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Recently following the discussion by politicians in US elections of "getting jobs back", it seemed clear to me that this phase of losing jobs can't be stopped or even slowed: it's the natural and unavoidable effect of automation. This lead me to discuss Universal Basic Income, a potential solution to a future where so much is automated that there aren't enough jobs for even a small fraction of the population.

In this discussion topic, I've found that the resulting system that seems necessary is very similar to communism.

According to Wikipedia :

"A communist economic system would be characterized by advanced productive technology that enables material abundance, which in turn would enable the free distribution of most or all economic output and the holding of the means of producing this output in common."

That looks identical to a post scarcity UBI system to me.

So my question is this: is communism not an inherently flawed governing system, but rather one that is failed due to its inability to work outside of a post scarcity economy, and misused due to its ability to entice citizens with false promises of equality?

In other words, can communism be effective in a post scarcity economy? Why or why not?


To clarify, since there seems to be the potential for confusion here: I'm pointing out that perhaps communism works only as a solution to the situation where everything is already automated and people don't need to work (and can't - 90% of jobs are automated). Either you divide the wealth in a manner not based on work or your population starves at that point (because there's simply no demand for work).

I'm turning that "perhaps" into a question to learn about whether that could be accurate or not.

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    The economy studies the allocation of limited resources and its flow. Once the resources are not scarce, then the conditions set for the classical theories simply are not met and we would be in uncharted territory. And anyway, communism does not mean "universal basic income" but is more in the line of everybody having control about his/her work and its products... – SJuan76 Dec 28 '16 at 3:13
  • @SJuan76 According to wikipedia : "A communist economic system would be characterized by advanced productive technology that enables material abundance, which in turn would enable the free distribution of most or all economic output and the holding of the means of producing this output in common." - That looks identical to a post scarcity UBI system to me. – user6048918 Dec 28 '16 at 3:28
  • "In other words, can communism be effective in a post scarcity economy?" I thought they were basically synonyms? – endolith Dec 28 '16 at 17:01
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    @kbelder compare that job growth to population growth. Have jobs increased at a higher rate than population? Geniunely curious. Because if not, that would suggest to me that the increase in number of jobs (during simultaneous increase in unemployment) is proof of nothing more than an increase of servers (cashiers, waitresses, factory workers, truck drivers, etc) to meet demands of serving a larger population - but not enough jobs to support the employment of a growing population. And if that's the case, as we automate truck drivers and cashiers in the next 5 years, factory workers in (cont) – user6048918 Dec 31 '16 at 8:43
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    (...) factory workers in 10 years, and waitresses etc in 20 as our AI and robotics improve, you'll see my prediction become reality. Right now it's cheaper to employ all of those job types which employ the masses via human labor, but as our technology improves (automated truck driving and cashier-free stores are coming to service right now) this will quickly change and these jobs will disappear. Let me guess: you're going to claim programming and engineering jobs will replace those jobs - Unlikely. Hiring an engineer for every truck driver you just fired would have you paying more not less. – user6048918 Dec 31 '16 at 8:50
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Post-economics society

In many ways, a true post-scarcity society would be a post-economic society as well. The reason is that economics is the study of allocating scarce resources. If resources are no longer scarce, then there is no real need to allocate them. If resources are scarce, then society is not really post-scarcity.

Anyway, the differences between a communist and a capitalist society become rather meaningless when talking about a post-scarcity society. Resources aren't scarce. If you are a poor person in a post-scarcity society, just find a charitable rich person and ask for your own product maker. They use their product maker to give you one. After all, there is no scarcity, so it doesn't cost anything to be charitable. Now you can make one for all your friends.

What's a product maker?

I'm just using "product maker" as the term for the thing where you can get stuff. After all, stuff isn't scarce. So you should be able to just get stuff from somewhere. I'm sort of thinking about a robot that can build a perfect copy of itself. Or it can build a spaceship. Or anything else.

We aren't that close

While there are a lot of people anticipating a no-labor future, we still need people to do jobs. Take the United States for example. In the US, more than half of adults are working. In fact, that statistic was 62.7 in November of 2016.

Currently robots are specialty machines. A robot can work on an assembly line or vacuum your rug. But neither of those could go pick up your dry cleaning or babysit your kid. That's expanding, we may have self-driving taxis and trucks within the next ten to twenty years. But the lawn mowing robot still won't be able to trim your bushes. In the meantime, a human landscaper can do both things with different tools.

Not everything would be post-scarcity

There are many resources that are not going to be post-scarcity. For example, land in urban centers would remain scarce. We don't have a large scale non-polluting energy source on Earth. Maybe people could move to space stations for more of a post-scarcity experience. Need more power? Just build some more solar panels. Or add a new module for more space.

Communism

This gets confused a lot because of what people in capitalist societies call communism. Communism is not something like a universal basic income. The most basic component of communism is central planning. Central planning is a horribly inefficient way of running an economy. It might take post-scarcity to make it feasible on large scale. But as I said previously, why bother at that point? You don't need government allocation of non-scarce goods.

A better name for a society that uses tax revenue to fund a universal basic income is socialist. For example, Finland seems to be planning to run an experiment soon. Socialist economies tend to also be free market economies. Socialist level taxation is built on top of a free market and either gives people cash benefits or buys goods on the free market. Possibly with some government services added, e.g. healthcare, law enforcement, postal service, etc.

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    I realize now that I used the wrong terminology when I said "post scarcity" - I meant the point at which we had enough of a surplus being produced by fully automated infrastructure so that if we, say, divided 80% of our wealth (goods and services), everyone could live comfortably (but not have anything they want). Is there a word or phrase to capture that description? – user6048918 Dec 28 '16 at 5:03
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    Great answer till you get to the last section. You're confusing socialism with nodic-style social democracy (and I don't care if they call themselves "socialist" anymore than I care about North Korea calling itself "democratic"). Socialism is decidedly NOT about free market, just the opposite. Wiki definition: "a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole". One thing that socialism is NOT about is universal basic income, ironically – user4012 Dec 28 '16 at 15:16
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    "The most basic component of communism is central planning. Central planning is a horribly inefficient way of running an economy." According to whom? – endolith Dec 28 '16 at 17:04
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    Consider that scarcity isn't going to disappear all at once from any sector. The modern economies have been living in an increasingly post-food scarcity situation for decades with two interesting results. First, hunger hasn't disappeared despite an embarrassing abundance of nurishing calories in our economies, and secondly (possibly a partial explanation of the former item) economic adaptation has been spotty and inconsistent (i.e. protecting the 'brand' of regional foods) beyond former food producers moving to urban and suburban settings. Presumably this continues until a big shift occurs. – dmckee Dec 29 '16 at 2:08
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I'm not seeing any of the other answers address anything outside of the western anti-communist understanding of what communists advocate so I'm going to give this an answer even though others have.

I'm going to start off by outlining what I am referring to when I say "communism" because there is not a concrete understanding of what communism is in most countries. Just in case someone who is under the impression that Obama or Bernie Sanders are dangerous Marxists stumbles across this answer, I'd like to make some things clear.

What is communism?

Firstly, I must point out that communism is not something which can be put into place immediately and tested. Communism is not a set of policy ideas or a dogma.

Communists want to usher in a stateless society where the means of production are commonly owned and production is for use by the community rather than sale for the capitalist boss.

While I do not want to assert that all communism is Marxist, I will be talking about Marxism because I deem it to be the most developed communist theory.

"Marxism is the method of dialectical materialism, and the application of this method to social life. Marxism is not simply a collection of pre-existing conclusions or "things Karl Marx said", but a way of understanding and effecting social change based on Karl Marx's method."-communism101

Marxists view society as divided into two key classes. The proletariat (working class) and the bourgeois class (capitalist class.)

It is important to understand that class is not qualified by the amount of money controlled by an individual, rather how they relate to productive forces. If one sells their labour (when they work in a factory for instance) than they are a proletarian, if one sells products or services for their living they are a member of the bourgeois class.

Communists want to end the exploitative relationship between the workers and the people who own the means of productions (the relationship between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie). When a worker creates a product they are not paid the market value for the product they create, they are paid a wage and the capitalist who owns the enterprise they work in makes the surplus value. Meaning; the capitalist makes money off of what the worker produces.

This relationship also leads to other bad economic conditions like production for sale rather than production for use.

These are just the basics, they are well explained in 25 short questions in "The Principles of Communism" by Freidrich Engels.

Can communism work in a post scarcity economy? This isn't anything you are going to get a definite answer for. Many people think that communism will never work due to the abstract concept of "human nature" and many people think communism can work without a post scarcity economy.

Some Marxists explain we are already living post-scarcity, although I imagine the usage of the words differ from yours. Marxists see the elimination of artificial scarcity which plagues modern markets as an important benefit of the transition to socialism and eventually communism.

Can communism work in a post scarcity economy? We can't know for sure. However I can point you to some resources which might interest you.

Many people categorise the economy in the Star Trek TV show to be tinkering with the concept of post scarcity socialism, because human labour is substituted with energy and that ushers in a production for use and the abolition of the worker boss relationship.

Sorry if my answer is not as conclusive as you like, but it is not very answerable as none of us will know what the future holds.

A similar question was also asked on /r/futurology if anyone is interested in that.

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There is no objective, empirical or historical case that can be made that Communism is better, more fair, or has any preferable outcomes over most Western democracies, and that is because the political philosophical case for Marxism is inherently flawed. Marxism's lack of understanding of human nature, it's morally flawed call for violence, it's debasement of the individual to be subservient to the Party and to the State, the lack of curtailment on the state's power, and a host of other issues caused it to be a political failure as precedent to it's economic failures, which are legion. Even in your case of allowing a "Garden of Eden" scenario where scarcity doesn't exist, the political and moral failings of Marxism would pervade the social and political organization of society to rend it apart.

Consider James Madison from Fed #51.

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

Communism literally has none of those safe guards.

Two final notes: one the quote from Wiki is laughable if it weren't so sad. To the contrary, never in the history of mankind has there been a system of organization that destroyed wealth and industry as much as Communism. From Venezuela to Sweden the introduction of Communism or Socialism has one consistent effect and that is the destruction of wealth.

Second final note: if you are overly concerned about automation and think it desirous to curtail it, Communism may be your ticket because it retards technology widely available. For example, about 15-20 years ago Cuba had to reintroduce the ox and plow--their poverty no longer allowed them the luxury of purchasing and maintaining tractors (although there are a couple of US business men trying to change that).

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    In response to your final paragraph: I think it necessary to point out that to use today's communist governments as a demonstrator of the failures of communism while my question is suggesting that perhaps communism can only succeed in (not create) the environment of a post or nearly post scarcity economy, contradicts the premise of the question's suggestion. In simpler terms, I stated as the premise of my question that communism can't succeed in a high scarcity environment and you kinda said "Look at Cuba, communism sucks" (communism is a high scarcity environment). – user6048918 Dec 29 '16 at 2:38
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    @user6048918 Sure kid, maybe Communism can work in fantasyland. It's only killed 120 million people world wide, let's give it another chance – K Dog Dec 29 '16 at 9:28
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    @user6048918, you confuse cause and effect, stating in your definition of communism that it leads to a "utopia" of material abundance where it clearly does anything but. You then say it's inherently flawed, or least want to avoid criticism of communism on empirical and historical grounds, then ask if communism can work under special circumstances, in other words, is it inherently flawed. The answer is yes. – K Dog Dec 29 '16 at 9:33
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    Then your clarification point is a real hum dinger. You have a post-scarcity situation where people are dying from starvation. – K Dog Dec 29 '16 at 9:35
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Communism would not be the answer to an automated society, rather, it would be the cause. Dehumanization would force a jobless world. Communism will never work if those under that ideaology have a consciousness and a will. It totally depends on the collective vs individual ethics of the given society. As far as humans have been, are, and ever will be, Communism will not be a solution.

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    "it would be the cause" - that doesn't make sense: Capitalism results in automation due to the incentive to produce things cheaper than the competition either to profit more, to offer lower prices, and / or both. What's the incentive in communism to automate more things? – user6048918 Dec 28 '16 at 2:42
  • @user6048918 Capitalism is based on individualism. Individuals have a work ethic, a purpose, a drive, a motive to push upwards. A free will to build your own future. Communism destroys work ethic, people don't want to work, only to recieve the same rewards as those who did no work. People lose motive, and industry is slowly automated to make up for the lack of individual effort. Capitalism doesn't mean industrialism, it means individualism. – DiScOrDaNt Dec 28 '16 at 2:47
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    You're saying you give everyone equal wealth, and they don't want to work. Of course not. That's my point. I'm pointing out that perhaps communism works only as a solution to the situation where everything is already automated and people don't need to work (and can't - 90% of jobs are automated). Either you divide the wealth in a manner not based on work or your population starves at that point (because there's simply no demand for work). – user6048918 Dec 28 '16 at 3:11
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    @user6048918 Okay then, discussion has proceeded civilly. – DiScOrDaNt Dec 28 '16 at 3:38

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