We can fly to Dubrovnik for £22, £500 will buy us more computing power than NASA had when they put a man on the moon, Tinder makes hooking up a breeze. Our life expectancy is higher, we eat better, dress better, have more entertainment options than any humans in history. Within living memory, an orange was an acceptable Christmas present. Today even people in council estates buy each other electronic toys that would have amazed James Bond fifteen years ago.
If you are creative, you can publish your short stories on Tumblr, make a movie on your mobile phone, post it on YouTube where millions might see it. Swedish design that not that long ago was the height of modernist sophistication is now available to the hoi polloi at IKEA. Peasants in Mexico wear fashionable clothes made in China. Peasants in Iraq have satellite dishes and watch the World Cup live. It is schizophrenic: as workers we have few rights and less power. As consumers, we live like gods.
Our unheard of affluence as consumers, our precarious existence as workers both stem from the same source: inexorable productivity increases. Every year, as technology advances we can make more goods and services with fewer inputs of labour and capital. It used to take dozens of men to unload a ship. Today one man on a computer and another on a crane are faster than 100 longshoremen could ever be. When I started in television, producing a broadcast quality news story required a cameraman, soundman, editor, reporter, producer, and transmission engineer. Today, one person can fulfil all of those functions and generally will get paid less than any one of us used to.
Productivity increases boost our societal wealth and so make us all collectively richer but they also make more of us redundant.
Good article, but it falls into the massive misconception that everybody believes nowadays, that “technology” and “productivity” are natural forces beyond human control, like gravity, forest fires, and hurricanes.
Funny how these “technology” and “productivity” forces seem to hurt everybody in the workplace except for the investor class. The rich get richer. How extraordinarily lucky for them.