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Technology and the Shrinking Middle Class

It is still widely professed that robotics and superintelligent computers will usher in a golden age of leisure, at least for Western middle and upper classes. This, in spite of evidence that middle classes in these countries are shrinking and people are working harder to maintain the same standard of living, when they can find jobs at all. It is still widely claimed that automation will serve the “re-humanization” of industrial work by upgrading unskilled workers to technicians, even though labor overall is being downgraded and the bulk of relatively unskilled and underpaid work in the West has been shifted to the Third World, where no such pretension operates. Even in the most developed countries, new classes of slave labor are emerging. No doubt life is still easier and safer in these countries—but for whom and for how long? Technology cannot be separated from the systems and institutions that produce it; it is questionable whether it has improved the human lot as a whole, and even more doubtful that it will in the future if it continues to reflect present values and institutions. The new genetic, medical, and nano technologies are supposed to usher in an age of abundance, well-being, and leisure—but not for everyone. They are infused with the ideology of free markets and the promise of a boon to all which they cannot and are not intended to deliver. Society as a whole could not afford the high cost of high-tech medicine if it were universally available. Reprogenetic technology is implicitly for the few. For new medical technologies to become the universal benefit to mankind they are touted to be, the structure and values of Western society would have to change from an opportunistic individualism to an altruistic communalism. Though not unthinkable, such a change is hardly in the interests of those who finance, develop, market and administer these technologies. Pharmaceutical drugs and medical services could be a constitutional right, in an economy where everyone is paid alike and where motivation is for social good rather than profit or personal advantage. But that, of course, is “communism”!

RELATED TAGS: [affluence of West, technological optimism, superintelligence, shrinking middle class, re-humanization of labor, new class of slave labor, neo-feudalism, elitist technology/medicine, ideology of free market, reprogenetics]

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