One of the most disturbing facts about technology is that it can take away jobs from good people. There is little doubt that technology has been replacing people in the workforce for the past 50 years. In this article, I will present the argument that technology, in itself, is only as damaging as the people who make the decisions for its adoption. Listen carefully: One of the main reasons why technology is replacing jobs is because a small group of people is determining the fate of many.
At least this is what economist Richard Wolff has been claiming. What a tragic reality, ladies and gentleman! In order to save our capitalist system and make the workforce more democratic, the people working in the enterprise should have as much voice as the very few who make these decisions.
Do you know that in big organizations, decisions about replacing people with technology lies in the hands of a few? How do I know this is factual? I happen to be a minority stockholder at Brazilian Petroleum (PBR), a state oil subsidiary down in South America. Do I have a vote in what happens at PBR? In theory I do but in practice, only the majority stockholders and a small board of directors have a say in what the organization will do. So, if this tiny group of people decides that technology should replace 7 people, then people are fired and technology is adopted regardless of whether people are consulted about the decision or not. I know that this isn’t anything new to a lot of you but I bet that this information is new to some of you. Technology, when used in excess, is a problem. Power, when given in excess to a small group of people, is dangerous.
I wonder how many people in Cleveland are affected by the nature of our current corporate system. I don’t know how many of you are impacted by the decisions of a few but what I do know is that the lack of democratic systems to protect workers against automation impact millions of Americans every day. What a tragedy, I must add. Let me say this. The route of our automation craze is deeply routed in neoclassical economics.
Neoclassical economics, or the idea that prices, outputs and income distributions are determined by supply and demand is at the core of why people have lost a lot to a machine. Let me explain this to you. Let’s take the example of the automobile industry— As global demand for the automobile increases due to changes in import tariff in third world countries, the higher the car supply. GM then needs to produce more cars. By replacing human labor with robots, GM can keep prices lower, increase output, and maximize profit. It’s how it works, lads. This is why people don’t make too much money working for GM or other auto manufacturers. If there are less jobs available for people to get, the lower the salary. No wonder why Detroit, once a gem of American modernity, is now the worse big city for people to live in.
If a small group of people decides that the enterprise should use more technology and less people, there is very little that we can do today to stop that. In the current system we live in today, the worker has no power to control his own destiny which in fact has a direct impact in a number of micro systems including real estate, banking, education, and many more. Who in their right mind would buy a house in any community without thinking about the risks associated with losing a job? I understand that people may not make decisions based on assessment of risks. There are a lot of people who make decisions based on emotion. No wonder why we have so many bankruptcy lawyers advertising their services here in Cleveland, have you noticed that?
It is in the best interest of our town to have democratic decision making. We should be able to make our own decisions about what will affect us. This idea that only a few people decide the fate of many is undemocratic. We are going to see more people being replaced by technology under this current system. Remember that.