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Robots To Replace Chinese Workers

Top story of the day: manufacturing won’t save the US middle class.  It won’t even save China’s.  From The Financial Times:

Foxconn, the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer by revenue, plans to increase the use of robots in its factories 100-fold to 1m within three years, according to Terry Gou, chairman and chief executive.

The move underlines the drastic changes China-based manufacturers are forced to make as the country’s unlimited supply of cheap labour is running out.

“This is part of a broad automation push among China-based manufacturers. It signals that the cost of labour is no longer lower than the cost of capital,” said Alvin Kwock, head of hardware technology research at JPMorgan.

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  • J R Yankovic

    Professor Mead,

    I’m sure you meant this to be a brief citation. But I’m surprised that you, of all perceptive people, should have neglected to mention the human backdrop to the “broad automation push among China-based manufacturers”: the rash of Shenzen worker suicides discussed in a previous (and referenced) FT article – But then maybe once again I’m forgetting: In this enlightened Age, the prize-winning answer to human industrial suffering is greater human redundancy and marginalization, followed by yet more bracing rounds of worker self-reinvention. One small and perhaps(?) unforeseen problem with this solution, though: This business of design-your-own-ever-changing entrepreneurship can become almost like a monastic calling – a singularly time- and energy- if not life-consuming project. Applied to everybody – or at least (IN PRINCIPLE) to every working body – just what sort of quality time does it leave for family? More ultimately, what quality of families shall it leave us with? To say nothing of OTHER humanly enriching pursuits and associations that, hard as they may be to imagine, have nothing to do with our quasi-sacred commerce and commercializing? Ah, but thankfully we live in an Age in which the conventional, biologically-constituted family is stronger than ever in living memory. Or at least as resilient and entrepreneurial as it was in, say, the last quarter of the 19th century?

    Your colleague Peter Berger makes me wonder if we’re not ALL falling into a familiar intellectual trap: namely, that of believing our one over-riding moral obligation is to be on the Strong – er, Right – Side of History. (In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed his recent article: And that, furthermore, the one way to stay on the Right Side is to keep subordinating everything and everyone human to our Megahuman and Posthuman demands and institutions and regimentations. Almost as if I were not only smarter than you but more assured of God’s continued attention and favor, because unlike you I’m no mere vulnerable individual but also a (profit-making) organization. Plus my technology’s bigger.

    I’m reminded here of how certain recent generations felt not only determined but obliged to stay on the Strong (if not the Right) Side of History. I’m thinking in particular of how, in the ‘30s and ‘40s, many forward-looking – and by no means unbusiness-minded – Europeans resigned themselves to the inevitability of the various grades of fascism then on offer. And all in the belief that these represented the one temporary yet necessary road to a more progressive and integrated (albeit rather vehemently post-democratic) European future. It may be very interesting, in this connection, to compare “dynamic” northern Italy’s degree of resistance to the Nazi occupation, following Mussolini’s collapse, with that of the “backward” South. I mean, as much as I’m grateful to Turin and Milan for helping restart Europe’s industrial engine, I’m also thankful for the Neapolitans’ stalwart and decisive role (and that of other unruly points south) in determining the post-war European future. And I’m sure we all appreciate – at least on an instinctual human level – how that reactionary old Tory Churchill’s side finally won, as against that of shiningly visionary, future-confident Wernher von Braun.

    Or at least we Anglo-Yanks won the military side of that conflict. Whether and how far we won the deeper CULTURAL side – Youth, Speed, Violence, Revolution, Primacy of Will, Right and Rule of the (entrepreneurially) Strong, anyone? – is becoming more doubtful to me by the day.

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