RBE | Technological Unemployment and Worker Co-cops

Dear Professor Wolff, I very much appreciate your videos. I have watched many hours of your presentations since The Zeitgeist Movement shared your October 2016 Update via Facebook. Forgive me if this question has been asked before. How can Worker Co-ops mitigate the problems arising from the growing trend of Technological Unemployment? What are your thoughts on a Resource-based Economy (RBE)? Description of RBE linked here: https://youtu.be/K9FDIne7M9o?t=1h11m < This link will take you to the 1hr 11min mark of an almost three-hour-long presentation by Peter Joseph. This is the part of the presentation where Peter describes the economic calculation of an RBE. To elaborate on the second question, do you agree with the logic presented in the video? Happy new year! Andrew

Official response from submitted

For hundreds of years, capitalism has been a system that rapidly transforms technology in the interest of higher profits. Across that time, almost every technological change has been celebrated and justified on the grounds that it freed human beings from difficult, dirty, arduous labor. Yet the reality today is that most capitalist employees work harder - and often longer - than they ever did. The problem is not that the technology was bad; technology is not the problem, Rather, the problem is the subordination of technical change to capitalist profitability. An example can show this: imagine a technical innovation that enables workers to produce the same output with the same inputs in half the time. A capitalist enterprise takes advantage of the innovation to fire half its employees and use the savings in wages to boost profits. A worker coop takes advantage quite differently: it cuts all employees' labor time in half thereby producing the same output with the same inputs (hence the same profits assuming stable prices). Workers wages remain the same but for half the work time freeing half worker's time for leisure activities. The technology in one case serves profits; in the other it serves labor reduction. The former helps those dependent on profit (always a small minority in capitalist societies); the latter helps workers (the majority). The economic problem lies not with technical change but with the economic system into which technical changes are installed.

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  • Andrew Ponton
    commented 2017-01-01 21:22:44 -0500
    Thank you for the response. I have started listening to the audiobook of “The Big Three in Economics: Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes”. I am only at the Adam Smith part so far. You suggested in one of your videos that it is important to understand the critiques and proponents of Capitalism. I have not looked into the proponents enough. This audiobook paired with your videos, and others, is shaping a better understanding of the hazy idea of Economics I had previously. I appreciated your answer. Worker Co-ops seem capable of leveraging the problems of Technological Unemployment while reducing the working hours for a lot of types of businesses. I find it a little more difficult to imagine for some other types of companies, an I.T. consultancy company for example. What struck me about the Adam Smith section of the audiobook is how much they are aware of the problems of the Market System. They acknowledge (though offer bad “solutions/justifications”) the problem that self-interest may override social interest for short-term gains. I understand that, due to time perhaps, you did not respond to the RBE question. I will try to re-phrase that question another time, into a focussed, narrow, actual question. Thanks.
  • Richard Wolff
    responded with submitted 2016-12-31 14:34:59 -0500
  • Andrew Ponton
    published this page in Ask Prof. Wolff 2016-12-29 17:59:27 -0500