As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, there is a slight problem when advancing technology displaces human labor from the production process. It seems that when a machine replaces a human worker, the human worker loses his or her job and thus has no source of earned income until and unless he or she finds another job.
|"Hi. I'm Fred. Not Flintstone."|
And that’s another problem. As the purpose and intent of machinery is to remove human labor from the production process, eventually the much-vaunted new jobs created by technology are fewer than the much-lamented (with more reason) old jobs destroyed by technology. People who lose the ability to be productive using one form of labor cannot replace it with another form of labor; “retraining” in the modern age is often a euphemism for a complicated welfare quid pro quo to try and make it look as if the taxpayers are getting something for the money doled out by the State.
There is a solution, however, and we can see how it has operated throughout history and even prehistory.
For example, we have Fred the Prehistoric Hunter and Gatherer. No, we wrote that before we realized that he has the same first name as Fred Flintstone. Fred has been hunting rabbits by running them down, which is possible if you know what you’re doing.
One day Fred gets angry because another critter has dived into a hole and he can’t get the wascally wabbit. In frustration, he picks up a stick and starts twisting it around in the hole, driving the rabbit out so that Fred can grab him and have him for lunch.
|"Here comes that damn' Fred again with pointy rabbit stick."|
A light bulb — or a burning branch — goes on over Fred’s head. “Why,” he reasons, “should I chase a rabbit when I can scare it to go into its burrow where I can twist the critter out with a stick?” Where Fred used to spend a full day chasing down one lousy rabbit, he now can get a dozen or so, keeping the little woman and the kiddies fed and happy. Or as happy as you can be eating nothing but nuts, tubers, berries, and rabbits.
Seeing how much easier rabbit hunting is with advanced technology — a stick — Fred starts to think again. There are deer, elk, and even mammoths and rhinoceri around. Food just waiting for some smart entrepreneur to come and scarf them down. What if he could find a big enough stick to kill some of them? Food galore!
Problem. Those animals all have hides too tough for Fred’s teeth. A sharp rock, now, like the one he cut himself with last week . . . and what if he banged the rock with another rock to make it sharp or even give it a more useful shape? And what if he attached a sharp rock to a stick so it could go through a deer’s or mammoth’s hide and kill it? And what if he figured out a way to keep meat edible for a long time so he wouldn’t keep getting sick?
|"If the machine wants our jobs, buy the machine!"|
All these technological advances made Fred more productive and thus richer for one very good reason that today’s capitalists and socialists always fail to take into consideration: Fred owned the technology that increased production and made his life easier. Today’s modern worker, despite almost infinitely greater production and an immeasurably higher lifestyle, in most cases doesn’t own the technology responsible for the increased production. Not one bit of it. Advancing technology, especially in the form of full automation, is an unmitigated disaster for the modern worker, where it was an unmitigated blessing for Fred.
That is why, as Louis Kelso put it in a 1964 interview in Life magazine, “if the machine wants our job, let’s buy it” — meaning, if a worker loses his or her job to advancing technology, he or she would only lose a job, not income, if he or she owned the machine. By right of private property, an owner is due “the fruits of ownership” of the thing he or she owns. If someone owns an apple tree, the apples — the fruit (duh) — belongs to the owner of the tree. He or she can do whatever he or she likes (control and disposal) within the bounds of the law and the common good with what he or she owns.
|It doesn't have to be this way.|
Replacing a human worker with a robot owned by the worker has added benefits. Human workers can’t work 24/7, but a robot can. If I can produce one pair of shoes per day that I sell for $50 per pair at a profit of $1 each, would I replace my labor with a machine I own that can produce 1,000 pairs of shoes of similar quality per day that I sell for 50¢ per pair at a profit of 10¢ each? You bet I would. I might make a pair by hand just for fun or for a special gift, but my income would come from the production by my robot, not by my labor.
Now, let us suppose the world is suffering from a pandemic and people can’t produce in association with others as they might catch or spread the disease. What should they do? To help us come up with an answer, let’s list the relevant points:
· Advancing technology displaces human labor from production.
· If people own technology they own what the technology produces.
· If a machine takes our jobs, we should own the machine.
· Machines don’t catch viruses and can work 24/7, sometimes without direct human input.
|There doesn't need to be any conflict.|
Given these points, the solution seems obvious. If workers replaced with automated machinery have the opportunity and means to purchase the very machinery that replaces them, and pay for the machinery with the earnings of the machinery itself, then what the machinery produces — and the income it generates — belong by natural right to the displaced worker who owns the machinery. It becomes a matter of indifference whether production is done by the worker, or the machine owned by the worker.
Or it would be a matter of indifference if the machine couldn’t do what the worker did better and cheaper. If machinery can do something better and cheaper than a human worker, it should do it . . . but only if the worker can and does own the machinery that replaces him or her.
This changes from “should” to “must” when production becomes too dangerous for human beings . . . such as in a pandemic when a disease with no known cure is spread through human contact or even proximity. Consider the reductio ad absurdum: if production were completely automated at the present time, quarantine and lockdown would be merely an annoyance for most people. As it is, it is a disaster, because not only do most people own no capital to work for them, they don’t have the income earned by the capital, either.
No doubt surprising many people, this reductio ad absurdum turns out not to be completely absurd. As “Universalizing Capital Ownership,” a recent paper from the interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ) suggests, it is possible to put the economy back on track. Future similar situations, while never anything to take lightly, would become less disastrous in their impact. It would also result in a more just economy.