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Bryan Caplan’s Case For Socialism

GMU economics professor and libertarian Bryan Caplan lays out his vision of long-term economic development:

Robin’s more specific admission: Wages for humans and robots alike will fall to subsistence levels because intelligent machines will be low-cost near-perfect substitutes for humans. However, human consumption will be much higher, because biological humans will own much more than their own labor — including land, capital, and vast numbers of robots. Robots, in contrast, will have to get by on their wages.

In slogan form: Simon for people, Malthus for robots.

Another way of putting it would be Simon (i.e., plenty) for capital and Malthus (i.e., subsistence) for labor. That, of course, is Karl Marx’s vision of long-term economic development. And while I don’t have a strong opinion as to whether or not this is accurate over the long term, it’s certainly a plausible story about the future, and Marx’s solution — socialism — unquestionably seems to me to be the correct one. Marx’s forecast of the immiseration of labor and all the returns going to the owners of capital clearly hasn’t been true in the 150 years or so since his time, but it certainly could happen. In a weird way we haven’t gotten a fair test since it’s only quite recently that capitalist economic development has come to huge swathes of the global south.

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If the “robots” are really mere machines, then it should be easy to peacefully divide up the surplus more-or-less equitably, we’ll transition to socialism and everyone will be happy — it’ll be like Star Trek. If the robots are sentient beings, then we’d presumably be looking at an eventual slave revolt and Communist revolution.