So what will the 6th Kondratiev look like?

Industrial investment at the end of the Great Recession will likely be in the new generation of robots, used in both manufacturing and distribution.

John Markoff's wide-ranging article in the New York Times is more convincing to me than the many reports claiming that a new manufacturing paradigm based on 3-D printing will emerge in the upcoming decades. Not to say those printers won't change things; but people won't be able to make highly specialized items in their basement. They will get them from distant factories and the new robots will both make them and play crucial roles in delivery. A new employment crisis will contribute to social unrest and neoliberlism can't deal with it except through repression. I think this new wave of automation, widely reporte in the last couple of years, is a key piece of the central technopolitical question: Which new machines will emerge from the "stalemate in technology"?

Markoff's article is here:

He quotes a new book entitled "Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy." Long quote below. That book can be downloaded (probably for a short time only) from this address:

You need an Epub reader for that (FBReader is in the repos of Ubuntu 12.04).


"We wrote this book because we believe that digital technologies are one of the most important driving forces in the economy today. They’re transforming the world of work and are key drivers of productivity and growth. Yet their impact on employment is not well understood, and definitely not fully appreciated. When people talk about jobs in America today, they talk about cyclicality, outsourcing and off-shoring, taxes and regulation, and the wisdom and efficacy of different kinds of stimulus. We don’t doubt the importance of all these factors. The economy is a complex, multifaceted entity.
"But there has been relatively little talk about role of acceleration of technology. It may seem paradoxical that faster progress can hurt wages and jobs for millions of people, but we argue that’s what’s been happening. As we’ll show, computers are now doing many things that used to be the domain of people only. The pace and scale of this encroachment into human skills is relatively recent and has profound economic implications. Perhaps the most important of these is that while digital progress grows the overall economic pie, it can do so while leaving some people, or even a lot of them, worse off.
"And computers (hardware, software, and networks) are only going to get more powerful and capable in the future, and have an ever-bigger impact on jobs, skills, and the economy. The root of our problems is not that we’re in a Great Recession, or a Great Stagnation, but rather that we are in the early throes of a Great Restructuring. Our technologies are racing ahead but many of our skills and organizations are lagging behind. So it’s urgent that we understand these phenomena, discuss their implications, and come up with strategies that allow human workers to race ahead with machines instead of racing against them."



The little clip which comes with NYT article is very impressive too. One of prime examples shown is the packing plant form "earthbound farm", a producer and distributor of organic food.This indicates that these dynamics will not be affected by any kind of "greening" of capitalism.

On the other hand, worries about the "end of work" have a fairly long history and yet, historically speaking, the work force has expanded, both nationally (inclusion of women) and internationally.

So, more than a lack of work, I think this development contributes to a division within the workforce between those who serve the machines and whose who design and manage them.

design and serve

You are right about the expansion of the labor force, especially in terms of the capitalist world-system as a whole, it's staggering. I also agree heartily, the "end of work" predictions are a joke! They have been around since at least the 1930s...

However in the US right now we have a "jobless recovery" (if it's still a recovery...) and statistics on job creation since 2008 show that a college degree is now required to get just about any kind of job. That's *already* the result of a combination of automation and outsourcing. Entire sectors of the former working class in Chicago where I live (the most industrial metropolitan region in the US) have been more or less abandoned since the 1970s, and I don't use the word "abandoned" lightly. In France where I used to live these same two factors produced a lost generation of former industrial workers from the late 1980s onward. Meanwhile, public schools have declined in both countries - seriously in France, and radically in the US, to the point where there is now a drive to get rid of the public school system, which will make the whole phenomenon worse.

The thing is, when you fully automate a factory, those who design the machines and those who serve them are the same: engineers with degrees. The whole point of automation is to make them small in numbers, all along the chain including distribution and sales. A sane response would be to open up new functions in society (including high quality free universal education) so that all its members could find other things to do. One can definitely imagine a society in which automation would relieve people of drudgery, freeing them for a creative use of their human faculties. The problem is, it's not the predatory capitalist society we actually have today.

jobless future


I hope you dont mind if, by chiming in, I empty some of my many unused notes from my recent 5-year study programme ;-)

I agree that those who service the machines now are also highly skilled workers and belong to the lucky few with quasi-Fordist jobs (high-wage, certain amenities and relative security).

You are probably aware of that eerie prediction of Norbert Wiener that 'any labour that competes with machine labour is slave labour' ... and as automation reaches new heights, we are reaching that point where that becomes all too self-evident.

There is this really good book by old unreconstructed Marxists, Stanley Aronowitz and William DiFazio the Jobless Future, second edition 2010, Minnesota, which is actuallyx a rewrite of a book (or was it just an essay) originally published 1994 (back then, interestingly, they studied people working with digital CAD/CAM technology, who, by helping to imporve the technology, gradually made themselves unemployed); their updated study in 2010 concludes:

These sci-tech transformations of the labour process have disrupted the workplace and workers' community and culture. High technology will destroy more jobs than it creates. the new technology has fewer parts and fewer workers and produces more product. This is true not only in traditional production industries but for all workers, including managers and technical workers. p. 3

and much later in direct contradiction to Castells I think

But contrary to the optimistic predictions of early advocates of computer technology - who said that it would proliferate needs and thereby increase employment, especially of specialist professional and technical categories- the long range effect of the introduction of computer-mediated technologies has been to make possible the utopian (dystopian) dream of the virtually automatic factory in which labour is consigned to the role of maintaining and administering a self-reproducing labour process in most decisive sectors, including professions. p. 300

Interestingly, our old Marxists go on to say that not even jobs in FIRE are protected from that. As there are new jobs created in computing and ICT improves, the stock broker, analyst and trader also becomes jobless. Real-time trading depends on very few people creating an enormous surplus ...

It comes in here that Marx' prediction in Grundrisse starts to 'byte': once the amount of dead leabour mobilised by science and technology becomes disproportionally high vis-a-vis living labour, the politics of class antagonism cease to be directly in evidence. There is no way to directly fight that with traditional working class methods. What remains is the 'command of capital' (Negri interpreting Marx).

Thus, in principle automation would make possible a utopian society where wage labour is reduced to a necessary minimum and the fruits of automation are shared between the population 'each according to their needs'. This, however, is what the command of capital will avert at any price.

This discussion about the fruits of automation was at its heights duing the 1960s. In the 1970s however, that positive utopian notion was moving into the background, and finally, the whole discussion waned. NOw that we have a renewed push for heightened automation, there is almost no discussion. Interestingly, Aaronowitz and DiFabio blame Althusserian disccourse-critics such as Laclau and Mouffe for that, with a lively attack on their anti-universalist stance.

In resisting the Marxiost privileging of the agency of a single subject, their analysis denies any agency to the proletariat. Laclau and Mouffe allow the working class struggle as a discoursive formation, but this struggle takes the form of a transformation that will occur without any human agents. As a result, their argument denies the autonomy of the plurality of the repressed groups they are defending. ... With their claim that domination and oppression do not exist until a discoursive formation labels them as such, the actual experience of ordinary people is negated. Aronowitha dn >diFazio p. 281

Comes in here the 'green economy'. This will be part of the 6th Kondratiev but there is nothing green about this. Calling it "green" is a typical trick of recuperating ecological sensitivities for ultra-capitalist ideas. Here, living labour in the form of bacteria and enzymes is coming to the rescues of capitalism ... but about that hopefully more in a separate text

best regards