As technologies develop, a question for the business community surfaces: what will our future look like?
When the Industrial Revolution shook the Western world in the 18th century, the economies completely restructured. Industries were enabled to speed up their processes and pump out products at a previously unimaginable and unprecedented efficiency. Business and factory owners saw their profits rise, but this was at a great expense.
When creating such a large amount of goods, it became necessary to reduce the cost of production as much as possible. For the business class of the 18th century, this cost reduction meant a devaluation of the labor provided by the workers in the manufacturing process.
Young children were hired to work in dangerous factories for pennies. Adults did not enjoy many benefits either. As workers became poorer and poorer, capitalists found that they were losing a large portion of their market. It is ironic that in order to make cheap product to sell to millions, the industry managed to eliminate their own consumer base by underpaying their workers.
Here, we find a complex and symbiotic relationship between workers and the business class. It is not unlikely that the same person who works at Walmart as a cashier also does their grocery shopping at the same store.
What does it mean when that worker cannot afford groceries on the wage that Walmart pays them?
Mathematically, it may simply mean that Walmart gains an employee and loses a customer. But in today’s economies, when businesses are aiming towards eternal growth, and constant upwards slopes on their profit graphs, they risk making the same mistakes of those early industrialists.
Should more and more industries turn to robot workers and technologies, which may cost more in the early stages to install, they might find that there is no need to pay for any labour except for that of the robots, which they will effectively own.
who is the consumer? If everyone intends to get rich off of this next stage of industrial revolution, we will find a highly stratified consumer base, as statistics are already predicting. When 1% of the world population controls half of the wealth, surely it is not the rich folk who are aiming to purchase the $1 box of crackers that Walmart aims to make as cheap as possible to sell as much as possible.
Then who is the customer? If every industry automates, from services to labour, there will be no middle or working class to market to. There will be the capitalists, and the unemployed, and we can already glean from contemporary research that the capitalists consist of a much smaller portion of the population than the rest.
If there is no market, who will buy things? Who will create profit? In these times, it is necessary to reconsider our human relationship to the economy. Why eternal growth? Why not communal growth?