Socialist Worker on tech
June 24, 2015 10:22 AM   Subscribe

 
it's easy for those who are .. mistreated to feel isolated and even personally inadequate, rather than seeking solidarity from co-workers."
Oh god this so much. This piece fits nicely with Tim Chevalier's article posted here last April about why he is personally leaving the tech industry.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:44 AM on June 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Hmm, solidarity, you say. I wonder if we could monetize that with an app. Maybe put it on a monthly subscription model... we could use Bitcoin...
posted by theorique at 10:49 AM on June 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


At the same time, capital also relies on living labor for its reproduction. Machines, even the most sophisticated, don't add surplus value to the production process. Without exploiting human labor, capital cannot be turned into profit.
...
But no matter who we are in the industry--cleaner, coder, designer or picker/packer--if we don't go to work, our bosses can't make a profit from our labor. In the end, to keep delivering things of value to people, we don't need them: They need us.


Labor theory of value? Really? Especially silly given the subject, Silicon valley. Amazon will get rid of those terrible picker/packer jobs, only to replace them with robots. As more and more types of jobs are being replaced with automation, I don't see how you can believe in this. If I'm wrong I'm wrong, but those silicon valley behemoths are doing their best to break that theory in to teeny weeny pieces.
posted by zabuni at 10:58 AM on June 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


I know the article covers more than just engineers, but I wonder if the author even talked to someone working as a developer in Silicon Valley.

We aren't going to be on the picket line because even super established companies in the Valley offer 6 figure stock (RSUs, not options) sign-on bonuses. Fighting off recruiter calls/emails gets to be a hassle when you aren't looking, and the whole "your job will go India!!!!1" situation turned out to be horseshit.

It's definitely a sellers market when it comes to being a developer. Perhaps we aren't getting everything we deserve, but it's hard for people to feel like exploited workers when the parking lot has a lot more Teslas than Corollas.
posted by sideshow at 11:10 AM on June 24, 2015 [13 favorites]


Peter Singer in his book on Marx has a memorable quote on the labor theory of value:

"The capitalists of the future will not see their profits dry up as they dismiss the last workers from their fully automated factories."
posted by bodywithoutorgans at 11:13 AM on June 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


In the end, to keep delivering things of value to people, we don't need them: They need us.

Now the working classes are obsolete
They are surplus to society's needs
So let 'em all kill each other
And get it made overseas

posted by Nevin at 11:18 AM on June 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


the whole "your job will go India!!!!1" situation turned out to be horseshit

Except for Disney devs, who had to train their visa-less replacements and only got to keep their jobs because of an embarrassing higher-profile-than-usual piece in the NYT.

Tech companies can hire four devs in India for the price of one in Seattle. If you're a software developer, that's a lot of pressure to put on your long-term prospects. You're expensive enough that actively working to replace you is a managerial priority at a lot of top tech companies.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 11:19 AM on June 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


How many of these cushy jobs with 6 figure signup bonuses are there really? How much are your future stock options worth anyway, if you're programming away for some shady startup? I know a lot of coders who get hired just for gigs, and who don't know where their next job is going to be. For every "star programmer" out there, I'd venture there's at least a dozens of us in the trenches coding for long hours without any job security. I don't know anybody with a shiny Tesla.
posted by monospace at 11:22 AM on June 24, 2015 [18 favorites]


It's definitely a sellers market when it comes to being a developer. Perhaps we aren't getting everything we deserve, but it's hard for people to feel like exploited workers when the parking lot has a lot more Teslas than Corollas.

The challenge is that the people running the show (the Apples and the Googles of the world) believe in TOTAL disruption, and this includes everything from taxis and hotels, to what has traditionally been considered the cornerstones of civil society (in Canada) such as education and healthcare.

What do you do when everything has been leveled, aggregated and commodified? My children, unless they are technocrats like you the developer may not work for an employer ever. They'll instead work as freelance hire-by-the hour labour. It's what I do now.

Hopefully my children will have the ability to become technocrats, but over the next 15 years even technocratic occupations will be leveled. Can we all be engineers?

Does everyone have the sense of cold-blooded fuhrerprinzip one needs to survive in a bureaucracy? Because if you are not climbing you are going to die.
posted by Nevin at 11:25 AM on June 24, 2015 [10 favorites]


Honestly this shit freaks me out as I enter the tech workforce. I have no interest in making $100,000+/yr or becoming a techbro who works from home and lives in an open office plan and sleeps on a foosball table (sdfjdslgkdjg) but I sure am afraid of becoming irrelevant doing something I love. Or going into debt and not being able to work my way out of it. Or aging out of the industry because I'm not hip and on the bleeding edge.

Someone comfort me :3
posted by easter queen at 11:27 AM on June 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Keep in mind that the freelance world is also precarious labor. What starts out with giddy optimism for a working with a remote, decentralized agile team quickly turns into 60 hour work weeks (the not so subtle reminders to be online on weekends), daily time sheets, to sudden termination in 5 minutes having your Slack and Google account privileges deactivated.
posted by bodywithoutorgans at 11:28 AM on June 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


Someone comfort me :3

Methane clathrates?
posted by PMdixon at 11:29 AM on June 24, 2015 [13 favorites]


The thing required for a successful use of off-shored developers is diligent, competent managers who can keep technical details of a whole project in their heads and anticipate and deal with unexpected problems.

And those people have better things to do than sit on teleconferences at 10:00pm.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:33 AM on June 24, 2015 [14 favorites]


Peter Singer in his book on Marx has a memorable quote on the labor theory of value:

"The capitalists of the future will not see their profits dry up as they dismiss the last workers from their fully automated factories."


There is a (quite possibly apocryphal exchange between Henry Ford II and Walter Reuther which I think is pertinent.

While visiting a newly automated production line, Ford turned to Reuther and, with a smile, asked him, "Walter, how are you ever going to get these machines to pay your union dues?"

To which Reuther, after a moment's reflection, replied, "Mr. Ford, how are you going to get them to buy your cars?"

Without wages, a producer cannot be a consumer. It doesn't matter how much of your product you can produce, or how fast, if no one is able to buy it. So yeah, I don't really see where the "profit" those superautomating future capitalists are going to "see" will be coming from, if the source of that profit - consumers with some form of income - vanishes.
posted by AdamCSnider at 11:33 AM on June 24, 2015 [25 favorites]


Honestly this shit freaks me out as I enter the tech workforce. I have no interest in making $100,000+/yr

Bearing in mind what I said above, there is nothing wrong with earning $100k a year if you can do it. I'm just thinking that in 15 years those sorts of jobs will be few and far between.
posted by Nevin at 11:34 AM on June 24, 2015


Agreed-- in Japan the demand is much different, and it's not uncommon to earn a very middling salary ($40k/yr) as a programmer.
posted by easter queen at 11:36 AM on June 24, 2015


Without wages, a producer cannot be a consumer. It doesn't matter how much of your product you can produce, or how fast, if no one is able to buy it. So yeah, I don't really see where the "profit" those superautomating future capitalists are going to "see" will be coming from, if the source of that profit - consumers with some form of income - vanishes.

I agree as a first approximation. However, value creation has become increasingly abstracted because of financial speculation, as the Yo app example in the article brought out.
posted by bodywithoutorgans at 11:39 AM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Of course, the labor theory of value is not to be confused as a theory of prices; unfortunately, this is where many tedious debates end up.
posted by bodywithoutorgans at 11:42 AM on June 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Labor theory of value? Really? Especially silly given the subject, Silicon valley. Amazon will get rid of those terrible picker/packer jobs, only to replace them with robots. As more and more types of jobs are being replaced with automation, I don't see how you can believe in this. If I'm wrong I'm wrong, but those silicon valley behemoths are doing their best to break that theory in to teeny weeny pieces.

That the labor is done by something other than human hands does not change the fact that it is labor which creates the value.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:43 AM on June 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


Without wages, a producer cannot be a consumer. It doesn't matter how much of your product you can produce, or how fast, if no one is able to buy it. So yeah, I don't really see where the "profit" those superautomating future capitalists are going to "see" will be coming from, if the source of that profit - consumers with some form of income - vanishes.

You're missing the point. There will be no money in the long run. Profit will no longer be necessary. The end state of this model is a world of endless plenty in which absolutely anything can be produced by automated machinery to satisfy the whims of the roughly 1 million or so human beings in the world - former elites, now enjoying a classless paradise without all those crowds messing up the really beautiful places.
posted by Naberius at 11:55 AM on June 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


okay so seriously I don't see why I shouldn't dismiss out of hand anyone who dismisses Adam Smith's labor theory of value out of hand. Political economy hasn't been a mainstream thing in capitalist countries in a long while, but nevertheless dismissing the labor theory of value as Marxist bafflegab or whatever requires, if nothing else, overlooking that the labor theory of value wasn't Marx's idea.

Okay, that aside: one thing that people making the "all the jobs will be automated out of existence" argument overlook is that a rational capitalist will, in organizing producing, choose to use the cheapest effective instrument available for production.

And here is where I think we need to cite Marx chapter and verse. Humans can effectively compete with machines as laborers if and only if the cost of producing human labor time is less than the cost of buying and running a machine to perform that work. As such, automation doesn't necessarily displace labor so much as cheapen it; human laborers can keep their employments by reducing their standards of living and increasing their working hours to the point that they, the laborers, become cheaper than the machines used. This is why, for example, factories in low-labor-cost countries will frequently break up tasks that would in an expensive-labor context be done by one large expensive labor-saving machine into little tasks that are performed by workers who can eke out marginal livings by reducing themselves to cheaper versions of the machines used in production. We see this playing out in the present in China and Southeast Asia, but Marx talks about this in Capital in the part where he's trying to explain why industrial automation was so much more widely used in 19th century America than in 19th century England. England, as the birthplace of the industrial revolution, still had most of the best industrial engineers, but frequently machines developed in England would be widely used in the U.S. and not at all at home. Marx's explanation came back to labor costs: labor was significantly more expensive in the U.S., because (Marx hypothesized) the still-loosely-organized American West provided options for American workers, driving up the cost of labor generally and making automation make economic sense here. English workers, on the other hand, had fewer options and could be forced to accept worse wages, meaning that it made more sense in England to pay workers peanuts to perform repetitive tasks for sixteen hours a day instead of buying a machine to do the same thing.

It is of course wildly inhumane and stupid that we are all going to end up reducing ourselves to miserable quasi-machines in order to make ourselves cheaper than actual machines and thereby win the right to eat just enough of the scraps of the civilization we're building to keep us from starving, freezing, or killing ourselves. But well such is life under capitalism.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:57 AM on June 24, 2015 [38 favorites]


I have a pretty comfortable software job for which I'm paid pretty well -- right around the average for my area given my experience. I think I'm worth more, but surely so does everyone whose salary is lower than mine, and probably many of those whose salaries are higher than mine. Still, in terms of power to actually change working conditions, all I have as leverage is my willingness to leave this job for another.

Just yesterday I posted an AskMe about how hard it is to find a senior developer position where you get your own office, and it turns out it's really hard! Everything I've read from the AskMe answers and my own reading on the subject suggests that most workers hate the trend toward open floor plans, but have no power to change it.

Now, my "plight", such as it is, is certainly less important to the labor movement than efforts to give fast food workers a living wage, to get rid of the absurdly low tipped employee minimum wage that exists in many states, to increase safety for workers in the construction and energy industries, etc., but the same dynamic is at work, which is that those who own the companies know that people can't simply hop from job to job every time they find something they don't like about their situation, and without a union organizing on the employees' behalf, management generally can do whatever they like. There is a lot of friction involved in changing jobs (including but not limited to loss of vacation time and health benefits) and that most people won't do it unless the situation is so extreme *and* there's another employer in the same industry near enough that isn't doing the same shit.

None of this is to say that I think a labor union of software developers or tech workers generally would be a bad thing -- I'd happily join one -- but until workers in these other sectors who have much bigger problems are better-positioned, I think the labor movement's assets are better spent focusing on these workers. I'll survive just fine if my only choice for my next job involves trading in my window office for a cubicle, but I can't say the same for people who are working close to minimum wage or in unsafe conditions simply because the employers know they can get away with it.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:05 PM on June 24, 2015 [12 favorites]


But that is precisely why it is so important for relatively high-paying in-demand workers like software developers to organize. You may dismiss your own concerns as "less important" but they still stem from the exact same power dynamic as those "workers in these other sectors who have much bigger problems".

We really could do with a re-invigorated labor movement in this country, and the over-worked and over-paid software industry is certainly full of the type of people that have the financial and social capital to enable this.
posted by GetLute at 12:36 PM on June 24, 2015 [21 favorites]


Well, start off by *not* calling it a labor union, and call it an Association, like the Bar Association for lawyers, or the American Medical Association for Doctors.
posted by fragmede at 12:38 PM on June 24, 2015 [17 favorites]


Sure. As long is it serves a similar purpose via collective bargaining. There are some inroads being made into the negotiation process via better salary transparency (glassdoor et al) but the power dynamic as it is will not change without solidarity in the wage / benefits negotiation process. I would guess that something similar can happen if enough employees with fully-vested stock decide to actively push changes through at the corporate level, but every tech worker I have ever spoken to sees stock benefits strictly as an investment vehicle rather than a source of empowerment in the workplace.
posted by GetLute at 12:46 PM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Except for Disney devs, who had to train their visa-less replacements and only got to keep their jobs because of an embarrassing higher-profile-than-usual piece in the NYT.

The "And then the workers had to train their foreign replacements!" story is a worn out cliche. The only reason the NYT even ran it was because Disney was involved. This story has been told time-and-time-again since the late 90's.

Know what other story is a cliche? The one where the outsourcing effort fails and everyone who was signed off is fired. Turns out companies get what they pay for. That happens much, is not most, of the time. The NYT could have already had the story written up. But, for whatever reason, people were shocked, SHOCKED, to find out that outsourcing happens and Disney bowed to the pressure no one lost their jobs.
posted by sideshow at 12:50 PM on June 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


The only reason the NYT even ran it was because Disney was involved.

And that it even got any coverage is probably the main reason those devs got their jobs back, too.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 12:54 PM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah - /r/Technocommunism.
posted by symbioid at 1:15 PM on June 24, 2015


Reeks and Wrecks
“My son just finished his National General Classification Tests. He just about killed himself studying up for them, but he didn’t do nearly well enough for college. There were only twenty-seven openings, and six hundred kids trying for them . . . so now he’s got to decide what he’s going to do with his life. What’s it going to be, the Army or the Reeks and Wrecks?”

“I really don’t know much about either one . . .“

“Doctor, isn’t there something the boy could do at the plant --?”

“He’s got to have a graduate degree,” said Paul. He reddened. “That’s policy, and I didn’t make it. . . . Maybe he could open a repair shop.”

The man exhaled, slumped dejectedly. “Repair shop,”he sighed. “Repair shop, he says. How many repair shops you think Ilium can support, eh? Repair shop, sure! I was going to open one when I got laid off. So was Joe, so was Sam, so was Alf. We’re all clever with our hands, so we’ll all open repair shops. One repairman for every broken article in Ilium. Meanwhile, our wives clean up as dressmakers -- one dressmaker for every woman in town.”
-- Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano (1952)
posted by Herodios at 1:18 PM on June 24, 2015 [15 favorites]


Well, start off by *not* calling it a labor union, and call it an Association, like the Bar Association for lawyers, or the American Medical Association for Doctors. --posted by fragmede

Or Streetsweeper Social Club
posted by symbioid at 1:26 PM on June 24, 2015


So - I sorta came up with this idea of a new form of economic organization and it's sort of a Market-Techno-Socialist-Fascist Hybrid.

The idea here would be that you use the labor market precisely as it is. A labor market.

Now using something like Fascism (in its original ideological form, not the abstractions that we've turned it into as a political smear) or ParEcon...

Create "central planning" but instead of dictating directly what gets made, manipulate the market by dictating payscales, using the "market" of labor to help re-allocate labor as resource (supply/demand) - in the same way the labor market now does, but instead of an organic/capitalist "free" market, it would be centrally planned. If you got really fancy, you could even do it via a CyberSyn style project with minimal input except for desired production, and let the system analyze and reconfigure the payrates.

Just a weird economic system I thought of that I haven't heard of yet.
posted by symbioid at 1:43 PM on June 24, 2015


Responding to a few things here...

> I know the article covers more than just engineers, but I wonder if the author even talked to someone working as a developer in Silicon Valley.

I know (at least) one of the co-authors is a software engineer in Silicon Valley.

Have you noticed the Teslas are usually driven by the executives and not the engineers?

> "The capitalists of the future will not see their profits dry up as they dismiss the last workers from their fully automated factories."

Okay, so if we're going to dive into Marxism...

Replacing a person with a robot, or -- more typically -- upgrading a robot to make a worker more efficient, is called a productivity increase that increases the organic composition of capital. This enables the same worker to produce more output with the same amount of labor-power. The OCC ratio of (roughly speaking) capital over wages can never have the denominator drop to zero because there is no such thing as a fully automated factory. If you think I am wrong, please provide an example. There is always a need for human labor, even if that need is to simply create / maintain / administer the robots.

Plus, as others have mentioned, the problem of effective demand becomes catastrophic for capitalism if all the workers disappear.

> but until workers in these other sectors who have much bigger problems are better-positioned, I think the labor movement's assets are better spent focusing on these workers

I think it's worth considering what kind of strategic power you have as a skilled worker at the point of production. There has always been a relatively more precarious segment of the labor force, but it is the more strategically important segment of workers that the labor movement has traditionally focused on organizing, and with good reason. The sub-minimum wage worker at Wal Mart does not have the social power that you do. They are much more easily replaced as a non-skilled, low-wage worker, and also not involved in production and thus can't bring production to a halt in a strike (or threaten to do so).
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 1:54 PM on June 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


FTA: It may be the case that few tech workers currently treated as skilled will see themselves as part of a class with common interests that conflict with those of the bosses until they are confronted with mass layoffs or other attacks on things we've come to take for granted. If so, we won't be well positioned for that struggle.

Thing is though, I was in the tech sector during the dotcom crash, and even then, I can't recall more than a couple of people talking about organizing. Even the really liberal techies I've known tend to think of unions as a good thing for dangerous or semi-skilled jobs, but not really applicable to them.
posted by KGMoney at 2:04 PM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you think I am wrong, please provide an example.
Noisy Pink Bubbles

Well, we're talking about a future scenario with more advanced machines than we currently have now. It doesn't make any sense to ask for current or past examples of something that doesn't exist yet. We're in the very early stages of developing devices that can "create / maintain / administer" themselves or other devices, for example. As much as we've done with computers and robots thus far, we've really only scratched the surface.

It's not unreasonable to project that someday, and maybe soon, automation will get to the point that full automation is really achievable, or near-full automation so that only a tiny number of humans are needed.

We may be moving beyond Marx and other older theories of production because we may soon have capabilities that simply have never existed in human history before: machines that perform all the functions, even the abstract and creative ones, of humans.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:08 PM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


With full automation, you would have to pay people to continually improve your automation equipment, and you are now a software company. If you don't do this, you are effectively a sole proprietor buying a factory at retail from the supplier, in fierce competition with anyone else who can buy the same type of company, driving your profits down to zero.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:11 PM on June 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


We really could do with a re-invigorated labor movement in this country, and the over-worked and over-paid software industry is certainly full of the type of people that have the financial and social capital to enable this.

Sure, but there is, at least to some extent, a zero-sum game between increased solidarity and increased diversity of the interests of the members of the union. It seems to me that if this fictional technical professional union existed, it would in many cases be out there using that outsized power to go against the wishes of many other labor unions, and therefore unlikely to partner or federate with other unions. Groups like AFL-CIO often have to walk a delicate line when arguing for things that help one group of constituents but don't help (or possibly hurt) another group.

Like, a few threads over there's a discussion about the TPP, and while I personally think based on what I know about the deal that it's going to harm the interests of just about every American long-term, Upton Sinclair's quote about paychecks and understanding tells us that employees of Apple or Google might see it against at least their short-term interest for their union to come out against a deal that would improve the market conditions for those companies' products and services. They may then prioritize that short-term interest over their vague understanding that things may change for the worse in the long run when their jobs are the ones that end up being exported.

The other suspicion I have is that, even though many in my field are over-worked, the overpaid aspect is going to unavoidably push many of their sympathies toward the capital side of the equation. We all know about the techno-libertarian douche-bro stereotype, and it's a real thing. There are die-hard liberals and socialists as well, but I think once people are being given stock options and responsibility for managing others, the line between the success of the company and their personal welfare begins to get blurred, and I don't see how that doesn't push people toward sympathizing with the owners and upper management of these companies.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:12 PM on June 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


I, for one, welcome our Robo-Stalin.
posted by symbioid at 2:15 PM on June 24, 2015


Well, we're talking about a future scenario with more advanced machines than we currently have now

Yes, exactly, and that "future" will remain somewhere far off in the "future" in perpetuity. Fewer workers > zero workers.

"Full automation" is to the economy what a perpetual motion machine is to physics. Interesting science fiction; impossible reality.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 2:16 PM on June 24, 2015


"Groups like AFL-CIO often have to walk a delicate line when arguing for things that help one group of constituents but don't help (or possibly hurt) another group."

Yay Trade Unionism! It doesn't help that this is really mandated by the political organization of Unions in the US (at least). We are not allowed to organize in any other way (One big wobbly Union, for example - I mean, in an actual political way that allows it to ACT as 1 big union, not just a bunch of people calling themselves members but still formally having to divide by trade, and not being allowed to have sympathy strikes/global strikes).
posted by symbioid at 2:18 PM on June 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Regarding focusing the efforts of the labor movement on low-wage workers versus well-paid tech workers, I don't believe that it's so straightforward a tradeoff as suggested above. A bigger and broader constituency for unions helps all workers, even though different groups of workers may have differing interests from time to time. As Steve Waldman has argued in the context of a universal basic income policy, redistributive schemes are more resilient when they benefit more people. In the same way that public housing has been more successful where it has been built to house people of all income levels side-by-side, and in the same way that Social Security has been able to avoid the decimation that income-based welfare programs have seen in the US, I think a labor movement that includes a broad base of workers will be much stronger than one that only represents the most exploited.

Moreover, the labor movement has always been about more than merely wages. It's been about shop-floor democracy and control over our work—and there is certainly plenty of room for improvement there in the tech world.

And as alluded to by other commenters, the story of industrial capitalism is one of breaking down the work that skilled artisans and craftspeople once did into rote tasks that can be performed more cheaply by low-paid workers with little or no training. There is no reason to believe that tech work will be exempt from this process, and the time to organize is now, while we can still do so from a position of relative strength.
posted by enn at 3:13 PM on June 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


Instead of thinking of humans as all participating in one big economy, think of most humans as being to some degree tools of the economy, just like industrial machines are. Just as machines produce goods for humans to sell to each other without having any say in how the economy is run, so too we produce goods for our betters to buy and sell.

With humans reconceptualized as capital, it becomes clear that there exists two economies. One economy involves providing laborers and machines with the goods needed to keep them running, in whatever fashion is least expensive. Should we as humans begin to develop expensive tastes, we will be disciplined away from trying to get something nicer for ourselves by losing our jobs to laborers (human or machine) that are willing and able to work for cheaper.

Meanwhile, there will develop a large market in luxury goods designed to meet the whims of the relatively small group who own capital and as such are fully human. We laborers (human and machine) will make those goods, but we'll never have them for ourselves, no more than a FoxConn employee will ever get to have a completed iPhone. But that's okay, because luxury markets can exist without workers participating in them as consumers.

So the answer to Reuther's "how will you get them to buy your cars" question is to simply that laborers have never been able to buy luxury goods in significant qualities, and yet luxury markets exist. And so we find ourselves smoothly splitting apart into two castes: one small group of people that get to enjoy the vast array of goods that industry produces, and another large group of people that not only don't get to enjoy those goods, but is in fact best conceptualized as themselves a type of good used in the process of production.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:24 PM on June 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


Have you noticed the Teslas are usually driven by the executives and not the engineers?

Nope. It's a pretty even mix. We have free charging stations, so lots of people have Teslas. They don't call them the Cupertino Camry for nothing.

To be fair, Eddy Cue has two Teslas (Roadster and Model S), so maybe your analogy needs to change to: Have you noticed the multi-Teslas (Tesli?) are usually owned by the executives and not the engineers?
posted by sideshow at 3:40 PM on June 24, 2015


You're missing the point. There will be no money in the long run. Profit will no longer be necessary. The end state of this model is a world of endless plenty in which absolutely anything can be produced by automated machinery to satisfy the whims of the roughly 1 million or so human beings in the world - former elites, now enjoying a classless paradise without all those crowds messing up the really beautiful places.

Someone's been reading William Gibson's latest, I see.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:02 PM on June 24, 2015


"They don't call them the Cupertino Camry for nothing."

Zero Google results for this phrase "cupertino camry" that aren't unrelated spam. It's a clever enough construction but there's no "they" to speak of.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:04 PM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sorry, that was needlessly fighty, it does sound like something someone would say, I am disappointed not to see it corroborated elsewhere though.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:18 PM on June 24, 2015


Zero Google results for this phrase "cupertino camry" that aren't unrelated spam. It's a clever enough construction but there's no "they" to speak of.

Huh, well, I've definitely heard it a bunch. By "they", I meant my coworkers. It's a clever saying, so I just assumed it was something in somewhat common usage.

Maybe all the Google peeps are sitting around at lunch talking about Mountain View Masseratis.
posted by sideshow at 4:35 PM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


They don't call them the Cupertino Camry for nothing.

In the old days it was Jaguars and BMWs. But if you drive around the neighborhoods in the evenings, you will see that most of them are parked in front of depressing row apartment complexes. All of those young programmers with big salaries can never hope to afford a home in Silicon Valley so dump their money into expensive leased cars. Those cars aren't so much a sign of affluence as a sign of quiet desperation.
posted by JackFlash at 4:39 PM on June 24, 2015 [16 favorites]


We all know about the techno-libertarian douche-bro stereotype, and it's a real thing. There are die-hard liberals and socialists as well, but I think once people are being given stock options and responsibility for managing others, the line between the success of the company and their personal welfare begins to get blurred, and I don't see how that doesn't push people toward sympathizing with the owners and upper management of these companies.

The techno-libertarian stereotype is a very real thing. Sometimes it gets a bit softened by reality as the 20-something dudes have kids and become 30-something uncool dads, but it tends to solidify into a vaguely "fiscal Republican / socially liberal" aspic. And then you have those geezers like esr who stay hardcore libertarian as time goes on.
posted by theorique at 5:36 PM on June 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Instead of thinking of humans as all participating in one big economy, think of most humans as being to some degree tools of the economy, just like industrial machines are. ...

With humans reconceptualized as capital, it becomes clear that there exists two economies. One economy involves providing laborers and machines with the goods needed to keep them running, in whatever fashion is least expensive. Should we as humans begin to develop expensive tastes, we will be disciplined away from trying to get something nicer for ourselves by losing our jobs to laborers (human or machine) that are willing and able to work for cheaper.

Meanwhile, there will develop a large market in luxury goods designed to meet the whims of the relatively small group who own capital and as such are fully human. We laborers (human and machine) will make those goods, but we'll never have them for ourselves, no more than a FoxConn employee will ever get to have a completed iPhone.
This is an interesting point of view, since at first glance it erases the distinction between capitalists and workers by redefining labor as a kind of capital.

I don't see how the exclusivity of luxury goods follows from this, though. Sure, it happens in some places and to some people—Foxconn doesn't have to pay its assembly line workers any more when they start building iPhones instead of flip phones, so the workers remain unable to buy the iPhones. But other workers, like the software developers and UI designers and everyone else who contributes the extra skill and time that differentiates an iPhone from a flip phone, will get paid more and thus can buy iPhones.

Now the only difference between capitalists and workers seems to be that capitalists have more capital—a factory is worth a lot more than manual labor. But this ignores that different kinds of labor have different value; and an unskilled Chinese laborer who sees a Californian programmer with an iPhone doesn't care whether that programmer "counts as" a laborer like themselves or a capitalist like Steve Jobs.

Treating labor as capital does help to understand how automation will affect the market. Imagine Foxconn as a black box where you input some amounts of coal, aluminum, manual labor, managerial labor, etc, and output some quantity of iPhones. Automation lets you replace some manual labor with robots that cost less than the laborers would. So now part of Foxconn's expenses go to the robot factory's employees, meaning that they can afford iPhones even if Foxconn's can't, and part of the expenses no longer exist. That translates to either a price drop in iPhones (making them affordable again for those Foxconn workers), or extra profit. Then the profit can be paid as bonuses to the employees (so they can still buy iPhones), or as dividends to the stockholders (so lots of middle- and upper-class investors can buy iPhones), or be reinvested into the company. Reinvestment can pay for R&D to improve the next generation of iPhones, or for consultants to further automate things, and start this whole cycle over again.

I was trying to construct a toy example economy with three or four actors, but it got out of hand. This whole flow of capital and labor across different entities looks complicated enough that I don't think anyone can say what consequences will inevitably occur—maybe in some circumstances a class gap will arise, maybe it won't, maybe technology will improve, maybe it won't, maybe there will be a communist revolution, or an evolution to basic income, or a return to feudalism, or something completely different. To make predictions we have to look at the specific circumstances of today's market trends: what are current robots capable of? Whose labor are they replacing? Where are the savings ultimately going to? Neat theories that imply a certain utopia or dystopia will certainly happen are not necessarily right.
posted by Rangi at 5:54 PM on June 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


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