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The great issue of the 1st half of the 21st century

February 8, 2011

I think the fundamental trend of humanity today is toward an ever rising technological capacity to produce both things and services with far less labor input.  We’re becoming vastly more productive.  If we accept this as true, then we almost certainly have to conclude we’re headed for a long term deterioration in median living standards because of insufficient purchasing power.  This is because technology is privately controlled by a small minority while purchasing power is distributed largely based on the level of labor input.  As labor input declines, so does  purchasing power.  It’s always been a problem within capitalism, but today’s pace of technology is bringing it fully front and center.

High levels of unemployment, marginal employment, and insecurity seem inescapable.  And these conditions will be starkly contrasted against ever rising technological capacity and local pockets of prosperity.  Short term speculative bubbles can certainly slow or even temporarily reverse this process, but the underlying trend will surely reassert itself.

Supporters of the system will point to opportunities in the “service sector” or the potential for completely new industries to arise.  But they don’t fully take into account that these are themselves subject to the exact same dynamic and could even accelerate it by making us even more productive.

Rising technology is leading us into a crisis of purchasing power and today’s discourse of austerity is only the beginning.  It’s one of the inherent contradictions of capitalism and it will be the great issue of the first half of the 21st century.

From → Wealth & Poverty

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