In spite of the fact that Marx expressed nothing but disdain for his Utopian socialist predecessors such as Henri Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte, variants of Utopian socialism evidently live on. The latest iteration of the socialist dream is firmly focused on the capabilities of one of the countless fruits of free market capitalism, namely robots.
The new Utopian socialists believe that the latest capitalist gizmos will help them realize their dream of a society under the full control of socialist philosopher kings.
Image via grundeinkommen.ch
It is quite ironic that something that would never have come into existence in a socialist system is now supposed to hasten the introduction of same – and of course, this time, it will be done right!
The idea is basically this: as robots are becoming more sophisticated, more and more labor that is widely regarded as drudgery will become obsolete. Eventually, robots will take over the production of all the goods we need and want, and human workers will be free to pursue art, philosophy, or whatever else strikes their fancy.
So far so good, actually. It is after all the very aim of economic activity to increase labor productivity and produce ever more output with the same, or even a smaller input. In the market economy this goal is primarily achieved by entrepreneurs steadily lengthening the structure of production with new investment and increasing the division of labor. The sine qua non requirement for this process is an increase in real savings (money printing cannot replace such savings).
In addition to this essential process, new technologies and new methods of production are constantly introduced as well, which helps to increase output even further. We can observe this process in the manufacturing industries nowadays: ever fewer workers are producing an ever greater output. The same has previously happened in the agricultural sector.
Making an Omelet
However, the fact that these things are seemingly happening almost automatically in a market economy is not enough for the socialist dreamers (the process is of course not “automatic” at all, but we have good reason to believe that it will continue to happen in a market economy). Supporters of the socialist ideology need a further element to ensure eternal bliss in this coming robotic Land of Cockaigne.
There can be no happiness without the State in their version of society. Good socialists thus have to prostrate themselves before the members of the bureaucratic and political classes with the battle cry: “I beg you, dunderheads… please run my life!”
Aspirants to useful idiot status can use this drawing for inspiration.
Image via trentotoday.it
This would actually be also fine, if not for the fact that they want the State to run the lives of everybody else as well – whether they want it to or not. In the robotic Nirvana, the State is supposed to administer and distribute a basic income to citizens, so as to make them “free”. The robots meanwhile are supposed to “pay” for this (see also Claudio Grass’ recent article on the upcoming Swiss basic income referendum for more color on this topic: “Free Lunch for Everyone”).
Since the private owners of such robots would presumably not be eager to just give away their production for free, we imagine that the State would have to take over the means of production currently in their possession – et voila, the Marxist system would be resurrected in its full glory (only “better” this time).
Whether or not the State’s representatives would ask nicely for the property of these evil capitalist robot owners, it seems likely that such a takeover would not be entirely free of conflict. What can you do though? As Lenin is famously said to have remarked: “If you want to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs”.
Beam Me Up Scotty!
The latest example of this Utopian authoritarian thinking involves the economics of the Star Trek universe. According to Marx, socialism is the “inevitable” final stage of history. Hence it should be no surprise that the people inhabiting the Star Trek universe all seem to be good lefties – except for the evil Ferengi that is, who represent the merchant class. They are therefore are not well-meaning socialists, but rather greedy robber barons.
Socialist space ship USS Enterprise
Image credit: Paramount
A friend recently sent us a link to an article at Wired in which the Star Trek universe’s economics are discussed. Apparently someone wrote an entire book about the topic, which has drawn praise from assorted etatistes, among them a number of prominent Keynesian economists.
“A FEW YEARS ago Manu Saadia, a longtime Star Trek fan, went looking for a book about the economics of Star Trek. When he couldn’t find one, he decided to write his own. The result, Trekonomics, has drawn praise from economists such as Brad DeLong and Joshua Gans. Saadia says that Star Trekis one of the few science fiction universes that grapple with the idea that money may someday become obsolete.
“It’s made clear and emphasized several times in the course of the show that the Federation does not have money,” Saadia says in Episode 205 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “You haveCaptain Picard saying, ‘We’ve overcome hunger and greed, and we’re no longer interested in the accumulation of things.’”
Why economists of all people would feel compelled to praise such arrant nonsense is slightly beyond us. Then again, the famous Economics text book of Paul Samuelson, one of the Godfathers of Keynesian economics in the US, once inter alia sported a chart which showed that the USSR would soon surpass the US in terms of economic output! So we probably shouldn’t be too surprised.
Actual chart from Samuelson’s “Economics” – a textbook that has been crammed down the throats of economics students for many decades. This may actually explain quite a lot…
To the above excerpt we would note the following: a rational economy without money is simply not possible. This is so because there can be no economic calculation without money prices, and there obviously can be no money prices without money. There can also be no money prices for capital goods if the State takes over the means of production, thus no rational economy is possible under these circumstances either. Apparently the good economics professors praising the book have never heard about the socialist calculation problem.
Here are several more excerpts from the article worth commenting on:
“What really makes sense in the Star Trek universe and Star Trek society is to compete for reputation,” he says. “What is not abundant in Star Trek’s universe is the captain’s chair.” He points to technologies like GPS and the internet as models for how we can set ourselves on the path to a Star Trek future.
“If we decide as a society to make more of these crucial things available to all as public goods, we’re probably going to be well on our way to improving the condition of everybody on Earth,” he says.”
Actually, it doesn’t “really make sense” at all. And who the hell is “we”? The above is an example of methodological collectivism, as this mythical entity called “society” than can supposedly act and decide doesn’t exist. Only individuals can act (you know, “acting men”). Also, the wish to compete for the “non-abundant captain’s chair” is quite revealing in a way. Why would anyone want to be captain? Our guess is it’s because the captain gets to boss people around.
So as a first step, Mr. Saadia wants the State to forcibly expropriate the current owners of everything related to the internet and GPS. We are supposed to take it as a given that if the politicians running the State centrally administer these assets after “we” have stolen them, “everybody’s condition on earth will improve”.
In some parallel universe perhaps; over here, in the shared continuum commonly known as reality, only small children and masochists can possibly believe this. As an aside, economic scarcity cannot be abolished by decree. The underlying assumption is of course that scarcity will somehow be magically banished by a mixture of “technology” and government decree (we’re beginning to grasp more fully why Lenin referred to certain people as “useful idiots”).
Lenin spots another useful idiot over in the corner.
But wait, it gets even more crazy – we mustn’t forget about the evil Ferengi!
But he also warns that technology alone won’t create a post-scarcity future. If we’re not careful we could end up like the greedy Ferengi, who charge money for the use of their replicators rather than making them available to everyone.
As noted above, in a market economy (and only in a market economy), economic scarcity will tend to decline. The only thing one needs to be “careful” about is that the free market is preserved. In other words, care has to be taken not to give leftist whack-jobs the opportunity to interfere with the economy – in this, “society” has unfortunately already failed quite dismally.
Ferengi – well, look at them, they look like suspects! Somehow their behinds appear to have been misplaced too.
Image credit: Paramount
With regard to the Ferengi we would point out that the fact that the Ferengi are charging money for the use of their replicators is proof positive that economic scarcity has not been overcome in the fictional Star Trek universe.
Apart from raising the rather obvious question “how can they charge money if there is no money”, it seems clear that if they do charge for use of their replicators and are able to get payment, economic scarcity continues to exist. If there were no economic scarcity, the Ferengi would have precisely zero reason to ask for money – and no-one else would have a reason to pay.
On the topic of the evil Ferengi, Saadia continues as follows (we must be really careful about these merchant robber barons!):
“This is not something that will be solved by more gizmos or more iPhones,” Saadia says. “This is something that has to be dealt with on a political level, and we have to face that.”
Dear Lord, preserve us (and the poor maligned Ferengi) from self-anointed world improvers and their authoritarian wet dreams! Where have they found this guy?
As you can see dear readers, the fight against economic ignorance is a never ending (and usually thankless) task. Other than that, we can only say:
Beam me up, Scotty!
And not to forget: we need more power Scotty!
Image credit: Paramount