In the 20th century, corporations and state enterprises perfected a “free trade” sleight of hand for extracting resources and cheap labor globally. Today, as sources of “cheap labor” become less profitable, artificial intelligence (AI) is wielded as a tool for further exploiting American labor.
When automated manufacturing first showed up in the 60s, the “pundits” (then called eggheads) worried about automation shortening the workweek. They argued that the increase in leisure would destroy the American work ethic. Today, automation’s potential for delivering the paradise of a 20-hour workweek has been largely forgotten, even though productivity per worker has rocketed off the charts. Today most people feel over-worked, and leisurely lifestyles remain the province of the rich.
In the mid-80s and 90s Wal-Mart discovered how to harness cheap labor abroad and enrich their family beyond imagination. If they wanted a new DVD player they licensed an inventor’s designs. Next, they licensed a familiar brand name like TDK for marketing. Wal-Mart distribution center team then goes over to China and hands off the prototype for manufacturing at the lowest wage possible. While this is going on, Wal-Mart began their Buy American campaign which sits as a bitter irony, mirrored in the production of Trump’s MAGA hats in China. At the turn of this century, the Chinese were supplying an estimated 70-80 percent of Wal-Mart’s merchandise. And, when other manufacturers wanted to place their DVD players for sale at Wal-Mart, they had to follow Wal-Mart in the race to the bottom for low-paid workers.
The Wal-Martians use this product sleight of hand to attain total control over the manufacturing life cycle. But no magic show and no marketplace remain constant. These days, as the Chinese assert more control over product design and development, the American profits are squeezed. As a result, US manufacturers now look to AI as the next best weapon for exploiting labor back home. As jobs begin to dribble back into the US, capital threatens to replace human labor with robots.
Uber-wealthy pundits like Musk and Gates enjoy sharing horror stories reminiscent of the earlier cybernetic scare foisted upon us in the 60s. The standard scare story portrays a monster-bot capable of turning on its creator and doing him and her in. While A stands for artificial, its intelligence is highly debatable. Our digital Frankenstein walks about wearing an AI mask.
And as global free trade slowly dies, thuggish power elites fill the vacuum on each continent. Today, neo-liberal capitalists and socialists have been replaced by state enterprises run like crime families. African states. Putin and Trump (like all the others) have mastered using their state institutions as a means to enriching themselves. And, those who dare speak out risk being punished in these thuggish states. For instance, in England, a Russian businessman (and Putin critic) is found strangled. In America, Jeffery Epstein (a sexual exploitation criminal for the rich and famous) supposedly kills himself in prison with cameras conveniently turned off. In Turkey Jamal Khashoggi is hacked into small pieces, mostly likely on orders of Saudi strongman Mohammed bin Salman. Across the globe, democratic policies are being replaced by corrupted practices in places like Argentina, England, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, India, US, along with various South American and African states. The repressive oligarchs viciously jail or attack all who oppose them. They attempt to squash all dissent in the press or public places.
What does it look like when you win the race to the bottom? Is it a sudden collapse like 911 or does it happen slowly enough to escape our noticing it. But then one day you find your parks, sidewalks, and by-ways littered with campers and homeless individuals. You realize your first world badge of honor is terribly tarnished. Finally, it dawns on you: game over. Yup, we’ve “won” the race to the bottom.