Wednesday, April 19, 2017

On Green Robots and the Triumph of Capital

On Green Robots and the Triumph of Capital

I am in favor of “renewable energy”, but I prefer to call it “owned power”. When you get your electricity from a power plant that burns fuel, then you must constantly buy fuel from someone else; so you don’t really own your electric power, you just rent it. Whereas if you own a solar panel or a windmill or geothermal, then the flow of electric power that they generate is yours. And it is better to own your power than to rent it.

Owned power is a capital investment. When you buy the solar panel, almost all the cost is up front. Rented power is cheaper up front, but requires a flow of capital afterwards, which ultimately comes from a flow of labor. So the solar panel is a way to replace long-term labor by up-front capital.

The same is true for robots. Most of the cost of the robot is up front, and unlike a human laborer, it needs no pay nor pensions nor benefits nor downtime. Unlike labor, it is disposable; therefore unlike labor, it is indispensible. So robots too are a way to replace labor by capital.

So owned power and robotics - key elements of the rising economy - represent triumphs of capital over labor. Technically, this is an accomplishment; politically, this is a disturbance. When capital puts labor out of a job, it fires its own customers.

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