Will consumerism survive automation?
I have been saying for a while now that Consumerism is a horse in a world of cars. It exists in a paradigm that might have once been true but with each passing year it becomes less and less so. This is partly why corruption and financial consolidation are such problems. We are using a system that presumes non-global markets, slow trade when trade does exist, and centralized production and distribution. There are other things as well but basically our economy is built off the same framework that existed in a time when people only ever really met folks in their town or city.
Now I can order things from thousands of miles away and get them in a matter of days. Stock market purchasing and selling both happening many times per fraction of a second. The world has changed and it has changed dramatically. If you aren’t near a wifi spot you are reading about this from a device that is talking to a metal box hurtling around our planet. It’s obscene, even if we just talked about landline internet it still would be so.
Poverty is quite large in the US, 45 million people in the US are in poverty. That’s pretty crazy, far too high. Realistically anything above 0 is too high, but even when you account for the greed of the macro organism of humanity, 45 million is a holy shit kind of number. It exists because consumerism is not a moral governing system. In a consumerist society your only goal is profits, I’m not entirely clear why this is a good thing. On the surface this sounds like something that George Orwell would have written and we’d have all scoffed at how cringeworthy it was. But…here we are.
So once you take out the humanity of the system you look towards the goal. Profits. Maximum Profits. It is cheaper to get your goods manufactured in countries that have even lower moral imperatives than your current one. You find the nation that is willing to allow abuse of their people to the furthest extent and then you employ businesses there. The next step is where things get tricky. Currently you are still hiring people, that’s messy. People need to eat, they start wanting better lives, and in general they are huge pains in the ass when you just want thralls.
In come machines. The fuel requirements they require are almost always cheaper than the food costs of humans. They never demand better wages because they are mindless. The number of people you need to maintain machines is far lower than the number of people you need as a whole to complete nearly any project. There was a time in the past when machines weren’t as dextrous as people but that is becoming less and less the case with each passing month, let alone year. Soon self driving cars will eliminate the jobs of at least 10 million people in the US, that’s 10 million new folks without wages on top of the 45 million already there.
So now you are at 55 million people, or 1/6th of the entire population of the US. Following self driving cars you will be seeing better mechanisms for factory machines. Tesla in particular is showing just how awesome you can make robots (as is DARPA).
Machines that can fuel cars, drive cars, manufacture clothing, food, etc. These are all things that either exist or will in the next 15 years. Each one of these things will eliminate some percent of jobs. We should take a moment to watch a video on the topic, listen to a nice sultry voice for once.
Back? I suppose he said what I would have said. But consider this, 3D printers are going to be building things on the atomic level in the next two decades. I am saying this with 100% confidence, for whatever that’s worth. So once you have a printer that can make everything you no longer need to ship anything but matter. Raw matter to be made into things within your home. If you build a large 3D printer that then prints smaller 3D printers you create a system where now you are only selling designs or raw matter. Robots can easily store matter into boxes (or however these things are transported). Robots can also repair other robots. You can create a self sustaining system where humans literally are unnecessary for the economy.
So what do you do when you’ve got billions of people, almost all of them unemployed?
You certainly don’t spend money to buy things. Or maybe you do. It seems to me either consumerism will die, at a time long after it harms hundreds of millions of people and nearly destroys the environment, or there will be a miraculous dystopia where everything should be free but basically nothing is.