Capitalism and technology

Posted: 2 October 2012 in Uncategorized
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Capitalism is in trouble. There are many signs it’s having a hard time justifying itself right now.

One sign is Kenneth Rogoff’s weak defense of capitalist technological change, in which he merely asserts that, “on balance”—in the face of “bouts of staggering inequality and increasingly horrific wars”—we’re all better off. And the best example he can come up with is chess: second-tier chess players who, as a result of new chess programs, can find jobs teaching children “how horsey moves.” What the Rogoff and other neoclassical economists fail to understand is that the case against capitalist technological change is not the specter of growing mass unemployment but its role in generating more surplus for capitalists.

Another sign is Chris Dillow’s argument that capitalist control “is (often? sometimes?) inefficient” and that worker democracy may be a viable alternative. In my view, Dillow’s view is undermined by his asserting that capitalist control made sense for nineteenth-century mills (which actually put the possibility of worker ownership and control on the agenda). But he is on to something when he allows that “the persistence of capitalist firms” may be a case of path dependence, because “it existed in the past.”

Both arguments reflect the fact that the current crises are making it more and more difficult to justify the existence of capitalist technological change and the capitalist structure of enterprises. And if capitalism is no longer working for us, it’s time we found a different way of organizing the economy that does.

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