The Parable of the Capitalists is a dystopian fable concerning the automation of labour and its consequences. It is meant to point out the limits of the Luddite Fallacy as well as explain the STEM Fallacy, particularly the issue of technological unemployment. It depicts a post-modern city with a healthy economy as it transitions from the use of human labourers to intelligent automation and the technotariat.
Plot[edit | edit source]
The story is set in an unnamed city and an unspecific year sometime in the near-future. There are 5 large businesses, each employing thousands of workers, as well as small businesses. All are thriving due to an expanding economy, and life goes on as usual.
The shareholders and executives of the large businesses demand higher profits, and invest heavily into research and development to cut labour costs and increase production. One hires a team of highly-skilled programmers who are assigned to design a computer programme based on deep learning neural networks. In the meantime, they purchase various industrial-grade robots that require constant maintenance and repair. This leads to the businesses hiring various STEM graduates and professionals, who in turn use goods produced for their work, and so on. With even more jobs added to the market, the economy continues to grow, even if experiencing some recessions. Costs of goods and services react to the increased production, allowing more products to become available to consumers for a lower price.
The shareholders triple their profits. The executives outsource jobs to lower labour costs even further in an effort to circumvent minimum wage laws. This has the effect of other nations developing a middle class, but also harming job growth in the city. Workers here are forced to take up lower paying jobs, reducing their spending power and leading to a recession. In response, the executives automate even more of their business in order to keep making a profit, which reduces the cost of their goods even lower and allows some workers to purchase goods and services. However, this came at the cost of other workers.
In order to deal with this, many within the working class resort to higher education in order to learn more useful skills. Because many cannot afford the costs of higher education, they take out loans they hope to pay back via their future jobs. As outsourcing and automation continue, some jobs continue to disappear, while others become more sought after. Some graduates find very high income jobs— particularly the STEM graduates— while others become dependent on welfare and fail to find any work that pays enough.
However, this leads to a STEM glut as the supply of graduates outgrows the demand, reducing pay. Those who will work for the least amount of money are accepted.
Finally, the programmers complete their work, and sell their programme to the highest paying business. As promised, this neural network learns through experience, rather than hard coding (like earlier programmes). Its experience bank grows, and it is soon downloaded into a factory floor of machinery and into a general purpose droid whose job is to observe the factory robots. Its only base requirement is energy and occasional maintenance, which the neural net deduces would be cheaper if they used another general purpose droid. This business then lays off all remaining workers in the city, and its profits soar to new levels. The other businesses see the potential and lay off their workers in lieu of a neural net. Though some higher-ups warn that this will destroy the consumer base, the chief executives and shareholders remain firm in their belief that this will create new jobs they cannot even imagine, and there will be more consumers than ever before.
Eventually, all five businesses become fully automated, relying only on the outsourced production jobs— which soon become automated as well as the cost of automation drops below the cost of extremely low wage workers. They even began relying on AI to make business decisions due to its superhuman abilities such as modeling all possible outcomes. Thus, a technotariat has developed, and, rather than extend ownership to the now out-of-work working class, the capitalists continue their mantra of job creation.
One month later, the scene in the city has become one of devastation and death. Several executives are lined up and shot, while others meekly stand in breadlines with their former workers. All droids have been smashed, and the original programmers are being hunted. The cause? Total unemployment. Due to the creation of artificial general intelligence, even the most gifted STEM graduates were left unemployed. No action was taken to prevent anomie due to the executives still clinging onto a belief that human workers would take the time to find new jobs, jobs that never materialized. The reason for this lack of materialization becomes clear when the former capitalists who had escaped to another city discover there is no job they can do that the technotariat could not do better and more cheaply.
The moral of the story is that the Luddite fallacy holds true for physical automation, that job creation is integral to the nature of the free market and advancing technology— but automating mental processes completely erases the notion of job creation due to the ability of AI to learn and adapt just as well, if not infinitely better than, human labourers.
Explanation[edit | edit source]
The Parable attempts to explain the consequences of both the Luddite fallacy and the Other Robot fallacy, that humans could be freed from labour and left to their own will if there were a method of allowing humans to profit directly from droids and artificial intelligence.
Due to remaining secured to traditional neoliberalist economics, the capitalists failed to adapt to the new economic reality of a world with non-human intelligences capable of working for no wage, which caused a severe economic meltdown due to the lack of consumers. This had not been possible prior to the creation of AGI due to humans' resourceful abilities outpacing the advancement of automation (e.g. the Luddite fallacy). Once AI rivalled and exceeded abilities and became cheaper to use, a technotariat was used to completely replace the now obsolete workforce, eventually even coming to render the capitalists themselves obsolete. STEM students had been extremely valuable prior to this point and were told that they would remain valuable beyond it. Then AI surpassed their skills and worked for no monetary pay, leaving them obsolete just the same (e.g. the STEM/Other Robot fallacy).
With no consumers, profits plummeted to the point no business could remain open (even considering the rich owners as consumers). No money was in circulation, no goods were being exchanged, and the capitalists offered no restitution. Thus the unemployed had no means to purchase technotarians for their own benefit despite their very low cost (which continued to drop). By the time anyone could purchase a technotarian, the requirement for violent revolution had already been set up (i.e. "we are three meals away from anarchy"). Any attempts at taking them would be met with accusations of property theft. This triggered total societal meltdown.
Alternate Endings[edit | edit source]
The societal collapse, where the bourgeoisie and technotariat perish, is only one of several possible endings. Others include
- The Luddite dream scenario: the bourgeoisie survives the chaos, and the technotariat perishes. Socioeconomics regresses until this point is reached again.
- The technostism-sans-proletarians scenarion: the bourgeoisie and technotariat survive and purge the proletariat. The bourgeoisie become the networking class.
- The technostist revolution scenario: the bourgeoisie perishes in a purge, and the technotariat survives. Technostism may become the dominant system depending on the choices of the proletariat.
Possible Solutions[edit | edit source]
The most desirable conclusion would be for capitalists to recognize the Luddite Fallacy will no longer hold, and the proletariat, bourgeoisie, and technotariat to survive the mayhem. Technostists seek a massive project to create and establish worker-owned enterprises where workers own the means of production within a free market environment. This can be achieved with or without bourgeois cooperation, though it stands to reason proletarian/bourgeoisie symbiosis into a networking class would be the most lucrative and peaceful path.
Another potential option would be to institute a universal basic income. Here, the expressed idea is to create a wealth tax that applies to the technotariat's produce and paid out to all members of society. This can work alongside the creation of co-operative automated networks in the case not all people can take part.