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Capitalism and technology

David Ruccio

While I am referring to the thinking of eminent scientists on capitalism and socialism, consider Stephen Hawking’s answer to a question about automation and “the possibility of technological unemployment”:

Q: ” I’m late to the question-asking party, but I’ll ask anyway and hope. Have you thought about the possibility of technological unemployment, where we develop automated processes that ultimately cause large unemployment by performing jobs faster and/or cheaper than people can perform them? Some compare this thought to the thoughts of the Luddites, whose revolt was caused in part by perceived technological unemployment over 100 years ago. In particular, do you foresee a world where people work less because so much work is automated? Do you think people will always either find work or manufacture more work to be done? Thank you for your time and your contributions. I’ve found research to be a largely social endeavour, and you’ve been an inspiration to so many.

A: ” If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality. “

In other words, the problem is not with machinery per se – which has the potential to create a “life of luxurious leisure” – but the capitalist use of machinery, which means “most people can end up miserably poor.” The second option is more likely, according to Hawking, “if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution” – and, I would add, only if the rest of us are convinced by that lobbying.

Source: Real World Econ Rev, 19 Oct 2015

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