The Right Has No Answer For Automation Job Loss, But The Left Does

LEIPZIG, GERMANY – SEPTEMBER 18: Robots manufacture a carbon chassis of a new BMW i3 electric car on the assembly line at the BMW factory on September 18, 2013 in Leipzig, Germany. The i3 is BMW’s first mass market electric car and the company has invested EUR 400 million into its production at the Leipzig factory. (Photo by Jens Schlueter/Getty Images)

On February 12, 2017, Caitlin Johnstone writes on Newslogue:

 If I woke up one morning to find that I had suddenly turned into a kangaroo in some happy version of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, I’d probably spend my first day hopping around like a knucklehead. I’d hop over fences, hop over people, I’d sneak into one of those trampoline houses for kids and freak everyone out with sick backflips and stuff; it’d be awesome.

But if you look at how kangaroos behave in the wild, that’s not what they’re doing at all. They eat as much food as they need, then they lounge around like sunbathers on the beach. You’ve never seen such high-level chill as a kangaroo with a full belly. And there’s a very good reason for this: being able to consume more calories than you burn is a foundational evolutionary hurdle that a species must overcome if it’s to escape extinction. An animal that doesn’t have to expend more caloric energy than it consumes is a successful organism.

The majority of human technological advances are geared toward this exact end. “Gosh, it takes a lot of energy to push these building materials from point A to point B; let’s put them on some round things so we can roll them there.” “It takes an hour to cook a baked potato in these normal ovens, but check it out, here’s a machine that could cook it in five minutes.” Now we can safely travel thousands of miles in a few hours on what before would have been a months-long extremely hazardous journey. We’ve become so adept at this sort of energy-saving innovation that we’ve had to invent gyms where people can go to work off their surplus caloric amassment.

And that’s precisely the idea, because the human animal has the same ultimate goal as the kangaroo: to be able to work less and relax more. We’re such successful animals in this sense that some of us are even having trouble finding work at all, because we’ve invented machines to do a lot of it automatically. And we’ve just seen the very beginning of it. Great minds like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking are saying that not only will robots soon replace most lower-class jobs, but that artificial intelligence will shortly be replacing most middle class jobs as well.

And humans are so crazy right now that we’re somehow turning this into a problem.

There’s a new Wired article going around titled “The AI Threat Isn’t Skynet. It’s the End of the Middle Class,” which reports on a private conference between many of the world’s leading minds in the field of artificial intelligence development. The article shares some interesting ideas and starts off sane enough, discussing the inevitability of mass job loss once artificial intelligence makes many of them obsolete, but quickly drifts into delusional cultural mind viruses when the possibility of a universal basic income is touched on.

Wired reports that according to MIT economist Andrew McAfee, a universal basic income “would only make the problem worse, because it would eliminate the incentive for entrepreneurship and other activity that could create new jobs as the old ones fade away.”

“A universal basic income doesn’t give people dignity or protect them from boredom and vice,” adds Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.

Ugh. You hear these moronic right-wing ideas everywhere, but whenever I hear them I still wonder if the person regurgitating these plutocrat-generated talking points has ever met a real human before.

“Give people dignity”? Protect them from “boredom and vice”? How “dignified” is the rat race? How bored and vice-prone is a miserable cubicle-dwelling desk jockey? How much more interested and dignified would people be if they were freed up to use their amazing human brains exploring their passions and creativity instead of pouring all their mental energy into making some millionaire into a billionaire? How much healthier and less destructive would people be if they could just do what they find interesting free from the guilt and shame of our cultural mind viruses screaming that they’re worthless if they aren’t adding more zeros to some plutocrat’s gigantic bank account?

And don’t get me started on “entrepreneurship”. There’s an entire industry in Asia right now for the practice of sealing live baby marine animals into little airtight plastic containers and selling them on keychains, where the poor creatures slowly suffocate to death over the course of a few hours or days and become landfill. All because the vendors need to be able to bring some noodles home to their kids. If they had a universal basic income they could just give the kids some damn noodles, but no, that would be “undignified”. So much better to have them sell tiny suffocating animals to passing sociopaths on the street because a robot took their last job.

How much further can you stretch this insane mentality? Could I get people to pay me to for punching a baby whale? If I could, I bet you anything Republicans would defend my entrepreneurship. “She’s got to earn a living,” they’d say. “She’s got to punch those whales to bring noodles home to her kids!” And of course establishment Democrats wouldn’t be much better; they’d just say I should get another job while compartmentalizing away from the problem and feeling good about themselves for saying something.

Bullying people into creating jobs on pain of impoverishment leads not only to the creation of unnecessary jobs, but jobs that are downright harmful. When you’ve got the President of the United States ordering the construction of water-threatening pipelines to transport an ecosystem-killing fossil fuel that we should be moving away from anyway because “jobs”, you’ve got a problem. Who’s the one with the boredom and vice problem when you’re promoting an ideology that’s so desperate to find something for people to do that it will pay them to kill our environment?

Donald Trump is not going to solve America’s job creation problem. The manufacturing jobs are gone forever; they’re not coming back, and artificial intelligence advancements are only going to make things much, much worse very, very soon. Trump might be able to coerce companies into staying in America for a little while with protectionist policies, which might temporarily make it harder for CEOs to leverage unions into accepting dehumanizing wages for workers, but none of that will do anything about the imminent job apocalypse that’s just around the corner due to rapid advancements in artificial intelligence and robotics. There’s no way “entrepreneurship” can compete with the rate at which artificial intelligence is going to accelerate in advancement. Conservatives have no answers for this problem, and neither do the fake-left neoliberals.

But the true left does. AI and automation will make it much easier for a few lucky plutocrats to make a tremendous amount of money for themselves, which is just fine and dandy, because they’ll be able to afford a lot more taxes. With those taxes, we could easily help fund the basic living expenses of everyone in America. There will still be some jobs to be had, which will provide some people with some extra gravy for whatever cool skills and ideas they have that they want to put to use, but the soul-crushing demand that people find stupid, arbitrary tasks to do in order for their existence to feel justified will be eliminated.

And so will a whole lot of other problems. People would immediately stop driving as much, for one thing. Our current climate crisis was caused by the way humans stopped living near their workplaces after the invention of the internal combustion engine; cars created the suburbs, which created the daily commute, which is easily the greatest factor in anthropogenic global warming. This idiotic demand for arbitrary expansion into entrepreneurship wastes so many resources and creates so much landfill; if people could just chill out and relax, that in and of itself would prevent so much harm. It would also free up a tremendous amount of creativity for solving the other problems we face together as a species.

It isn’t necessary to threaten people with poverty and starvation if they don’t join in the insane planet-killing rat race. Nothing can stop creative types from creating and innovative types from inventing if that’s what they’re driven to do, and the rest of the people can just chill out and feel good about themselves and enjoy their lives the way they’re meant to, like relaxing kangaroos.

Unfortunately, ever since the 1946 passage of the Full Employment Act, economists and politicians formulating national economic policy have beguiled us into believing that economic power is democratically distributed if we have full employment––thus the political focus on job creation and redistribution of wealth rather than on equal opportunity to produce, full production and broader capital ownership accumulation. This is manifested in the myth that labor work is the ONLY way to participate in production and earn income, and that individual talent and effort are what distinguish the wealthy from the non-wealthy. Long ago that was once true because labor provided 95 percent of the input into the production of products and services. But today that is not true. Physical capital provides not less than 90 to 95 percent of the input. Full employment as the means to distribute income is not achievable. When the “tools” of capital owners replace labor workers (non-capital owners) as the principal suppliers of products and services, labor employment alone becomes inadequate. Thus, we are left with government policies that redistribute income in one form or another.
Economic democracy has yet to be tried. We are absent a national discussion of where consumers earn the money to buy products and services and the nature of capital ownership, and instead argue about policies to redistribute income or not to redistribute income. If Americans do not demand that the contenders for the office of the presidency of the United States, the Senate, and the Congress address these issues, we will have wasted the opportunity to steer the American economy in a direction that will broaden affluence. We have adequate resources, adequate knowhow, and adequate manpower to produce general affluence, but we need as a society to properly and efficiently manage these resources while protecting and enhancing the environment so that our productive capital capability is sustainable and renewable. Such issues are the proper concern of government because of the human damage inflicted on our social fabric as well as to economic growth in which every citizen is fairly included in the American dream.
The majority of Americans, dependent on labor worker wages, no longer think that jobs and labor wages will return suddenly—if at all—and at a livable earnings level, that the value of their homes will re­bound, or that their limited retirement funds will soon be fully restored. Americans are scared but attribute their worsening finances to job losses, reduced hours, wage givebacks, and overall reduced earnings. They do not understand the role of productive capital driven by technological innovation and science and the requirement for them to become capital workers, as well as labor workers, to earn a viable economic future. And until we, as a society, understand how wealth is produced, how consumers earn the money to buy products and services and the nature of capital ownership, we will not be able to set a course to obtain an affluent quality of life for middle and working class citizens, where everyone “can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, and secure their retirement.” The REAL solution is to build an economy of universally productive individuals and households through broadened wealth-creating, income-producing capital ownership.

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