The future is… Fully Automated Luxury Communism?
Fully Automated Luxury Communism is the hottest thing on the futurist Left block right now. It is a term used to describe the shift towards robots taking the jobs of people, and post-scarcity economics. It is now generally understood that there is enough stuff to go around, with a heaving pile of waste globally, and yet people continue to go hungry and without shelter. Services and goods which are increasingly provided by robots could be distributed fairly in society and lead to people not having to work as much or at all.
"Fully automated luxury communism" – now there's a demand pic.twitter.com/e4XUUCbUro
— Andy Fugard (@inductivestep) November 19, 2014
I should also give a shout out to the version of FALC preferred by meme-loving socialists; Fully Automated Luxury Queer Space (Anarcho-) Communism. I’ll leave the differences to your imagination.
Try not to be put off by that last word. I appreciate that it brings up images of Stalinism, Maoism, and the ongoing crises in South America. Just because some people have done a terrible job of trying to implement what they think is Communism, it doesn’t mean Communism is bad. A die-hard capitalist/neoliberal/Friedmanite free-marketeer could equally say that poverty and social hardship only exist in nations like the USA because the government has not allowed the market to flourish freely enough. I’d personally argue that capitalism is inherently flawed because it is predicated on the belief that anyone can do well through hard work, and completely fails to address systems of privilege and oppression like colonialism and racism.
Our shift towards automation has already cost the global economy a significant proportion of the total number of jobs available for people to carry out. Self-service checkouts are one of the most tangible examples of this in the UK, with shops choosing to have fewer tills operated by staff, therefore removing the need to employ so many people. People need jobs so they can earn money. People need money to afford food and shelter, and the rest of the necessities of a basic existence. If jobs disappear, means of supporting oneself become limited. This is one of the primary pillars of the argument for Universal Basic Income. UBI would cost hundreds of billions, but as a replacement of the system of benefits payments within the welfare state, the cost would be a relatively minor fiscal adjustment within the scale of total government spending.
Cast my vote for Fully Automated Luxury Communism, obvs. pic.twitter.com/CTHFemX8Ac
— Calum Barnes (@balumcarnes) May 2, 2016
The primary argument I’ve come across against UBI, aside from misunderstandings about the cost to taxpayers, is that it will remove the incentive to find work, leaving the economy to just collapse on itself because no one’s working. There are also arguments built on the assumption that there are scroungers and an undeserving poor, who will just ride off UBI. Why, then, do the wealthiest in society continue to work? The king of the Netherlands was recently uncovered as leading a double life, secretly working as a commercial pilot. People will still want to work, but they will be freer to choose the type of work they do, thus empowering them to be more demanding of bosses and corporations. Crucially, it will enable people to enjoy more free time. Time they can use to be creative, innovative, entrepreneurial and to have fun. That in itself can create space for progress in society, by enabling people to take the kind of risks which nourish the development of society through new inventions and ideas.
There is a certain level of inevitability around Fully Automated Luxury Communism or Fully Automated Luxury Capitalism. We’re already on the road to achieving the latter. Services like Amazon Prime, Uber, Deliveroo, banking apps and Tinder are all examples of automation enabling us to live more luxurious lifestyles. Services reliant on the gig economy, such as Uber and Deliveroo, place an unfair burden on the people whose labour provides them. Questionably constructed self-employment contracts leave people in the gig economy with little or no rights, and totally without a guaranteed even short term salary. It benefits the transnational corporations behind the apps because it has created a disposable, cheap workforce, but it means that an increasing number of people are left with precarious lives. People need to be able to pay rent or keep up mortgage payments. That’s just life. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We could ensure they are paid a Universal Basic Income, and enforce a proper Living Wage (not George Osborne’s made up ‘National Living Wage’, which is just a slightly higher version of the National Minimum Wage). If everyone had the safety net of a UBI, and the ability to demand a Living Wage, they would be able to say no to exploitative employment practises.
looks like the Fully Automated Luxury Communism meme has some traction pic.twitter.com/iStYRib9gr
— Richard Thomas (@strawfordthomas) January 31, 2015
The Green Party have long advocated for a Universal Basic Income (otherwise known as a Citizen’s’ Income), and support legislating for the real Living Wage. As usual, this puts the party ahead of the curve in terms of progressive policies within mainstream politics, but others are gradually catching up. Last year, the Shadow Chancellor, Labour’s John McDonnell MP came out publicly in support of UBI, saying it would tackle issues related to poverty and would simplify the welfare state. It is not yet Labour party policy, but any move towards consensus should be welcomed.
FALC would also enable more environmentally responsible resource management, because everyone will have a more equal stake in its exploitation and therefore continued value and high grade provision of environmental services like a healthy bee population and flood drainage. It will leave us all with a more equitable stake in needing to protect it through circular economics and advances in green technologies.
Legislating for FALC, via policies like UBI and the real Living Wage would create a better society for everyone. Failure to regulate against exploitation of the precarious workforce exclusively benefits transnational corporations, their shareholders and the billionaires in control of them.