PROGRESS, TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, by François Leclerc

Guest post. Translated from the French by Tim Gupwell

When there seems no way out, and the future seems unclear, it is then that promising visions of the future seem to abound.

The Bundesbank, accompanied by all those who take their cues from it, never miss an opportunity to remind us of the formula they stick to so stubbornly: their promise of growth at a later date once labour costs have been reduced and a renewed competiveness in the international markets.

Jens Weidmann, its enlightened president, has even suggested immediately extending the European aid provided to Spanish banks to the whole of the country’s economy, pursuing yet another triumphant march forward, complete with new additional austerity measures. Without even waiting, Mariano Rajoy’s Government has just announced that the latest set of measures will not bring in 65 billion Euros, as had been suggested just a few days before, but only 56.4 billion (perhaps it was a miscalculation?). Naturally, new measures will have to be found to compensate.

We are beginning to know the story off by heart, as it is re-counted to us in all its different versions, the latest version offered up being that of a supply shock (unearthed just in time), which seems on the face of it to be a last ditch attempt when all else has failed. A vision in Europe is being etched out in tiny brush strokes; its path has been traced out through successive unions (fiscal, banking, political and transfer).

When presenting it, special care has been taken to show that this strengthened European integration has been anointed by democracy, particularly given the extent to which the contrary seems to be inherent in its conception. The first steps, which grant additional supervisory responsibilities to an ECB – dazzling in its lack of transparency, (the desired effect!) – will do little to prove the contrary, now that coercive budgetary measures have been adopted and set in stone so as to prevent them from being revisited at a later stage.

Indeed, it would be difficult for the objectives pursued to be the result of democratic discussions, since they require an authoritarian reduction of the share allocated to wage-earners in the overall distribution of the wealth created. They also require a radical shake-up of the welfare state, which will magnanimously leave intact an ultimate safety net that just about guarantees the survival of the most impoverished.

But some are looking further and on a planetary scale, in order to find a response to the unrelenting questions about the pursuit of growth. There will be a technological revolution, they predict, quoting Schumpeter, which will be based on the 3D printer, an industrial production technique invented by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which extends the principle of the classical digital printer to 3 dimensional volumes, and constitutes a veritable universal replicating machine.

The Obama administration has just decided to create a well resourced institute dedicated to this technique, while corporations like Boeing, General electric, or Honeywell Bell are getting involved in advanced research. “We are on the verge of making some major breakthroughs” declared the first, excited at the idea of one day being able to have universal factories at its disposal in which these new robots will replace manual workers, fabricating all sorts of equipment from digital instructions, and, what is more, on demand. Killing two birds with one stone: getting rid of salaries and excess stocks. No doubt, new definitions of intellectual property are also being prepared to ensure that not just anybody can use these same techniques to create the objects they need – they will need to pass by these firms who are dreaming of eye watering profits.

These visionaries proclaim that the industrial re-localization of the United States is underway; also pointing out that the exploitation of shale gas in the national territory will ensure the availability of low price energy. After steam and electricity, they believe that a third industrial revolution is underway thanks to the combination of these two factors. Two supply shocks in one go; it’s almost too good to be true!

Foxconn, a enterprise based in Taiwan, which employs a million people and which is one of Apple’s main suppliers, is showing the way forward. Faced by rising wage costs, as are all the emerging countries in Asia, its projects are being followed attentively by the Americans who have glimpsed an opportunity for themselves.

Its installations are currently situated in Shenzen, one of the principal special economic zones set up by Den Xiaoping in China in the 1980s, where the workers’ Spartan lifestyle is entirely dedicated to production and where only the suicide rate impedes the smooth functioning of the process. A 20% rise in salaries provides the next reason why the implantation of a ‘robot kingdom’ is being actively prepared in the Taiwanese town of Taichung. This involves an investment of 233 million dollars which will delight the financiers. In return, half a million jobs can be axed.

After Ford’s revolution, the extension of the sphere of automated industrial production, and the introduction of computerized robots into the service industry, will pave the way for a radiant future. The gloomy futuristic visions depicted in Metropolis or described by Orwell will be a thing of the past! The prison has disappeared, the workers too!

In following this line of reasoning there does however remain one little problem to be tackled: namely, what revenues will the consumers dispose of, in order to prevent the inopportune disappearance of these enormous markets with the wage-earners? To get the ball rolling, a modest proposal can be made here: new born babies could be given a small capital sum at birth, deposited in their cradle by the financial industry, thus ensuring that they will not end up totally penniless if there is no inheritance.

Even now, the financial industry does not shy away from offering presents to future graduates in return for opening a bank account, or proposing savings plans to parents for their little darlings. An additional stride forward will have been made towards the domination of society by bankers, one aspect of its overall domination by finance.

With this new vision, youngsters will be urged to quickly familiarize themselves with basic financial techniques in order to be able to stand on their own two feet and to generate enough income from their capital to ensure their survival. When they are ready to fly the nest, an exam will enable them to obtain on merit a consumer diploma, opening the door to enter adult life. What could be better?