Interfluidity has a great post up proposing that technological advances are turning the entire global economy into a generalized resource curse. For those who aren’t familiar, the resource curse is the phenomenon whereby the discovery of lucrative natural resources in a previously poor country produces vast inequality and immiseration, as the number of people necessary to exploit those resources is only a small proportion of the population. The way around this resource curse, it turns out, is to socialize the profits, as Norway and Alaska have done. The shift to a generalized resource curse comes as less and less labor is necessary for actual production — vindicating Jameson’s claim that what capitalism produces that is genuinely new in the grand scheme of things is precisely unemployment. And what is necessary is a pre-distribution of wealth, along the lines of Alaska and Norway’s payouts to all citizens regardless of their connection to the oil industry.
While many have claimed that guaranteed minimum income is still “merely” reformist, I believe that the framing in this post points to the way that it could be a step toward communism. A market economy in which access to resources is not strictly correlated with wage labor for the vast majority of the population is significantly different from capitalism. It opens up new possibilities that are currently foreclosed by our insistence on systematically depriving people of freedom unless they agree to be exploited by a capitalist enterprise. For instance, imagine that someone is content with the minimum income and just wants to edit Wikipedia all day — that potentially produces a vast amount of social value that cannot be correlated with waged labor under the current system. One can imagine similar scenarios with other intellectual pursuits, and I expect that other scenarios would arise that are very difficult for us to imagine under current conditions. Yes, some undesirable labor would still be necessary, but once work and income are decoupled, there would no longer be constituencies opposing automation because it would destroy jobs — destroying jobs and setting us all free would instead be the goal.
So much political discourse is focused on “jobs,” but what we most desperately need is a decoupling of work and income. We may not have created the material conditions for full communism, but surely we’re much closer than we’ve ever been — and as Marx predicted, capitalism is increasingly incapable of managing the productive forces it’s produced. As capitalism undermines the need for constant human toil, the demand that everyone work becomes ever more urgent and yet impossible to insist upon. The U.K. is becoming the North Korea of neoliberalism in this regard — one can envision the entire country becoming a vast work camp, with the poor endlessly rearranging the grocery store shelves…
In short, it’s time to cash out of capitalism. We have the technology — and I would argue that fiat currency is actually among the most crucial technologies in this regard, which is why it has always generated an undercurrent of fear and distrust among capitalist ideologues. We all know that the current system doesn’t work anymore. It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the indefinite continuation of capitalism. We owe it to ourselves to try.