What’s so bad about wealth without labor? It depends on who owns the wealth. Under capitalism, wages are how workers receive a portion of what they produce. That portion has always been small, relative to the rewards that flow to the owners of capital. And over the past several decades, it’s gotten smaller: the share of the national income that goes to wages has been steadily shrinking, while the share that goes to capital has been growing. Technology has made workers more productive, but the profits have trickled up, not down. Productivity increased by 80.4% between 1973 and 2011, but the real hourly compensation of the median worker went up by only 10.7%.
As bad as this is, mass automation threatens to make it much worse. If you think inequality is a problem now, imagine a world where the rich can get richer all by themselves. Capital liberated from labor means not merely the end of work, but the end of the wage. And without the wage, workers lose their only access to wealth – not to mention their only means of survival. They also lose their primary source of social power. So long as workers control the point of production, they can shut it down. The strike is still the most effective weapon workers have, even if they rarely use it any more. A fully automated economy would make them not just redundant, but powerless.
Meanwhile, robotic capital would enable elites to completely secede from society. From private jets to private islands, the rich already devote a great deal of time and expense to insulating themselves from other people. But even the best fortified luxury bunker is tethered to the outside world, so long as capital needs labor to reproduce itself. Mass automation would make it possible to sever this link. Equipped with an infinite supply of workerless wealth, elites could seal themselves off in a gated paradise, leaving the unemployed masses to rot.
As protests prove to be futile and as people feel more powerless, the occurrence of riots will increase as well. Yet right now, that’s exactly what many local politicians are trying to do - make people feel more powerless by banning protests either directly or through weasel legal technicalities that allow the police to arrest protesters on the spot over anything.
Do they really think that civil war/revolution in the country will be a good long term outcome for them? Do they even know what that would mean? Them and their families, children, and grandchildren feeling unsafe in their own country, because they refused to pay a bit higher taxes a decade earlier?
What blows my mind is that so many people are caught up in the Left vs Right debate in US politics, when that is exactly what the political/economic elite want.
Imagine if we started a colony with 100 people and left them on an island. We check back on them in a few years, and see that 99 of them are all fighting over a dollar. Then there’s 1 person who has 99 dollars, sitting off to the side, watching them fight, and encouraging it.
We’d pretty quickly decide that something is seriously wrong with that society.
There’s a reason that catastrophe is the only way that wealth gets re-distributed: The entire system is designed to ensure that the rich stay rich. Only when the system gets broken, can the wealth move down.
Wall Street was just part of the problem yet it’s symbolic of everything wrong with capitalism. People whose jobs it is to make money. Not create value. Not build a company. Their job is to make money by any means. And they will use any means that we don’t stop them from using.