Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Luddites

The central idea of the luddites is that the advancement of technology and industry will inherently replace all human labour eventually and is therefore inherently corrupting in this sense. The luddite philosophy should probably be considered as anti-modernist or primitivist, because it is based entirely on a bitter resistance to the advancement of technology and industrialization; it also should be considered rural in its consistant application, because in order to live the life of a luddite one must abstrain from all industrial activity and all that comes from it. Taken to its logical conclusions in the context of the modern world, the luddite position would imply that machines or robots will replace human labor completely. Fictional illustrations of a luddite transformation, in which robots begin to replace human labor in the name of maximizing utility, can be found embedded in the works of Issac Assimov.

The initial luddite movement was a reaction to the beginning of the industrial revolution. In short, certain sections of the economy that thrived previously became unprofitable and out of demand, because new technologies came out and replaced them. This is something that is natural that cannot be avoided in any economy: change and innovation. Further, it is actually necessary. Let us use the advancement from horse and buggies to cars as an example. Indeed, when cars came out, the people operating horse and buggies certainly slowly went out of buisiness. It was inevitable; but what must be realized is that what this actually did was clear the market. In short, it simultanously opened up new job oppurtunities in other areas (I.E. the manufacturing and sale of cars); it signaled to everyone that "this area of the economy (horse and carriage services) is less efficient and less profitable"). It would be absurd to argue that we should have protected the jobs of the horse and buggy people, or stopped the advancement of technology to cars to make everyone reliant on horse and buggies instead.

The consistant position would be that it is correct and indeed necessary for inefficient firms to go out of buisiness when they are out competed by more efficient ones. But the luddites interest is opposed to this. Their main interest is to keep those jobs. What the luddites are thus asking for is protectionism of some sort; I.E. they want their inefficient firms to be propped up, despite the technologcal changes that make those areas null or void. Or, the radical luddite calls for the abolition of modern technology, and thus a return to strict agriculture. In either case, the luddite's interest is to stop technological advancement and artificially retain their jobs in areas that were make unpractical by such technological advancement. It is all about their personal self-interest in employment, regaurdless of the demand for that employment. In essence, then, they actually desire what amounts to a monopoly in their sections of the economy.

Immediately, we already have come to one giant hole in the luddite position. Namely, that the new technologies themselves create new jobs. Someone has to make the machinery. Someone has to ensure the machinery is running and repair it. There will always be a demand for human labor. The luddites assume that somehow this demand will perish with the advancement of technology. The reality is that for every job lost due to technological advancement, just as many or more open up. In reality, there are an endless amount of possibilities for jobs. If everyone made a list of all of the things we would like, we would end up with a galore of potential jobs to be created in order to appease such demands. Of course, what limits how well we can actually produce those demands is decided by finite factors: land, labour and capital. It is determined by the resources available and the labor of people to extract and make use of those resources.

It is an interesting question to ask: why do we have jobs in the first place? The answer is scarcity. Scarity simply means that there is a finite array of resources at our disposal, there is a finite amount of people to extract those resources. And, of course, the ability of people to extract those resources varies. If we did not have scarcity, noone would have to work a day in their lives. Everything would just fall like mana from the sky. But obviously such notions are simply nonsense. There is not enough labor and resources in the world to whisk any arbitrary demand of anyone into immediate existance. I may personally like a ham sandwich, but I cannot just click by ruby slippers twice and have it manifest before me. It requires labor and resources to produce the ham sandwich; I.E. jobs. Scarcity simply dictates that in order to get something, resources and labor is required. This is what provides the natural incentive for having jobs in the first place. The luddite philosophy is thus essentially imploded by the fact of scarcity. Scarcity determines that there will always be jobs. The idea of robots running everything is an intrigueing idea, but ultimately it is nothing short of fiction.


kblair7 said...

yeah I remember reading about luddites like a long time ago

Teresa Beau said...

Love the blog (makes me feel stupid though).

Y'all keep it up; I'll be watching and mulling through last year's posts. (Teri)


Brainpolice said...

Teri, I seem to recognize your picture from somewhere. Do I know you from somewhere else? A message board? MySpace? :)

Teresa Beau said...

Come now BP, "Teri B." You know me :)