Editorial: A World of Abundance
There is a lot of chatter about artificial intelligence and robots replacing workers in the workplace. Not everyone shares the anxiety about the potential threat of massive job losses. Some see this as an opportunity to bring about a different society where robots can perform all the menial jobs leaving humans free to pursue their hobbies and interests and lead a more fulfilling life. They are advocates of what is known as Fully Automated Luxury Communism (FALC).
Their argument is that developments in technology have created the possibility of a ‘post-scarcity’ society, where there will be abundance for all. They understand that present-day capitalist society cannot deliver this, as production is limited by what can be sold profitably, and that a fundamental change in society is required. One that provides for human needs rather than the profits for the few
However, we are not in agreement with everything they say. In a Guardian article (18 May 2015) Aaron Bastani, a prominent advocate of FALC, calls for ‘ a 10- or 12-hour working week’ and ‘a guaranteed social wage’, which implies that work will still be defined by employment and a monetary system would continue to exist. In socialism, however, work would be freed from the restrictions of wage labour and everyone would have free access to what they need and money would be redundant. It is only under capitalism where we are compelled to make profits for an employer that work becomes drudgery.
It is not just in the last few years that technological developments have made possible a society of abundance. This potential was achieved sometime in the early years of the twentieth- century when the world market was established.
The FALC advocates also seem to confuse abundance with luxury. Bastani calls for ‘Cartier for everyone, MontBlanc for the masses and Chloe for all’. (‘Britain Doesn’t Need More Austerity, It Needs Luxury Communism’, 12 June 2015, www.vice.com). For us, abundance is where everyone can live a fulfilling life free from poverty, not that they will necessarily own a Cartier watch. Under capitalism, people who can afford it acquire these luxury items so as to flaunt their superior status. In a society of genuine social equality, this will make no sense.
In the 1970s there were similar fears that the introduction of the microchip would create mass unemployment. In fact, this did not happen as the new computer technology brought forth new skills. Computer programmers were required to write the computer software and engineers were needed to maintain the hardware. Likewise, the new robots will need skilled workers to program and maintain them, though the extent of this is still debated along with the net effect on unemployment and part-time employment. Increases in unemployment so far have mainly been due to market conditions, rather than the application of new technology.
Bastani, who claims to be influenced by Marx, should know that capitalism cannot replace all human labour with machines. Robots and computers cannot create surplus value, from which profit is derived. Only human labour can.
It is encouraging that, after all the years when it has been accepted that there is no alternative to free market capitalism, groups and individuals are discussing possible alternatives, and in the process have rescued the terms communism and socialism from their toxic association with the state capitalist dictatorships.