Archive for January, 2013

Some labour critique

January 25, 2013

Just a little comment I wrote.

“I’d like to comment on the previous Drumbeat’s discussion on labour, being the resident labour critic and all.

We heard the usual comment that hunter-gathering required less work than an agricultural society. This is true enough, but what’s interesting is that the next step – industrialism – also required *more* work than agriculture. The amount of work done today is one of the highest in history – only the most brutal days of early industrialism really compares. This might come to a surprise to some. The key difference is the level of material wealth, and considering that there’s a resource crisis on the horizon and more material stuff seems to fail to entice our neurons now, there’s obviously a gap in what we consider to be valuable and what actually is valuable.

Now, there’s a difference between “work” and “labour”. Work is the effort done to achieve various things (be it survival or fun) and could be considered a vital component to existence. Labour, on the other hand, is a specific relation in capitalism where a person sells their labour force in exchange for money. While nominally voluntary, it’s fairly difficult to survive without this relation unless you’re a capitalist. Historically, it was not a voluntary process either. The amount of laziness among the pre-capitalized people were infuriating. Paying someone more to do something was not an incitament to do more, but rather less, as less labour was needed to do the same. Only through violence and coercion could such a change happen. This is all fairly “well, duh”, but judging by the previous conversation people seemed to ignore these facts.

Today, then, we’re starting to see a contradiction unfolding. The robots are taking over. The reflexive urge seems to be to blame *technology*. I must ask then, why is there this tendency in capitalism to automate labour, if it is ultimately anathema to its own existence? The tendency of capital is to accumulate, and if automation is required, so be it. On a less abstract level, companies which don’t are less competitive than those who don’t.

For those who wish to save this system, then, there are a few options to pursue. The method used by developed countries from about 1982 to 2008 is that of credit. It has been fairly successful from a middle-long perspective, but it seems that nothing lasts forever. It should be noted that 2008 could have been a whole lot of worse if different policies had been pursued. Perhaps the dot-com bubble, which was fairly benign, could have looked like 2008 as well? It must be understood that capitalism is in a -predicament-, which means there aren’t any solutions, only different outcomes. A few reforms that could be tried (instead of the unimaginative austerity workfare, which seems designed to finish off capitalism as soon as possible) is lowering the 8-hour day to a 6-hour day, with the same pay. The criticism to this seems to stem from the fact that it would cause a lot of problems. One has to ask how the transition from 12 to 10 and from 10 to 8 was managed without adverse effects, and why 8 to 6 is such a difference. There’s also the more controversial Basic Income Guarantee which distributes a sum of money to everyone (even the richest) without any need for qualifications. This is offensive to those with Lutheran work ethics, but it should be noted that Brazil and India seems to be on the way to do this. Why can developing countries do this and not developed? There’s probably a lot less dogma regarding what works and what doesn’t.

One final point: A member wrote that there’s a “reverse industrialization” going on and it’s because of lack of energy. False on both points. First, while oil is getting more expensive, energy itself, in the form of coal, is still cheap. Secondly, if there was a “reverse industrialization” going on countries like China, India and Brazil etc. wouldn’t be doing such leaps and bounds in automation themselves, which is exactly what is happening. The implication that less energy leads to more labour is rather strange, anyway, considering that production and consumption are two sides of the same coin.”

I’d like to comment on the previous Drumbeat’s discussion on labour, being the resident labour critic and all.

We heard the usual comment that hunter-gathering required less work than an agricultural society. This is true enough, but what’s interesting is that the next step – industrialism – also required *more* work than agriculture. The amount of work done today is one of the highest in history – only the most brutal days of early industrialism really compares. This might come to a surprise to some. The key difference is the level of material wealth, and considering that there’s a resource crisis on the horizon and more material stuff seems to fail to entice our neurons now, there’s obviously a gap in what we consider to be valuable and what actually is valuable.

Now, there’s a difference between “work” and “labour”. Work is the effort done to achieve various things (be it survival or fun) and could be considered a vital component to existence. Labour, on the other hand, is a specific relation in capitalism where a person sells their labour force in exchange for money. While nominally voluntary, it’s fairly difficult to survive without this relation unless you’re a capitalist. Historically, it was not a voluntary process either. The amount of laziness among the pre-capitalized people were infuriating. Paying someone more to do something was not an incitament to do more, but rather less, as less labour was needed to do the same. Only through violence and coercion could such a change happen. This is all fairly “well, duh”, but judging by the previous conversation people seemed to ignore these facts.

Today, then, we’re starting to see a contradiction unfolding. The robots are taking over. The reflexive urge seems to be to blame *technology*. I must ask then, why is there this tendency in capitalism to automate labour, if it is ultimately anathema to its own existence? The tendency of capital is to accumulate, and if automation is required, so be it. On a less abstract level, companies which don’t are less competitive than those who don’t.

For those who wish to save this system, then, there are a few options to pursue. The method used by developed countries from about 1982 to 2008 is that of credit. It has been fairly successful from a middle-long perspective, but it seems that nothing lasts forever. It should be noted that 2008 could have been a whole lot of worse if different policies had been pursued. Perhaps the dot-com bubble, which was fairly benign, could have looked like 2008 as well? It must be understood that capitalism is in a -predicament-, which means there aren’t any solutions, only different outcomes. A few reforms that could be tried (instead of the unimaginative austerity workfare, which seems designed to finish off capitalism as soon as possible) is lowering the 8-hour day to a 6-hour day, with the same pay. The criticism to this seems to stem from the fact that it would cause a lot of problems. One has to ask how the transition from 12 to 10 and from 10 to 8 was managed without adverse effects, and why 8 to 6 is such a difference. There’s also the more controversial Basic Income Guarantee which distributes a sum of money to everyone (even the richest) without any need for qualifications. This is offensive to those with Lutheran work ethics, but it should be noted that Brazil and India seems to be on the way to do this. Why can developing countries do this and not developed? There’s probably a lot less dogma regarding what works and what doesn’t.

One final point: A member wrote that there’s a “reverse industrialization” going on and it’s because of lack of energy. False on both points. First, while oil is getting more expensive, energy itself, in the form of coal, is still cheap. Secondly, if there was a “reverse industrialization” going on countries like China, India and Brazil etc. wouldn’t be doing such leaps and bounds in automation themselves, which is exactly what is happening. The implication that less energy leads to more labour is rather strange, anyway, considering that production and consumption are two sides of the same coin.

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