Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Redundant Labor Force

       As the mechanization of labor increases, a smaller amount of human labor is required to produce an amount of goods or services. While in some instances this means that work will be reduced evenly, as in everyone in a certain industry might work less hours, often the reduced hours will be distributed unequally, with some individuals being pushed out of the labor market, and even some highly specialized workers seeing an increase in hours.
       This surplus labor force is put in a quandary by an economy wherein their income is determined by their production—as they are not productive relative to machines within the legitimate economy they earn no wages, and therefore must either turn to a black market economy (one unlikely to be mechanized with the same vigor as legal industry) or starve. The implications of this redundancy are already having an enormous political, social, and economic impact on western societies.
        Human labor will be replaced by mechanized labor first where the work is most physical and easily turned into an algorithm, so low wage unskilled labor, such as factory work will be, and have already been, the first to go. Compounding the difficulties of the political system effectively handling surplus labor, the displaced work force will be comprised of those least likely to be able to influence the political system, instead, debate conducted by elites disconnected from the realities of a mechanizing economy will continue to focus on side-issues or moralizing on the failures of an unemployed populace. Unemployed and unskilled persons have historically been marginalized by the political process everywhere, and are unlikely to find redress as jobs become permanently scarcer.
         David Simon, creator of The Wire, speaks of the problems already facing a permanently under/unemployed class caused by this technological displacement. The drug war and the attendant massive number of incarcerated persons in America, he asserts, are the result of a system which has failed to adequately provide for those who have been replaced by mechanical labor. Some proportion of any excess labor force will turn towards criminality in order to survive.

         Obviously, imprisoning this excess labor force as it inevitably becomes increasingly desperate is a very poor solution to the problem. By failing to ensure a wealth distribution system which allows these displaced laborers to benefit from technological advancements, society can expect little else.