I like this article. I agree with his view on capitalism and most of his analysis. I agree with him that capitalism is a historical advancement. A lot of things in capitalism can be justified. The real change in capitalism has to start from a underlying structure change. Throughout the article, the author is looking for the so called “new energy supply, new tools” that will lead to structure change. But he hasn’t been successful. As he observed, there isn’t as much productivity boost in the 90s as in previous decades.
My view is that the author failed to find the so called “new energy supply, new tools” that will lead to structure change is due to the author’s lack of understanding of comptuer/software/web. Although he pointed out the computer technology, together with finance, is the force that will potentially cause the structure change, he understands computer simply as a new kind of machine. However, computer/software is not just another kind of machine. Computer/software is actually a bridge between human world and physical world. It is in this sense that the appearance of computer/software is a very revolutionary breakthrough in human history. Our current time is less about improving our producing power in making physical products. Instead it is more about how we can make better social products. So the author totally missed the point as he continue to seek a new tool to dramatically improve the productivity of making physical product as the cause of structure change. Our time is about how to build better social products (such as learning, music, journalism and so on). It is about what really makes us happy.
Below are some quotes from the article and my comments.
“We can’t expect capitalism to become as capitalist as possible, treating the proles in the toughest possible way, and thus forcing them to react. (How could a movement that means both collective and individual self-awareness and autonomy, be based on a determinism that would push us into action almost unconsciously? What matters is not how and when restructuring will impoverish labour, but whether or not restructuring is maturing, i.e. entering its first large structural contradictions, and meeting a resistance aimed at its core, not just at its effects.”
“Data are valid as far as they lead us towards the social profitability of a system at a given time, that is, its capacity to produce its own general stability, and to reproduce its ruling class in the best possible conditions. The extent of the restructuring can only be understood if we start from the contradiction that the restructuration is trying to solve. ‘What’s the technical system that will enable capital to rebound? Where are the new energy supplies, the new materials, the new tools? Above all, where’s the new organization of labour that will make up for the defects of Taylorism, and raise to hitherto unknown heights the domination of capital?’ ”
“The history of capitalism can’t be explained by the action of a single class, only by a permanent contradiction, where class struggle and confrontational partnership are two sides of the same coin.”
” Until then, and from the beginning of the XXth century, capital had been busy altering the work process, but not yet the forms of existence of wage-labour. It’s only after 39-45 that it was also able, in the US, in Western Europe and in Japan, to transform the (re)production of labour power:
* Integration of the proletarians in the economic, political and social sphere of capital: they’re no longer perceived as enemies, as outsiders, but as rival partners in the valorization process.
* On the other hand, what defined the XIXth century worker (his skill, his craftsmanship) is decomposed and rejected.
* Wages are not merely a cast, but an investment which feeds consumption: there’s a reasonable increase in direct wages, and a large increase in indirect wages.
* Mass consumption (with planned obsolescence) fuels growth, and commodification pervades the whole social fabric.
* National development gives a new role to the State, which no longer deals only with war and law & order, but also initiates social justice and social peace. It helps or forbids mergers, supports growth through fiscal policies, public works and a permanent arms economy.
I agree with his description of the transformation that capitalism went through. If you read John Taylor Gatto’s online book (http://johntaylorgatto.com/underground/index.htm), you will come to the same conclusion.
“Computerized labour: know-how is transferred from the worker into a machine (numerical control appeared in the early 70’s), and management is accelerated in the services. However, computerization saves time and wastes it, because of breakdowns, training, fast hardware obsolescence and other incidental expenses. The real success of the “computer revolution” comes from its ability to control the work process and to make it even more obscure for the wage earner. At least, at the end of the assembly line, the worker can see a car or a tin of sardines. Screens, digits and icons now blur each person’s contribution to the collective effort. Computerization is a script for lack of comprehension.”
I feel the problem is really: why the worker cannot learn and empower themselves and thus in control of their own profession since they know the best of their profession. Social software of course will change how people learn, and thus will really empower individuals. Social software will also put the individual professionals in control. One reason why social software will empower the individual professionals is that social software will allow individual professionals to reach a small diverse market via the web thus making it easier to build a profitable small business instead of having to relying on a huge stable homogenized market to be profitable (see the book Long Tail). But the author of ” Whither the World” seems to be against diversified consumption.
The waste the author mentioned as caused by computer is probably no where near the magnitude of the productivity that computer has brought. If so, it is meaningless to mention it.
It is a very good article. I think maybe the article will be a little different if the author writes it now instead of a few years ago since the innovation of web2.0 is taking shaping in these years.