There’s something very strange about the fact that two persist worries I hear about the advance of technology are that robot labor will be able to replace human labor in market production and also that digital copying will make it impossible to get paid to create cultural products. Well, if robots are able to drastically eliminate the need to pay human beings to provide physical goods and services, then there’ll be plenty of people with plenty of time and their hands to create cultural goods for free.
We’re talking about a future in which there’s neither a shortage of goods nor a shortage of people. We’re talking, in other words, about utopia. For whatever reason, optimism is coded as a rightwing attitude in the contemporary United States, but people with their origins on the right ought to recognize these trends as the abundance of goods that makes it both possible and necessary to transcend capitalism and move to a world of from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs. Market exchange is a response to scarcity, and in many domains we’re moving past scarcity.
Our main troubles come not from these fields impacted by technological change but precisely from those areas where we do face scarcity but aren’t applying market price mechanisms. The atmosphere, for example, has only so much capacity to absorb carbon dioxide emissions. Only so many cars can fit on the 101 at rush hour. Pricing those things would improve quality of life and generate some of the revenue we need to build utopia.