Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Automation vs. Capitalism

Since the bursting of the last bubble, the subject of job losses to automation seems to be a continuous background murmur in economic stories. Many of the jobs lost, it is said, are simply gone never to return. A quick search will turn up many, many articles on the subject. And many, many counter articles. I suspect how you respond to the subject will generally fall in line with how you feel about "The Market". But for me, there is a more interesting angle: to whom do the benefits of automation go?

Software, especially, is a good place to see wealth concentration through automation in action. But how much of that is driven by economics and how much of by psychology? (Whether there is really a distinction between the two is a subject for a different time.) Laurie Penny writing for NewStatesman pens (types?) a editorial taking on the subject from an interesting perspective: it isn't the automation that is bad, it's our economic system. Could we, through an offering of a living wage, produce a society where a life of leisure was a possibility for many? Would it produce a whole new underclass of lazy layabouts? Would it produce a burst of creativity and innovation where people are free to pursue their own passion projects? Would it do a little of both, but mostly leave society as it is because large houses, fancy cars, day care, and cable or cell phone bills are expensive? Can market capitalism ever move in a direction where more people work for less hours?

Personally, I think trying to get a living wage in place would be a stretch for a country that can't even agree that universal health care would be a good thing. But that's just my practical side. I would absolutely consider retiring early given the chance, though what I really want is the possibility to work, say, four days a week instead of five. It's a good question to ask: do you have an interest you would spend your time on if you worked less or not at all?

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