Published on April 18th, 2013 |
by Joe Lo
Image © Ciell
Why 3-D Printers mean Capitalism is Doomed
Following a lunchtime discussion at Catch21’s Global Headquarters, I’ve recently discovered the existence of something called a 3-D printer. These are so sophisticated that they can now print working guns as this documentary shows. This is mind-blowing as it completely changes my perception of what a printer is but it also shows precisely why Capitalism is at the same time a creative and destructive economic system and why, in my view, it is doomed to fail.
3-D printers are becoming increasingly used in industry and, as this promotional video boast, where “traditional manufacturing methods would take weeks and thousands of pounds to produce a prototype part” with a 3-D printer you “can make one in hours!”. Great news for business owners as costs are cut dramatically, good new for economic growth and the UK’s “productivity” and “competitivenesses”. No staff are needed so no wages. It’s not great news however for the workers who are made unemployed or for the people these newly-unemployed people go on to compete against for jobs.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s been going on since Capitalism was created. From the Luddites in the 1810s, who smashed new factory machinery that was making them redundant to Will Smith’s character in the imaginary future of “I Robot” who hates robots because they took his father’s job, Capitalism encourages innovation and the development of labour-saving machinery at the expense of the vast majority of people who need paid work to survive (who Marxists call the working-class).
There is a good side to this. Obviously for business owners but also partly for the rest of us. The reduction in costs caused by machinery means businesses pass some, but not all, of these cost decreases onto the consumer which reduces the price of things and increases the amount of them. Compare Britain to two-hundred years ago and it’s obvious we have a lot more stuff and that’s a good thing, I like my iphone and my DVDs and I definitely like having enough food to eat.
However there’s a downside to it too which is frustrating and entirely avoidable. Labour-saving machinery should save people work but without costing them their jobs. The reason it doesn’t is because of Capitalism. Businesses are privately-owned so bosses make workers redundant and pocket the savings for themselves. In a democratic socialist system, (if business were owned by their workers), then the development of labour-saving machinery would mean workers would simply give themselves Friday off.
To see the advantages of labour-saving machinery we have to look not at a privately-owned workplace but into peoples’ homes. Washing machines, vacum cleaners and dishwashers have saved people (overwhelmingly women) work and given them more leisure time. This is how it should be in the workplace.
So Capitalism’s flawed but why is it doomed? Well, in the words of Karl Marx “the bourgeoisie [business-owners] will create their own gravediggers”. The more their interests are advanced, the more at risk their class is of existence. The more they win, the more inevitable it is that they will lose. Capitalism needs ever-growing profits to survive which is impossible for two reasons. Firstly, ever-growing profits are impossible on a planet of finite resources like ours. Secondly, in pursuit of profit, they will make more and more people unemployed. To survive, an economic system has to maintain a minimum level of support amongst the people participating in it. The more people that are made unemployed, the less support Capitalism will have. People might not always recognise Capitalism as the reason for their unemployment, they may blame immigrants, their own lack of skills or the rising economies of China or India but it will become increasingly unstable. What comes from that instability is anyone’s guess. The instability of the 1930’s caused fascism and, with the rise of fascist movements across Europe (and the fascist-lites of UKIP in England), it looks like nationalism, authoritarianism and individualism are dangers to society that have not gone away so we need to think on and argue for a better alternative.
Having said all this, it’s very arrogant and foolish to try and predict the future, particularly in a 700-word blog. Many things could change in the future to blow my prediction off course and as these things are in the future, I don’t know about them yet. One thing that’s happening in the present though, that threatens to derail this Marxist vision of history, is Climate Change. When Marx outlined his predictions for the future he assumed, like everyone in his time and quite a few people in ours, that human life on this planet would go on forever. Climate Change is a major threat to this and, if history is to last long enough for Capitalism to crumble, we need to combat Climate Change now and with all we have.
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