Sunday, 6 November 2011

Robots for communism

For a job, an income, isn’t in fact what any of us humans want. What we want is the ability to consume (consume houses, food, clothes, cars etc, all of which are now being made by machine recall) and and income and or a job are only methods of achieving that. So, if the machines are doing all of the work then, well, who is going to be consuming the output? As there’s only us human beings to do so I pretty much guess that it will be us human beings consuming all of the output. And if we’re able to consume all of this output being produced by the machines then why would we care about having a job or an income? We get to consume without either, don’t we?

All of our material needs are being fulfilled by the machines. We are thus able to be:
A farmer in the morning, a laborer in the afternoon, and a philosopher in the evening.
We’re able to be communists in short. Potter around growing a tomato or two in the morning (nothing quite like it for the spirit, to actually nurture and grow a plant then eat the produce), labour a little in the afternoon at that tennis backhand or lay the crazy paving (yes, the machine could and would do it better and faster but the spiritual rewards of hand work are, as we are told, considerable) and in the evening we can yammer with our friends over silliness (that is what philosophers do, yes, yammer with friends over sillinesses?).

A world in which the machines made everything would be a world in which there was no shortage of anything and in such a world what on earth would any of us actually desire a job for?

This is the point about Martin Ford’s worries that I cannot understand: why is he worried about the world he prophecies? The world he’s pointing to seems to me to be one to be actively desired, not one to be worried about.
The reason this is interesting is because Worstall is a fellow at the Adam Smith Institute and as such an ardent advocate of markets and capitalism. However, he makes the point well that the working class do not view employment as a means to an end and that if a world were to emerge where we could live comfortably without having to submit ourselves to a boss then that world would work pretty well.

In fact, if we take it back a step from machines doing all jobs to machines doing all menial jobs, we find a similar position articulated by a man on the opposite side of the spectrum to Worstall. Step forward, Noam Chomsky;
I think that the industrialization and the advance of technology raise possibilities for self-management over a broad scale that simply didn't exist in an earlier period. And that in fact this is precisely the rational mode for an advanced and complex industrial society, one in which workers can very well become masters of their own immediate affairs, that is, in direction and control of the shop, but also can be in a position to make the major, substantive decisions concerning the structure of the economy , concerning social institutions, concerning planning, regionally and beyond. At present, institutions do not permit them to have control over the requisite information, and the relevant training to understand these matters. A good deal could be automated. Much of the necessary work that is required to keep a decent level of social life going can be consigned to machines -- at least, in principle -- which means that humans can be free to undertake the kind of creative work which may not have been possible, objectively, in the early stages of the industrial revolution.
Thus, what we have isn't some imagine future world where machines do everything and we are reduced to passive consumers. Instead, we have technology actively enabling the principle "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need." And, from a libertarian communist perspective, that means a society without rulers and bosses.

I do believe Comrade Worstall was onto something.