Robots Don't Go On Strike

For a general discussion of topics relating broadly to power and political economy (e.g., capital-as-power, Marxism, neo-classical economics, institutionalism).

Moderator: sanha926

Robots Don't Go On Strike

Postby Ikonoclast » Wed May 22, 2019 1:09 am

Whenever one encapsulates a thought in a catchy title, one can be sure that it is completely unoriginal. A brief search of the internet shows that this thought has been expressed before. See "Robots don't go on strike" by Sally Thompson (2011) on the Adam Smith Institute site. It seems diagnostic that such a thought should be presented on that site along with strong overtones of approval.

The modern economic system is essentially an autopilot system, where institutionalized and often even fully computerized rules, calculations and algorithms are automatically and continuously applied to sustain and endlessly replicate modules of capitalism. The self regulating or auto pilot system of capitalism is pre-set to endlessly build more units of itself. This machine-like logical process (powered by physical machines at the physical process level) is currently more powerful than human resistance, I believe. Ulf Martin's paper "The Autocatalytic Sprawl of Pseudorational Mastery" analyses this process far better than I have been able to. However, it seems to me that human resistance is overwhelmed by the process. Automation functions to replace human judgement and discretion (a far more supple decision system) with high volume automated decisions running the economy on autopilot and determining human fates more or less automatically.

It is sometimes said that North Americans have 500 “energy slaves” working for each of them. (Hugo Bardi’s calculation). “An energy slave is that quantity of energy (ability to do work) which, when used to construct and drive non-human infrastructure (machines, roads, power grids, fuel, draft animals, wind-driven pumps, etc.) replaces a unit of human labor (actual work). An energy slave does the work of a person, through the consumption of energy in the non-human infrastructure.” – Wikipedia.

However, the assumption that the energy slaves are all working FOR the ordinary person is surely flawed. A considerable portion of these energy slaves actually work against the ordinary person. The hierarchical superstructure of capitalism, in both the corporate and government arenas, employs a considerable portion of these “energy slaves” to maintain inequalities of wealth and power. Blair Fix has analyzed this energy/hierarchy issue in recent papers (albeit without resort to simplistic energy slave analogies IIRC). Without this high-energy-input wealth stratification process it is much more likely that wealth would flow and equalize to a much greater extent than it does currently. In all of nature it takes energy to maintain imbalances a long way from equilibrium. There is no reason that the maintenance of high wealth inequality stratifications would be any different.

If the number of “energy slaves” working for companies, corporations and those government operations which support companies, corporations, judiciary, police, prisons and military are greater than the number of “energy slaves” working directly for people (including a count of one “energy slave” for each adult person as their own body working) then the energy available for the control and perpetuation of capitalism is greater than the energy available for the people to overthrow it. This will be true if a relatively simple physical energy use to social power ratio holds true in some manner. This consideration suggests capitalism can reach an energy disparity setup such that the masses cannot overthrow the elites for energetic reasons. Physical force (threatened or applied) is always the final arbiter of social outcomes in an unequal rights system and the force that can be mustered is proportionate to the energy that can be harnessed. I suspect that the elites have more “energy slaves” at their disposal than do the people en masse. What is more, these “energy slaves” are insentient and thus logically and physically fully obedient; hence more controllable. Robots don't go on strike. Mere system faults in logical and physical "machinery" do not amount to intentional and directed resistance.

With the advent of automated systems, and of robots and drones (which are automated systems with engines or power sources and servos for physical action) these “energy slaves” may be fully instantiated into security systems, automated systems and robotic and drone machinery. The presence of human operators as plant, machinery and vehicle controllers is removed as is their power to shut off industrial systems to promote or aid strike actions. Computer programmers alone are much more easily corralled and controlled by any security apparatus. At this level, only cyber rebellion would seem to be feasible. Physical rebellion would be ruled out. However, the cyber relies on the physical so the cyber can also be controlled by physical suppression. This scenario might seem like 1984 on robot-drone steroids but it does appear to be where we are headed.

The above would suggest a technologically and elite-determined political-economy system which is impervious to mass human opposition. The only limits in this case would be the natural physical limits of the biosphere to sustain such a system given that the system appears deterministically geared to endless growth.

This is a bleak view I know but the recent victory of the pro-coal, endless-growth, neoliberal Coalition (the COALition) in Australia, despite their own severe internal wrangling, seems to have sounded the death-knell for progressive hopes in Australia for many years to come. I am grappling with analyzing why elite neoliberalism seems impervious to control or defeat by the majority of ordinary people (and/or why they can be fooled consistently and manipulated into voting against their own best long term interests and those of their children).
Posts: 28
Joined: Sun Dec 15, 2013 4:47 pm

Re: Robots Don't Go On Strike

Postby Ikonoclast » Sun May 26, 2019 7:42 pm

Absolute Capitalism

I will add an update to my post, hoping to generate some discussion.

John Bellamy Foster in his article, “Absolute Capitalism” – Monthly Review (May 01, 2019) notes the following.

“In Foucault’s interpretation, neoliberalism is as remote from laissez-faire as it is from Keynesianism. As Hayek argued in ‘The Constitution of Liberty’, the neoliberal state is an interventionist, not laissez-faire, state precisely because it becomes the embodiment of a rule-governed, market-dictated economic order and is concerned with perpetuating and extending that order to the whole of society. …

The hegemonic class-property relations are encoded in the juridical structure and the state itself is reduced to these formal economic codes embodied in the legal system. What Hayek means by “the rule of law,” according to Foucault, is the imposition of “formal economic legislation” that “is quite simply the opposite of a plan. It is the opposite of planning.” The object is to establish “rules of the game” that prevent any deviation from the logic of commodity exchange or capitalist competition, while extending these relations further into society, with the state as the ultimate guarantor of market supremacy.” – John Bellamy Foster.

To restate, what is diagnosed here is that the “formal economic codes embodied in the legal system” establish “the rules of the game” and that the imposition of these rules is “the opposite of a plan”. This is why we can have no capitalist economic plan to save the world, meaning to save the benign Holocene climate, earth system and ecology. A plan, classically, is a model for action in the real world. A scientific model requires the direct linking of the real to the formal by scientific measures. These measurements are combined and related in the acts of scaling and simplifying implicit in model making. A functional model for use in real world planning implies scientifically homomorphic connections (symmetries) between the model and the real world. The plan, among other things, must be defined, derived and modifiable via objective and scientific measurements undertaken in the real world. An economic model without these homomorphic connections, real to formal and formal to real, cannot be used to properly manage exogenous real system outcomes as opposed to juggling its limited endogenous economic parameters. The attempt to import real world measuring into the model via the market involves the non-sequitur of using the nominal (money) to measure the real.

In contradistinction to an empirically derived plan, the “formal economic codes embodied in the legal system” are derived from axioms, specifically the axioms establishing private property and money, in specific forms and operations, and then the canonizing of markets of specific types, as the only valid methods for handling the quantities, relations and dynamics of the real world. Nowhere are real measures imported back into the economic system as the basis for effective decision making. Certainly, real measures (tonnes of wheat etc.) are used in the markets in the process of deriving notional money measures but only these notional money measures are used for decision making and for “planning” per se, which planning is not, in the final analysis, genuine real world planning with and for real world quantities (those measurable by physics, chemistry and biology). The rules of the economic system (which are conferred inviolable sanctity as prescriptive axioms for private wealth, money relations and markets) are required to be maintained at all costs while real world outcomes are regarded as secondary to completely unimportant. So long as the axiomatic-algorithmic rules system of economics is regarded as being non-negotiable and having greater importance than real world systems then the former cannot be reformed and the latter cannot be saved.
Posts: 28
Joined: Sun Dec 15, 2013 4:47 pm

Return to Political Economy

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest