Should Manufacturing Robots Be Banned?

by James Wallace Harris, Saturday, November 19, 2016

alberteinsteinBecause my friends have been depressed since November 8th, I’ve been wondering what it would take to make both liberals and conservatives happy – and solve all our environmental problems. Once again, the election has shown, “It’s the economy stupid.” Without widespread economic security, the population will be unstably polarized. As long as such unrest exists, no other major problem can be solved. To solve the problems of sustainability, climate change, overpopulation, inequality, mass extinctions, pollution, will first require solving the problem with the economy.

Is that possible? Can we create an economy where most people find security? Corporations are at war with workers, either by moving jobs overseas, or by buying robots. Donald Trump promised he’d stop corporations from moving jobs. Would that help? No, the problem requires a global solution. Would banning robots help? Maybe. If capital was willing to accept higher production costs, employing more people, it should. However, robotics creates jobs too. And we have to decide if billions of people working like machines is a good thing. People want is a job they love. People want to feel creative, productive, worthwhile, and independent. Does a Foxconn assembly job provides that? Could we create enough jobs without banning robots? I doubt it.

If robots were regulated, and cars for example, had to be made by human hands, could they be made at affordable prices? Let’s bring in the environment now. What if we designed a sustainable transportation system, one that’s a blend of bicycles, cars, trucks, buses, trains, ships, and planes. Such a system needs to create jobs and protect the environment. Would building things like cars only by human hands create enough jobs, and still be profitable for corporations?

If we don’t outlaw robots, what would be the next solution? It’s obvious that free-market capitalism fails many workers and the environment. Capital ranks wealth over labor. The next solution would be a minimum income for people without jobs. This would be a tax on capital, something it also hates. Since capital hates both labor and taxes, it might need to decide which it hates more.

Conservatives claim if they had free reign their economic solutions would create more jobs. That claim is probably false. If their economic theories were true, they still want to ignore the environment. Ignoring the environment ultimately means economic self-destruction, so it can’t be a solution. Remember, any real solution must be economically and environmentally sustainable.

Capital’s current path is towards fewer workers and greater inequality. Since we originally stated that the base problem is economic security for workers, that brings us back to where we started. Liberals believe a growing economy/population can be designed to protect the environment. Conservatives believe a healthy economy can be built by ignoring the environment and population growth. Neither are realistic.

I’m not sure a solution is possible, which is more depressing than the Republicans winning all the branches of the government.


7 thoughts on “Should Manufacturing Robots Be Banned?”

  1. According to a book I read recently (Homo deus, by Yuval Noah Harari), one of humanities greatest challenges in the future will be a situation where the bulk of humanity becomes economically and militarily useless. I don’t think that the advance of, say, robotics and AI technology can be stopped. And any country that tries will become stuck in time. But imagine that medicine keeps marching on as well and humans will live for many more decades, and all those decades they will be insignificant nodes in the data-stream that is the modern world, how will they lead meaningful lives? Will they still be part of history?

    1. Because you live in the Netherlands, you get to read Harari’s book ahead of me. We won’t get it here until February. I can’t wait. His last book was tremendous.

      I doubt we’ll stop the advancement of technology, but we don’t always have to use it.

      I’m not sure we’ll postpone death endlessly. I’m not sure I, or most people, could mentally handle a long extended lifetime. We already have more people on the planet than we need, or can use.

      I believe we’ll eventually reach the limits of lifespan, technology, and even knowledge.

  2. Another book which looks at some of this is “Capital in the 21st Century” by Thomas Piketty. The likelihood of taxing capital is virtually nil in part because some places don’t even keep track of how much their citizens own. I don’t think Piketty deals with life expectancy or robotics though.

    And imo, businesses will do whatever they need to do to stay competitive – China’s wages aren’t low enough? Move the plant to any of a number of other countries where the wages are much lower – China’s minimum wage per hour per US conversion is .91, but that’s worth about $1.51 internationally. Uganda, Cuba, Bangladesh, Vietnam to name a few scattered places with very cheap labor. And yes, I doubt there will be anything we can do about turning to robots if they are really cheaper. Hand made products are really a luxury now. Very few people in the US do tailoring or shoe making or toy making these days. “Hand made in Micronesia” is the little tag I see, or “Hand embroidered in Mexico.”

    A few months ago (2016?) the Volkswagon plant pulled out of North Carolina because the North Carolinians refused to have a union. VW wanted one in order to have regular and standard bargaining and grievance procedures comparable to what they have in other countries. US workers? – nope. I guess they value to their freedom to starve owning a gun. ?

    1. I’ve read Capital in the Twenty-First Century, a fantastic book. Another good one is Saving Capitalism by Robert B. Reich. I don’t know why we can’t work together rationally. I’ve got some working theories. My current one is people build models in their minds of how they want reality to work. Some people, update those models with facts from reality as they learned them. Other people, keep their models and deny the new facts. Notice how many people are deniers of one thing or another. We might all be deniers of something. Evidently, denying is an effective survival mechanism. But they are only concerned about protecting their own model, and not society.

  3. I believe robotics and AI technology now have a momentum of their own. They can’t be stopped now. We either learn how to deal with these technologies or we’ll struggle with the consequences. Science fiction has been warning us for decades about the impacts of robots and AI. We should pay attention now.

    1. I hope we don’t stop AI and robotics. But we could limit their use in certain industries if we wanted, just to give people more jobs. I’ve read fast food businesses would like to automate because of the rising minimum wage. We could pass laws against that. There’s the “Made in America” movement already. A “Made by Human” movement could develop. We need to save the jobs that humans actually like doing or would rather do if they had to choose between welfare and work.

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