Flexible automation

glevy at acnet.pratt.edu glevy at acnet.pratt.edu
Sat Sep 2 11:28:13 MDT 1995

  Paul C.
> From the standpoint of the original question, can automation be
> seen as a cause of rising unemployment, I still say no, because
> were it true, employment would have been in decline for two
> centuries.


  The affect of technological change and automation (including flexible
automation) on unemployment is not an easy question to answer and can't
be answered through the simple observation that empirically one can
observe unemployment changing cyclically rather than absolutely. When
capitalists introduce new process technologies the fundamental purpose is
to increase the production of relative surplus value and potential
profitability. The result of this process is also to increase the
productivity of labor. What does this mean? Increased labor productivity
could be said to mean that either; a) output will be increased with the
same labor force (at the level of the firm), or; b) the same output can
be produced with less workers, ceteris paribus. This is one of those
instances, however, where we have to be careful about the meaning of the
"ceteris paribus" assumption. Even if output is constant on the micro
level, will that mean that the unemployment rate will grow? Not
necessarily. One has to also consider such questions as: a) is the demand
for labor growing in other branches of production?; b) how is this
process impacted by changes in the rate of accumulation and the level of
aggregate demand?; c) what is the role of the state in the process of
creating employment?; d) how will foreign trade and the
internationalization of capital affect unemployment?; and, e) how will
workers and trade unions (and also managers) affect this process?

In the current setting, where, a) the demand for labor isn't growing
significantly in most other branches; b) aggregate demand is relatively
stagnant and real wages are declining; c) the state does not (in the US)
have an activist policy towards lowering unemployment at present; d) the
overall position of the US in the world economy has been declining; and
e) trade unions have shown no great inclination to fight capital re
technological change (since many have bought into the capital-labor
partnership for increased competitiveness idea), what impact will
flexible automation most likely have on unemployment?


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