Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The world is changing

The world's first humaniform factory robot was announced last month.

Now we have more sophisticated agricultural robots.

How long will it be before most mundane, tedious jobs are done by robots? A lot of science fiction writers have touted this as a step to utopia. And I admit, I love robots. I adore robots. Robots explore our solar system. A robot is about to become the first human artifact to leave it.

But here's what people don't answer. What happens to the workers?

We have 8 percent unemployment, and official statistics tend to skew low. That also doesn't count the number of people who are under-employed...most of them struggling to survive on part time income with no benefits. These people then have to take second jobs, exacerbating unemployment further.

In this country, if you lose your job, you lose your access to affordable healthcare. Getting insurance as an individual is expensive. I and my husband were once quoted $2,000 a month because they decided he had a 'pre-existing condition'. (Something so minor that you'd laugh about it). At that point, obviously, it's much cheaper to self-insure. (Obamacare doesn't fix all of the's a hodgepodge of compromises few people like).

Unemployment benefits run out. People end up on the streets, and not that long ago we had people *taking* to the streets.

In our economy, you have to work to live. That's how capitalism works. And every alternative to it that has been tried is worse. Communism? Doesn't work. People hate it and then have to be fenced in. It's working somewhat in Cuba, because all the people who care enough about hating it to cause problems are now living in Miami. It's not working in China, and the only reason we haven't had more trouble there is because the government is smart enough to keep tweaking the system and perhaps a little because the Chinese brand of Communism incorporates a lot of the much older philosophy of Confucianism which is thoroughly imbedded in their culture. Even so, the current Chinese regime isn't really Communist any more.

Obviously, none of us want to go back to feudalism. Techno-feudalism is, in fact, a common dystopia...and the likely end result of libertarian-anarchist systems. (I'd love to get behind libertarian-anarchy, but I don't see it working).

So, what is there? What do we do when there is a labor surplus? Some of the apparent 'surplus' is a mis-match of skills...and that could be fixed, except that who wants to pay to send thousands of people back to school? We already have enough short-term pain.

I know I've written on this before, but I can't escape the question in my mind. What comes after capitalism? Assuming Marx is wrong and communism is not inevitable, which after the vast social experiment of the Eastern Block, seems highly likely to me...what does come next? Are we going to find out after a revolution, or can we plan for it now? I'm a futurist...and I'm stumped.