End of an era

Do you remember capitalism? Marx, the law of supply and demand, the requirement for scarcity, a workforce…

I don’t want to make this a technical talk on economics, and I probably don’t have the means, however it seems obvious that when industry builds new machines aimed to goods production, the reason is lowering the cost of production and raising the profit in one of two ways:

  • keeping the price unchanged, and therefore increasing the margin;
  • gaining a competitive advantage by lowering the price, and therefore selling more units

What happens, tho, if robots become capable of doing any physical labour? And no, I am not talking about science fiction…

Now with a machine like this what happens to the cost of production? To understand this, let’s see what does it cost to produce such a robot:

  • cost of labour:  ~0
    besides for the very first batch of robots, the second batch could very well be produced using the labour of previous-generation robots, therefore the cost of labour would go to zero as you don’t need to pay a machine to make it work
  • cost of raw materials: ~0 for most items, unpredictable for rare materials
    the machines could take care of that too, by extrating minerals, and refining them as required; only rare materials will retain a market as the law of scarcity would apply to them directly and not only to the scarcity of labour necessary to extract them; I didn’t go into examining how those materials could be valued in future, so I left this marked as “unpredictable” to indicate that this could grow, shrink, or remain substantially stable.
  • cost of electricity: ~0 as green technology develops, but greatly reduced even before
    green technologies will one day make robots energetically self-sufficient, however until then the physical labour related to line maintenance of our power grid would be down to near-zero because it can be done by robots. Customer service and more complex job roles will still be down to humans.

We can all agree that if the cost of production goes down to zero anyone could produce anything, as the financial entry barrier to becoming a producer would also go down to zero.

The slightly less obvious consequence is that since there wouldn’t be a need for a capital to own an industry, run it and generate value… the whole capitalistic system… would simply not be able to subsist.

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