Five years on from the height of the global financial crises in 2008 there has been much talk in the media of what is being referred to as the jobless recovery (http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/business-mood-turns-upbeat-%E2%80%93-its-jobless-recovery-wb-134532). During the crises business learnt how to better manage and organise their labour force more effectively, learning how to do more with less. This improved organisation of labour combined with greater investment in technology has led to what many experts believe is a jobless recovery, greatly affecting middle class jobs (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10861554). One of the main drivers behind this phenomenon has been vast improvements in computer technology, most especially computer software, with many experts noting that such technological advancements are replacing human labour at a pace never before witnessed in history (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10861554).
Technology replacing human labour is nothing new, however, most especially under capitalism. One of the best ways to understand this phenomenon is to use Marx’s concept of relative surplus-value. In volume one of Capital, Marx notes that there are two ways in which capitalists can increase their rate of surplus-value. The first is absolute surplus-value, which involves a lengthening of the working day and the second is relative surplus-value, which involves improved organisation of the labour process and investment in new/better technologies to increase production, allowing one to produce at a lower cost than the competition. While both, especially relative surplus-value, give bosses a competitive advantage for an initial period of time, sooner or later the competition will catch on and what was once competitive advantage will become the new social average.
The other drawbacks are that the gains employers can make from absolute surplus-value are limited, as there are physical limits to how long workers can work, while the production of relative surplus-value leads to a fall in the rate of profit (see here).
While absolute surplus-value production has an obvious effect on workers’ well-being, Marx’s investigation into relative surplus-value indicated the impact that new technologies have on replacing (more…)