The Labour Movement: Breaking an Old Paradigm

“The synergetic aspect of industry’s doing ever more work with ever less investment of time and energy per each unit of performance...has never been formally accounted as a capital gain of land-situated society. The synergistic effectiveness of a world-around integrated industrial process is inherently vastly greater than the confined synergistic effect of sovereignly operating separate systems. Ergo, only complete world desovereignization can permit the realization of an all humanity high standard support.”
-R. Buckminster Fuller

At the core of the Market System is the selling of an individual's labor as a commodity. In many ways, the ability of the Market to employ the population has become a measure of its integrity. However, the advent of “mechanization”, or the automation of human labor, has become an ever- increasing point of interference over time. Historically, the application of machine technology to labor has been seen as an issue of not only social progress but “economic” progress, in the market sense, mainly due to the increase in productivity.

The basic assumption is that mechanization (or more broadly - technological innovation) facilitates industrial expansion and hence an inevitable reallocation of labor displaced by machine into new, emerging sectors. This is a common defense. Historically speaking, there appears to be some truth to this, where the reduction of the human work force in one sector, such as was the case with the automation of agriculture in the West, has been overcome to a degree by the advancement of other employment sectors, such as the modern service sector. However, this assumption that technological innovation will generate new forms of employment in tandem with those displaced by it, creating an equilibrium, is actually very difficult to defend when the rate of change of innovation, coupled with the cost saving interests of business is taken into account.

As for the latter, the “role” of mechanization from the standpoint of market efficiency exists almost solely to assist “cost-efficiency”. Robotics in the modern day have far exceeded the physical capacity of the average human being, along with rapidly advancing calculation processes which continue to vastly exceed human thought. The result is the ability of industry to employ machines which invariably have more productive capacity than human labor, coupled with the extremely notable financial incentive of reduced liability for the business owners in many ways. While machines might require maintenance, they do not need health insurance, unemployment insurance, vacations, union protection and many other attributes common to human employment today. Therefore, in the narrow logic inherent to the pursuit of profit, it is only natural for businesses to seek out mechanization at all times, given its long term cost benefits and hence market efficiency.

As far as the suggestion that an equilibrium will always be found eventually between new labor roles and displaced labor due to technological innovation, the problem is that the rate of change of technological development far exceeds the rate of new job creation. This problem is unique as it also assumes that human society would always want new employment roles. It is here where subjective cultural values should be considered. Given that our current sociological condition demands human employment as the backbone of market sustainability, hence market efficiency, the ethic of “work” and its identity associations, culturally, have perpetuated a force where the actual function of the labor role - its true utility - becomes less important than the mere act of labor itself.

Just as market efficiency has no consideration for what is actually being bought and sold in general, so long as it keeps cyclical consumption at an acceptable rate, the labor roles taken on today in production are equally as arbitrary in the view of the market. In theory, we could envision a world where people are being paid to do what could be considered “pointless” occupations, when it comes to utility, generating high levels of GDP with virtually no true social contribution. In fact, even today we could step back and ask ourselves what the social role of many institutions really is and perhaps come to the conclusion that they serve only to keep moving money around, not to create or actually contribute anything tangible for the benefit of society.

These are complex philosophical questions as they challenge dominant traditional ethics and the very nature of what “progress” really means in many ways. For instance, the following thought exercise is worth considering. Imagine if we were to revert our social system back to the 16th century, where many modern (21st century) technological realities were simply unheard of. The population of that era would naturally have expectations of what would be technically possible that would be far below what is generally accepted as possible today.

If this society was able to superimpose, overnight, the massive technological capacity of the modern era, there is little doubt that virtually everything related to the core survival of the population could be automated. The question then becomes, what do they now do with their new- found freedom? What becomes the cultural focus of their lives if the basic drudgery of fundamental survival was removed? Do they invent new jobs simply because they can? Do they elevate themselves, preserving and embodying this new freedom by altering their social system itself, removing this previously demanded “labor for income” requirement? These questions get to the root of what progress and personal/social goals and success really are.

Nevertheless, a dominant cultural value today is that of “earning a living”, and the application of mechanization, in the sense of market efficiency, is actually a double-edged sword. While cost- efficiency is inherent to mechanization and hence the general improvement of profit by reducing costs for the business owners, the displacement of human workers, known today as “technological unemployment”, actually works against market efficiency to the extent that those unemployed workers are now unable to contribute to the needed cyclical consumption that powers the economy, since they have lost their purchasing power as “consumers”.

This contradiction within the Capitalist model is unique. From the stand point of market efficiency, mechanization hence poses both a positive and negative outcome in this sense and when we realize that the rate of technological change will, in all probability, displace people increasingly faster than new sectors of employment can be created, mechanization as an inhibiting factor to Capitalism becomes ever more apparent. It is, in total, decreasing market efficiency in this circumstance.

However, on the other hand, from the standpoint of technical efficiency, once again, we see vast improvement and immense possibilities on many levels. The production capacity enabled by this application clearly shows a powerful increase in efficiency regarding not only the effect of industrial production, but also a general increased efficiency of the goods themselves by extension of the accuracy and integrity inherent in production. Also, an implication of this new level of production efficiency is that meeting the needs of the global population was never more possible. It is easy to see that without the interference of market logic on this new technical capacity, which invariably inhibits its full potential, what could be relatively deemed an “abundance” of most life sustaining goods could be facilitated for the global population.

It is unfortunate to realize that today we have two opposed systems of economy working at once – working against each other, in fact. The market system, embodying its archaic, traditionalized logic, is utterly out of sync with the natural (technical) economy as it exists. The result is vast discord and imbalance with ever-mutating problems and consequences for the human species. It is clear which system will “win” in this battle. Nature will persist with its natural rules regardless of how much we theorize this or that validation of the way we have traditionally organized ourselves on this planet.

Nature doesn’t care about our vast monetary economic ideas, its theories of “value”, sophisticated financial models or detailed equations regarding how we think human behavior manifests and why. The technical reality is simple – learn, adapt and align to the governing laws of nature, or suffer the consequences. It is absurd to think that the human species, given its evolution within the same natural laws to which our economic practice (and values) must align, would be incompatible with such laws. It is merely an issue of maturity and awareness today.

As a final point, as well as a general aside, there has emerged a trend in the 21st century, in the wake of all the growing and persisting ecological problems, that claims to seek what is called a “Green Economy”. Some have even divided this economic view into sectors, including applications for renewable energy, eco-buildings, clean transportation and other categories of focus. It will be noticed that all of those awarenesses and sought applications are generally in line with the technical or scientific awareness perspective discussed in this essay.

Sadly, as positive as the intent of these new organizations and business planners may be, the inefficiency inherent to the Capitalist model of economics - with all its need for certain forms of contrived “efficiency” to maintain itself - immediately pollutes and deeply limits all such attempts, which explains why such technical efficiency approaches have still yet to really be applied. The sad reality is that while some improvement can be made, such progress will be inherently limited to an ever-increasing degree since, as described, the very structural basis of the way market Capitalism works is actively opposed to the efficiencies inherent in the natural law view. The only logical solution is to rethink the entire structure if any real efficiency, elevated prosperity and problem resolution is to be achieved in the long run.

NOTE: This essay is an excerpt from Market Efficiency vs. Technical Efficiency

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Sat, 12/28/2013 - 12:58am | There was a story on NPR (Score: 1)