Are Automation and Capitalism on a Collision Course?

The techno-utopian myth has already been deeply problematized by environmental sociology, practice theory studies, science and technology studies and the Risk Society debate. Technological developments do not neatly perform to planned expectations. There are often unforeseen unintended consequences and human beings are not the passive recipients of intervention and innovation that is often assumed.

With automation the techno-utopian dream has clear conflicts up ahead. Self-service checkouts, driverless cars and heavily automated factories and warehouses (such as those used by Amazon) already exist. Moreover the threat to jobs is not just in blue collar sectors. A Japanese insurance firm Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance recently made 34 office employees redundant and replaced them with artificial intelligence software. There have even been robotic developments in surgery that could eventually threaten the value of human surgeons.So what will become of the mass of workers that they are intended to replace?

The question asked in the title is a valid one for the public interest and public debate. How is an economic system that distributes vast amounts of income to citizens through the market value of labour going to contend with the masses whose market value disappears? Who are they then going to sell goods and services to? Will there be a sufficient amount of conspicuous consumption from the remaining elites to keep afloat a market of luxuries while the rest of the public are made destitute?  Will the breakdown in collective action under neoliberalism prevent a public backlash from occurring or when faced with dire impoverishment will the masses rise up in effective numbers? If they do will police and military hold firm  against impoverished millions or will they too be automated and programmed to protect the elite from the unruly mob? I’ll admit that I am pulling most of this stuff out of the sky right now but isn’t it time to ask these questions, especially in regard to the appropriateness of automation for an economic system so heavily dependent on markets and labour-based income.

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“Fuck Neoliberalism”: Some choice words on Neoliberalism by Simon Springer

Interesting take on the use of the word “fuck” in academia here by Simon Springer whose paper “Fuck Neoliberalism” has over 24,000 views on academiaedu (maybe I should add a few expletives to my own titles in future):

Fuck Neoliberalism. …For a time I had considered calling this paper ‘Forget Neoliberalism’ instead, as in some ways that’s exactly what I wanted to do. I’ve been writing on the subject for many years (Springer 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015; Springer et al. 2016) and I came to a point where I just didn’t want to commit any more energy to this endeavor for fear that continuing to work around this idea was functioning to perpetuate its hold. On further reflection I also recognize that as a political manoeuvre it is potentially quite dangerous to simply stick our heads in the sand and collectively ignore a phenomenon that has had such devastating and debilitating effects on our shared world. There is an ongoing power to neoliberalism that is difficult to deny and I’m not convinced that a strategy of ignorance is actually the right approach (Springer 2016a). So my exact thoughts were, ‘well fuck it then’, and while a quieter and gentler name for this paper could tone down the potential offence that might come with the title I’ve chosen, I subsequently reconsidered. Why should we be more worried about using profanity than we are about the actual vile discourse of neoliberalism itself? I decided that I wanted to transgress, to upset, and to offend, precisely because we ought to be offended by neoliberalism, it is entirely upsetting, and therefore we should ultimately be seeking to transgress it. Wouldn’t softening the title be making yet another concession to the power of neoliberalism? I initially worried what such a title might mean in terms of my reputation. Would it hinder future promotion or job offers should I want to maintain my mobility as an academic, either upwardly or to a new location? This felt like conceding personal defeat to neoliberal disciplining. Fuck that.

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Irish General Election 2016: What Party Manifestos say about Migrant, Asylum & Refugee Issues

Someone over at Doras Luimni has done some nice work collating what party manifestos say about ‘migrant, asylum & refugee issues’. I wonder if similar work has been done by somebody with regard to content on environmental issues. Of course from past experience we cannot simply take their manifestos at face-value. Instead a deeper analysis is required such as comparing manifesto content to previous party (non)implementation of manifestos and voting records. That said it does show where the emphasis lies in party concerns or at least where it is they feel a need to appear concerned.

I have uploaded the four images of the manifesto collation here so that they can be got at via the one link. Again nice work to the person behind it and thanks.

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Inequality Kills: According to Reports on Cancer in Ireland

Good to see an article in the Irish Times addressing the relationship between inequality and cancer in Ireland according to two recent reports. The article lists several of these reports’ findings :

  • “people living in more deprived areas experience a poorer survival from cancer than those who live in more affluent parts of Ireland.”
  • “breast cancer patients from the most deprived areas were about 30 per cent more likely to die from their cancer than patients from the least deprived areas, having allowed for differences in patients’ age.”
  • “those from more deprived backgrounds were more likely to present late with advanced stage cancers. In addition, they were more likely to present with symptoms rather than through screening and were less likely to have breast-conserving surgery.”
  •  “death rates from cancer in some of the poorest parts of Dublin were more than twice as high as rates in more affluent areas.”
  • “Some of these disparities are due to the difficulties accessing healthcare experienced by the poorest in society”

Unfortunately the article is quite small, far from the symbolism of front page significance, and all too easily forgotten. I fear the class-based, social justice and social environment features behind such cancer rates will become lost again in mainstream media’s tendency towards ‘episodic’ reporting. For an illustrative example see this previous post which highlights how a statement, about poorer people being up to 70% more likely to get some cancers, gets lost in a new report’s classless assessment. Such easy returns to class-invisibility with regard to the reporting of cancer rates is perhaps aided by the media’s bias towards the middle-class experience along with a narrow dependency on a panel of go-to experts wherein the individualising mainstream economist is dominant – although for “softer” social and more lifestyle related issues the individualizing psychologist becomes the consecrated ‘public intellectual’. This narrowness of expertise in public debate and policy-related decision-making is something I will return to in a future post.