Abundance is Possible for All
Human labor is being pushed out of the market by the more efficient, more productive, labor-less electronic means of production. Robots and computers make possible a super abundance to be enjoyed by everyone, but only if these new productive tools are publicly owned by society, with their product distributed equally to all based on need.
As the famous physicist Stephen Hawking put it, “If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure, if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution.”
In other words, under capitalist private property relations, the machines lower the value of human labor power by lowering the cost of production of the necessities of life. At the same time these relations drive wages below the falling value of labor power, by constantly and permanently eliminating the job market. The demand for labor needed by the market constantly decreases while the supply of laborers in need of work increases.
An event in May of this year illustrated this, when workers from all over the country marched on McDonald’s headquarters demanding $15 an hour, because they found it impossible to survive on minimum wages, which for many of them is as low as $7.25 per hour. In anticipation, FOX News interviewed a former McDonald’s CEO on the previous night, who exhorted, “Well, I guarantee you if the $15 dollar an hour minimum wage goes across the country, you’re gonna’ see a job loss like you can’t believe. I was at the national restaurant show yesterday, and if you look at robotic devices that are coming into the restaurant industry, it’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who’s inefficient, making $15 an hour bagging french fries.”
Just how much more efficient are these robots? Momentum Machines, based in San Francisco, has a robot that serves 400 hamburgers per hour. The company’s co-founder, Alexandros Vardakostas stated, “Our device isn’t meant to make employees more efficient, it is meant to completely obviate them.” The competitive demands of the market require every capitalist to make not just a profit, but a maximum profit, or risk being purged from business by other capitalists. Therefore, more and more capital is being invested in robotics. Like all processes, this process has gone through stages of development. Human labor was made more productive and efficient by enhancing it with machines. Yesterday’s labor enhancing devices were labor saving devices. Today, we have labor-replacing devices.
This process has been going on for quite some time. Over the last forty years the electronic automation of the production assembly line in the auto industry has completely devastated autoworkers jobs. From there it has spread everywhere. Jobs like machinists, tool & die makers and pattern makers have been replaced by various versions of computer numerical control machines. The once ubiquitous telephone operator has been replaced by the computer-generated voice interface. Bank tellers have been replaced by ATMs. And now truck drivers, bus drivers, cab drivers, anyone driving for a living are at risk of losing their jobs to autonomous vehicle technology, which is being introduced this year.
Before they completely disappear, many full-time jobs are becoming part-time jobs. High paying jobs become low-paying jobs. Temporary jobs replace steady jobs. In order to survive, workers are being forced to find multiple jobs under conditions where the overall job market is rapidly shrinking. As a result all markets shrink as robotic production floods the market with a superabundance of goods, while it simultaneously removes the workers as consumers, by permanently eliminating their wage-earning jobs.
In order to corner the contracting markets, every capitalist has to employ more robots to produce cheaper and cheaper goods at a faster and faster rate. The whole cycle rapidly repeats itself as it grows exponentially. In an effort to move goods and unplug the markets, credit is being offered to almost anyone regardless of ability to pay it back. But this has only created an expanding debt bubble that is ready to burst at any time.
Keep in mind that the robots and all the commodities being produced are the private property of the capitalist class. However, neither the robots nor the capitalists can consume the super abundance of the necessities of life that’s being produced. It is only the mass of workers who are losing their buying power, along with the growing numbers of starving, homeless and destitute workers that can do that. The private property ownership of the means of production by the capitalist class stands in the way of the vast abundance from being distributed among the population. As a matter of course, we are witnessing the economic polarization of our society. A growing number of workers are beginning to realize they suffer from extreme want in a land of extreme plenty, and are ready for a change.
Each new generation of robots is more productive than the last. While this is a market-driven process for maximum profit, it is at the same time antagonistic to markets because it permanently removes workers as consumers. These constantly evolving machines are doing all the work of producing everything human beings need. There is the possibility of transforming our society into an economic paradise. Our challenge is to transform the means of production as forms of private property into forms of public property, and distribute the abundance based on need instead of money.
Currently the ruling class has the political power to keep this from happening. We the people, the growing prisoners of want, need to take that political power to create a new world of economic paradise, finally made possible by the new, marvelous electronic means of production. We have a world to win.
This Building Block article is one of a series that explains a basic concept of the revolutionary process, challenging readers to explore its meaning for political work in today’s environment.
The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011