Fully Automated Luxury Communism

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Description

"Located on the futurist left end of the political spectrum, fully automated luxury communism (FALC) aims to embrace automation to its fullest extent. The term may seem oxymoronic, but that’s part of the point: anything labeled luxury communism is going to be hard to ignore.

“There is a tendency in capitalism to automate labor, to turn things previously done by humans into automated functions,” says Aaron Bastani, co-founder of Novara Media. “In recognition of that, then the only utopian demand can be for the full automation of everything and common ownership of that which is automated.”

Bastani and fellow luxury communists believe that this era of rapid change is an opportunity to realise a post-work society, where machines do the heavy lifting not for profit but for the people.

“The demand would be a 10- or 12-hour working week, a guaranteed social wage, universally guaranteed housing, education, healthcare and so on,” he says. “There may be some work that will still need to be done by humans, like quality control, but it would be minimal.” Humanity would get its cybernetic meadow, tended to by machines of loving grace.

“Take Uber. Huge company,” Bastani says. “Its idea is that by 2030 it will have this huge global network of driverless cars. That doesn’t need to be performed by a private company. Why would you have that? In London, we have Boris bikes. Why couldn’t we have something like Uber with driverless cars provided at a municipal level without a profit motive?”


The ideology springs from a tangle of well-observed trends. Generally, the rate of technological progress and labour productivity is rising, but wages are stagnating and factories are shedding jobs. Recent research indicates that 35% of jobs in the UK are “at risk” of being automated. And MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and James McAfee argue persuasively in their oft-cited Second Machine Age that the robots are just getting started.

The automatons of this new age offer a number of advantages beyond automation that promise to make drudgery redundant, including 3D-printing and algorithms smart enough almost to pass for human. An age of machine-abetted plenty appears to loom around the corner.


“I’m not saying we’re there yet, though in certain areas we clearly are,” Bastani says. “Take video and audio content – we’ve reached post-scarcity with that. A Spotify or an iTunes or a Wikipedia-style model doesn’t feed people, obviously. But the claim could be that this is the leading edge of a set of trends for software, but also, soon, for hardware. Because that’s attendant with the rise of solid freeform fabrication, 3D-printing, synthetic biology.”

Bastani isn’t alone in evangelising an era of mass robo-luxury. Members of the leftwing group Plan C deploy the slogan “Luxury for all” in their agitations, and a sharply-designed Tumblr, Luxury Communism, trumpets sympathetic ideas. The maxim has been showing up at student protests.

Likewise, Brynjolfsson doesn’t find the idea of machine-generated populist luxury outlandish. On the contrary. “A world of increasing abundance, even luxury, is not only possible, but likely,” he says. “Many of things we consider necessities today – phone service, automobiles, Saturdays off – were luxuries in the past.” (http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/mar/18/fully-automated-luxury-communism-robots-employment)


History

British luxury communism

"British luxury communism has its origins in the mid-00s protest movement, according to Plan C, when its members spotted the slogan “Luxury for All” at a demonstration in Berlin.

“It seemed to us that this demand neatly summed up the aims of a modern communist movement,” say Plan C members. They believe its tenets were initially inspired by Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars trilogy, wherein a socialist utopia is established on the Red Planet. A Pattern Language, a 1970s utopian tract written by three architects, was also an inspiration. Bastani says his conception of FALC is based on a modern reading of Marx’s Capital and Grundrisse.

Of course, history is littered with the blueprints of unrealised techno-utopias and work-free leisure societies. Thinkers as varied as Marx and Bertrand Russell were certain science, technology and human cooperation were on the verge of liberating humanity from the bondage of labour.

“The vision of giving many, if not most, ordinary citizens vastly reduced workloads is a very old notion in utopian thought and writings,” says Howard Segal, professor of the history of science and technology at the University of Maine and author of Utopias: A Brief History.

He points to Edward Bellamy’s industrial army in Looking Backward (1888) and the writings of the Technocrats in the mid-1900s. But luxury communism perhaps finds a more current cultural analogue in sci-fi visions such as Star Trek, with its replicators and egalitarian politics, or the late Iain Banks’ high-tech post-scarcity Culture universe." (http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/mar/18/fully-automated-luxury-communism-robots-employment)


Discussion

by JOANNA BOEHNERT and SIMON MAIR:

"The worst of climate breakdown, we have to transform every aspect of society as we know it. But to do this well requires deep understanding of why industries have been allowed to pollute the upper atmosphere, and how we can build economic and political infrastructure to stop emitting greenhouse gases and degrading ecosystems.

Worringly, this understanding is sorely lacking in two of the most popular emerging visions of the future—ecomodernism and left accelerationism. In a nutshell, both envisage that technological progress will allow us to address climate and ecological breakdown while also dramatically increasing production and consumption.

These imagined futures have obvious appeal to those who enjoy the luxuries of consumption and technological innovation. But the premises on which they rest are fatally flawed.

The latter is completely disengaged from sustainability sciences. Ecomodernism is more engaged, but it tends to ignore the unjust distribution of environmental benefits and burdens from climate breakdown, and downplay how our the organisation of our societies drives ecological crises. As a result, it focuses only on superficial social change. Proponents of both are often hostile to many ideas and individuals within the environmental movement. As such, they are seriously derailing momentum in tackling the climate crisis.


The scientific evidence tells us that it is simply not possible to continue increasing consumption and greenhouse gas emissions on the current trajectory without exhausting Earth’s resources and crossing planetary boundaries—limits to Earth’s biological, chemical and physical systems that represent a safe operating space for humanity. Beyond these boundaries, we run the risk of causing abrupt and irreversible environmental changes that threaten the stability of Earth’s systems and human civilisation.


For starters, all technology-focused future visions require wildly unrealistic increases in energy generation. This is a problem because since we have used up most of the easy to access sources, the quality of our energy resources is declining. Compared to a few decades ago, we need to input much more energy for every unit of energy we produce. While the energy cost of renewables is falling, vast increases in consumption only make the transition to renewables harder, and will put a huge additional burden on our already vulnerable energy systems.

To navigate the high resource demands of their imagined futures, ecomodernist and left accelerationist visions rely on fairy tale technologies that do not exist. For example, the future vision of Fully Automated Luxury Communism (FALC) peddles promises of asteroid mining to address resource shortages on Earth.

But we do not know if low-carbon space travel is possible. Ecological crises are happening now. We need to take action now. Searching for low-carbon space travel takes attention and resources away from social changes that we know can work.

FALC’s vision has been accepted uncritically in prominent media outlets such as The New York Times and The Guardian, despite being thoroughly debunked by environmental scholars.

This distracts from the hard but necessary work of changing the energy system now. Given the risks presented by climate breakdown above 1.5℃ of global heating—possibly just a decade or two away—we cannot afford to back future visions that do not prioritise immediate and large-scale cuts in greenhouse gas emissions." (https://www.cusp.ac.uk/themes/s2/blog-techno-fix-hype/)


Fully Automated Luxury Communism is green populism

Aaron Bastani:

"This is the vision that must be offered in response to climate change. One that accepts changed relationships to nature, especially other creatures, but which demure from green-primitivism or going ‘back to the land’. For those who do so, it will be a matter of choice rather than necessity.

In this world we need not travel less, nor no longer enjoy crops and foodstuffs from other parts of the planet. Quite the opposite – seeing the great feats of humanity and the beauty of the Earth will be the birthright of all. Life will be easier with ever more time given over to leisure rather than work. What would be the meaning of life? Well, that would be for you to decide.

This is a populist vision that understands the potentials of the present that is soon to come, seeking to shift them to a higher purpose. Fully automated luxury communism is not inevitable, and alternative scenarios are possible: rentism and artificial scarcity are just as plausible as abundance; war and mass destruction as likely as permanently cheaper clean energy. Fundamentally, though, any effective green movement must grasp these technologies or lose. Evolution has no reverse.

What’s more, this populism must be global, reconciling the needs and interests of the poorest countries with the wealthiest. The transition to renewable energy in the Global South – which will enjoy the most abundant and cheapest energy anywhere on Earth – will be made possible by technology transfer and reparations for historic injustice through the form of a global carbon tax. Decarbonising the economy won’t just save the planet, rich and poor, it will give electricity to the hundreds of millions in sub-saharan Africa and South Asia currently without it. It will underpin a level of technological catch-up unthinkable to those who associate large, centralised infrastructures with energy generation and distribution.

But this populism will need to be pitted against contemporary globalisation, whose model privileges the free movement of goods and capital over people, and whose emphasis on borderless trade – often the default even among leftists – is the essence of the commodity fetish. This model has limited the possibility of states to decarbonise at speed, often through procurement rules centred around fair competition, something well documented by Naomi Klein in her book This Changes Everything." (http://novaramedia.com/2017/11/19/fully-automated-green-communism/)

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