Jobs, technology, and transition

Just Transition is a concept of the state intervening when the private market fails at a scale that it cannot possibly respond in a reasonable time frame. That kind of thing happens all the time and it isn't just when climate policies are implemented.

Jobs, technology, and transition

Just Transition is a strange concept to apply just to climate-policy related job losses.

The basis for change in the capitalist economy is:

  1. Competition
  2. Investment
  3. Debt
  4. The cost of workers
  5. The cost of machines
  6. The value of produced goods
  7. The speed of production

Taking the above as some sort of "natural process" results in confused policy. These are decisions made by people within an economic and social system that is human created.

Take the call for "Just Transition" for coal workers being affected by climate policies. We are tacitly agreeing that the regular process of layoff is "natural" when we apply the concept of Just Transition only to climate-policy related job shifts.

Climate change mitigation and response policies are driving most changes in investment leading to layoffs. So, the call for support for workers is deemed "legitimate" because there is human intervention in the economy from climate policies.

The same intervention is happening across the economy and resulting in large scale change in investment

  • The entire purpose of Artificial Intelligence is "productivity gains" (read: "fewer workers needed").
  • The restructuring of transportation to match the shifts in energy systems.
  • Shifts in geopolitics.
  • There is a new policy regime of direct grants in the form of profit subsidies to capital.
  • The slow-down in the economy (read: recession) driven by the central banks' policies.
  • Digital currencies.
  • App-coordinated online delivery and casualization.

Every time investment is affected, it leads to large changes in employment and layoffs. All large shifts in employment are a result of human decisions and social intervention in the economy.

My point is that even beyond capitalism naturally creating unemployment, capitalist investment creates turbulence in the employment market. Turbulence does not show-up in the standard unemployment statistics, but the effects can be huge.

Take one of the above: AI is going to cause as many shifts in the economy as climate change:

BT hails AI opportunity as it unveils plan to cut up to 42% of workforce.

[Loss of] 40,000 and 55,000 jobs… by 2030.

“For a company like BT there is a huge opportunity to use AI to be more efficient,” he said of the jobs to be lost through digitisation and automation, adding that generative AI would bring huge advances.

Vodafone unveiled plans to axe 11,000 jobs over the next three years.

Some of these are AI, some of them are changes to investment decisions because of other technological changes. Technology that is the result of policies. But, they are no less substantial than shifts caused by climate policies.

The calls right now from the liberals are for government intervention and investment in AI under an arms/space race condition. They are not wrong in the headline, but the content is very problematic.

I think only the left have the tools to promote policies to affect this. Focusing on climate policies and calls for Just Transition are not going to cut it.

The left need clear analysis of the impacts of shifting investment and that takes us to the following:

  1. Organic Composition of Capital (OCC). To explain the technological side of investment.
  2. The debt process around investment.
  3. The total cost of production.
  4. The reduction of per-unit value creation from the implementation of technology.
  5. The loss of support for older costly production processes. To support use of value production.
  6. The real process of competition in capitalism as it relates to OCC and debt. To explain the reason that newer capitals are able to replace older capitals.

All together, the shifts that are happening in the economy need to be explained as part of the same process. The explanation links all the large shifts and the response:

  • contract flipping protections
  • sector-style agreements
  • technological change language
  • welfare state protections for all unemployed instead of one-off Just Transition spending.
  • public higher education programs
  • regulation of technological investment
  • public ownership over productive companies to invest in needed production and provide a buffer for jobs lost due to the turbulence

We talk about these things regularly, but a synthesis is needed to provide clear points for leadership on the left.

I fear that the alternative to a clear understanding of the nature of the economy will be the expansion in liberal schemes like expanding "employee participation without power". The reduction in true democratic involvement and the rise in liberal anti-class false consciousness will lead nowhere good.