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Capitalism: the prime barrier to human progress

October 24, 2011

It’s becoming ever more clear that technology is advancing at such a pace we’re entering into a new world in which far more of our time can be devoted to things outside of grinding and demeaning work.  The opportunity for a more noble, just, and rewarding world has never been greater.  This fantastic progress in automation is the subject of an article today in the New York Times entitled “More Jobs Predicted for Machines, Not People”.

The article points to a new book by two MIT researchers, strangely entitled “Race Against the Machine”.  Such a weird title – why would anyone want to race against a machine rather than simply enjoying the reduced workload it brings?  Can we imagine someone at home racing against their dishwasher or home computer?

The authors and other researchers, according to the article, observe that “technology is quickly taking over service jobs, following the waves of automation of farm and factory work” and that the “last repository of jobs is shrinking”.  The “pace of automation has picked up in recent years because of a combination of technologies including robotics, numerically controlled machines, computerized inventory control, voice recognition and online commerce.”  And it will only getter better: “The skills of machines, the authors write, will only improve.”

This is truly great news as it indicates the human race is finally breaking free of the need for endless toil.  But the tone of the article is one of dread, for the unspoken fact is that a potentially utopian world of high automation is a complete disaster when technology is tightly owned and the only way to rise above poverty is to offer something the machines can’t.  To somehow compete against the ever rising prowess of human technology itself.  The title of the book, “The Race Against the Machine“, only makes sense in such a world and its absurdity is perhaps better realized when we see that we could re-title it “The Race Against Technology” or “The Race Against Human Knowledge” without changing the meaning.  Of course this is a race that can’t ever be won and any system which imposes such a contest must be condemned as inhuman.  The power of embedded capitalist modes of thought though are well illustrated by the fact these authors not only didn’t pause at such an absurd title but drew a nonsense conclusion like this:

In medicine, law, finance, retailing, manufacturing and even scientific discovery, the key to winning the race is not to compete against machines but to compete with machines.

What can this possibly mean other than an ever intensifying war for ever fewer jobs?  To call it a  “race” is particularly inappropriate.  Is it not clear that capitalism is the prime barrier to human progress?

From → Wealth & Poverty

  1. robert permalink

    Check out also “The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future”

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  1. “Race Against the Machine”: A brief review « Comments on Global Political Economy

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