Engineering of mass unemployment

I recently heard that Foxconn and other manufacturers are switching to a completely robotic manufacturing process for smartphones and similar mass-produced electronic devices.

This means that unqualified manual labor is to be removed from the manufacturing process, essentially meaning that instead of a dehumanized human screwing a PCB into a phone case ten times a minute you’ll get a robot doing it.

This is good news for the communists who are always fighting for the “rights” of workers, trying to “liberate” them from manual labor. However, one must ask what those “liberated” people will do? Detroit is full of people who were “liberated” from working in the automobile industry. What are they doing now, when they no longer “have to” screw car parts together and spray paint them? Are they switching to the manufacture of robots that manufacture cars? No, they aren’t qualified. Are they producing CAD/CAM software for the robotic factories? No, they aren’t qualified. They were barely qualified to screw parts together, and are simply too old and too intellectually limited to acquire skills necessary for migrating into jobs that require a high level of expertise. No, they migrated to either state welfare or crime.

And I’m afraid that it’s in all of our future if things don’t change in some radical way, because, the way I see it, the logic looks like this:

A machine takes a man’s job. A man is now unemployed and his present skillset is obsolete and not in demand on the market. The fact that he was “freed” from his work only means he was rendered unnecessary. The fact he’s free doesn’t mean that the machine works instead of him and for him. No, it works instead of him and for his employer. The worker is simply fired, the employer gets the benefits. Now, what can the unemployed worker do? One can say that a job that’s closed in car industry because of robots means a job opening in the robot industry, but it’s not the same job. It requires different qualifications. Furthermore, it’s not the same number of jobs. The math is simple – a switch to mechanical production will decrease demand for human labor, and/or raise the bar of skillset necessary for employment. This will render the least qualified workers permanently unemployed and, in fact, unemployable, because they are either too old or too stupid to really learn how to do anything other than screwing parts together in a repetitive manner. In their permanently unemployable state, they can either live from charity or start selling drugs. This model post-dicts our present situation quite well, because that’s exactly what happens.

One unimportant result of the process is that the manufacturing might migrate away from Asia and back into USA, because it’s essentially the same where you put the robotic factory, and if you do it where your consumers are, you save money on transport. Since there’s no human labor involved, labor unions and syndical protections no longer motivate companies to export manufacturing abroad, but that’s not relevant for this article because the workers are still unemployed, wherever the robot plant is built.

If you follow this logic to its limits, you get 10% of the today’s workforce employed in super-demanding jobs such as CAD/CAM software manufacturer, 3D model designer, robot designer, designer of the quantum-level amplifiers in the optical sensors, designer of computer displays, memories, CPUs and storage arrays, and then you get their servants, the guys who bring them coffee and clean up behind them, prostitutes who sell them sex and entertainers who make them laugh after work to blow off stress. The other result will be the extreme efficiency and capacity of the manufacturing process. The only problem is, who will buy all that crap? Because, you’ll end up with much more stuff than there are people with money, since you fired them all in the process. The only work remaining for the unqualified labor is basically crime – the stuff that’s out of the standard regulated economy, basically “hos and blow”; that, or they can resort to democracy and force the government to tax the robotic factory owners and give them the money.

So, how do we get out of this mess, in some constructive way that wouldn’t introduce communism (which is probably the only economic system that is scientifically proven not to work) or lead to dissociation of society into some dark Blade Runner-like dystopia with super-rich on one end and “little people” on the streets?

I’m almost inclined to shrug and leave the question open, but I might actually attempt to answer it by proposing that we change the motivational structure from a right-based one to duty-based. You see, in a right-based system you have a right to fire people so you do, and you stop giving a fuck about them there. In a duty-based system, you consider it your duty to care for the well-being of your workers. If you replaced them by something, you don’t just fire them. You look into ways in which they can remain useful, ways in which they can be compensated for their past services to your company. You either give them a good parachute or you promote them into flight attendants, you don’t just throw them out of the plane. Just a thought.

But a duty-based system might not be compatible with either capitalism or socialism, but rather with some form of enlightened feudalism, which might eventually prove to be the most resilient, humane and stable of all systems of economy and government, because in feudalism, it’s noblesse oblige. Yeah, it’s an unpopular opinion in thoughtspace where “democracy”, “human rights” and “freedom” are the words that substitute “truth”, “duty”, “dignity” and “justice”, but when “free market economy” fails, when democracy fails and the concept of human rights fails, as I predict it will, what then?