Your car was assembled more by machines than by people, we’d bet. Restaurants are replacing waiters with the Internet and with little boxes on their tables; the boxes take orders and payments. New machines make hundreds of burgers per hour to order and also take payment. Surgical robots are in use, automatic pilots control drone aircraft and submersibles. Self-driving cars are on the road for testing. With this Rise of the Machines , various prophets are predicting chaotic idleness for humanity, replaced by its own machinery. Others are predicting an earthly nirvana as we all play while enjoying a universal living allowancea handed out to all with no work required.
As so often, few are facing reality, which is so much less fun to write of and which annoys so many. Let’s ask a few questions of our prophets:
First, why are machines replacing people? Aren’t such machines expensive? In short, expensive machines are replacing people only because people have elected politicians who have supported raising the cost of human labor to the point it justifies the machines. If God is not mocked, neither is Economics. The rise of the cost of human labor is capped by the affordability of the machines that will replace the people. (Econ. 101!) But just now, too few are desperate enough to accept large scale income reductions needed to undercut the machines. Nor have the politicians yet admitted any of this. That is coming.
There is a second question, too: The machines that replace human labor consume a lot of financial and physical resources. That removes those resources from any alternative uses, some of which may be preferable to use replacing human labor. That may help compensate for lower incomes needed to make those additional resources available. Or not, damfino.
As for the ‘universal living allowance’ so admired by some, the Swiss voted on it, not long ago. You may know that the Swiss are among the planet’s top bankers and are usually thought a hard-headed, financially realistic folk. They voted down the proffered free lunch; they couldn’t see where the money would be coming from. Something for nothing doesn’t compute in Switzerland; for that, you need Harvard or the New York Times, seems to us.
If expensive machines are doing all the work, who is paying for them? Ex workers have little money, right? Who is buying the production of the machines? Some want the government to print and hand out the money but then who will give real goods for play money? If the government insists, that just creates a black market. (Visit Venezuela!)
The real problem remains: Politics has forced the price of human labor above its real market value, so other sources are being found. China and India industrialized in response to this; the same process has occurred there. So now, robots are appearing in Chinese factories. Even the Communists can’t hold off economic truth for long. Ask a Soviet, if you can find one.
Now, its America and the European Union learning the lesson. Their piles of unrepaid debt will reduce their populations to the lower living standards that may adjust to competing with the machines. And the losses imposed by the disposition of all that debt (visit Greece anytime soon) will ‘reset’ human worker expectations to a more realistic level while the man/machine economy is being worked out.
The process ought to make the currently advertised one-way trip to Mars more attractive than it seems to be at present? In the long run though, we recall when a skilled laborer supported a family on his income alone while his wife raised the kids. They lived decently, too. So we know that is possible … until the next triumph of the feminists, anyway. Lots of fun coming …
Rise of the Machines