During the Global Financial Crisis a few years ago, the world was overwhelmed with layoffs and unemployment. Yet, if the experts are right, we can expect far higher unemployment in the near future as robots and artificial intelligence systems arrive in factories, corporations, and retail establishments. These new technologies don’t just help us to do our work, they directly replace workers.
The world’s response to the last wave of unemployment was, unimpressive, to say the least. Have we learned anything since then? If robotic unemployment is inevitable, shouldn’t we have a plan ready? The consensus view on the Robot Revolution is that we will lose half or more of our jobs, in a very short period of time. Dealing with unprecedented unemployment will require radical thinking. Could it be that the solutions we need already exist?
They just might! Valerian Texteria is a regular reader who raised some issues about unemployment. We struck up a conversation about globalization, robots, and work that led to an interview on the subject. Valerian makes some interesting points that stimulate new thinking about unemployment and the policies needed to control it. Here is my interview with Mr. Texteria.
- Mr. Texeira, welcome to my blog! Could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
I was born in 1951 in India, just after Independence from Great Britain, and lived here all of my life. My father was an industrial worker, a religious man, but an active union member with his own social justice and equality ideals. That’s a legacy I carried on through my life. We were poor, my mother was a housewife, who tried hard to make both ends meet. I was the eldest of 3 children, with a strict control and punishments…. not a pleasant childhood experience. At the age of 16, with just a basic 10th standard education, I was admitted to an industrial training apprenticeship program. I became something of a rebel. From the age of 19 to 28 I worked in quite a few workshops as “Turner”, making and fitting together metal components. This is when I became an avid reader of detective stories and novels. Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment was one important book (among many) that deeply affected me.
At the age of 28, I left my job due to my labor union activities and was soon recruited by an NGO as a labor activist. I was introduced to Communist literature, and soon became a Marxist, a rationalist. My prolific reading combined with scientific curiosity, making me more interested in Marxist economics than political literature. At that time I led a small group of young workers within a larger Marxist circle and began publishing a small workers’ paper (in Kannada, my state language) called the “Laborer”. This started a path of deep thinking and analysis of the concept of “labor exploitation” on the working class, led me to write a book on my theory of human labor.
- Could you tell our readers more about your book? Why did you write it?
I published: “An ALTERNATIVE to Marxian Scientific Socialism – The Theory Reduction in Working Hours – A Demand 6 Hour Working Day”, in 1981. My objective was to present an alternative to Marxian Socialism or Communism. A new theory was needed because Marxism ignores fundamental facets of labor exploitation, which wreak havoc in lives of the working class including the unemployed and the self-employed. Most importantly, Marxism completely missed the development of the technology, resulting into the Artificial Intelligent (AI) ROBOTS, that could replace most human labor.
As technology advances, human labor will become REDUNDANT. With this historical perspective, I saw the historical destiny of “Working Class” to gradually reduce working hours. When the working hours finally reduced to zero, there is no need for workers and no wages. That is why my theory also assumes that citizens of the world must receive an Adequate Universal Basic Income (AUBI) in order to lead a healthy, comfortable, secure life. The historic compulsion to perform work, to obtain food and shelter, would end. My revised name for this theory is “Zero Work Theory” (ZWT).
- Your Zero Work Theory Focuses on the abolition of paid (wage) labor. Why is that important, and why is that different from socialism?
According to my theory, “The basic relationship of workers to their LABOR”, is due to the COMPULSION” of obtaining the “means of subsistence”, in the form of food, shelter, clothing, health, education, comforts etc. Humans MUST work, it is not a choice but a necessity. Originally, nature imposed the need to work, on humans in general. Basically, it allows some human beings to exploit (oppress, subjugate etc.) other human beings to work for them so retaining a portion of the products or “value” of their work.
The exploitation of labor is the root-cause of most social injustice: poverty, crime, etc. Therefore, as productivity rises the NEED for labor fades away. Society as a whole should engage in a step-by-step reduction in work hours, leading to a Zero Work Day. Real freedom for the human race means liberation from our historical compulsion to do labor. This is the last remaining form of historical human bondage or SLAVERY. A society without this compulsion is a truly democratic, humanitarian and equitable socio-economic system.
- When you say Labor “Compulsion”, what do you mean? In a free labor market, aren’t we all free to make our own choices?
The large majority (laboring class) in the society compelled to work, in order to obtain their food, clothing, shelter, health, education, comforts. It is commonly called as wages, salary, remuneration or income. It is true that the workers are free to do labor but they are not free to, not do labor. Otherwise, they will have their income cut. Without the basic income, NO decent food, clothing, shelter, health, education and other comforts. They will be forced to undergo immense suffering, homelessness, left to die or reduced to begging.
Is this a free choice? What about individuals driven to the most degrading labor, such as prostitution? Yet, these “choices” have existed since the dawn of the human species. Prostitution and begging are “real”, but we could eliminate them in a single stroke, with an Adequate UNCONDITIONAL Basic Income Guaranty.
- Your core theory for ZWT is called “Wage-Labor Exploitation”. How is this different from Marxism, which talks about Working Class Exploitation?
According to the ZWT, throughout human history, up to the present day, humankind has undergone four basic forms of labor exploitation. 1. Subsistence Sustenance Exploitation 2. Relative Labor Exploitation 3. Productive Labor Exploitation 4. Absolute Labor Exploitation (the book explains, each in detail). These forms of exploitation are, primarily responsible for social injustice, inequality, poverty, repression in both the capitalist and socialist systems in the world today. The concept of “Labor Exploitation” in Zero Work Theory is fundamentally different. from Marxian socialist concept of ruling (capitalist) class exploitation of working class.
Marxism claims that LABOR-EXPLOITATION exists mainly due to the social “class” system, that results in the constant “class struggle” between the minority “capitalist class” and the majority working class. It classifies the human history to date into three systems: 1.Slavery, 2.Feudalism, 3.Capitalism. In each system, the “property owning” minority class (the wealthy) dwells mainly on labor exploitation of the majority class (the poor). Marxism claims that the private ownership of property is the fundamental reason the working class is exploited, and creates social evils like injustice, inequality, poverty, repression etc. Further, Socialism proclaims that a 4th system (something new, but still a part of socialism / communism) will abolish private ownership (private property), eliminating labor exploitation.
Marxist fundamentalists claim that human society will have social, economic and political equality if it abolishes the “private ownership of means of production”, abolishing labor exploitation, and ushering in a “classless” communist society, have been proven completely wrong. Another Marxist basic assumption, that only human labor creates value and wealth in society has been proven wrong by artificial intelligence and robotic automation, which will make human labor redundant. One of Marx’s most famous quotes is, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” This means that you need to labor according to your capacity, and then society will provide everyone with everything they need. It is like a science fiction movies with intelligent robots and unlimited free power production, yet all of the humans are still working. Doing what?
ZWT agrees with the main Marxist idea that employers exploit the labor of workers in the form of Relative Labor Exploitation. Nevertheless, it thoroughly denounces Marxism for failing to recognize the rest of the labor exploitation. Marxism is not able to address the labor exploitation of the unemployed and self-employed. Moreover, ZWT does not accept that the abolition of “private property” will end Labor Exploitation. Irrespective of whoever runs/manages the means of production (factories, industries, companies, business, corporation etc.) as long as workers are compelled to perform labor to earn their livelihood (means of subsistence, wages, income), labor exploitation will continue. Only reducing working hours reduces labor exploitation. A two-pronged approach can achieve this goal. First, directly reduce working hours. Second (and most importantly), provide a means for people (a significant number of people) to leave the labor market, which requires an adequate Universal Basic Income (UBI).
- What does your theory say about the new generation of intelligent ROBOTS?
Robots are basically the decedents of the tools used by primitive humans as an extension of their body parts to perform functions that increase the productivity of their labor. We have achieved such a high degree of technological sophistication that robots can (or soon will) REPLACE nearly any function of the human body, including our BRAIN function.
As per the ZWT, in our early historical development, primitive man-made tools (knives, scrapers, hammers) that replaced or augmented our body functions to improve labor productivity. The second stage was centered around the industrial revolution of the 18th century. Human muscle power was replaced by gigantic steam engines and later electric power. These powered tools and machinery tremendously improved labor productivity. In the second half of the 20th century, we entered the third stage of labor productivity. The silicon microchip revolution assisted workers with calculators, computers, and software driven machines. Today, we can (or are about to) replace human intelligence (human brain power), with the technology we call Artificial Intelligent (AI). Robots can perform jobs that people perform, making most human labor redundant.
New AI machines have been matched with DEEP-LEARNING (algorithms of various types), and web-based cloud sharing, to do things that are beyond human capacity. Every generation of software will become faster and better… superior… to human intelligence. The emerging QUANTUM computers (‘D’ WAVE at its forefront) can bring in a paradigm shift in the field. At some point, perhaps in the very near future, will completely remove the need for human labor. Industrial, manufacturing blue collared work and most of the white collar, office, service jobs in the process of being converted from humans to robots. (More details about ZWT are provided at http://bit.ly/2apUuVB ). Therefore, a gradual reduction or even a complete end to working hours (zero work) with the empowering ABI will become a necessity for human society. This is the historical perspective of the Zero Work Theory, in contrast to Marxist Historical Materialism, which I described earlier.
- How did readers respond to your book?
Except for one or two positive book reviews in the popular Kannada News Papers in 1981 (which still remain popular today), there was not much response. I think my book failed to get the “response” it needed, to become a book that made political changes, because of my situation of that time.
- Why do you think your book fail to get the response that you wanted? Could you tell our readers more about this?
Imagine some unknown young guy with no academic background or any credentials, proposing this theory of Zero Work with Basic Income Guaranty in 1981 as an alternative to Marxian Socialism. No one will believe it possible that I would succeed. No sensible publisher at that time would even look at it. It had to be self-published by my Union group. We tried to distribute it to well-known academics, but outside our group no one was interested. With hindsight, I see that I was the wrong person to deliver this message, I was underprivileged and disadvantaged, (a description that still applies). I wanted to achieve an impossible task, exposing a fundamental flaw in Marxism, a philosophy followed by hundreds of millions of people and for a century. No matter what I did, I would never convince socialist/communist leadership (this is the leadership of most organized workers in India) to abandon socialist revolution ideology for my reduction in working hours demand. If no one would listen to me, I had to wait for history to prove which theory was right.
Since 1980, work hours for the working class was not reduced significantly as it should be as per the ZWT. As a consequence, the overall “value of the labor power” has decreased. Technological progress has wiped out a large portion of industrial manufacturing jobs, shifting the large portion of employment into service sector jobs. The working class has weakened to near the collapsing point. On the other hand, the strength of Capitalist or “ruling” class had grown. Paradoxically, instead of the working class demanding a reduction in working hours, the ruling class has begun to offer a reduction in working hours. Some corporates giant of “Silicon-Valley” have begun to promote UBI, which will allow the laboring class to escape wage labor. This as an early manifestation of the ZWT. Today I am confident that history will prove that ZWT is right. I warned about the rising threat of robot driving unemployment and proposed a scientific solution, the gradual Reduction in the Working Hours (my theory in 1981). Sadly, pundits in the field have not yet recognized or are very reluctant to accept this important historical message of ZWT.
In 1980 the “working class” meant industrial, manufacturing, and factory jobs. As per ZWT, these jobs have dwindled away around the world, even in late developing countries like South Korea. As working class jobs shrink down, countries are examining Universal Basic Income (UBI). Office and professional jobs, which were formerly “ruling class”, have been demoted to the new “working class”, and they are now following the same process of dwindling away. Against the predictions of Marx and all his followers, almost all of the Communist/Socialist countries are gone. All capitalists nations did not become socialist, and no socialist country evolved into a Utopian paradise. The few socialist nations returned to capitalism. Since no socialist theory said, “we will become socialist, then go back to capitalism, then become socialist again, and THEN become a Utopia”, we can safely say that history has spoken. We can forget about traditional socialism.
- You wrote your book in 1981, in India. The world has changed a great deal since then. Do you feel your theory is still relevant? Does ZWT only apply to India or will it work for the rest of the world?
ZWT is more relevant to the world today than ever before! It applies primarily to industrially developed nations, rather than developing countries like India, but as a nation develops the theory has a greater impact. My writing definitely applies to the United States, the world’s leading industrial superpower as the ZWT model. The majority of economists say that China will soon be the world’s #1 economy. China and a few smaller nations were very late to develop. Much of Africa has still to develop, and their Industrial base is still growing. ZWT predicts that as China develops, they will follow the same pattern of massive industrial unemployment, followed a few years later by growth and then decline in white-collar work. China will seek relief through some form of UBI, as will India. In the developed world, Sweden is testing UBI, Finland had a vote on UBI (but lost), and in the US there is a lively discussion of the minimum wage, which is a bit different than UBI, but overlaps on the idea of a “basic income”.
I don’t expect to read about economists using my theory by name, but I do see them expressing similar concerns and solutions now that I spoke of back in 1981. Nations need to realize that “Technological Unemployment”, created by the AI deep-learning robots, will make human labor redundant, requiring the implementation of an adequate Universal Basic Income (UBI). Therefore, the need for wage-labor can be completely done away with.
- Does this Theory Apply just to the Rich, or equally to the Poor Countries? How would it be Applied in India vs. America?
Even though India is still a developing country it will quickly follow the world, particularly the US. The IT and Knowledge Industry in India will be impacted the first. I am not sure to what extent we will see the entry of self-driving vehicles on Indian roads or Wal-Mart robots in our supermarkets in the next 5 to 10 years. However, the most important thing to know is that developing countries like India, seeking a place in today’s globalized world, will be HELPLESS to do anything other than following the technological trends in industrialized nations.
- If robots take over all work, what happens to today’s jobs?
Past industrial revolutions created far more jobs than they replaced. The intelligent robot revolution will be different, wiping out all jobs performed by humans today. This is the first time that there is a potential for NO net job creation. These robots are capable performing not just existing jobs, but new jobs that are created by technology changes. Robots are always more efficient and cost less than human alternatives. Every year, the best robot gets better. The best human, the absolute best in the world at doing a job, doesn’t get better but does want to be paid more. Don’t we all expect to get a raise, especially as we become experienced and perform better? Robots get cheaper as they improve. The robot revolution will create new jobs, such as robot service technician. But new jobs can be taken over by robots, just like old jobs were. Some new “jobs” may go directly to robots because they are too difficult or dangerous for humans (retrieving humans from a fire, working inside of a nuclear reactor, medical aid for Ebola patients).
When most human labor becomes redundant, and there are far more people than work, the majority of people will have no employment. However, humans will still fill some jobs, those that robots are not yet ready or not allowed to do. This could be less than 30% of the jobs today. If there are only 30 jobs for 100 workers, no amount of effort or perseverance on the part of workers will result in more than 30% employment. The 70% unemployed can start their own business. A few may have the skills to run a restaurant, make jewelry, write a book (that sells), or even invent something. In America today, 90% of new businesses fail in a good economy. Self-employment and small businesses might add 5% to 10% jobs… at best. For everyone else, the vast majority, we need an adequate Universal Basic Income (UBI).
However, some people will demand a job. They may have critical skills, such as doctors and scientists, that strongly benefit society should be kept employed. Other individuals will outright reject a government stipend. To address these social issues, we need to reduce the number of hours in a typical working week. The reduction in the work week to 30 or fewer hours is probably a good starting place. For every nation, the formula for an UBI and for a reduced work week will vary and may change over time. It is for the people of every nation to DEMOCRATICALLY decide these details.
- What needs to happen to implement your theory, and when? Who needs to take Action?
My present position is that rapid AI robot automation will cause massive job losses and immense unemployment problems. Public opinion, mass demonstrations, social media etc. will compel Governments to implement “Universal Basic Income” (UBI) or something of that sort, more so in the industrially developed countries. It fundamentally differs from classical poverty/welfare programs. When Governments implement and UBI, it will provide an “escape valve” for people who cannot find a job and do not want to work anymore. My interpretation of the UBI today is that it is an early manifestation of ZWT, a visible sign of society adjusting to the overall Reduction in Working Hours Theory.
- Earlier you mentioned the UBI. Can you tell us more about how it works and why it is necessary for your Theory?
A Universal Basic Income provides an alternative to a socially destructive level of technological unemployment. When jobs go away, they won’t go away evenly. Robots will quickly replace clerks and truck drivers but replacing heart surgeons will take longer. Tens of millions of American’s do not work, for one reason or another. Without a financial requirement to work, parents would spend more time raising their children or taking care of their elderly parents. That’s what adults want to do, that what their children want, and it’s what THEIR parents want. It is also what governments say are good family values, the values that they want to encourage.
Will implementing UBI be difficult? Yes, tremendously difficult. But what is the alternative? Governments are just beginning to realize the extent of the disruption that robots will cause. Will America outlaw new technology? Can that be done if China and other countries use new technology to dominate the global economy? The global financial collapse showed how difficult it is to deal and “cure” 8-10% unemployment. How will governments deal with robotic unemployment of 50% or more? Will they offer training programs for jobs that do not exist, or are about to be replaced by robots? What is the alternative to a UBI that offers any dignity to the millions who will not be able to re-enter the job market? This is the biggest dislocation ever seen in the labor market; it requires a solution that is equally big. To survive the AI Deep-Learning robot revolution we need the UBI to reduce the total number of workers in the labor force, and then we can share the remaining work through a reduced-hour work week.
The historic progress of science and technology created smart machines… robots and artificial intelligence. Deep learning is a technology that learns how to duplicate human labor functions, and then instruct robots how to use these functions to independently produce goods and services. Little if any human wage-labor will be needed. In the past, asking to be paid without working for the money was considered lazy, or greedy, or dysfunctional. In the age of the robot, instead of compelling everyone to have a job, people who are not willing or capable of performing work should be allowed to withdraw from the job market through the UBI, and therefore reduce unemployment. They can be free to do whatever they like. Millennial might like the UBI the most!
- Won’t your UBI proposal be expensive to implement? How much would it cost to implement your theory?
The costs, the features, and the timetable for implementing the UBI will be different in every nation. Therefore, the experts in every nation need to work out these details and allow their people to approve the proposal. The cost of ZWT has to reflect what is presently spent on government entitlement and welfare programs. The UBI will replace many of these programs and their costs. The UBI will probably cost more than the programs that it will replace. The details of this plan must come from a nation by nation discussion.
While the UBI is not free, any other plan to deals with 50% unemployment, will also have significant costs. A well designed UBI could cost less than any alternative program. The “disruption” from the robot revolution is caused when human jobs are lost to cheaper robots. This replacement process creates additional profits, most of which will go to the wealthiest citizens. It is up to each nation, but higher corporate profits are an opportunity for new tax revenues that can pay for the UBI. That same increase in efficiency simultaneously lowers the cost of goods and services that all citizens purchase. More potential tax revenue plus a lower cost of living will reduce the financial impact of a thoughtful and effective UBI.
Today unemployment is a temporary condition. The economy is good when unemployment is low and struggles when it is high. If you lose your job, you can find another job… even if you need government paid re-training. But what if robots take over half of the jobs in the world almost overnight, and the robots that took over your old job can learn to take over your new job? Unemployment of this type is no longer the old familiar unemployment that we knew, and that we knew how to deal with.
We don’t just need new ideas, we need a new framework to deal with new realities. Retraining is a traditional tool to deal with unemployment, but it was designed to help thousands out of a labor force of millions. When tens of millions of workers lose their jobs, and we don’t have a conveniently growing sector to replace those jobs, how effective will retraining be?
The ideas that Mr. Texterian wrote about 35 years ago do look valid today, and his proposed solutions could help us today. If we’re not yet ready to implement radical ideas, are we ready to at least examine ideas like ZWT, that could help address unemployment AND reform entitlement and other poorly performing government programs? Given the economic shift we are about to experience, it’s time to expand the scope of our solutions. At least that’s my Niccolls worth for today!