January 27, 2019

The hidden automation agenda of the Davos elite

Kevin Roose—The New York Times:

in private settings, including meetings with the leaders of the many consulting and technology firms whose pop-up storefronts line the Davos Promenade, these executives tell a different story: They are racing to automate their own work forces to stay ahead of the competition, with little regard for the impact on workers.

There-in lies the fatal flaw in conservative labor policy: its embrace of unfettered capitalism ignores the human cost of unimpeded operation of the engine of wealth creation. Capitalism converts to value-added commodity every resource it encounters, including human resources.

(It’s telling that the people most directly connected to labor recruitment and benefits within an organization, the personnel office, was rebranded human resources at around the time real wage growth flattened—the era of Ronald Reagan and the rise of contemporary movement conservatism.)

Capitalism bridled by an overwhelming respect for and nurturing of the people exchanging their labor for pay and benefits is the progressive way forward. The executives meeting at Davos reject that, seeking replacement of (most) workers by artificial intelligence and automation. They are not friends of humanity. They are, at best, an adversary.


Automating work is a choice, of course, one made harder by the demands of shareholders, but it is still a choice. And even if some degree of unemployment caused by automation is inevitable, these executives can choose how the gains from automation and A.I. are distributed, and whether to give the excess profits they reap as a result to workers, or hoard it for themselves and their shareholders.

The choices made by the Davos elite — and the pressure applied on them to act in workers’ interests rather than their own — will determine whether A.I. is used as a tool for increasing productivity or for inflicting pain.

A clearly defined line is drawn. People or profit. Lean too hard into profit, as the congregants at the capitalist church of Davos self-confessedly will, and there will be few left to exchange hard-won income for the goods and services rendered by advancing automation.

There’s little concern about leaning too far in the other direction. The plight of workers and their families over the last four decades is evidence that their well-being in the off-hours is irrelevant to business interests.

#automation #Davos #capitalism #labor