FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Thrown Under the Automated Bus

Automation isn’t coming. It’s here. At the airport, the public library, the grocery store, and dozens of other places, touch screens are rapidly replacing human bodies, especially in basic service industry positions. In a time when service industry jobs represent 80 percent of all employment in the United States, and when a presidential report on automation looks at the frightening possibility of more than half the jobs in the country being lost, one could reasonably expect the current presidential and congressional candidates to be putting forth bold strategies for addressing the rising economic crisis and skyrocketing unemployment rates for middle and working class families.

We can praise the timesaving efficiency of automation, but we must also deal with the unintended consequences. The potential of automation comes with a shadow side, which must be rigorously discussed and addressed in our nation and around the world.

People will be replaced by machines. Profits for the already wealthy will soar. Millions of Americans will be left without jobs. At this point, our nation has no comprehensive transition plan. There is marginal lip service being paid to “retraining programs” and “jobs fairs,” but the scale of these proposals is like trying to plug Niagara Falls with a toothpick. Business journals tout the creation of new jobs in automation design and maintenance, but it is uncertain as to how many jobs will be created, and for how long. The shift into automation requires not reckless enthusiasm, but rather, proactive planning from both the business and political sectors.

We are told that the economy has recovered from the 2008 crash. The average American feels the daily pinch of the truth: we have seen no recovery. Ninety-five percent of the income gains went straight into the pockets of the One Percent. The rest of us are still swamped with debt, struggling desperately to pay bills, and at risk of financial catastrophe caused by unexpected expenses no larger than a failing car engine or a broken bone. We have no economic safety nets or savings to fall back on.

The elections loom large on the horizon of our nation. The circus of the presidential race overshadows the congressional races – but it is the make-up of the legislature that will – or will not – place a wide variety of economic policies on the political table. Bills about widening the social safety net, implementing basic income, taxing the rich, closing loopholes that benefit mega-corporations and the super-wealthy, addressing student debt, stopping unfair corporate trade deals, and raising the minimum wage to a living wage must be considered. It is the make-up of the legislature that will determine whether or not an adequate response to the economic upheaval of rising automation will be proposed, debated, and passed.

We have been brought to the brink of an unsuspected revolution, arriving full circle to a parallel moment in history to the Industrial Revolution. Widespread automation demands that we once again engage in a global and national moral debate about both the meaning of work and the purpose of the economy. Is the purpose of our economy merely to provide profits for a few people or is our economy meant to care for the populace and provide for everyone’s needs?

With the mechanization of the Industrial Revolution, humanity was asked to grapple a seemingly simple question: what do we do with the free time provided by the efficiency of machines? Then, like today, the ruling elite was politically poised to answer the question with a solution that was highly profitable for them: work harder, produce more, make more money for us.

This time, the nature of the question has expanded. Does the ruling elite (the owning class – the rich people) have a moral and social responsibility to provide for the needs of the people while their businesses automate and cause widespread unemployment?

It is a political question, and an ethical, moral, and social question. What is the responsibility of the rich and powerful toward the rest of us? Are we – the workers, inventors, artists, teachers, mothers and fathers and children – merely convenient sources of ultimately disposable labor to them? Should corporations, owners, and the current crop of corporate politicians be allowed to throw us out when machines become more profitable than our bodies? What will they do when unemployment skyrockets, families can’t pay rents or mortgages, homelessness becomes endemic, and the United States consumer class vanishes? What actions will these political candidates take . . . will they simply pocket the profits of automation and start selling goods to China? Or will they demonstrate that they have the political backbone to do what’s right for the people and address the systemic crisis that has arrived on our doorstep?

We are on the verge of being thrown under the automated bus. Make your choices carefully this November; this election cycle determines what measures the next crop of politicians will take to keep us all from being run over.

More articles by:

Rivera Sun is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection and other books, and the cofounder of the Love-In-Action Network.

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador   Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail