March 2018, Week 1


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Material of Interest to People on the Left 



 Roberto Savio 
 February 26, 2018
transform! europe

	* [https://portside.org/node/16657/printable/print]

 _ For every industrial robot introduced into the workforce, six jobs
are eliminated. – Since a few days, Amazon has started Amazon Go.
The idea is simple: a shop where you go in, take whatever you want
from the shelves, and the cost goes automatically to a magnetic card
that you carry. _ 

 Illustration: geralt at pixabay CC0, 


Going out, you swipe the card, which goes to your bank account or to a
credit card, and that it is. No ques, no cashiers, fast and easy. The
first shop, in Seattle, has a roaring success. Nobody is in charge
with restocking the items. An automatic system does that. And soon two
robots will replace the items on the shelves, now done by two
employees. Even the cleaning of the floor is being done by a robot.
The goal is to have a totally automatic shop, where no human can make
mistakes, get ill, go on strike, take holidays, or bring into the work
personal problems.

The American petrol industry calculates that will reduce within three
years the staff required at each well, from 20 to five. Small hotels
within three years will have a fully automated reception. You will
arrive, swipe your credit card, a key for your room will come out, and
you are done. If you need anything, you call a central office, where
people will answer your questions and do what all the eliminated
receptionists were doing. We are already accustomed to automated
telephone for bookings and reservations: and to do ourselves tasks at
an airport which were done before by clerks. Immigration officers will
be reduced to a small team, which will intervene only if called by the
immigration’s machines. Contrary to what we think, self-driving
vehicle are coming fast: car makers think they will be on the market
by 2021.

In the United States, according to ABI research institute, the number
of industrial robots will jump nearly 300 percent, in less than a
decade. And the National Economic Research Bureau, found out that for
every industrial robot introduced unto the workforce, six jobs are
eliminated. After the auto industry, the strongest user is the
pharmaceutical sector. Robots can perform toxic operation, without any

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD),
released a “policy brief”, indicating what would bring this robot
revolution, in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. “If robots are
considered a form of capital that is a close substitute for
low-skilled jobs, then their growing use reduces the share of human
labour in production costs. Adverse effects for developing countries
may be significant” the report states. In May 2016, the World
Bank’s Digital Dividend Report, calculated that the substitution
with robots of low-skilled workers, in developing countries, concerned
two thirds if the jobs. China is going to be the biggest user of
robots. The large reserve of cheap labour, coming from the rural area,
is dwindling. China plans to become a high technology world leader.
The time of cheap imitations is gone. Now China registers more patents
than US. Foxconn, a large industrial producer, reduced, last year, its
employ strength, from 110.000 to 50.000 in Kunshan, as an example,
thanks to the introductions of robots.

The economists call this wave of automatization, the Fourth Industrial
Revolution. The first started, at the end of the 18th century, with
the introduction of machines to do the handicraft work, like in
textiles. Its impact become visible In 1811, when the followers of a
fictional Ned Ludd started to destroy textile equipment, because it
left jobless thousands of individual weavers (who become the workers
of the factories). The second industrial revolution was in the middle
of the same century, when science was applied to production, creating
engines and other inventions, creating the real Industrial Revolution.
That meant rural populations migrating to towns, to work in the
factories. The Third revolution, in the middle of last century, is
considered to be the introduction of the Net, which changed again the
forms of production. Gone where the jobs of secretaries in companies,
the job of Lino typist in newspapers, of accounting, in documentation,
libraries, archives and other hundreds of professions made obsolete by
the Net.

We see in our daily life, the Fourth Industrial Revolution. But is
like climate. We all know. We have all the data, every year the
climate change is in front of our eyes: more hurricanes, glaciers
disappearing, extreme weather, record hot summer since recording of
temperatures. Yet, the Paris Conference in Climate Change, is now
geared to produce an increase of 3 grade centigrade, when it is a
scientific unanimous assumption that to go over 1.5 centigrade would
be extremely dangerous. We even have a President of the United States,
who withdrew from a non-binding Paris’ agreement, declaring that
climate change is a “Chinese hoax”; and who appointed a Director
of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, who says that
global warming is “positive”. Is like to put Dracula in charge of
a blood bank.

The political approach to automation is similar, The World Economic
Forum of Davos of 2016 was dedicated to the Fourth Industrial
Revolution. The founder and director of the Forum, the economist Klaus
Schwalb, even took to the effort of writing a book on the subject, for
the conference: a book in which he expresses his concern. Previous
industrial revolutions liberated humankind from animal power, made
mass production possible and brought digital capabilities to billions
of people. This Fourth Industrial Revolution is, however,
fundamentally different. It is characterized by a range of new
technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological
worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even
challenging ideas about what it means to be human. We need to take a
concerted approach in the world, to make the positive impacts
overriding the negative ones. The theme was practically ignored at
Davos 2016, because politicians discuss now only themes at a short
term: what has to be treated during an electoral period. In
particular, Schwab called for leaders and citizens to “together
shape a future that works for all by putting people first, empowering
them and constantly reminding ourselves that all of these new
technologies are first and foremost tools made by people for people.
“Clearly, that goes against the tide of nationalism, the new vision
for the US, India, Japan, China, Philippines, Hungary, Poland, Great
Britain, Turkey and so on.

Well, like it or not, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is here. Today
automatization accounts already for the 17% of production and
services. It will account for 40% in 15 yes, according to the World
Bank projections. But we should also take into account the surprising
seed of development of the Artificial INTELLIGENCE (AI, also
machine INTELLIGENCE, MI) is INTELLIGENCE demonstrated by machines,
in contrast to the natural INTELLIGENCE (NI) displayed by humans and
other animals. We have already robots which can be reprogrammed, and
change their functions. We have no space here to look into the vitally
important relation between AI and societies. Suffice to say that the
most vibrant debate today is how our economy is mutating into an
economy of algorithms and data and how this is impacting politics. The
Austrian economist and thinker Karl Polany, saw all this coming, when
he made a simple observation: capitalism, without controls and
regulations, does not create a market economy, but a market society
where whatever is necessary for survival has a price, and that is
submitted to the laws of the market. In that kind of society, the
state has no alternative, but to sustain the system with laws, courts
and police who protect private property, to secure the good
functioning of the market. The explosion of social injustice, the
privatization of common goods, the fiscal support to the richest, are
all consequences of Polany analysis. Add to this how monopolizations
of data in a few giant companies, like Facebook or Amazon, and their
impact in the social, cultural and economic sphere, and you can see
where we are going. We have become data ourselves, and we are on the
market. The 4th Industrial revolution will further reduce the
centrality of the human, who was before the centre of society, and has
already been substituted by the market, since the fall of the Berlin

All his opens another crucial debate, for which we have no space
either. Labour was considered an important factor of cost in
production. And it was how much the workers had rights to the
resulting benefits, that sparked the creation of trade unions, the
modern left, and the adoption of universal values, like social
justice, transparency, participation, basis of the modern
international relations. The machine’s relations with the
distribution of the benefits of production, has inspired several
thinkers, philosophers and economists over the last centuries. It was
generally assumed that a time would come, in which machines would
eventually do all the production, and humankind would be free of work,
maintained by the profits generated by the machines. This, of course,
was more a dream than a political theory. Yet today, all managers of
Artificial Intelligence and Robot’s production, maintain that the
superior productivity of robots will reduce costs, therefore enabling
more consummation of good and services, that will generate new jobs,
who will easily absorb those displaced by the machines. The data we
have do not show that at all. The Economic Report of the President of
the US, say that there is an 83% chance that those who earn 20 dollars
an hour, could have their job replaced by robots. This proportion goes
to 31% for those who make 40 dollars per hour. The new economy is an
intelligence economy, based on technical knowledge. You have a future,
if you are able to adapt to that kind of society, for which new
generations are much more attuned. But what will do a taxi driver, who
did not have a technical education, to recycle himself? The statistics
show that today, when somebody lose his job at a certain age, if he
finds a new one, it will be almost always at an inferior remuneration.
So robotization will affect, above all, the lower middle class, with a
new generational divide.

A number of economist and influential people, over the years have come
out with the idea of a Universal Basic Income. It is time to cushion
the society from tensions, instability and unemployment by giving to
every citizen a fix income, so to give him a dignified life: and by
spending its UBI, he would generate wealth and increase demand, which
would stimulate therefore growth, and make a society just and stable.
Martin Luther King was an early proponent, like the neoliberal
economist Milton Friedman. Now the billionaires from Silicon Valley,
like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, the venture capitalist Mark
Andreessen, the democrat senator Bernie Sanders, have all expressed
support to the idea of a UBI. And in the coming presidential American
elections, a New York tech executive, will run with UBI as his
political platform. He observes that Trump did particularly well in
Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, states which have lost
four million jobs because of automatization. “Higher the
concentration of robots, higher the number of disgruntled people wo
vote for Trump.” He plans to cover the two trillion dollars that UBI
would cost (half of the US budget), with a new Vat tax, and taxation
on the companies who profit from automation. Of course, in the US the
idea that people who do not work receive public money, is the closest
thing to communism, and UBI faces formidable cultural obstacles. But
Andrew Yang, the candidate, says we will have otherwise in a few years
“riots in the streets: just think to the one million of truck
drivers, who are 94% males, with an average education of high school,
suddenly all jobless…”

This bring us, to conclude an article where is more what is left out
that what is in, to make two political consideration and a concrete
proposal, for the sake of thinking positive.

The first consideration is that Trump, and all the other politicians
who want to restore a past glorious future, are totally ignoring this
debate (unfortunately, is not in any political debate) To restore jobs
in mines and fossils, for example ignores that the technological
development has already shed many jobs, and will continue to do so.
The data of the petrol companies are definitive, So ,to rally
disgruntled people, as was the case in Europe with Brexit, is a
consequence of the poverty of the political debate, where traditional
political parties(especially on the left), instead of explaining
clearly the world in which we are, and the one in which we are going,
are trying to piggy back the feeling of the victims of the neoliberal
globalization, taking often the banners of the nationalists. The
coming elections in Italy are a good example. The centre-left party of
Matteo Renzi looks to get the least number of votes, because of its
confuse identity, which is difficult to distinguish from the other

The second political consideration is that migration have become a
major theme in elections. Trump was elected on a strong
anti-immigrant’s platform, which continues in his government.
Governments in Hungary, Austria, Poland Chekia, Slovakia, are based on
refusal of immigrants. All over Europe, from the Nordic countries to
France, Nederland’s and Germany, anti-immigrant feelings are
conditioning the governments. In the Italian election, the old fox of
Berlusconi, to take votes away from the xenophobe Salvini (who is the
Italian counterpart of the international nationalist, with Putin in
Europe and Trump in the world as leaders), has promised that he will
expel 600.000 immigrants, if he wins the election. Renzi government is
presenting the reduction of immigrants by sea, as one example of his
good governance (little mention that this was done by distributing
money to all Libyan factions and to the immigrant’ s smugglers). The
fear is that immigrants are stealing jobs and resources to the
legitimate European citizens. The statistics from the European Union
tell us that the total number of non-EU citizens living in Europe
(some for a long time), is now 35 million people. Of those about 8
million were Africans, and seven million Arabs. Those figures included
also illegal immigrants. That, in a population of 400 million. All
statistics point out that more than 97% of the immigrants are totally
integrated, that they pay in average more taxes than the locals (of
course, they worry about their future), and up now those who do not
have a job are about 2.3 million people, who are still waiting about
their juridical situation. There is not a single study who claims that
immigrants have taken the jobs of European in any significant way. It
was the same story against the entry of woman in the labour market. An
increasing proportion of women have joined the labour force over the
last 30 years, but these increases have not coincided with falling
employment rates for men. A study on Brexit proves that immigrants
helped to increase the National Gross Product, and the increase in
productivity meant a global increase of employment. But we have
reached a point where nobody any longer listens to facts, unless they
are convenient…

And now the concrete proposal. It is clear that the real threat to
employment for the large majority of citizens comes from robotization,
not immigration. No employed person has been fired to be substituted
by an immigrant, unless we talk of non-qualified jobs, that Europeans
do not want anyhow. Truck drivers, taxi drivers, bus drivers, school
drivers, to take the most imminent example, do not fear immigration
for their job. Well, in very few years, their job will become
obsolete, and there will be no plans or preparation for that. When the
problem will blow up, politics will start to look at it. M<y be would
be a more responsible thing to do, that instead of stoking fear with
populism and xenophobia, we start to face the real problems that our
society is facing: automatization. And here is a simple proposal:
somebody who takes a robot, is making money because of its superior
productivity, and he is firing somebody. He is therefore, after having
paid the robot during usually a couple of years, have a 100 per cent
benefit from the firing of a human. Well, he will not have 100%, but a
60%, because he will continue to pay the social costs of the human
fired: its pension, taxes and health insurance.

That is not as costly as the UBI, is easy to organize and administer,
and will be a way to realize partly the old utopian dream: that
machines work for humankind. Can we start a political debate?

	* [https://portside.org/node/16657/printable/print]







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