Mittwoch, 14. Oktober 2015

The Main Problem of Capitalism or “Unemployment” in a Nutshell

The renowned physicist Stephen Hawking just posted in a Reddit Q&A session the most compact formulation of the problem of capitalism and “unemployment” I have ever seen to date:

“If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.”


Hawking refers to “machines” that can produce without any labour. Such machines are actually a hypothetical special case of productive capital in general. Hawking uses the extreme (infinite labour productivity) to make the case that distribution matters. But his argument is actually valid for all kinds of non-hypothetical existing productive means that make society require less labour to produce more goods.

If those means of production are well distributed or at least the produce is distributed in a reasonable manner everybody benefits. Everybody can enjoy more spare time and consume more or better goods.

If, however, the means of production are ill-distributed there will be a “surplus of goods” and a diminished demand for labour. The capital owners will benefit but the workers will suffer from diminishing wages due to the increased competition for productive jobs, whereby a productive job requires access to the means of production that make labour more productive.

Kudos to Stephen Hawking for this perfect summary!