03 November 2023

Thingified Value, AI & UBI

Some 'visionaries' (such as Elon Musk) today foresee that artificial intelligence (AI) will eventually make labour superfluous because AI-controlled machines of all kinds will produce all we humans need to consume to support our way(s) of life. The labour force will be largely obviated; only an elite of AI experts and auxiliary personnel will be required to keep production running smoothly. Work will become a matter of choice, a matter of interest and fulfilment for some individuals. Depending on your perspective, this envisaged future seems frightening or rosy.

Is this vision of our human future just another tech dream that doesn't take 'real world' conditions into account? After all, we live today in a globaliized capitalist economy, whether we want to or not. The left complains about capitalism and the power of giant corporations without 'really' knowing what capitalism is, that is, without any insight into the social ontology of capitalism (which takes some effort to gain).

If, as I have outlined in previous posts, the essence of capitalism is the accumulative movement of thingified value, i.e. its valorization, and this principle of movement is the hidden, underlying one for today's globalized world, then AI's impact on and its implications for this principle of movement have to be considered.

On the surface of bourgeois society (aka liberal-democratic society), undergirded as it is by the valorizing movement of total global thingified value, life is played out as the gainful game of various players who are the character masks of the key figures in this competitive game to earn the four kinds of income: i) wages (including all kinds of remuneration for any kind of labour performed), ii) interest (for lenders of money-capital), iv) ground-rent (for lessors of land) and iv) profit of enterprise (for enterprises, which may be shared out as dividends). The fifth role in this game is that of consumer. What is produced by production processes, including those controlled largely by AI, has to be sold and consumed, either in personal consumption or in further 'downstream' production processes (productive consumption). 

In particular, and especially, wage-earners spend their income on consumer goods of all kinds from groceries to houses. Their spending realizes the thingified value of the goods and services sold by capitalist enterprises as their sales revenues. Wage-earning consumers therefore have an essential role to play in the valorization of thingified value, without which the principle of movement of capitalist society would come to nought. Advanced money-capital must return with a surplus for the circuit to have succeeded. For an enterprise, there is no point whatsoever in producing goods and services for a consumer market if the consumers have no wages to spend, thus realizing sales revenues (the so-called 'top line', before the deduction of all the costs that leaves a remainder of net profit, the so-called 'bottom line').

What to do? Proponents of Universal Basic Income (UBI) propose that ordinary people be simply given the money to spend on consumer goods to fulfil their needs and, above all, to keep the economy ticking over. Since these ordinary people displaced by AI do not earn wages, the income must be given to them — but by whom? The obvious candidate is the State, that must exercise its superior power to tax its taxpayers to redistribute income to those without earned income. If wage income of wage-earners is greatly reduced by their becoming unemployed due to the deployment of AI, the income to redistribute must come from landowners, financial institutions and enterprises themselves (to name only the principal character masks).

Such redistribution by State fiat to put unearned income into the hands of consumers, however, makes the gainful game pointless, since it can no longer be played to produce a surplus. The three classes themselves must then advance, via taxation, unearned income to consumers to realize the thingified value of produced goods and services as sales revenue. Under such conditions, advanced thingified value can no longer valorize. Bourgeois society's mainspring, its economic principle of movement, is broken.

Some may think that to envision the self-abolition of capitalism through the deployment of AI, thus destroying its very principle of movement — the valorization of thingified value — is, to put it mildly, na├»ve. But then again, such insight into the nature of capitalism is, to put it mildly, rare. 

From the historical start long ago, apologists for capitalism of all stripes (entrepreneurs, politicians, economists) have known how to cover up the true nature of capitalism, extolling it instead as the realm of equality and freedom of individuals. This delusion shows little sign today of dissipating.

Further reading: On Human Temporality,

Karl Marx Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen ├ľkonomie Dietz, Berlin 1953 pp.151ff.


VIDEO: An Invisible Global Social Value,

Sustainability? Of what?.

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