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The Hindu Editorial Vocabulary

The Hindu Editorial Vocabulary 18th Feb 2018

Be afraid, robital is already here

Human beings are being made redundant by something they created. This is not a humanoid, robot, or computer but money as capital

We have all read stories, or seen films, about robots taking over. How, some time in the future, human beings will be marginalised, effectively replaced by machines, real or virtual. Common to these stories is the trope of the world taken over by something constructed of inert material, something mechanical and ‘heartless’. Also common to these stories is the idea that this will happen in the future.

What if I tell you that it has already happened? The future is here!

The culprit that humans created

In fact, the future has been building up for some decades. Roughly from the 1970s onwards, human beings have been increasingly made redundant (बेकार) by something they created, and that was once of use to them. Except that this ‘something’ is not a humanoid, robot, or even a computer; it is money. Or, more precisely, it is money as capital.

It was precipitated (बेरोक) in 1973, when floating exchange rates were introduced. As economist Samir Amin notes, this was the logical result of the “concomitance (सहवर्तिता) of the U.S. deficit (leading to an excess of dollars available on the market) and the crisis of productive investment” which had produced “a mass of floating capital with no place to go.” With floating exchange rates, this excess of dollars could be plunged (छलांग) into sheer financial speculation across national borders. Financial speculation had always been a part of capitalism, but floating exchange rates dissolved the ties between capital, goods (trade and production) and labour. Financial speculation gradually floated free of human labour and even of money, as a medium of exchange. If I were a theorist (सिद्धांतवादी) of capitalism of the Adam Smith variety, I would say that capitalism, as we knew it (and still, erroneously (गलती से), imagine it), started dying in 1973.

Amin goes on to stress the consequences of this: The ratio between hedging (बचाव-व्यवस्था) operations on the one side and production and international trading on the other rose to 28:1 by 2002 — “a disproportion that has been constantly growing for about the last twenty years and which has never been witnessed in the entire history of capitalism.” In other words, while world trade was valued at $2 billion around 2005, international capital movements were estimated at $50 billion.

How can there be capital movements in such excess of trade? Adam Smith would have failed to understand it. Karl Marx, who feared something like this, would have failed to imagine its scale.

This is what has happened: capital, which was always the abstract logic of money, has riven free of money as a medium of exchange. It no longer needs anything to exchange — and, hence, anyone to produce — in order to grow. (I am exaggerating, but only a bit.)

Theorists have argued that money is a social relation and a medium of exchange. That is not true of most capital today, which need not be ploughed (सप्तर्षिमण्डल) back into any kind of production, trade, labour or even services. It can just be moved around as numbers. This is what day traders do. They do not look at company balance sheets or supply-demand statistics; they simply look at numbers on the computer screen.

This is what explains the dichotomy (किसी दो भिन्न पदार्थ या समूह के विभाग)— most obvious in Donald Trump’s U.S., but not absent in places like the U.K., France or India — between the rhetoric of politicians and their actual actions. Politicians might come to power by promising to ‘drain the swamp (दलदल )’, but what they do, once assured of political power, is to partake (भाग लेना) in the monopoly of finance capital. This abstract capital is the ‘robot’ — call it Robital — that has marginalised human beings.

I am not making a Marxist point about capital under classical capitalism: despite its tendency towards exploitation, this was still largely invested in human labour. This is not the case any longer. Finance capital does not really need humans — apart from the 1% that own most of it, and another 30% or so of necessary service providers, including IT ones, whose numbers should be expected to steadily shrink.

Robotisation has already taken place: it is only its physical enactment (अधिनियमन) (actual robots) that is still building up. Robots, as replacements for human beings, are the consequence of the abstract nature of finance capital. Robotised agriculture and office robots are a consequence of this. If most humans are redundant and most capital is in the hands of a 1% superclass, it is inevitable (अपरिहार्य) that this capital will be invested in creating machines that can make the elite (विशिष्ट वर्ग) even less dependent on other human beings.

The underlying cause

My American friends wonder about the blindness of Republican politicians who refuse to provide medical support to ordinary Americans and even dismantle the few supports that exist. My British friends talk of the slow spread of homelessness in the U.K. My Indian friends worry about matters such as thousands of farmer suicides. The working middle class crumbles in most countries.

Here is the underlying cause of all of this: the redundancy of human beings, because capital can now replicate itself, endlessly, without being forced back into human labour and trade. We are entering an age where visible genocides (जातिसंहार) — as in Syria or Yemen — might be matched by invisible ones, such as the unremarked deaths of the homeless, the deprived and the marginal.

Robital is here.

 

  1. Redundant: being over what is needed
    Synonyms: excess, extra, spare, supererogatory, superfluous, supernumerary, surplus
    Antonyms: deficient, inadequate, insufficient, meager (or meagre), niggardly, poor, scant, scanty, scarce, short, shortish, skimpy, sparse
  2. Precipitated: acting or done with excessive or careless speed
    Synonyms: cursory, drive-by, flying, gadarene, headlong, helter-skelter, hurried, overhasty, pell-mell, hasty, precipitous, rash, rushed
    Antonyms: deliberate, unhurried, unrushed, dallying, dawdling, laggard, leisurely, poky (or pokey), shilly-shallying, slow
  3. Concomitance: The fact of existing or occurring together with something else.
    Synonyms: co-occurrence, concurrence, coincidence, coexistence, simultaneity, simultaneousness, contemporaneity, contemporaneousness, synchronicity, synchrony
  4. Plunged: an act or instance of diving
    Synonyms: pitch, dive
    Antonyms: jump, leap
  5. Theorist: A person concerned with the theoretical aspects of a subject; a theoretician.
  6. Erroneously: in a mistaken or inappropriate way
    Synonyms: amiss, wrongly, faultily, improperly, inaccurately, inappropriately, inaptly, incorrectly, mistakenly, unsuitably
    Antonyms: appropriately, aptly, correctly, fittingly, properly, right, rightly, suitably, well
  7. Hedging: a physical object that blocks the way
    Synonyms: barricade, fence, barrier, wall
    Antonyms: door, doorway, entrance, entranceway, entry, entryway, gate, portal
  8. Ploughed: to cut into and turn over the sod of (a piece of land) using a bladed implement
    Synonyms: break, furrow
  9. Dichotomy: someone or something with qualities or features that seem to conflict with one another
    Synonyms: contradiction, incongruity, paradox
  10. Swamp: to cover with a flood
    Synonyms: deluge, drown, engulf, gulf, inundate, overflow, overwhelm, submerge, submerse, flood
    Antonyms: drain, dehydrate, dry, parch
  11. Partake: o take a share or part
    Synonyms: participate, share
  12. Enactment: a rule of conduct or action laid down by a governing authority and especially a legislature
    Synonyms: act, bill, constitution, law, ordinance, statute
    Antonyms: higher law
  13. Inevitable: impossible to avoid or evade
    Synonyms: certain, ineluctable, ineludible, inescapable, necessary, sure, unavoidable, unescapable
    Antonyms: avoidable, evadable, uncertain, unsure
  14. Elite: individuals carefully selected as being the best of a class
    Synonyms: A-list, aristocracy, best, choice, corps d’elite, cream, crème de la crème, elect, fat, flower, illuminati, pick, pink, pride, priesthood, prime, royalty, upper crust
    Antonyms: commoners, herd, hoi polloi, masses, millions, mob, multitude, rank and file, unwashed
  15. Genocides: The deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group.
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