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No, robots are not going to take all the jobs

One of the underpinning arguments behind those arguing for a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG), alternatively known as the Universal Basic Income, is that automation is creating a new technological paradigm, where, as Paul Mason describes it:

Information technology is preventing the normal adaptation process, whereby capitalism — as a complex system — reacts to crisis, to the exhaustion of old business models, to the low profitability of old businesses and old sectors.

As the argument is very coherently put by Mason, I will concentrate on his presentation of it. He argues that information technology does three things:

First, it dissolves the price mechanism. The economist Paul Romer pointed out in 1990 that information goods — if they can be copied and pasted infinitely, and used simultaneously without wear and tear — must fall in price under market conditions to a value close to zero.

The second impact of information is to automate work faster than new work can be invented.
Around 47% of all jobs are susceptible to automation, say Frey and Osborne (2013). And information does more to transform work: it makes it modular, loosening the link between hours worked and wages; and it makes work possible to do outside the workplace — blurring the division between work and life.

Fortunately there is a third impact of info-tech. It has begun to create organisational and business models where collaboration is more important than price or value.

But as soon as technology allowed it, we started to create organisations where the postitive effects of networked collaboration were not captured by the market. Wikipedia is the obvious example; or Linux; or increasingly the platform co-operatives where people are using networks and apps to fight back against the rent-seeking business models of firms like Uber and Airbnb.

Let us look at these in turn. Mason argues that the near-zero marginal costs of unit production means that there is “a dramatic downward impact on the cost of production of real things, and the same vortex of cheapening happens everywhere.” He argues that “capitalism responds by inventing mechanisms that put a price on this zero-cost product. Monopolies, patents, WTO actions against countries that allow copyright theft, predatory practices common among big technology vendors.”

This is a fallacious argument, because it confuses the marginal unit production costs with the overall product lifetime costs. As technology matures marginal production costs always fall, and this has typically been associated with a shift of production from developed to developing countries. The shift of production to lower wage developing countries already represents a move, from the point of view of workers in higher wage developed countries, towards dramatic price competition with which they cannot compete.

From the point of view of developing countries, whose economic factor endowments includes cheap labour, but less access to investment capital or high technology, then starting production of technologically mature products allows them to move up the economic food chain at low cost.

From the point of view of developed economies, whose economic factor endowments include higher labour costs but greater access to investment capital and a more developed technological base, then research and development allows the possibility of innovating to create entire new markets. Much research and development may fail to reach the market, but the premium profits gained by intellectual property rights for new technology areas that are successful, means that overall this is a viable economic growth strategy.

Mason’s argument fails to take into account that technologically innovative products will command a price premium, not only because people are prepared to pay those prices for desirable products, but that patents, commercial confidentiality and premium brand value will allow early entrants to recover their R&D and launch costs. The marginal unit costs of production will therefore only be a relatively small component of price for innovative products. As technology matures, whether it is TV sets, mobile phones, computer disk drives or motorcycles, then the early innovators will drop out of the market, as production moves, typically, to lower wage cost countries.

There is nothing inherently different about information technology in that the marginal unit costs of production may approach zero, but the product development costs of innovation are still recovered when the technology can demand an initial price premium. Corporations will continue to invest in science based R&D and technological innovation in the developed countries to leverage on the legacy of knowledge based and physical infrastructure, and because the higher material standard of living attracts the most highly skilled staff necessary for those activities. Particular areas of future growth are likely to be pharmaceuticals and bio-technology, agricultural research and telecommunications in the broader sense of exploiting the advantages of the networked world. The entertainment industry, for example games, TV and film, but also sport and sport science are also growth areas.

To consider his second argument, about the blurring of work and leisure, Mason underestimates the underpinning of the knowledge economy by the material economy. In a Guardian article he uses this example:

You can see the beginnings of the separation on any business flight. Men and women hunched over laptops and tablets, elbows so close that if it were a factory it would be closed on health and safety grounds.
But it is a factory, and they are working – some of the time. They flip from spreadsheet to a movie to email to solitaire: nobody sets a timer – unless in one of the time-hoarding professions like law. At the high skill end of the workforce we increasingly work to targets, not time.

Let us put to one side the naïve conceit that business travelers on a foreign trip are “working in a factory”, and consider the scenario. They are sitting on an aircraft, which is a high tech product at the top of the foodchain, that aircraft is the product of a vast, organized collaborative production network, that has involved mining, petrochemical extraction, raw material processing, machine tool design and production, design and production of instruments, engines, software, seats, and catering equipment. It has involved the development of aviation standards, communications standards, it has involves testing and accreditation. It is flown and serviced by skilled staff, who have travelled to work – needing to be on time – in cars or on public transport, those aircrew will stay overnight in hotels, staffed by other workers. The airport employs thousands of service technicians, air traffic controllers, restaurant staff, cleaners, security staff and baggage handlers. The computers our travelers are working on have also been designed and manufactured. The telecommunications protocols that network their computers together are also based on a vast industry, also at the top of the technological foodchain, where protocols are designed and improved upon, spectrum auctioned at dizzyingly high prices, forcing more innovation for more efficient use of bandwidth. A huge industry exists in the design, manufacture, system integration and deployment of the communications networks, from switches to base stations. The computers and telecommunications protocols are exposed to malware and other security threats that also requires an industry developing and deploying countermeasures.

Mason has made the mistakes of generalising from his own work experience, and entertaining the conceit that he is more skilled than the engineers and technicians whose work provides the platforms upon which he types and travels.

Mason argues that:

The automation revolution is possible, but without a radical change in the social conventions surrounding work it will not happen. The real dystopia is that, fearing the mass unemployment and psychological aimlessness it might bring, we stall the third industrial revolution. Instead we end up creating millions of low skilled jobs that do not need to exist.

Certainly, there is a challenge for a developed country whose factor endowments favour high-skilled innovative jobs, in ensuring that the economic benefits are spread across society and not isolated in high tech bubbles. However, the high wage sectors of the economy also provide a market for other productive work.

The amount of labour required to reproduce the living standards of our society is not a fixed constant, as it varies with cultural expectations. We cannot assume that lower production costs will always be desirable. The growth of markets for tattooists, butchers, cake decorators, bakers, brewers and candle makers is a function of a growing demand for higher quality hand-crafted products. Many diary farms have responded to the collapse of prices for milk by moving up the production chain towards craft cheese and yogurt production, these attract premium prices greater than those for mass produced products.

Automation need not lead to a reduction of the amount of human labour from the production process, it can lead to a reduction in raw material, component, transport and informational costs to allow for the expansion of areas of the economy where human creative labour is valued.

Similarly, the advances in medicine and the ageing population are an opportunity for an expansion on the care and social services sector, where government policies and priorites have deliberately suppressed wages below their market value. A shift in social and political priorities to value and remunerate the care sector as professional and skilled jobs, paid for by taxation, would lead to a massive expansion of employment opportunities. The fact that these jobs are currently low paid does not mean that they always need to be, and the staff are already professional, but greater reward and recognition would increase their status and make these sought after jobs.

Mason’s third point about information technology creating emerging networks of cooperation outside of the market is a bit starry eyed. As a professional engineer I once worked on a system for a country with a socialist government, who had specified that wherever possible Open Source software, such as the Linux operating system, should be used. This was more difficult and created more work, not less. He underestimates the degree to which technological innovation, and then integrating that innovation into successful products, requires structured organizational cooperation on an industrial enterprise scale. Perhaps new apps might be developed by a loose collaborative network, but for example to shift the telecommunications infrastructure to 5G needs professional engineering, and industrial capability.

The argument that robots will be taking our jobs, and that to avoid there being millions of low paid, low skilled non jobs we need a universal basic income, is a retreat from the idea that it is possible to value and remunerate high skilled jobs. The biggest current obstacles to the creation of jobs is a government whose economic policies discourage investment, and where care sector jobs are undervalued and underpaid. Both of these are political choices that can be changed.

28 Comments

  1. David Pavett says:

    I broadly agree with Andy Newman’s argument. Mason’s discussion of IT is wild, completely uncritical. This was reflected in his book Why It’s STILL Kicking Off Everywhere and again in his Postcapitalism. Changes in technology change relations of production and therefore are important to follow. But this is not a new feature of capitalism but of its essence. The febrile talk of a Fourth Industrial Revolution assumes that robots can do all the work in a society with a much higher level of material production. They can’t and Andy Newman gives some good grounds for thinking that. The exaggeration of the claims of science and technology is a component of our current culture and we on the left need to be alive to that. It seems that Paul Mason is not.

  2. Andy Newman says:

    Many thanks David, I appreciate your comment

  3. Edmund O'Sullivan says:

    If things, not people, make the things people need, then it follows that value-added creation will stop in tangible good manufacturing and profits (not prices: there are still tangibles used in the production process) will fall to zero.
    This can’t be disputed.
    What’s can be is whether intangible capital (intellectual property rights of various forms) is actually capital (something that can be included in company balance sheets) or simply the sum of current spending on developing new products and services (which shouldn’t be).
    On 31 December 2015, the balance sheets of the 25 most valuable companies listed on the London Stock Exchange show that more than 90 per cent of their assets on average are non-tangible.
    The fact is that capitalism in advanced economies is dominated by intangible capital.
    This in its own right is worthy of closer study.
    The larger challenge involves understanding what intangible capital is; how it’s created and the role it plays in the value-creation process.
    Intangible capital is a social construct developed through legislation and accounting codes; the right to treat it as capital is almost exclusively given to corporations (not individuals) and its principal purpose is to establish ownership rights over the value created (and hence the surpluses) by people working for the owners of intangible capital.
    Whether the rise of robots will be positive or negative for workers in agriculture, manufacturing and services depends upon who has the right to create and own intangible capital. At present this is almost exclusively allocated to corporations and those that own them.
    Legislation that reduces the right of corporations to create and acquire intangible capital will decisively shift power towards workers and the self-employed.
    Alternatively, individuals could be given the right to treat their ideas and the earnings they might produce as capital equivalent to tangible property (something which corporations almost exclusively have the right to do at present).
    Mason is right. The revolution in the mode of production from tangible good production to intangible service creation has already happened; the price mechanism fails in markets for intangible commodities and the demand for capital is declining in the value-creation process.
    What’s not happened is a matching intellectual revolution that will allow us to understand the potentially radical social and political implications.

  4. C MacMackin says:

    Like David, I broadly agree with this article. One thing which does strike me however, is the refence to engineers near the end of the discussion about the “blurring of work and leisure”. I agree with most of what Andy Newman writes there, but surely engineers are among those who can do at least some of their work remotely. That said, I don’t view this as a neccessarily positive thing, as Paul Mason does, but rather as a way for employers to extend the workday.

    On a very pedantic point, software is never released under a Create Commons license. The Creative Commons licenses are for written and artistic work and specifically state that they are not suitable for software. Presumably what is meant is a free software license, such as the GPL, MIT, BSD, or Apache licenses. Depending one what you are doing, software under these licenses may actually be a better choice than proprietary software (e.g. most servers are run on open source software). Other times not.

    One final thought. While Andy Newman convinceingly argues that automation won’t bring about mass unemployment, I think that a guaranteed basic income would be the wrong solution even if it did. Rather than have those still employed pay to support those who are not, shouldn’t we insist that work be divided up more equally? Why is it fair that half of people would be working 40+ hours a week when the other half do nothing?

    1. Andy Newman says:

      There is a companion piece article by me, that argues against Universal Income

  5. Imran Khan says:

    Which socialist country did you work for as an engineer?

    1. Andy Newman says:

      I worked for a US multinational with a contract, that contract was with a country with a socialist government. Commercial confidentiality applies.

  6. Andy Newman says:

    surely engineers are among those who can do at least some of their work remotely.

    Yes, but only in the context of a highly organised and structured work environment, and much of the collaborative work is tied to schedules, and at the point where work achieves physical manifestation, then that flexibility diminishes. My main point is that what appears like the blurring of work and leisure for some workers is much more highly constrained to the material world than Paul mason believes.

    Presumably what is meant is a free software license

    I meant Open Source

  7. Bazza says:

    This perhaps just shows why we need a left wing democratic socialist society and World.
    We should be harnessing robotics and new technology to serve working people but under capitalism this and driverless cars, trains, tubes, ships steered by computers, Amazon check out free supermarkets etc etc. means job losses for millions..
    It is a powerful argument for power for working people and parties in countries which represents them which in the UK should naturally be Labour.
    A 3 day working week with good pay would free time poor (and for many pay poor) working humanity so we could enjoy life and our planet and perhaps if technology can be harnessed to serve us instead of profit then we can then focus perhaps on what we do best – caring for other human beings (one academic argued we could have empathy workers – professional friends to counter loneliness) and being creative.
    I may give my age away but I can remember the 3 day working week under the Heath Tory Government and apparently production went up and people just seemed happier!
    Yet I do feel uncomfortable about a Universal Basic Income if we are paying people to do nothing when there is plenty of loneliness in society, and rising adult social care needs, plus rising health needs etc. with a growing older population and perhaps we are all richer if we all (those who can) contribute.
    Freeing time poor and pay poor working humanity could be a winner for left wing democratic socialist forces but perhaps ideologically it needs to come with a critique of capitalism in simple language.
    I only have one volume of Marx’s Capital and I remember reading how he argued workers really only needed to work 2 days a week to produce enough for their needs; the other 3/4 days was given to the employer for free!
    Perhaps little has changed in relation to this.

  8. David Pavett says:

    Paul Mason sometimes produces ideas and analyses that are worth debating but he constantly overreaches what he can talk about sensibly and resorts to wild and unfounded assumptions. Thus in Postcapitalism he bases a whole line of reasoning on the idea that software is a non-material, everlasting machine reproduced with zero cost.

    Software is not a machine. It is a series of codified instructions that operate a machine. A machine has an input and an output a set of instructions does not have an input or output. It codifies points at which the machine it operates takes an input and produces an output.

    Sometimes maths teachers talk about mathematical functions as if they were machines. Thus Y = X^2 is treated as a “machine” which with an input of X=2 outputs Y=4, an input of X=3 outputs Y=9. That’s okay so long as it is understood that this is a metaphorical machine and not a real one. A function per se does nothing in the real world unless it is embedded in a real physical (non-everlasting) machine. Software can be thought of as being like a mathematical function.

    All of human civilisation is dependent on our ability to codify, transmit and recall instruction in one form or another (starting with spoken language). Thus we can say that cathedrals were built according to designs which were reproducible (everlasting) and at minimal cost (compared to the cathedrals). That does not mean that cathedrals were built by a non-material, everlasting machine.

    Mason takes the machine metaphor at face value and ends up talking complete nonsense. I have read two books by him and a number of his articles and have always found his discussion of IT-related matters completely wild and devoid of any careful critical analysis. He is, on these issues, in my opinion completely unreliable.

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      Well said DavidP.

      I find this Paul Mason “the end of work” nonsense a little bit reminiscent of the ‘euro-comm/Marxism Today’ rubbish that was being spouted in the late 1980s.

      1. David Pavett says:

        Yes, Marxism Today did indeed publish masses of nonsense. I recall this snippet of an exchange between Stuart Hall and Frederick Jameson.

        Hall. You suggest that we are now moving into a new epoch, in which ‘late capitalism’ finds its correspondence in what people have designated as ‘post-modern culture’. Is that still your position?

        Jameson. The problem with talking about ‘bourgeois culture’ is that one of the things one wants to posit about this epochal change is that the culture of the bourgeoisie has itself been destroyed by it. What we have now is a relatively anonymous systemic culture, in which it becomes as problematic to talk about ruling classes in the old way as it does about some of the other questions.

        There was so much pretentious stuff!

        However, it has to be said that Marxism Today also raised very important issues that were ignored by most of the Left and Labour Movement and to that extent had a useful function. Its contributors (like Stuart Hall) may often have provided unsatisfactory answers but the questioning has to begin somewhere. It’s just a pity that most of those who rejected the “New Times” thinking of MT tended to fall back on old dogmas and could not progress the debate. I feel something similar about much that Paul Mason writes.

        P.S. It should also be said that in those years MT continued to publish good material of a standard exceeding anything else on the left. This included studies of British industry, translations of important articles from Europe, open discussions with contrasting views on different topics. It is interesting to look back at all that and this can now be done here.

        1. John Walsh says:

          Ha – genuinely mistaken or a deliberate ploy that Dr Grumpy laughably dismisses Hall and Jameson’s conversation as ‘pretentious nonsense’? I’ll go for the former.

          For sure, critical theory isn’t to everyone’s taste but in that 1990 piece the warning signals for how culture would become owned by capitalism, and the consequences, were coming across loud and clear. The conditions for the onset of neoliberalism’s ideological hegemony (so well written about on here by John Penney) were accurately described by Hall and Jameson. And to compound matters, instead of genuine cultural theorists to help guide us through our current predicament were now left with the likes of Paul Mason.

          Contemporary cultural critique is a risky business and so it’s rare for commentator to be so accurate in their analyses. Consequently, the MT piece was reprinted in Conversations on Cultural Marxism (2007) – now freely available.

          Ironic, though, that the Acting Headmaster on here adopts the pose of a nihilistic oaf – it’s what the architects of neoliberlaism would have wanted.

          1. David Pavett says:

            You appear not to have read what I wrote. I do indeed think that the “cultural turn” of MT was a massive diversion from serious social criticism but, at the same time, I recognised that MT published a lot of worthwhile material and even pointed to some of it (and gave a link to it).

            You may be satisfied by Jameson’s claim that “What we have now is a relatively anonymous systemic culture, in which it becomes as problematic to talk about ruling classes in the old way”. I am not. I also think that Hall was a massively overrated writer. He said what left intellectuals wanted to hear and said it with a certain panache but I have never managed to get his admirers to point me to a single original idea he produced. But I suspect that we will be unable to agree, or even to discuss, that.

            P.S. You think I am a “nihilistic oaf”. What can I say to such a decisive point?

          2. Karl Stewart says:

            JohnW, what the eurocomms of the 1980s actually did was to destroy the CP and lay the intellectual groundwork for Blairism and New Labour.

            All that ‘hegemony’ nonsense was simply a cop-out from the real struggles that were going on at that time.

          3. David Pavett says:

            @John Walsh (March 10, at 8:56 am) Since you like Stuart Hall here is one of my favourite quotes. It is from the Kilburn Manifesto.

            The economic is critical; but it cannot determine everything – even ‘in the last instance’, as Althusser famously argued. Any given conjuncture represents, rather, the fusion ‘into a ruptural unity’ of an ensemble of economic, social, political and ideological factors where ‘ dissimilar currents … heterogeneous class interests … contrary political and social strivings’ fuse.

            And this stuff, including what Althusser “famously argued” was in a political manifesto. Who did they imagine was going to read it?

          4. John Walsh says:

            David P – It’s easy to pick out and isolate passages of text from the likes of Hall and to question the point. After all, he did write the passages you quote (although, as you’ll no doubt know, the KM quote was from the multi-author ‘framing statement’) – so what was he up to?, who was it for?, or was it all just ‘pretentious nonsense’? Well, if that’s your considered opinion then that’s your prerogative and I don’t expect that via this medium, on here, we can make much progress towards agreeing on the usefulness of, for example, the Kilburn Manifesto.

            I’d have thought this was the kind of material best suited to some kind of online reading group type activity. If you and anyone else is up for thinking how to go about that then I’m willing. On the hand, maybe someone like P B-C would be gracious enough to tell us what all this neoliberalism stuff is all about? – then we wouldn’t need to bother reading all that difficult stuff. Is that how things work these days?

          5. David Pavett says:

            @John Walsh (March 12, at 9:24 am). You are right, these things require an extended discussion. I was letting off steam prompted by the reference to the analyses developed in Marxism Today in the 70s and 80s. I always found people like Hall both pretentious and shallow but could never get his friends and colleagues who admired him to respond to criticism. Perhaps an article or two looking back on that period with a critical eye would help to put the record straight.

  9. Eleanor Firman says:

    I broadly agree with article but note the role of business investment in ‘developed’ countries is somewhat theoretical – profits are up but investment has been down for some time now.
    Mazzucato’s argument that so far most innovation has been subsidised through the state-led investment, not private actors is well made so how does it fit here?

    Secondly, I appreciate the reference to investment in health/ care sector but I wouldn’t justify the need for this on such an instrumental basis ie to counter reduction of jobs from technological advance. Fundamentally, there is an actual shift of productionunderway here that is as real as the transfer of manufacturing to ‘undeveloped’ countries and this shouldn’t be downplayed.

    For example, look at the STP for your local health authority and see how many nursing roles are being replaced by volunteers, especially in palliative care. This expanded use of volunteer time (and increased reliance on family members) is nothing to do with technological advance per se, and everything to do with profiteering from the expansion of unpaid labour ie labour outside that involved in producing commodities for exchange on the market.

    I’ve had to organise telecare services for my own parents, and believe me, it does not REDUCE work because certain conditions need to be in place for it to operate as intended and setting up and maintaining those conditions involve new jobs, paid and unpaid. E.g. not just the design/manufacture of, say, pendant alarms, but call centres to respond to these alarms, care assistants to ensure the alarm is worn at all times, (but not while bathing or sleeping – when bed sensors take over, and to remind user they don’t work outside the home so you still need to be able to call for help), etc etc.

    Above points aside, I appreciate any argument against basic income because I think it would escalate inequality like nothing else. My main objections are 1. the value of money is not fixed so whatever amount is chosen it could rapidly become worthless, 2. the increase in unpaid caring obligations cancels out ability to access waged work so basic income would become maximum income, particularly for women, 3. as an economic argument it only addresses consumption not production.

  10. John Penney says:

    Good article, Andy. The myth that “the robots are coming to take away our jobs” , is simply that, a myth. The pressing current UK crisis is one of critically low productivity arising from not ENOUGH investment in labour productivity enhancing investment compared to our global competitors, not too much. It’s true that our current economic model of a low wage, low skill, financialised, and service industry, dominated economy, offers crap precariat jobs to far too many people. But that is the fault of our UK economic model, not a guaranteed feature of every economic model.

    We need to reject our current neoliberal, financialised, non manufacturing, low tech , economic model for the UK, and at the same time reject the nonsense, pinched directly from Far Right neoliberalism’ s economic programme, of the bogus individualist “survival ration” panacea of so called Citizen’s Income, as having anything to offer the Left as a way forward for a civilised society.

  11. Robin Edwards says:

    If you buy a robot for £10,000 and you use it to produce £10,000 worth of commodities you will have no robot and £10,000 worth of commodities. The cost of constant capital is simply incorporated into the commodity. No surplus value is produced. Only labour power can produce a surplus i.e. can produce more value than it costs. Long before capitalism got near total automation the declining rate of profits will have killed it and in fact it has already died and is decaying. It is now super-monopolised, stagnant and bankrupt. The current political-economic arrangements characterised by Pax Americana are now an absolute fetter to capitalism’s further development and there are no alternative political economic arrangements that can replace them and give capitalism a new lease of life. Pax American is unravelling, capitalist globalisation is unravelling, capitalist anarchy in the sphere of international relations is returning. The age of war and revolution so long suppressed by the Cold War alliance of US imperialism and Soviet Stalinism is back on. It is now a case as it was prophesided it must eventually be a case of socialism or barbarism, socialism or a New Dark Ages, socialism or death. No mode of production disappears from history until it has completely exhausted all of its potential. Capitalism has reached that point. Imperialism was the highest stage of capitalism and US-sponsored globalization was the highest stage of imperialism. The time has come to take out the trash.

    1. John Penney says:

      So you’ve been excluded too , along with many of us ,David, but have an infinite ability to adopt a new pseudonym. This must be your third Left Futures identity ! This time though you are excluded for reasons unknown, in quite the quite sizeable company of many other regular Left posters !

  12. Tynnie Todgers says:

    My takeaway from Mason (and others) is that we’re reaching the point where creation of new markets and jobs can no longer keep up with the pace and scope of automation. I’m not sure anything here actually refutes that.

    No, robots aren’t going to take all the jobs, and it might be less problematic if they did. They’re going to take more and more jobs, and there already aren’t enough to go round.

    Yes, we could share the remaining work at higher £/hr were it not for ultimately political decisions. But those decisions have already been taken and resulted in structural changes which are very difficult to reverse – even if there were the political will, which there isn’t.

  13. JohnP says:

    Economic and factual nonsense . In fact, in case you haven’t heard, “Tynnie Todgers” (sic) , there are more people working in the UK than ever before, and so short of labour is our economy that there is a net 350,000 migration figure each year currently ! Most of the building workers in the key construction zone of London and the South East have to be imported from the rest of the EU.

    The currently fashionable “the robots are replacing our jobs” scare, is utter garbage, Automation under capitalism is always a threat to some jobs , but overall the UK economy desperately needs MORE investment in automation to raise our productivity, not less. And there are huge numbers of potential new jobs in the “caring sectors” of health and caring for our ageing population. and in building the many vast new productive infrastructure projects the UK needs (a couple of million new council houses for a start) .

    It is only the capitalist priorities of a vicious right wing government, failing to train UK citizens, cutting funding to the caring public sectors, and failing to stimulate real productive, high wage sector growth through national planning, and unlimited external labour supply within the EU, that we need fear – NOT “robots”.

    The current “robot scare” is a phobia of sections of the middle classes because some of THEIR workplaces/jobs are starting to be automated (even journalism !). And a bogus justification by the small entrepreneur middle class hippy types for a free state handout to help subsidise their home-based little online businesses, via the “Citizen’s Income/UBI” scam idea.

    1. Tynnie Todgers says:

      Workers haven’t benefited from productivity for decades, not least because capital uses threat of automation as a bargaining chip. Yes, automation might benefit workers given different politics – AS I SAID. But saying we only have “capitalist priorities” to fear in a society where they are so entrenched that the working class votes for them makes no sense. And calling it a middle class “phobia” because middle class jobs are being automated is contradicting yourself.

  14. Karl Stewart says:

    Tynnie, you raise some good points, but the facts don’t suggest a reduction in the number of jobs.

    Technologies have always advanced, since the beginning of time, and yes, while these technologies have rendered some manual functions obsolete, they have always also generated new jobs.

    The invention of the wheel put the log-shifters out of work, yes, but it also created new demand for wheelwrights.

    The printing press put a lot of town criers out of work, but also generated the need for skilled print workers, typesetters etc.

    Developments in coal mining impacted on the charcoal-burning industry, while the Bessemer furnace provided new means for forging metals and sharply reduced demand for wood – which put wood-cutters out of work, but created jobs in the new steel industry.

    At present, there are more people employed in the UK than ever before, and the developments we are seeing today – while new in themselves – are not a new trend.

    There will always be development of technologies and mankind will always adapt to these new technologies.

    Our task is to try to ensure that these technological developments are harnessed in the interests of working-class people, not in the interests of the capitalist class.

    There is no ‘end of work’ – there will always more than enough work to do for everyone.

    1. Robin Edwards says:

      That is a paean to capitalism. Why do you bother calling yourself a socialist. No contradictions in capitalism. It can go on for ever if need be. It is just a moral question whether we stick with it or not. Pure crap. Of course machines take jobs you numbskull especially when the benefits of increased productivity accrue to the capitalist via job losses and rationalisations instead of to the worker via an ever shorter working week without loss of pay. This fact may be obscured in times of capitalist growth but now that growth has become impossible it manifests big time in mass unemployment and war. As for the jobs created recently they are mostly regressive servant and serving jobs that don’t create wealth.

    2. Tynnie Todgers says:

      Karl, that

      a) isn’t a counterargument. The idea is that we’re at a tipping point. Things having been otherwise thus far would be entirely consistent with that. I don’t know why people keep trotting these examples out.

      b) isn’t even true. Apart from a few decades post-war blip, there’ve never been “more than enough” jobs since the industrial revolution, before which wage labour wasn’t really a thing as we know it. And most of the “jobs” created since debt-fuelled consumption imploded in 2007 have been precarious temporary/agency/part-time/commission-only/zero-hours crap that wouldn’t even have been called “jobs” in 1967. Only 1 in 40 has been an actual full-time employee job. Most welfare recipients now work. What people want is a LIVELIHOOD – financial security, ability to support themselves and a family. And that’s what is not replacing automated jobs.

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