As a fairly typical ‘red diaper baby’, I read my Karl Marx (first time, at much too early an age to make much sense of it). Later, I checked out Gramsci and then Buckminster Fuller, later still, the cybernetician Stafford Beer and lots of Science Fiction (for some strange reason, left wing politics, Jazz and Science Fiction are invariably found hanging out in the same mind). So yes, I was fairly typical of my place and times I suppose, a Sarf London boy.
Well anyway, the reason I mentioned some of my reading habits was that certain things you read or figure out, stick in your mind somehow, only to find a place maybe years later, in a constantly evolving world view. Like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that you’ve been staring at for ages and you can’t figure out where the hell it belongs, no matter which way you turn it.
So on Friday, the DowJones took the biggest fall in its history, yet it’s not to be the new ‘Black Friday’, in fact far from it. Everybody knew it was going to happen sooner or later and it’ll happen again, maybe quite a few times, nobody really knows. And aside from the unfortunate ‘collateral damage’ caused by the ‘adjustment’ eg, to the Developing World, Wall Street and the Federal Reserve Bank have taken it in their collective strides.
Back at the beginning of the 80s, when I first started getting into the whole IT thing, I was prompted not so much by the technology but by the cultural, political and economic impact and implications of the IT revo.
This is where dear old Karl comes in and where one of the people I admire most, Patricia Murphy Robinson, also figures. She sent me an essay in 1995 called “Racism, Drugs and Crime” written by her. If you’d like a copy, I can Email it to you.
Anyway, she quotes from Marx’ ‘Wage, Labor and Capital’, in the beginning of the essay (all terribly unfashionable these days no doubt),
“If the whole class of wage-workers were to be abolished owing to machinery, how
dreadful that would be for capital which, without wage labor, ceases to be capital.”
This is, in a nutshell, the central dilemma of our times. Today, machines of all kinds are so much a part of the production process that human labor has been devalued so much that it’s starting undermine the basis of the modern capitalist state, capital itself.
This is a scary thought – for those doing any actual thinking, that is. Without wage labour, there is no profit. Machines can’t make profits, they can only make people more efficient producers of things. Inexorably, they make things cheaper and cheaper to produce, undervaluing capital as they do so.
Another scary thought, which is where Science fiction comes in – what if so much production was done by machines that people (except for those at the end of the food chain, in the developing countries, but they don’t count do they) no longer figured in the economy? Who will consume all this production? Will there be any at the end of the day, except for that which occurs in the developing world? Will those in the developed world be a handful of ‘Brains’ and the rest, ‘hewers of wood, carriers of water’?
Yet at the same time, just as it did during the Scientific/Manufacturing Revolution of the 19th century, the current revolution in production is driven forward by its own imperative. It has no choice really but to innovate or die, it can’t get sidetracked into philosophical ramblings about where it’s all headed.
In the 19th century, factory owners went through an entirely parallel process to one occuring now, namely they either bought the new, more efficient machines – that appeared often every few weeks, each innovation several times more efficent than preceding models! – or went out of business because your competitor had and you hadn’t. It was simple as that (Marx, Capital, Vol.1).
Today, at least in the developed economies what took centuries to evolve – the Industrial Revolution – is now taking place in decades and no doubt shortly in years. But the ‘New Economy’ is evolving in an entirely different world than the one inhabited by the British Empire of the 19th century.
In no small part, the rapid rise in global population occured precisely to fill all those factories with workers, even though it took several generations to do it. In reality, a giant ‘feedback mechanism’ whereby factories created jobs, which created markets which created more jobs, more machines, better machines, science, medicine, hence more people, more factories, more plunder to feed into the factories…and so on.
Today, the world created by the Imperialists of the 19th century is inhabited by all those countries who were swept into the ‘new globalism’ of the 19th century – which is where globalism really started – the developing world.
What to do with all these people? This is the dilemma confronting the developed world, not only in the developing world but also within its own populations. There’s too many people for modern economies! Another tidbit from Patricia’s essay, taken from a March4, 1994 Wall Street Journal article, the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that,
“in the past five years a record 1.4 million executives, managers
and administrative professionals have lost their jobs”
So what is the ‘New Economy’ all about and does it matter? Essentially, all the materials and human labor of the past few centuries of European/American domination of what is now the developing world, has ended up in machines, as ‘dead labor’. Computers tied it all together and made it possible for a global manufacturing/distribution economy to function, where factories produced for a global market, globally. Most of the production is consumed in a handful of developed countries.
The irony of the ‘de-industrialisation of the West’ is that they kept manufacturing a monopoly for centuries until the IT revolution came along, at which point, they dumped the production (especially the nasty, smelly stuff) onto the developing world!
So the ‘New Economy’ is built on the wealth accumulated through the exploitation of the former colonial and current post-colonial world, whereby the intellectual processes that are essential to running a global manufacturing and distribution system, are firmly in the hands of the developed world – as Intellectual Property or as it’s called now, Intellectual Capital.
So why is the ‘New Economy’ a con job then?
The ‘New Economy’ is a con job partly because explaining this process to the masses would mean explaining why in hell – if it’s gotten cheaper and cheaper to produce things – are most of us getting poorer and poorer and things getting dearer and dearer?
It’s also a con job because it masks an essential shift that is taking place in the economic balance of power between the G-7 and the G-everybody else. However, this not a battle whose outcome has already been decided.
It’s also relevant to South Africa because we were been born on-the-cusp of the IT Revolution, with a ‘foot in both camps’ so to speak, part developed, part developing. This gives us a unique vantage point with which to view events as they rapidly unfold, perhaps even to figure out where it’s going and maybe even, where we want it to go. Is this what the African Renaissance is all about I wonder?
So where does the Jazz come in? Maybe in a future ‘Folk Tales from the Internet’.
All content on this site is copyright © 1987-2003 William Bowles unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved. You have the right to reproduce content from this if it is not-for-profit, non-commercial use or for ‘fair use’. For commercial reproduction, please contact the copyright owner.