The Earth a Paradise
Applying automation for the profit of all mankind
This booklet gives a broad treatment of the social and economic consequences of mechanisation and automation. It tries to find a way out of the problems arising in this situation.
A short history of labour
Only six thousand years ago, the first signs of agriculture appeared. Before that, mankind must have found its living by hunting and gathering for the vast part of its existence on earth, today estimated to over a million years.
With the rise of agriculture, people learnt to improve their food supply situation by labour. Consequently, the earth's population started to grow enormously, forcing the majority of people to work hard for their daily bread.
With good harvests, however, they could use part of it to let other people make things for them. So prosperity and trade had been born. Some even succeeded to reach a high level of prosperity, which forced them to appoint soldiers to protect their treasures. Of course some people combined for this aim. So the state was born. Most people, however, lived at the brink of starvation. And all attainable labour force was needed to maintain that level.
A new situation arose with industrialisation. That started to multiply the small power of man by the force of machines and motors. First appearing in railways and textile industry, it gradually extended to other fields, reaching it largest influence with the mechanisation of agriculture, which might have increased the production per head by a factor of ten over the last fifty years. Apart from some bad periods - like in the 1930's - this development caused a strong increase of prosperity in the western countries. The towers seemed to touch heaven.
A more recent development was automation, which not multiplied human power, but replaced it. Many boring pieces of work could be left to computers. An old ideal seemed to come true: work would be a game for everyone.
But how badly we are disappointed these days! In the end it appeared that some companies could work with fewer employees. Then they are more profitable and start to outstrip other firms. Those firms are then forced to sack people, leading to today's strongly increasing unemployment. The hope for a lucky world is disappearing behind the horizon.
What causes modern unemployment?
The prophets of modern capitalism hadn't expected such a decrease in employment. Did not exist a desire for ever increasing prosperity, which would force economic activities to the ultimate crest? And more idealistic people thought: did not exist still large countries to be developed? But now the rich countries no longer improve and many poor countries are poorer than ever.
The reason will be, that indeed automation has become cheaper than human labor. That means that most extension of production is obtained by larger automated units. Therefore larger sales no longer result in increased employment. Old mechanisms of economics no longer seem to apply. On top of that the military production could be strongly decreased due to the collapse of communism, with that causing an extra loss of employment.
This gives rise to a strong competition, which forces companies to a strong cost reduction. Governments are pressed to decrease taxes and social charges and there is a tendency to decrease minimum wages and benefits. The "social paradise" of the West-European states disappears.
Something about economics
The tendency to reduce cost, is dictated by simple economic considerations and seems quite natural. In the near past, however, this tendency sometimes caused a strong decrease in economic activity. Especially in the 1930's this caused enormous unemployment and poverty. Most economists at that time did not understand that situation. Many explanations were tried, but at last that of John Maynard Keynes seemed to be true. He pointed out, that in the control system of economics there may be such strong feedback, that it starts to oscillate.
Proposing at a certain time, a producer has made a miscalculation in making too much of a product. Then he may decrease production and fire part of his employees. These employees, left at once with a strong decrease of income, start to buy much less products, which causes other producers to fire their people too. It is thought that in the thirties this effect multiplied, thus leading to a complete standstill in many branches.
Keynes' remedy for this situation was, that governments should pump large amounts of money into the society, maybe by giving benefits or placing orders. In that time many public works were accomplished, but the great recovery did not come before the great expenses of world war two and the rebuilding afterwards.
When in the 1980's employment showed another decay, Keynes' remedy was again applied, mostly in the shape of enormous subventions to distressed companies. In the end, however, this remedy seemed no longer to work. So the faith in Keynes decreased and governments grabbed at the old policy of cutting down expenses.
The real explanation of the apparent invalidity of Keynes' remedy, however, has to be sought in the fact, that the situation was without the control range of Keynes' theory. When industry is saturated with automated systems, subventions to companies will not improve employment. But in cutting expenses, Keynes will become valid again and the economic activity might be brought to a standstill. Then we will not reach the ideal situation outlined in the beginning.
If we could have gone on as we did without economic problems, the society would have approached the situation of full automation. One may then consider one large factory, which produces all our needs. That factory only needs one operator, one operator with a golden cap, who arranges the total production and receives the money for the delivered goods.
Most people in that situation have no work to do, and having no income they will stop buying goods after some time. At that moment the factory can't sell its products and has to be shut down, leaving most people starving.
How can we get out of that situation? Indeed by pumping money into the society, not temporarily like in the thirties, but continuously, because we have reached a situation of nearly worldwide structural unemployment and not of conjunctural unemployment like then. And it should be clear that money has to come into the hands of those that are unemployed.
Pay without work
It is against the principles of many people to give pay without work. Especially who has to work hard himself or herself, cannot easily accept such a policy. One should, however, take into account that a considerable part of one's wages originates from work done by others before. This may consist in machines and automation in industry or agriculture, but also in the infrastructure provided by the government: roads, electricity, water, the telephone-system, and so on. These are things made by all of us together, so each of us might claim a certain right to its benefits.
One might also argue, that it is no good for people to be without work. Some people even base this on biblical texts. In addition, sociological studies tell us about the bad influence of unemployment on people: in many cases it leads to a loss of interest in society and to complete isolation. In fact, however, this bad influence might be due to the general opinion that one should work. The unemployed person feels bad because he is called "bad" by a tradition, which is still deeply rooted in our minds.
But it is very likely, that this tradition did not exist before the beginning of agriculture. Studies of tribes that are still in the hunting and gathering phase, learn that they often lead a very lazy life. About the Khoi-San ("Bushmen") in the Kalahari desert it is said, that they are only active during a few days a week and that young people do not work before the age of twenty. Their high skill of environment learned them to live easily where "cultivated" people would starve soon. Similar reports exist on other "primitive" tribes. The lost paradise of the Bible might even be a memory of such a situation.
Because of this it is probable, that a million years of evolution has not made us quite fit for the stresses of a modern job. Often people show improved health after being retired. Therefore it might be wise to change our traditional ideas about work and start to enjoy life. That might also liberate young people from the fate that they are assumed to work and to achieve, and they cannot because there is no job for them. It is in my opinion also this dilemma that drives many youngsters into crime and drugs.
Today governments have a bugbear of too few people working for a great number of unemployed and other inactive persons. This, however, is the simple consequence of automation and nothing to be afraid of. The problem is only, how to distribute income on a reasonable and practical way between workers and nonworkers.
Despite the so-called profit of work for an individual - and I will not deny that work can give direct profit and even joy to a person - most people want to be payed for it. So evidently working people should generally earn more income than nonworkers. The best way to achieve that, seems to be the accomplishment of a personal base income for everyone. Outside that, however, free enterprise should be allowed to regulate economic activities.
Those that fear people would sink into lethargy, should take into account the fact that the culture of the Greeks and the Romans came to great prosperity because they had slaves to work for them. That culture later perished because of those slaves, but it is hardly seen how we would perish because of our robots. Or it must be because of the artificial poverty imposed on us by today's economist's doctrines.
The balance of power
Many people are proud on our western democracy, which they suppose to be based in our cultivated minds. In effect, however, full democracy was not achieved until this twentieth century, and even then it was threatened many times. There is a remarkable coincidence between the rise of full democracy and that of trade-unions. Trade-unions on their turn derived their power from the scarcity of labour because of the strong rise of industrialisation, perhaps partly due to the huge colonial markets and cheap raw materials. In the USA, democracy will have found its base in the full employment because of spillover of people to the West.
In my opinion, democracy is no more than consultation between powers instead of fighting. And in that consultation the workers did not obtain a voice until they got power. That also explains why democracy is weakened in periods of strong unemployment and in countries with a bad employment situation.
Now this balance of power is also needed to accomplish base income for everyone. For this a certain solidarity of all workers and unemployed is needed. This is a type of trade-unionism as existing on the West-European continent. There trade-unions act for all workers, including nonmembers, and also for the unemployed. The reason that this solidarity can be maintained, is that most workers feel endangered by becoming unemployed. That means, that the force of the trade-unions can be used to accomplish base-income and to stabilize it at a reasonable level. In Western Europe it might even replace minimum wages as a main point of action.
In this place it should be stated, that the principal right of property should not be questioned. Even if we consider ourselves only stewards of our property, it is very unlikely that a not directly interested person or institution - like the government - would be able to promote our business as good as we do ourselves. Personal interest is the base of prosperity, because of human nature. This seems in contradiction with the above statement that from a moral point of view we all are owners of the great robot. In fact, however, it means that we only need to correct the capitalist society, not to destroy it. It looks like personal base income suffices to provide this correction, so that a simple procentual income tax or purchase tax can be applied.
The influence from abroad
Until now we considered the problem only as an internal one. In fact, however, there is a very strong international influence, especially now boundaries of states become more transparent for goods. This means, that countries are competing on the market. A country with high social charges will show high production costs and will lose part of its market-share. Therefore employers in exporting countries usually advocate a decrease of social charges. That will decrease their costs and therefore increase their market-share. Generally treated, however, a decrease of social charges will cause a decrease of purchasing-power and therefore a loss of worldwide market-volume. The pursuit of the interest of particular countries is therefore harmful for them all. A painful chapter in this is the way in which countries and regions try to 'buy' the establishment of factories on their territory in order to improve the local employment situation.
This situation can only be solved by international agreements, which lead to a proportional spread of means of production over the world. This spread can easily be laid on the companies by means of subsidies and taxes. Within Europe the awarding of industrial subsidies is already an affair of the EEC. In practice, however, national interests still seem to play a large role. In this respect a reinforcement of the international cooperation between trade-unions could have an important influence. Then international trade-agreements could make obligatory a certain level of social benefits, just as they now prohibit export subsidies. For social benefits in Europe have the effect of export subsidies for goods from other parts of the world.
The poor countries
Industrialisation started in Western Europe and the United States. For a long time these countries could maintain a high level of prosperity. The industrial nations tried to suppress industrialisation in other countries, especially in their colonies.
Only after the second world war Japan became an industrial power, later followed by other East Asian countries. Most other countries, however, were too late to build a modern industrial structure. In addition their traditional economic structure breaks down due to imports from the industrialised countries. Even the traditional farmer with his very low income starts to yield for his modern western competitors.
This is leading to a very high level of unemployment, notwithstanding a very low wage-level. Large parts of the population are living at the brink of starvation, making up a fertile soil for crime and revolution. All revolutions, however, lead to nothing, because it is always a small minority that has the power. Even communism did not escape that pitfall. Democracy seems only possible at a balance of power, which means with well-spread prosperity.
For the poor countries, the same kind of spread as within western countries could be considered. Subsidies for industrialisation could be a good means to achieve this. In many of those countries, however, such subsidies flow into the pockets of those who are in power. Therefore, small individual income subsidies for the poor in those countries might be far more fruitful.
It should be clear, that such subsidies directly lead to demand and so to an increase of trade. Consequently, its costs will pay themselves on a global scale even before long.
In this epoch, we have to make a choice. If we proceed with cutting of government expenditures, we have the chance to get into a downward spiral, which will leave also the western countries in a situation as outlined for the poor countries above. With further automation, the workers may become smaller in number and more and more being well-skilled and well-payed specialists, which may assure themselves against unemployment. In that case they will lose interest in the poor, so that solidarity is lost.
So democracy will weaken and crime and revolution will dominate the society. In that situation one will forget about environment. And the worst thing is, that there will be no way out, because the old trade-unions no longer exist. Only a great war, which is in fact an enormous government subsidy into nothing, might change the situation.
The other way is, that we make such subsidies in a more orderly and useful way, like outlined above. In that case we might obtain the paradise again, for which evolution made us fit. But if we don't choose for the paradise, we might get a hell!
This is only a collection of ideas, mainly intended to counterbalance today's ideas about economics. Men are like herd-animals: they all rush to one side, even the greatest scholar*. Today communism has failed and therefore bare capitalism is favourite. What a primitive and unscientific approach.
My layman's intellect sees that we can easily make enough to feed and house the whole world population and give them some prospect. The problem is only, how to distribute prosperity. There we should no longer apply the old ideas of good and wrong: I don't believe it is a lack of good will that makes us problems, but a lack of ability. A lack of ability with politicians, a lack of ability with industrial leaders, and a lack of ability with all other specialists. With all its scholarship, man is still a powerless creature.
I feel, it is our task as laymen, with the help of all these yet fine specialists, to find a way out of this whirlpool. With simple but still careful reasoning we have to treat the world's problems. These ideas should be supplemented and improved and spread in many ways. Therefore, we need cooperation. For that reason we might start an international PARADISE MOVEMENT, in order to find the right way for mankind on earth.
P. Kramer, 25-11-1993.
*) The author does not stand outside society, but in observing a swarm of starlings one will learn, that always some of them fly against the general direction. Sometimes the others follow, sometimes not.