Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Automation and Outsourcing, part 1

Is there a way out of the thicket of finance capitalism toward an economic structure that benefits people, promotes equality, and propels the world toward a more sustainable and happy future?

In order to answer this question, we must consider the twin devils hollowing out broad prosperity: automation and outsourcing.

Since before Ned Ludd smashed the first loom, automation has been making workers obsolete while driving deeper into bondage those lucky enough to cling to their jobs. Thus the 1% has capitalized on mass misery. The cotton gin, for example, expanded exploitation by increasing the productivity of slave labor and expanding that shameful system. Automation, however, is not an unalloyed evil. After all, the easiest jobs to automate have tended to be the least fulfilling. Automation made lives easier and opened up vast kingdoms of newer, more satisfying jobs.

As globalism shrinks supply chains, outsourcing has over the last several decades joined automation as a key prosperity-slayer by draining American jobs to low-wage countries. Although it has made prices cheaper in Wal-Mart and Apple Stores alike, outsourcing has exported ecological blight to the developing world while obliterating wages and jobs for low- and middle-skilled workers in the US. Global corporations now rely on dangerous and unethical sweatshops to maximize their bottom lines. Yet, just like automation, outsourcing has provided a few advantages. It has brought new hope and possibilities to people all around the globe by giving them steady jobs and wages. Never mind that these newly employed workers will soon face the same brutal corporate undercutting when their jobs are shipped to an even more "flexible" labor market. And, the "always low prices" offered at Wal-Mart are one of the few threads that poverty-stricken families can hold onto as they sink into the quicksand of diminishing living standards. Never mind that automation and outsourcing share responsibility for shriveling their incomes in the first place.

Our current era of converging crises faces a radically new threat from automation and outsourcing. Prior to the computer revolution, only the dullest, lowest skilled jobs faced the specter of automation and outsourcing. Nowadays, these scourges spread their destruction up the income and status ladder.

As shown above, automation and outsourcing can offer improvements in the way people live. The problem, then, is the way they are deployed to enrich the 1% at the expense of the 99% rather than to improve people's lives.

We've reached an economic, cultural, societal, and ecological crossroads. The choices we make now will determine what type of future we live in. It may even be too late. But our current path puts us on a collision course with collapse. If we are lucky, and the end comes later rather than sooner, then we face a further hollowing out of our economy, psyches, libidos, and ecology. In this diminished future, those of us with any money remaining will be seduced by sensuous lust machines and will eat the processed remains of surplus senior citizens, flavored, until the monocrop collapses, by corn syrup.

No comments:

Post a Comment