The Artisan Solution to Robots and Automation
by Glen Wallace
The government needs to redistribute wealth not in order to decide what people do or do not want, the government should redistribute in order to make it possible that more citizens can choose what they want or do not want from a selection of goods and services. It is not right that others should sacrifice consumer choice and live in austerity and poverty in order that a few rich people have the ability to choose from a selection of ultra high end luxury items.
The Venus Project, however, makes the mistake of deciding what people will want under a given circumstances of scarcity or lack thereof. The Venus Project makes no accommodations or contingency plans for circumstances that arise where citizens do not behave in accordance with how Jacque Fresco predicts they will. What happens when someone, likely many people, want the improved, but scarce, version of the mass produced product? Will the Venus Project 'decide' what people want and outlaw rare, perhaps handcrafted, versions of the robot mass produced common product? Will such a legal system turn ordinary artisans and their customers into outlaws in a black market economy?
What I envision, and much prefer, is a scenario where a symbiotic relationship ensues between those who derive emotional and psychological satisfaction from work in general, what they produce in particular and the customers who want their product. More specifically, I'm talking about a thriving economy of artisans producing hand crafted products and customers more than willing to spend money acquiring those products. You might be thinking 'well, doesn't such a market already exist?' Yes, it most certainly does, but I'm trying to come up with a solution to the wave of automation, especially with robots, leading to the potential mass displacement of workers.
While many of those displaced workers will be more than satisfied not working -- assuming they will still be able to receive at least the necessities of life, and some of the niceties, I think many displaced workers will not be satisfied without a job. A great number of people seem to derive a level of self worth from a job and get a sense of accomplishment and being needed, from having a job. I'm concerned that even if there is some sort of guaranteed minimum income for all citizens that provides all the necessities and even plenty of niceties of life, many of those citizens will have some serious problems not having regular work. Well, that's where I think artisan, handcrafted cottage industries could potentially fill a need both for those wanting work as an end in itself, and consumers who want something unique and special and not made by a machine.
But to get to that point of having such a new age industrial revolution where everything from the old world becomes new again in a sort of futuristic steampunk artisan economy, a significant amount of wealth redistribution will be required. As automation increases, without government redistribution intervention, there will be a strong tendency towards further wealth concentration in the owners and renters of the robots and other forms of automation. As employees fall off the payrolls due to automation, obviously those displaced workers will no longer receive paychecks. What used to go into the hands of the employees now goes into the few hands of the owners of the means of production. If we just let those owners of automated production just keep the bulk of all their new found wealth, there will not be much left to go around to the displaced workers for them to buy much of anything -- much less hand crafted artisan products.
But, if the government were to heavily tax the owners of automated production and redistribute that money to the workers displaced by the automation, the displaced workers could, if they wish, start small home based businesses building unique handmade products. Some of those new small business could then hire a few artisans to grow the business a little, while others would be satisfied just working by themselves in a one person operation. And given that many people would like a unique hand crafted product, instead of a mass produced one, demand would come from both the owners of those cottage industries using their newfound revenue to shop their colleagues stores and anyone receiving redistributed income.