WORK AND DIGITALIZATION
The Disappearance of the Middle Class
By Sascha Lobo
[This article published on May 1, 2018 is translated abridged from the German on the Internet, www.spiegel.de.]
On the 2018 Day of Labor, many are worried. No one can deny digitalization affects work. Nevertheless, the effect in Germany seems manageable…
The 0,000 Middle Class
In the next years, digitalization, robotics and artificial intelligence will not bring about a total revolutionary change of the work society that is often described as threatening. Rather, they strengthen the capitalism effects that we have long known.
Artificial intelligence is not the end of work but favors the further spreading of work in comparatively few highly-paid jobs and a multitude of poorly-paid jobs. An extreme manifestation of this development occurs around Silicon Valley… Apartments for average wage-earners are completely unaffordable. Silicon Valley has become so expensive that people with 0,000 annual earnings seriously think they are “middle class.”
A Well-Known Phenomenon
… Many more warehouse workers are employed at Amazon than software developers. That is the reality of digitalization.
Ever more warehouse workers are replaced by robots. Certain jobs obviously fall away. Artificial intelligence greatly changes many professions and whole branches.
In the debate around work, the effect of digitalization is projected on particular jobs – truck drivers, tax advisors and lawyers. Seemingly sensible predictions are made in this way: “A bus driver who loses his job will not become a virtual-reality designer.” No, obviously not. But a hundred years ago, stokers whose jobs were replaced by automation did not become architects. The labor market functions differently. Many persons are forced into jobs in which accepting poor pay is the crucial characteristic in their training…
A Godot problem that may arise some time or other is not the focus. In the meantime, the middle class is thinned out. Less qualified persons only gain jobs that barely enable them to survive. To provide for a family, one needs more money than many people can gain.
This old problem can become much worse through digitalization without countermeasures. Look at the salary difference between the developer-dominated Facebook and the worker-dominated Amazon.
Well-paid jobs become scarcer
My perspective on work in the coming digitalization is social, not technological. Social state structures, education and further training have far greater influence than technologies on the future of work of individual persons.
The question on policy toward work and digitalization may not mean: what do we do with those who do not find any work through digitalization but rather how do we deal with low earners. Their number will increase across all occupations and particularly with the lower-skilled.
On the surface, good paying jobs disappear, not work. This phenomenon has been underway for a long while and is felt very concretely by the populace. In the 20th century, a middle class family could afford a house in a population center. This does not happen anymore today. Many factors underlie this development that only indirectly affects the labor market: globalization, the real estate market and financing mechanisms. But the developments of work through digitalization strengthen this trend.
The Improbably Rebuilding
In my opinion, no one is removed from this social problem. I have become more skeptical toward the basic income idea in the last years (without excluding it entirely) because it shifts the problem of the change of work. Perhaps it is a solution for a problem that will never occur as feared.
Rebuilding the social state appears necessary for demographic and digitalization reasons, for example in guarding the independent or in adjusting to the very diverse life designs of average employees. But such a change is hardly likely because many people fear more damage than future-friendliness will arise.
Everyone is worried on the 2018 Day of labor. But they are not so concerned that anything will fundamentally change.
A CORPSE GOVERNS SOCIETY
The “Black Book of Capitalism” and the “Manifesto Against Labor”
By Alfred Baumann
[This article published on January 8, 2000 is translated from the German on the Internet, www.heise.de.]
The German government says “creating jobs” is “social-political challenge Nr. 1.” Authors of the journal “Krisis” were recently on a lecture tour with their “Manifesto against Labor.” Robert Kurz, the head of the group, has now presented a matching “Black Book of Capitalism.”
Some SPD members wanted to simply abolish capitalism. This is astonishing since nearly all Germans still believe in Erhard’s “Prosperity for everyone.” Today, the market economy shows us its teeth. Hardly anything is as undesirable as fundamental economic criticism.
Therefore, it was surprising to read recently in Die Zeit (moderate German weekly journal) that the “Black Book of Capitalism” is “the most important publication of the last ten years in Germany.”
A “Farewell to the Market Economy”
The praised book comes from the Nurnberg journalist Robert Kurz and discusses the contradictions of our economic system. The metamorphoses of capitalism during its three industrial revolutions are analyzed on 800 pages. State socialism (that the author holds as “flesh of capitalist flesh”) comes on the political-economic dissecting table alongside liberalism, neoliberalism, social democracy, and fascism.
The market economy is totalitarian, Kurz argues, a despotism of the inexorable end-in-itself of capital exploitation. Each and everyone must submit to the principle “making more money out of money: in the course of his or her “world career.” Modern industrial countries are like social machines devouring culture and nature for the production of abstract wealth. Instead of determining its future, humanity acts as a slave of its own economic actions.
Service to mammon makes people wealthier. Costs and damages belong to the nature of the capitalist production method.
The book’s subtitle is also meant very literally: “Farewell to the Market Economy.” Kurz made the following prediction: “Capitalism has reached the end of its blind flight through history. It can only be smashed to pieces.” He takes the reason from Marx’s “law of the falling profit rate.”
As everybody knows, Marx argued industrialization infects capitalism with the germ of its destruction. Increasing mechanization of production leads indirectly and unintentionally to the melting away of profit margins. Because individual commodities represent more and more “constant capital” and less and less profit,” the market must be extended continuously to maintain a certain “profit level.”
In Robert Kurz’ opinion, we are living through a time when the growth spaces of this expansion drive are finally used up. He does not deny that the economy (still) flourishes in areas. But this is an “illusory boom.” Via the stock market, the system has largely transformed into an “economy of simulation.” The business foundation of “made-up speculative capitalism” leads to a bright fictional future. But the expectations inherent in speculation today are by no means fulfilled in the real economy.
The material basis of the merely “virtually bubbling profits” faces its collapse. The conditions of human existence are so permanently damaged that the gate to barbarism is now wide open. “A radical countermovement, as the Black Book of Capitalism concludes, ”is the result of the unstoppable de-civilization of the world.”
Labor – the “behavioral disturbance”
Robert Kurz was not a solo journalist. With a group of fellow disputants, he edited the Krisis journal since the middle of the 1980s.
To give effectiveness to their radical capitalism criticism, members of the editorial team took to the lecture circuit. A discussion about the “work society was offered the public with which the crisis people tried to get even in their Manifesto against Labor.
The social institution “labor” always enjoyed high esteem among leftists and was seen as a “universal historical necessity.” A long tradition of “workers’ movement Marxism” organized around a cult. The political goal was to help labor and the “working multitude” (in contrast to capital) to their historical rights.
The “Crisis” theoreticians understood this as a blatant mistake. The criticism of conditions should begin with labor. Labor and capital were merely two sides of the same coin – the end-in-itself production of abstract money wealth.
An historical final stage began with the start of the “micro-electronic revolution.” “For the first time, more work was rationalized away than could be profitably created.”
The survival of the work cult was nowhere more obvious than in the desperate belief in a jobs miracle in a totally-flexibilized service society. But the real core of this business dystopia consists in the brave new world of the “working poor who shine the shoes of the remaining businessmen of the dying work society, sell them contaminated hamburgers or guard their shopping centers.”
Still, the winner minority of high-tech and media-professionals envision a total service world through abstract wealth leading to “self-realization” and “challenge fun.”
The exquisitely paid elites can offer little to the work society. In the “Manifesto,” it says: “No ruling caste in history has ever led such an unfree and miserable life as the rushed managers of Microsoft, Daimler-Chrysler or Sony. Every medieval owner of an estate would have deeply despised these people. While he would have allowed himself leisure and squandered his wealth more or less orgiastically, the elites of the work society do not grant themselves any pauses.”
The conclusion from the “crisis of labor” could only be: “We need a rational use of productive forces that grows beyond the work society and goods production, not employment.”
An Internet-supported council republic instead of barbarism
The crisis theoreticians see no possibility under free enterprise conditions. In a publication from the early 1990s, Kurz remarked on the hopes of a reformist left to give a human-friendly face to capitalism: “St. Martin could share his coat with the freezing but the money of the world cannot be justly distributed or spent on account of its own functional laws.”
The only remaining historical chance is the realization of the Marxist dream of a rule-free society of producers agreeing on the production of practical; values. The womb of capitalist conditions hatches the presuppositions for this, Robert Kurz said.
“Under the conditions of the third industrial revolution, “councils” could replace the money form and anonymous markets. Micro-electronics supplies the possibility of an all-round communicative linkage that can easily replace all rule centers of “vertical human management.”
He regarded as probably that “the future music has really been outplayed.” The catastrophe steamer Titanic on the homepage of the Krisis group is hardly hope-energizing or activating.
Ernst Wolff, “A World Dependent on Central Banks,” April 2018,
“Prohibiting Micro-Second Betting on the Exchanges,” April 2018,
“The Market is a Universal Totalitarian Religion,” https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2018/04/20/18808617.php