For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"A World Without Work?"

by Benanav, A (2020)


Advanced industrial robotics, self-driving cars and trucks, and intelligent cancer-screening machines presage a world of ease, but they also make us uneasy. After all, what would human beings do in a largely automated future? Would we be able to adapt our institutions to realize the dream of human freedom that a new age of intelligent machines might make possible? Or would that dream turn out to be a nightmare? The new automation discourse asks just these sorts of questions and arrives at a provocative conclusion: mass technological unemployment is coming, and it must be managed by the provision of universal basic income, since large sections of the population will lose access to the wages they need to live. Do the automation theorists have this story right?

Key Passage

There is a persistent underdemand for labor in the United States and European Union, and even more so in countries such as South Africa, India, and Brazil, yet its cause is almost the opposite of the one identified by the automation theorists. In reality, rates of labor-productivity growth are slowing down, not speeding up. This phenomenon should have increased the demand for labor, except that the productivity slowdown was overshadowed by another trend: in a development analyzed by Marxist economist Robert Brenner under the title of the “long downturn”—and belatedly recognized by mainstream economists as “secular stagnation”—economies have been growing at a progressively slower pace since the early 1970s. The cause? Decades of global industrial overcapacity killed the manufacturing growth engine, and no alternative to it has been found, least of all in the slow-growing, low-productivity activities that make up the bulk of the service sector. As economic growth decelerates, rates of job creation slow. Slowing growth, not technology-induced job destruction, has depressed the global demand for labor. (p.47)


Automation, Technology, Technological Unemployment, Automation Theory, Freedom


Future of Work, Automation

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