of them all.
It's God's grace that led me to the properties years ago, and I am so glad He showed me the way, back then, I could never do it now, starting from scratch.

I am so thrilled you purchased your other property, it was the right thing to do, and although we may never know what our children will do with it, we can be sure the God is now, and always was, in control of it all.

Daniel said...

Hi Herrick

I think you'll find this interesting.

"An increased use of robots will cause labor dislocation, which will be painful for many workers in the near term. But if market forces are allowed to function, the dislocation will be temporary. And if history is a guide, the replacement jobs will require skills that better express what it means to be human: communication, problem-solving, creation, and caregiving."