Monday, September 12, 2016

Luxury for all

Taken from various writings of advocates for Fully Automated Luxury Communism (FALC)

Fully automated luxury communism (FALC) [or as SOYMB might call it, Free Access Post-Scarcity Socialism (FAPPS)] aims to embrace automation to its fullest extent. This is the era to realise a post-work society, where machines do the work not for making profits for the privileged few but for the benefit of the majority of people. MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and James McAfee argue persuasively in their oft-cited Second Machine Age that the robots are just getting started. “Technology can create enormous bounty,” Brynjolfsson wrote. Robots, Artificial Intelligence, automation, etc. could basically make human labour redundant and instead of creating even further inequalities it could lead to a society where everyone lives in luxury and where machines produce everything. Fully Automated Luxury Communism rests on a highly optimistic vision of the potential of technology to meet our desires with a minimum of human labour.

“There is a tendency in capitalism to automate labor, to turn things previously done by humans into automated functions,” says Aaron Bastani, co-founder of Novara Media. “In recognition of that, then the only utopian demand can be for the full automation of everything and common ownership of that which is automated.” He continues, “The demand would be a 10- or 12-hour working week, a guaranteed social wage, universally guaranteed housing, education, healthcare and so on,” he says. “There may be some work that will still need to be done by humans, like quality control, but it would be minimal.” Bastani says, “Take Uber. Huge company. Its idea is that by 2030 it will have this huge global network of driverless cars. That doesn’t need to be performed by a private company. Why would you have that? In London, we have Boris bikes. Why couldn’t we have something like Uber with driverless cars provided at a municipal level without a profit motive?” Bastani proclaims “Cartier for everyone, MontBlanc for the masses and Chloe for all”. Bastani says his conception of FALC is based on a modern reading of Marx’s Capital and Grundrisse. He adds “If we want something else, something better, we are going to have to come up with it ourselves.” Again a touch of the Marxist principle, the emancipation of the working class must be by the working class.”

Cybernetic technologies offer us both a bounty of productivity as well as welcome relief from myriad drudgery of repeatable tasks. Unfortunately, as our economy is currently configured, both of these seeming miracles are also big problems. How do we maintain market prices in a world with surplus productivity? And, even more to the point, how do we employ people when robots are taking all the jobs?

Capitalism is inherently predatory and destructive, yet nevertheless, capitalism is the most collective society that has ever existed on earth, in the sense that even the most banal product is the result of a massive network of interdependence. Rather than abandoning this globalized web in favour of some return to back-to-nature agrarian primitivism that will only be possible on the basis of a catastrophe, we need to make the planetary network an intelligent system that can act in the interests of the majority, instead of the tiny minority that profits under the current system. Rioters could be looting department stores for one hundred years and still they wouldn’t have taken back even half of what has been stolen from them at work. If capitalism were simply a way to meet material needs, it would make no sense that people work harder now that less labor is required for production. But capitalism isn’t just a way to meet material needs; it’s a social system based in alienated relationships. As long as the economy distributes access to resources according to wealth, advances in manufacturing technology will simply force workers to seek other livelihoods. The machine no longer needs us, but it still needs us to keep working. The battle-field of the socialists has always been the future, and this terrain must be reclaimed. Demand the Future.

Capitalism will not automate itself out of existence. It will not eliminate the workforce, and it will not even try. What it will do is create a deskilled workforce, ever more dependent on capital for the ability to produce, and create a divided workforce, that does not share a common proletarian consciousness, thus diffusing its class power.  A system that directs production towards the creation of exchange value has many motivations to create control, since capture of scarce resources is at the heart of the formation of exchange value, however, it has no motivation to create general abundance. Only a workers society, where people produced and shared as equals would be interested in achieving abundance, since more wealth and less work would be enjoyed by all.

Capitalism’s technological apparatus does not free labour, it envelops human life and labour within it – invading and harassing. The tremendous wealth-producing power of technology can only truly reduce toil when the wage system is abolished, and when classes are eliminated. Only then could the innovation and determination of people be genuinely applied to using technology to reduce work and increase leisure, until then it is only a sci-fi mirage.

Work less to live more

Over the course of the last centuries, the commons was fenced, and everything from agriculture to water was commoditised without regard to the true cost in non-renewable resources. Human beings, who had spent centuries freeing themselves from slavery, were obliged to rent themselves out to factory owners during the Industrial Revolution.

Brynjolfsson doesn’t find the idea of machine-generated populist luxury outlandish. On the contrary. “A world of increasing abundance, even luxury, is not only possible but likely,” he says. “Many of things we consider necessities today – phone service, automobiles, Saturdays off – were luxuries in the past.” As the old-time Wobbly, Big Bill Haywood said, “Nothing’s too good for the working class”. Human societies are going to change beyond recognition, and from the conference table to the streets, our best chance at surviving that change starts when we have the courage to make impossible demands – to say: ‘We want more.’ Once we’re no longer conflating the idea of “work” with that of “employment,” we are free to create value in ways unrecognized by the current growth-based market economy. We can teach, farm, feed, care for and even entertain one another. By being employed most of the time, we also lose time with family and friends. And more than this we lose the ability to be and do things that make life valuable and worth living. Our lives are often too much tied up in the job we do that we have little time and energy to find alternative ways of living – in short, our capacity to realise our talents and potential is curtailed by the work we do. Being employed does not set us free, rather it hems us in and makes it more difficult to realise ourselves.

“Socialism means plenty for all. We do not preach a gospel of want and scarcity, but of abundance. Our desire is not to make poor those who to-day are rich, in order to put the poor in the place where the rich now are.” So said Sylvia Pankhurst.

Socialism is not, as some insist, about universally lowering living standards to the same level that we are currently forced to live at. It is about lifting our living standards to the highest levels achievable using whatever resources are available in a responsible and sustainable manner. We refuse to abandon the good things in life to those who have done nothing to assist in their production. We reject the crumbs from the rich man’s table. We demand the entire bakery and one day we will take it.

People are not therefore against the machines, but against those who use the machines to force us to work.

The concerns about the environment and the limited supply of resources do not necessarily make the promise of ‘luxury for all' utopian. Satisfaction of people’s real wants, not their manufactured consumerist desires, can be made sustainable. Most people today have a problem with imagining the world without compulsory work and competition.