June 14, 2021

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Automated Luxury Communism? – WSJ

4 min read

At first I thought it was a joke. I still do. A couple of years ago, there was a stir around

Aaron Bastani’s

book “Fully Automated Luxury Communism.” It’s a manifesto for the “postwork” movement. Technology will “liberate us from work” and automation is “the path to a world of liberty, luxury and happiness—for everyone,” the book advertises. Cue rainbow-belching unicorns. The Atlantic wrote that “the vision is compelling.” The

New York Times

helped promote it. And it sure feels like the Biden administration is trying to implement it. Naturally, it’s complete baloney.

The idea isn’t even original. It’s the plot of the 2008 Pixar-

Disney

animation “WALL-E”: Tubby humans in personal mobility vehicles leaving planet Earth on a luxury spaceship as robots like WALL-E clean up the industrial wasteland. Kid-friendly propaganda.

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Collectivist visions (Cuba, “infrastructure” bills) fail in real life for one reason: They ignore productivity.

Karl Marx

was ignorant that capital and technology could increase living standards for everyone, including workers. His shallow “immiseration thesis” missed that productivity drives society to make obsolete certain low-end work as more jobs move to a higher intellectual plane. Even night-school economists know that productivity is the only path out of poverty.

Plus, as economies shift toward services, workers themselves, via human capital, become owners of the means of their own production. Even Lord

Keynes

fell for the ruse 90 years ago, envisioning a 15-hour workweek. But there is always, always something else to invent—like mRNA vaccines—to improve society’s living standards.

Fully automated luxury communism is a joke, but maybe over the past year we’ve experienced a version of partly automated luxury communism. Think about it. Many Americans stayed home in their comfy chairs. We worked, schooled, exercised and entertained via a telescreen that, as

George Orwell

imagined, “could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely.”

Amazon

primed our doorsteps. Instacart delivered groceries. Cities became ghost towns. Governments justified spending willy-nilly with crackpot ideas like Modern Monetary Theory.

Coyotes came back to San Francisco, and U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions dropped 12% in 2020. For climate-change control freaks, this is a dream world—a Green New Deal delight—and they’ll do anything to re-create these conditions. Wait for the headline: “Bad CO2 Day, Lockdowns Enforced.”

The Biden administration is assembling the pieces for this progressive paradise. A $15 minimum wage means WALL-E and robots everywhere take over for service workers—$4 an hour to operate 24/7, and they won’t complain about rude bosses.

No job? No worries! Stimulus checks, extended unemployment (juiced by $300 a week from Washington) and monthly child-care payments are here, saying, “Stay home, we got you covered”—April’s disastrous jobs report proved that. These are gateway drugs to a universal basic income. Higher taxes will follow. It is almost as if the safety net, which exists to break the fall of those in need, is morphing into a cradle-to-grave cage. We know how this ends: with everyone in poverty, not luxury.

The signs are everywhere. Barely any humans are needed to operate renewables such as wind and solar, unlike mines, oil refineries and hydraulic fracking. Note: Humans are needed to push your Tesla when windmills freeze.

Burnt-cardboard-tasting plant-based “meat” and low-protein oat milk (wait, you can milk oats?) are inferior to the real thing. But they’re pushed on us anyway because robots can grow plants easily without herding methane-spewing cattle. More like herding humans. There’s even beeless synthetic honey. Maybe the plan is to use all these planty foodstuffs as inputs to 3D-printed food makers, like in the 1962 cartoon “The Jetsons.” Still, it seems as if less choice, not more, is coming.

It’s a classic power grab. Those in charge will make the decisions. The allegedly “healthy” or “green” option soon becomes the only option. There might be “equity” but, as always, some will be more equal than others. See

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s

political-payoff vaccine distribution. Self-governance? How quaint. Each loss of personal freedom will be hard to reverse. I fear that fully automated luxury communism will be Groundhog Day-like visits to the DMV—“equal sharing of misery,” as

Churchill

defined socialism.

But wait, even

George Jetson

worked, at Spacely Space Sprockets. Maybe it’s because postwork, like postcapitalism (and Post Malone for that matter) sounds enticing but you never get there. There’s always more to do: another vaccine model to create, another set of genes to Crispr, more quantum-computing research. It’s never over. There is no declaration of victory, not to fully automated luxury communism or a Marxist workers’ paradise. Instead, we’re on capitalism’s never-ending climb toward a consumer paradise. But you’ve got to work for it.

Write to kessler@wsj.com.

Wonder Land: By paying people not to work, the Biden Democrats will damage the U.S. work ethic for a generation. Images: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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2021-05-16 13:18:00

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