An article by Neil Irwin in the New York Times posted on June 12, 2018, carries the provocative title: “If the Robots Come for Our Jobs, What Should the Government Do? This question proceeds from two primary assumptions which should not be accepted at face value. The first is that the “Robots” will come for our jobs, which is to say that machine will come like thieves to take from us what we possess. The second assumption has two dimensions. The first is that “something should be done about this” as if this process should be in some way mediated or prevented. The second assumption is that the government is the proper vehicle to interfere in this process. If the question is laden with flimsy assumptions, the answers to the questions which Irwin elucidates for us, are even more heavily laden with assumptions of the most tenuous nature. Just because they are so very tenuous, I think these assumptions need to be not merely revealed but also very carefully and critically examined from an alternative perspective. This perspective would view machines not as thieves which steal human jobs, but rather as the products of human creativity and effort(technology) which liberate humanity from the dual burdens of alienated labor and centralized power. Thus, nothing should be done to prevent this process from occurring, but rather, everything should be done to ensure that it continue because this process will bring about and in fact, is bringing about, a revolutionary transformation of the economic and social relations we now know. Just as the industrial revolution fully transformed an agrarian and mercantile economy into a machine based system of mass production, so too, this revolution will transform our commodity and financial based economy in epoch ways.Part and parcel of this liberating technological transformation is blockchain technology, which leads to the transformation if not outright elimination of the state as we know it, the creation of a new, decentralized social and economic structures. It is not the Government that will shape and control technology, it is technology, the robots themselves so to speak, that will transform government.
That technology, itself the result of human ingenuity, transforms society goes without saying; from the first time one of our ancestors first successfully produced a stone tool or weapon (and we can call that a technological innovation), until this very second, we have shaped technology and technology has in turn, has shaped us in ways that are both good and bad. Machines incessantly increased human needs and wants, and provided the means for satisfying those needs and wants to those who had the money to purchase the commodities they produced. As machines proliferated, so too human labor became machine like. As humans left the land to work in factories as appendages to machines, the waste products of machine production left the factories to penetrate nature as its pollutants. Such is the state of things today.
While machine production has both increased and decreased the need for human labor even as it has constantly created new types of workers, many individuals, as Irwin notes, see the time fast approaching when machines will eliminate the need for labor (as opposed to innovative activity) altogether. This is viewed as a problem, and his article is about some of the ideas posited as a solution to this problem such as a universal basic income. That this solution smacks of socialism is easy to see. But the larger question is why do we need money at all? If machines are able to produce what people want and need, and if these machines then what do we need money for? This is Karl Marx’s ultimate question. If people are able to produce what they want and need, why does someone have to make a profit off of that process? Whey is production and distribution mediated by money? For Marx neither the desire for money nor the desire to “own” things is natural to human beings.
Mr. Irwin cites the solution of one commentator, Mr. Paul, to the proplem which is that as a result of changes in “intellectual property law” innovators would not have such “a lengthy monopoly over their innovations”. Thus, the “benefits of technology would accrue to labor rather than capital.” Now that is a very Marxist argument.
Mr. Paul argues further that “the rapid shifts in the skills and technologies demanded by the modern economy strengthen the case for publicly funded higher education.” This is what people who no longer have to engage in the mindless, monotonous labor which most workers of the world now engage in, will do. They will pursue their interests, develop their skills and talents, their minds and imaginations. They will realize their true, human natures.
As for the role of governments in this process, they may well cease to exist altogether. Epochal changes have begun to and will continue to occur as a result of the newblockchain technology including but not limited to “an end to strong men instituted social systems” As Johann Gevers tells us in his remarkable talk :https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8oeiOeDq_Nc, blockchain technology will replace “top down” “strong men systems, with “people based decentralized trust based systems. According to Gevers, this system began with the printing press, which enabled people to exchange ideas is realized in its modern version in the internet. Thus, the first pillar of this “technology of trust” as he has labeled it is decentralized communications. In order to be truly effective this decentralized communication must be encrypted and hence free from surveillance and control by the powers that bethe second pillar is decentralized law, in which people agree about what to do, how to do it, and in which they have the ability to actually formulate the law they choose to follow as well as who hears our disputes and enforces those laws.The third pillar is decentralized production of goods and energy. 3D printing allows us to print our own products at home, and Gevers tells us that the early days of decentralized energy production are almost upon us. Finally, Blockchain Technology provides us with decentralized finance, decentralized currency and decentralized contact systems. Bitcoin is one such decentralized currency that cannot be censored or controlled. No longer will it be the case that a few people control the levers of power. Ordinary people will be able to interact without interference from third parties.
Technology is very rapidly preparing the way for the communist society that Marx envisioned.
Mary Metzger is a 72 year old retired teacher who has lived in Moscow for the past ten years. She studied Women’s Studies under Barbara Eherenreich and Deidre English at S.U.N.Y. Old Westerbury. She did her graduate work at New York University under Bertell Ollman where she studied Marx, Hegel and the Dialectic. She went on to teach at Kean University, Rutgers University, N.Y.U., and most recenly, at The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology where she taught the Philosophy of Science. Her particular area of interest is the dialectic of nature, and she is currently working on a history of the dialectic. She is the mother of three, the gradmother of five, and the great grandmother of 2.