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Robots Is Us

April 22nd, 2013

When I was a boy (back in the Dark Ages), predictions of the future were bright with the labor-saving devices that would free up our time for happy pursuits: longer vacations overseas, more time at home spent with the kids, leisure to learn about our wonderful new world.

The future is here, and it’s playing out just as predicted: more work-saving devices than had been imagined: in the home there are housework robots (dishwasher, clothes washer and drier, nuker, Rhumba; But especially in the workplace, more robotic gadgets are doing the work that humans used to: welding, inspecting, lifting, sorting, packing, displacing workers at a dizzying clip.  The computer age has brought automation to millions of jobs.  When I was young, to earn money for college I worked summers as a comptometer operator, operating that glorified adding machine, bunching in the keys by hand; today all that would be done by a compter, replacing me and fifty others in that one office.

As more capital is invested in robots and other forms of automation, the produce of the automatons is returned to the contributors of the capital invested.  So, a small minority–the capitalists–accrue a larger and larger share of the wealth produced by the nation.  Meanwhile, the labor ‘market’ becomes disfunctional, creating no jobs, or just barely remunerative ones. Labor can no longer demand wages: it’s more efficient for the capitalist to invest in automation than in those pesky human beings, with their duty-shirking and health benefits.

The problem is, then, what to do about this inequitable distribution of the fruits of production?  Some might say that there is no inequity in this at all: things are as they should be, where capital is rewarded.  I really can’t agree with that: we’re all humans, and if the wealth of the nation is not equitably distributed among the populace, than the system of distribution is disfunctional, and needs revision.

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