end of work

Marx estimated that the introduction of power-looms into England reduced the labour required and subsequently labour costs by a half. Technology as it now stands has reduced labour costs in factories and warehouses to minimal levels – in many cases the only costs are those of the energy consumption of the machines and that of human maintenance of machines. It would not be science fiction to imagine that in the near future machines will be designed and programmed to maintain and reproduce themselves and that renewable energy technology will be developed providing a much cheaper, or even free, power source for machines, eliminating the human labour force in manufacturing completely.

Presently the human labour force is being shifted away from manufacturing into services and sales, design, programming, and maintenance. But with the development of robotics there may also be an immanent invasion of android workers coming. Once dexterity issues are overcome, these humanoid-machines, with more efficient information systems that have been programmed so that they work untiringly on specific tasks, could easily also begin to operate on a wide-scale in services, sales, programming and maintenance, and why not even design.

The immediate problem arising from this would be the realisation that human labour could become unnecessary. In a system like ours, in which all reward and satisfaction, even the idea of fulfilment itself, is subject to the individual’s sacrifices in the labour market, the logical evolution of technology towards the abolishing of labour must be impossible. We are faced with a paradoxical situation: we live in an advanced technological society, but the purpose of technology, which is to substitute the tedium of human labour and create a better world, is not allowed to fulfil itself because such a fulfilment would destroy the system of exchange and rewards for labour sacrifice that are the fundamental basis of our money-making system.

Here is the real essence of the System’s crisis. The relationship between production commodities and labour is one in which the latter is constantly shrinking whilst the former is rapidly growing. Eventually this relationship, which is already impossible through its inbuilt contradiction, will become absolutely unbearable. Full employment in modern capitalist society is impossible without making human labour cheaper and more efficient than machine labour. The current system of exchange – of sacrifice and reward via the concept of the production and purchase of commodities and services – is already obsolete. Unemployment is not the result of bad economics and political management, it is a necessary part of the exchange system as we have it.

The only way to remedy our economic absurdity and all the serious problems it creates is by removing one of the conflicting elements in the contradiction. Either technology has to be frozen or the exchange/reward system has to be radically rethought. Of course the most radical way of rethinking the latter would be to ask ourselves how a human society might exist without any exchange system at all, or how a complex technological society might function without money.



  1. There is no contradiction. It’s the same problem that the luddites faced. They predicted catastrophe, but the result was increased living standards for all.

  2. Likewise:

    Below are figures from the US Census Bureau and the adjustment for inflation from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you look at the mean household income the figures are more or less the same. In other words: for the lower two fifths there has been no real increase in wage earnings in the U.S. last fifty years while the upper fifth has doubled.

    But perhaps we need to forget the statistics, which are always subject to ideological manipulations and look at real examples. Let me give a concrete example from my own family history.
    My grandfather, who died in the 1960s, was a humble bricklayer by profession. However he fathered 13 children and maintained them on his bricklayer’s salary.
    His wife stayed home to mind the kids. They were not poor. They owned their own house. They considered themselves working class. Both he and my grandmother lived into their late 80s and were never hospitalised. My father was educated at a private school.
    Of course such a thing would be absolutely impossible now. So what does it tell us about our supposed increase in the quality of life.
    My parents had two children. They emigrated to Australia. They had to both work “shifts”. We were state school educated and I could go to university because it was free in the 1970s.
    My mother died of cancer in her 50s and my father of a work-related emphysema in his 70s.
    At the moment I live in Spain. There is 25% unemployment, up to 60% amongst young people. Bank forclosures evicted over 100,000 people from their homes in 2012.

    We live in a technology rich culture, but we have more stress in our lives.
    We have far greater choices, but does that make us happier than our grandparents were?
    We have better health services, although advancements in health could be far greater if there was more public research and we were less dependent on the profit margins of pharmaceutical companies for the development of medicines.
    We have made the world a dirtier and ovecrowded place, and continue to do so.
    We are very far from erradicating war and violence, in fact they seem to be chronic and desirable. The drug war in the USA seems to be feeding privately run US gaols.
    Civilian deaths outstrip military casualties in contemporary warfare.

    Ideologically manipulated statistics may be a palliative for our concerns, but, shouldn’t we hope for a better world; the best of all possible worlds? Shouldn’t we be more ambitious in our desires for well-being?

  3. Well then, the answer is clear. Let’s smash the robots, throw away our washing machines, dishwashers, microwaves and vacuum cleaners. Let’s rip out our central heating and air conditioners, dump our cars, replace aircraft with horses and ban computers, phones and the internet. Let’s go back to the good old days!

    And since life expectancy will halve and CO2 output end overnight, we’ll have solved all the world’s environmental problems too. That was easy!

    • I totally disagree. If you read my posts, my argument is that technology and human wisdom have to be the liberators of humanity. Yes, technology has to be designed intelligently to reduce our ecological footprints and our perception of the economy has to be altered radically in order to create a more fulfilling life for all of humanity. The central problem is systemic, but improving the system doesn’t have to mean technological regression, quite the contrary.

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