Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Fully Automated Luxury Communism

Go watch this. It's not necessarily a perfect sociopolitical model (after all, it's only an 8-minute video), but it's an interesting idea. The claim is basically that automation means that very soon - in the next 20 years or so - no-one will need to work longer than 12-15 hours in a week (note: we're talking about a quite complex notion of 'need' and a conservative estimate of the effects of automation in that sentence - but there's nothing in that to render the claim implausible).

And once you've watched the video - probably well before the end, in fact - you'll immediately be able to hear in the back of your mind the voice of your current political leadership (at least in Britain and America) raising the following complaint:

'Without the incentive to work more and work harder, everyone will just sit around all day doing nothing!'

Now, anecdotes are not data, but I believe I can provide at least one counterexample to that objection. For the last two-and-a-half years (longer, depending on how you account it), I have been in the fortunate position of working an average of less than 15 hours a week, and having living costs small enough and a wage rate good enough to make ends meet.

In that time, I've completed a PhD (including all the thesis-writing and most of the specific research), written well over 300,000 words of original fiction (seasons 2 and 3 of The Second Realm, two NaNoWriMo projects and a handful of short stories/novellas), written and recorded an EP of original music (which you shouldn't listen to because it's terrible but no-one can say I didn't put effort into it), decorated half a house, and studied a huge amount of stuff about the world, from feminist discourse to critical history to the publishing industry.

Perhaps none of that sounds very worthwhile (because it didn't make me any money, perhaps? But then what did I need the money for, if my living expenses were met?), but even the most cynical person could not accuse me of inactivity. And, since all these activities are things I value, no-one could accuse me of not trying to better myself (whether or not you think I'm barking up the wrong tree in terms of what I value).

The other objection to my example would be to suggest that I'm in some way exceptional - that most people in my (again, extremely fortunate) position would not behave the same way. There are two possible responses to that. The first is to take the objection as claiming that I possess some rare intrinsic virtue of productivity - and anyone who's seen me on an off day can tell you immediately that this is a particularly stupid idea. I am possessed of no exceptional will or drive at all, only a rare freedom to express a very ordinary human will.

The second response is to take the objection as making a purely statistical claim, that there is a body of data from which I am the exception. The problem with this is that no such body of data exists - my circumstances are simply too rare. There are very few jobs on which you can make even as much as I do from as few hours as I work, and I have exceptionally low costs of living.

In fact, the only people who work less than I do for more money are the very heirs and old-money institutions most likely to be found making this argument in the first place. So if I am the exception, it suggests that they are, in fact, a bunch of lazy tossers. News to no-one, perhaps, but nice to have it confirmed in their own arguments...

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