State Ownership of Industry & the Robot Revolution

By Glen Wallace

As robots start taking over jobs, then it will be the owners of the robots that enjoy all the productivity gains and not the displaced workers. Wouldn't it then make sense to then have the state own the industries that own the robots that are taking over the jobs? Then it would be the people, the citizens of the state, that own the robots rather than a few of the wealthiest, most elite capitalists. We need to get over this aversion to the state owning the means of production. It never was the state ownership of industry that led to the Gulags of the former Soviet Union. Rather, the tyranny of the old Communist Party systems was due to a lack of constitutionally guaranteed human rights and liberties protections like we have in the form of the Bill of Rights here in the US. History has shown when bureaucrats are given an inch of liberty over the citizens, megalomaniacs like Stalin pop out of the woodwork and take a mile of freedom away from the people. But we do have the Bill of Rights, and socializing an industry by way of national, state or local ownership in no way represents a compromise of those Constitutionally guaranteed rights.

As more workers are displaced by automation, the need for a guaranteed minimum income increases. State ownership would make such an income for the people so much easier given that the people would own the very industry that owns the robots. With private ownership of robot run industries, the arduous task of extracting funds through taxation ensues with all the potential for evasion through legal tax loopholes or illegal tax payment avoidance - - the government would have to effectively chase after the robot owners in order to derive the funds necessary to cover the universal income expense. State ownership of industry removes that obstacle of collection and sophisticated revenue avoidance by capitalist owners.

I've heard on numerous occasions the claim that guaranteed universal income will be necessary as robots begin to take over jobs en masse. I think there is a danger in such a belief that a complacency may arise with everyone acting under the assumption that universal income will sweep over the land like a weather system and thus, there will be no need to campaign for it. But that is not how any political measure works, good or bad.

Legislation that generates measures such as universal income does not come about like an oak tree seedling sprouting out of the ground without any human being intervening.  Legislation happens because some human decided it should happen and enough other humans in the same politically privileged position agree it should happen.

That some piece of legislation is delayed much longer than it should be or is indefinitely delayed or some piece of legislation is pushed through that never should have seen the light of day is unfortunately par for the course when it comes to the US Congress. Prohibition, for instance, never should have been enacted, but was. But despite the reality that it shouldn't have been passed became quickly apparent, it took frustratingly long for prohibition to be repealed. Similarly, it should be equally clear that the criminalization of narcotic drugs was just as bad an idea as the prohibition of alcohol, and yet the best and brightest in congress have for decades continued to cling to the idea that criminalization works.

Therefore, I ask, given how the members of congress when left to their own devices and backwards lines of thinking, brought us the war on drugs, what is stopping them from sitting idly while the masses suffer mass unemployment as the robots take their jobs? I can see it now where the politicians blame the displaced workers for not 'bettering themselves' through education programs that could teach them how to design and repair the robots. Too many will actually believe the politicians that the displaced workers are to blame for their newfound poverty without thinking things through enough to see that the robots caused a massive net decrease in available jobs for human workers. Yes, some new positions will be created, but for each one of those new human positions created several more will be eliminated. We could end up entering a new era of mass poverty that could linger indefinitely while the wiser few would be calling for universal income just as a wiser few today call for ending the criminalization of narcotics, but are largely ignored.