[lbo-talk] Updating the Baran/Sweezy Perspective: Microsoft et. al.

Dwayne Monroe idoru345 at yahoo.com
Mon Mar 8 17:13:32 PST 2004

Doug wrote:

Computers are over 50 years old, and the global proletariat has what, doubled or tripled? Did this effect just kick in with the U.S. business cycle peak in 2001?


I understand your meaning here but I believe overlooked factors may be in-play.

Computers are, perhaps, the ultimate command and control devices, the "proteus of machines" someone wrote decades ago (I believe Joseph Weizenbaum). They can be used to automate certain tasks, eliminating human labor, and to Taylorize other tasks which still require workers -- reducing the need for more labor than absolutely required.

This capacity was latent for a long time -- first generation machines required too much power, too much intervention and too much space for too little ROI. Science fiction writers and other theorists were alone in seeing the potential.

Only very recently have several threads really come together -- miniturization and mobility, commodification (dropping the price points), the spread of machine-centered expertise in hardware/software and networking that extends the machines' usefulness over space, to name the ones which immediately come to mind -- which have enabled businesses to aggressively use computers as labor force reduction, redirection (such as the ATM which makes you a part of the bank labor chain) and, in rarer cases, elimination tools.

This process is far from complete and I don't believe there'll ever be a time when, for example, vast stretches of industrial real estate are occupied only by robotic "workers". Still, the mobility and greater sophistication of computing machinery does offer capital new opportunities to 'get by with less'.


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