The End of Work and Value

This is a short piece about the end of work adapted from thoughts expressed yesterday on my Facebook page. I will be elaborating the thesis here in the future (as the academic publishing industry has become ideological corrupted and thoroughly monetized, Freedom and Reason is where I am dedicating my intellectual efforts these days). 

We are going to have to rethink society if we are going to leverage technology for the betterment of humankind while avoiding the trans humanism that not only the emerging technology portends (technology creates possibilities and limitations—it is not neutral) but also the active push by the trans humanists to construct a post human world.

For those who believe the fear of post humanism is the projection of a right wing Christianism, the fact that these developments have troubled an old leftwing Marxist like yours truly puts the lie to the deceitful attempt by progressives to sell trans humanism to the wide-eyed woke youth who think that what is really a form of neo-fascism is somehow a form of justice. 

My thinking about this problem, which is long standing, has been re-stirred by the annual convention of the World Economic Forum that is wrapping up today after a week of glorifying the fusion of man with machine. If we don’t stop these people it will be the end of us, and the world we love will be replaced by a world of monsters. 

In the 1950s, CIO president Walter Reuther recounted a conversation he had with a Ford manager during a tour of a fully automated engine plant in Cleveland, Ohio. The manager said to Reuther, “Aren’t you worried about how you are going to collect union dues from all of these machines?”

Reuther replied, “The thought that occurred to me was how are you going to sell cars to these machines?”

Walter Philip Reuther (1907–1970) was a labor leader and civil rights activist who built the United Automobile Workers (UAW) 

Today Big Tech is laying off thousands of workers. They won’t be hiring them back. Artificial intelligence will being doing the work. And robots will be the source of physical labor. Self-driving cars will replace millions of men in the transportation industry. And, soon, restaurants will run themselves—with fewer and fewer customers because there will be no jobs.

There are millions of foreigners pouring across our southern border, while tens of millions of Americans sit idle in disorganized and impoverished and crime-ridden neighborhoods. Given the future humanity faces, many will be happy to be kept by the vast custodial apparatus that already manages the lives of tens of millions of redundant humans—redundant from the standpoint of the corporations that rule the earth.

Ernest Mandel was a Belgian Marxist economist and activist 

In 1967, Ernest Mandel penned the following: “Imagine for a moment a society in which living human labor has completely disappeared, that is to say, a society in which all production has been 100 per cent automated…. Can value continue to exist under these conditions? Can there be a society where nobody has an income but commodities continue to have a value and to be sold? Obviously such a situation would be absurd. A huge mass of products would be produced without this production creating any income, since no human being would be involved in this production. But someone would want to ’sell these products for which there were no longer any buyers!

“It is obvious that the distribution of products in such a society would no longer be effected in the form of a sale of commodities and as a matter of fact selling would become all the more absurd because of the abundance produced by general automation. Expressed another way, a society in which human labor would be totally eliminated from production, in the most general sense of the term, with services included, would be a society in which exchange value had also been eliminated. This proves the validity of the theory [of surplus value], for at the moment human labor disappears from production, value, too, disappears with it.”

Mandel was a modern-day prophet. We’re in trouble, comrades.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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