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Thread: Automation and the future of work.

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    Default Automation and the future of work.

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/201...hoes-from-2017 - "Adidas to make shoes in Germany again - but using robots"

    I read this at the same time as I was reading "Inventing the Future" by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, which I'd recommend to anyone. The basic thesis of the book (ridiculously simplified) is that 'the Left' needs - desperately quickly - to come up with a universalist proposition that stands in opposition to neoliberal capitalism, if the future is not to be progressively harsher neoliberalism all the way. A large part of the book discusses the changes that will be wrought as many industries become automated, but how this needs to be seized as an opportunity to free people from work, rather than used by neoliberals to achieve the dual purpose of (i) impoverishing yet more people and (ii) terrifying those currently in work into utter subservience. So Srnicek and Williams talk a lot about universal basic income as one of the cornerstones of such a Leftist universalism (of course, incidentally, Switzerland is holding a referendum today on universal basic income, which is very heartening in a way, though the fact that no prospective level for the UBI has been set, suggests that the proposal is not as radical as it initially seems).

    So, given Adidas's decision, which no doubt has been taken/is about to be taken by many other companies I don't know about - it seems that automation and the future is pretty much upon us. Any thoughts?

    [And presumably Adidas's decision also acts as a kind of nationalist coup of 'bringing industry back home' (except without the jobs)]
    Last edited by baboon2004; 05-06-2016 at 09:43 AM.

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    bump

    cos the EU and Trump are getting all the attention

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    This is indeed a fascinating subject, and really does deserve to be called a new industrial revolution. It will probably have similarly seismic effects on humanity. With the ever growing population, ever increasing productivity and imminent mass obsolescence of human workers, how could it fail to?

    John Lancaster writes about it in this book review http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n05/john-la...ots-are-coming

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    UBI is opposed by large portions of the left.

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    Thanks for the Lanchester article link, Corpsey, I'll look at that now.

    Droid - could you say a bit more about that? Certainly, UBI could be implemented in such a way that it is nowhere near enough for people to live comfortably on, and also involves the cancellation of other benefits, and then it could easily be a tool of an oppressive regime. But are there people on the left opposed to any form of UBI, no matter how well its implications are considered?

    I'm still unclear about the wording of the Swiss referendum (clear enough about the result tho... :/ ). Some news reports suggested that there was a specified level of about £1800, while others suggested that any such level would have to be thrashed out in the event of the referendum returning a 'yes' vote.

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    yeah, sorry, I think the basic idea is that UBI will be used to break down unions, the public services and the welfare system. Good article here:

    While left-wing proponents believe a basic income will strengthen the hand of labour, right-wing proponents back it for exactly the opposite reason. Libertarian economics commentator Steve Randy Waldman argues: “Supplementary incomes are a cleaner way of increasing labour bargaining power than unionization. Unionization forces collective bargaining, which leads to one-size-fits-all work rules and inflexible hiring, firing, and promotion policies, in addition to higher wages.”

    Here, basic income is not only a subsidy to employers; it is a union-buster.

    After all, why would any contemporary government, as beholden to global capital as governments are today, introduce policy that would strengthen the hand of labour?

    If labour had the strength to enforce the introduction of a good basic income, it would also have the strength to revive the project of full employment. And while even the best basic income policy only sets a floor below which poverty cannot fall, full employment strengthens labour’s hand to demand ever-greater wages.

    The unemployment we see today is not primarily caused by technology but is a deliberate product of fiscal and monetary policies introduced in the 1970s and 1980s, intended to discipline labour after the abandonment of the full-employment strategies of the previous three decades that had produced stagflation, a declining share of national income going to the capitalist class, and – worst of all for the rich and powerful – militant unions.

    Van der Veen and Van Parijs devised their capitalist road to communism in the mid-1980s as a shortcut to less poverty and more leisure time amid the defeat of organized labour and the political left. Thirty years later, do we still expect governments to offer up these policy outcomes in the absence of a robust and militant labour movement?
    https://briarpatchmagazine.com/artic...l-basic-income

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    Probably also worth mentioning Paul Mason's "Post-Capitalism" at this point, not that I've read but it seems to plough a similar furrow.

    A lot of this stuff reminds me of the Mondo 2000 / Boing Boing stuff from the 90s - that technology was going to save the world and we'll all be living crazy lives of creativity and leisure while machines do the work.

    That didn't happen, did it? It didn't happen because technology doesn't fix the underlying economic antagonisms.

    3 Boring Marxist bits:

    1. Marx was pretty clear that machines do not create surplus value. Humans create surplus value because only humans get paid for a smaller proportion of the day than they actually work, in terms of the value they create. Whereas the value of a machine is basically calculated at the rate that it takes to replace it. (this is very simplified, obvs).

    2. Capitalism relies on workers earning a certain wage so that they can consume the products they collectively produce. The whole thing falls to pieces when only capitalists can afford to consume. This means there is a risk to impoverishment/austerity whatever.

    3. Automation is inevitable and probably will lead us to the next phase in human organisation at some point. It is a moot point whether this will be emancipatory or properly shit though.

    A UBI under neoliberal conditions will be the same as George Osborne's "Living Wage". I think we need to recognise that is better than people starving in the street because they don't have a job, but it isn't what we are aiming for. If it happens it can be struggled around like anything else though.

    The left has had a compelling vision of a world without work (or with less work) for quite some time. What it has lacked is a cohesive project with the necessary force to achieve it. But without sounding too Wolfie Smith, people are working on this in workplaces and communities and you can join in

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    This is perhaps deserving of its own thread, but I think there's a connection to this thread that makes it relevant: http://nymag.com/selectall/2016/06/peter-thiel.html

    It's about Peter Thiel, the 'PayPal founder and Silicon Valley billionaire'who recently bankrupted Gawker as revenge for outing him as gay.

    The interesting thing about this, beyond the ramifications for free speech, is Thiel's libertarian ism and belief in the 'liberal' establishment crumbling to make way for authoritarian technocracies.

    Here's the most relevant part:

    The first problem — and perhaps the biggest and most obvious — is the economy. Both Trump’s and Sanders’s insurgent campaigns have been premised on anger at stagnant incomes and the decline of mass-employment manufacturing. The big drivers of these are structural forces like trade, technology, and the entry of places like China into the global labor market. None of these can easily be fixed by the state, which means that anger and perceptions of elite failure are only likely to grow. Inequality is persistent, long-term unemployment is still high, and more pessimistic forecasters are suggesting a future in which the labor market is split between a small, highly productive elite and a large underclass rendered unemployable by changes in technology. It’s a view popular among the tech elite, who generally support things like universal basic income (UBI) — free money, essentially — which will allow people to survive, and keep buying widgets, even after the robots take their jobs. Yet the neoreactionaries offer a dark twist on what is usually a story of sunny Valley optimism: Why should the elite consent to be ruled by the poor in such a society, especially if the poor don’t have the leverage that comes when the rich need their labor?

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    http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/...tech-world-war

    Like the flight crew on that episode of The Twilight Zone, we should have listened to Shatner!

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    I am rather pessimistic regarding the near future of (western) societies here. For me, it's not robotics replacing factory jobs in assembling goods (that happened already in the 1980s and 1990s, exacerbated by the fact that manufactoring jobs went to places like Asia) or autonomous cars (I have my doubts we will see these on a mass basis any time soon). Its way easier and the changes appear very stealthly.

    We now witness the diminishing of (formerly) well paid white collar jobs in banking/insurance/accounting (also partly bc of automation) but more importantly, bc WE the customers, do lots of what used to do a bank clerk nowadays by ourselves - internet banking/online trading/ online shopping etc. And with things like uber and airbnb people themselves damage the taxi/transportation industry, hotels etc.

    The middle class when beeing threathened ususally turns to the political right and we are witnessing this all over (Northern) Europe now (Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Finland, also the UK) with all the scapegoating that goes with it.

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    thanks all for v interesting replies upthread btw - meant to check out the links but my attention got diverted over the last month...

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    An interesting/deeply worrying article on Thiel's support of Trump in the name of abolishing democracy:

    https://www.theguardian.com/technolo...vention-speech

    Reminds me of Gore Vidal's remarks on the purpose of the U.S. constitution, e.g.:

    The founding fathers were not interested in democracy, in fact, in a country with 3 1/4 million people, which is about what we were at the time of the separation from England, only 700,000 people could vote—white males of property. So it's never been terribly democratic. ...and they put together a constitution which would protect property for all time. No nonsense about democracy!
    We should stop going around babbling about how we're the greatest democracy on earth, when we're not even a democracy. We are a sort of militarised republic. The founding fathers hated two things, one was monarchy and the other was democracy, they gave us a constitution that saw to it we will have neither. I don't know how wise they were.
    And to tie-in with this thread - when you don't even need workers to produce your goods, what good are workers to you (except as consumers)?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Corpsey View Post
    An interesting/deeply worrying article on Thiel's support of Trump in the name of abolishing democracy:

    And to tie-in with this thread - when you don't even need workers to produce your goods, what good are workers to you (except as consumers)?
    Well Thiel right - Capitalism and Democracy are incompatible. It's just that most people who are not bazillionaires would come to the opposite conclusion to him - we need more democracy and less capitalism.

    Back to Marx again, you end up with a crisis when workers don't earn anything because nobody can afford to buy the commodities that they produce.

    To a certain extent you can survive on selling to other capitalists (stuff they need to produce other things or stuff they need for their own pleasure and sustenance). But the system as it stands is largely based on workers producing stuff and then buying stuff.

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