Pt. 4: We Have Nothing to Fear but Capitalism Itself
Like a world that rides on the slow and bumpy back of The Turtle, The M.I.T Report on the Work of the Future balances precariously on the four legs of four assumptions. The first of these, as I have discussed in the first part of this article, is that that the decline in the earnings of the working class is the result of the bifurcation of that working class on the basis of education on the one hand, and on the other, the elimination of white collar, middle class work by technology. These two assumptions, although not entirely lacking in validity as education does divide workers, and technology has eradicated, middle class, white collar work, ignores the far more important factor of the decimation of the power and labor of the working class as the result of the slow and multifaceted war on organized labor, which was both been sustained by and sustained globalization.
The third assumption is that those who do manage to get a good education at a good institution of higher education will necessarily go on to have better lives. Thus, the Report gives no consideration to the devastating side effects of getting that education in a capitalist society in which even institutions of higher education function as corporations seeking to derive as much profit as possible from their institutions. A result of this drive for profits has been on the one hand, an increase in the price of their products, and on the other, the globalization of their customer base as increasingly, foreign students come to replace American students at the highest levels of education in the best American institutions. As a result of both factors, when and if Americans do manage to get into the best Universities America has to offer, they have had to complete with individuals from nations around the world which have offered better educational systems to their students throughout their lives, but who as individuals, also come from an upper middle class, and upper class elite, which spares no expense on the education of their children. In turn, Americans, even from the best of families and schools (excluding perhaps members of the upper elite 1%), find themselves not only ill prepared and ill-educated vis a vis their international competitors, but also, not as financially able to afford the university educations they so desperately need to get ahead in life. As a result, even if they are as individuals able to compete with their foreign rivals for entrance, either they or their families find themselves deeply in debt. So it is that even those who manage to pluck the prize of a degree from a prestigious university, many suffer the consequences of having to pay off huge student debts for a good portion of their futures; debts that will shape the course of their lives either as they default and so have their credit devastated, or put aside purchasing the symbols of the good life in America – cars, apartments, homes, vacations and dinners out. They may even put off getting married and having children as perhaps both spouses work diligently to pay off their loans. When my daughter got her MBA and her spouse got a law degree, they were staring down the twin barrels of $300,000 in debt. They are still, nearly twenty years later, their lives not going exactly the way they had planned, paying off that debt. Such are the things that the M.I.T. Report never discusses, just as it never discusses the effects of globalization or the destruction of unions on the condition of the American working class.
Finally, assuring us that technology will never drive the working class into extinction due to demographic factors (the vast number of baby boomers will be gone soon and people are having fewer children} and their belief in education – not at the best institutions, but at community colleges which have open enrollment and so which any one can attend, and which few if any either wealthy Americans or foreigners bother to – will provide the solution for workers who might possibly be displaced. The solution resides, they assure us, in more closely and perfectly aligning the needs of capitalist companies with the training of workers so that in this way, as they see it, workers will not find themselves without work. The do not see it as turning community colleges directly into institutions which service the needs of capitalism by training the workers they need, which in turn, eliminates the need for those corporations to invest in training their own employees. Community colleges will become the “training and development” departments of companies which in turn, will allow those companies to lay off the people who currently perform that function.
Besides these four legs upon which the Report moves along, our turtle has a head and a tail which are the “rational” mind and “logical” balance of the MIT Report. The first assumption, the primary assumption and the glaring bias of their argument is that IT WOULD BE A TERRIBLE THING IF MACHINES REPLACED HUMANS AS WORKERS. After all, how would the labor theory of value apply when there was nearly no labor which must be paid? This is only one of the many questions that arise that challenge the essential foundation of capitalism itself when machines begin to replace labor.
In fact, the replacement of labor by machines, a decline in the need for long hours of work, and in fact a non-human working class which needs no money to subsist, undermines the very existence of capitalism and prepares the way for Communism. Thus, the elimination of labor is not at all a terrible thing; in fact, it is ever Communists final dream. It is the goal of Marx’s humanism that people should become free of the dehumanizing labor which they must perform in order to survive, and which is exploited by others who profit from that labor, realize their fully human natures performing work and labor that is fulfilling to them. Labor in which they realize their own human creativity in a society in which everyone profits from everyone else’s enterprises and no one exploits anyone.
Only a bias towards Capitalism sees the elimination of human labor and its substitution by machines as a BAD thing. Free of the degradation of mind numbing service labor, of being appendages to machines, of engaging in repetitive manual and office labor, combined with life in a society in which profits do not come before people, people can truly become educated and creative beings, and humanity can move towards its absolute realization. No machine could approach us, because we would move faster even more quickly when they are put at our services. The universe will become ours, and no mysteries will be hidden from us, as we realize ourselves as evolutionary beings…. Without capitalism.
The M.I.T. Report, concocted as it is by one of the most famous edio-ideological institutions of Capitalist America, carries the capitalist world on its back and moves it forward on the four bowed and biased legs of its assumptions. It wants and needs to support capitalism even as capitalism undergoes what may be its final phase transition – as falters and gets ready to collapse into the “dustbin of history”. The report is blinded by its own bias towards capitalism, and so sets out to blind us as well. Do not let them do so Comrades – education is not meant to help us out of our misery, but to create new misery, and contrary to what is meant to be drawn from their conclusions, workers and capitalists can never have common interests.
Mary Metzger is a 74 year old semi retired teacher. She did her undergraduate work at S.U.N.Y. Old Westbury and her graduate work In Dialectics under Bertell Ollman at New York University. She has taught numerous subjects, from Public Sector Labor Relations to Philosophy of Science, to many different levels of students from the very young to Ph.D. candidates, in many different institutions and countries from Afghanistan to Russia. She has been living in Russia for the past 12 years where she focuses on research in the Philosophy of Science and History of the Dialectic, and writes primarily for Countercurrents. She is the mother of three, the grandmother of five, and the great grandmother of two.