It has to be a game changer when a book espousing communism is the talk of the town. It has done this by putting the discussion on a firm footing. Communism is luxury for all and the end of work. Bastani calls it Fully Automated Luxury Communism (FALC) and hence the name of his book. And who could possibly be opposed to that? Marx, as Bastani reminds us, called it moving from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom. Also, in true Marxist fashion, he points out that we have had to endure the capitalist phase as a precondition, and only after this purgatory can we move on to communism. It needs capitalism to bring us to this point where full automation and universal luxury are just a hop, skip and jump down the road. Communism is not some utopia that could have happened any old time. Its time is only now in sight.
This also cuts rather nicely through the "communism has been tried and failed" narrative. No one can seriously claim that a society based on full automation and shared abundance has failed. It definitely has not been tried and it is easy to imagine it being a smash hit.
I think Bastani is right when he says: "It turns out that any repetitive endeavour – whatever the industry – can be automated within the context of rising digitisation."
Automation has already made considerable inroads into manufacturing and there is a lot more to come. In construction work it is only just beginning. Robots keep getting smarter and more adept. We are also seeing more general-purpose ones that can be slotted in anywhere in production, and can do virtually anything, simply by being "shown" what to do.
Autonomous robots that are mobile, agile and dexterous will start appearing everywhere. So, we will one day see them hopping out of furniture vans, ambulances and fire trucks, and roaming around hospitals. Autonomous vehicles are almost upon us. This will mean driver-free taxis, buses, trucks, vans and construction vehicles. Shelf stacking and order filling in retail and wholesale will be people-free zone. There will be no checkout staff in shops and more of our shopping will be done online.
Notwithstanding all these dramatic changes, job loss from automation may not be quite as precipitous as Bastani and others may imagine. An automated process still requires some humans and often only part of a particular job is affected. Also, with economic growth, fresh jobs will emerge in the growing industries and these will include new ones that start off requiring more people because it will take time to automate their processes.
But whatever the pace, there is no disputing the general direction. So, with increasing automation we should not have to do much work to produce quite a high living standard. As a result, there will be less pressing need to spend much time doing work that we would prefer not to do. Although, at the same time, with increasing automation, the remaining work will tend to generally be more cerebral and inherently interesting. Indeed, it will become a part of all-round free development once we get rid of the oppressive work relations of capitalism - the bossiness and excessive division of labor. Everyone will choose a mix of work and non-work that best suits them. Life will become more the exercise of freedom and less that of necessity.
One could talk extensively here about motivation and incentives. But the main point is that financial inducements will play a diminishing role as work becomes more fun, and one's slice of a big and increasing pie becomes more or less equal, and more and more separated from work contribution.
What Bastani is saying about automation and the production process is a refreshing change from the usual "left" chatter about how capitalism "deskills" workers. This entrenched nonsense is readily refuted by the fact that a high proportion of young people undergo some kind of post-secondary education. Workers are becoming more, not less, equipped to be their own masters.
Luxury for All
His story about luxury for all focuses on five developments that will make a big difference in ending scarcity. These are the great increase in productivity from automation, an abundance of energy from the sun and of minerals from space, huge health spending eliminated by genetic engineering that makes us less illness prone, and animal-free meat reducing our demand for land and water. So, communism will be shared luxury not shared poverty.
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