The Pandemic Makes It Clear: We Need Fully Automated Luxury Communism
A failing economic model, a health crisis, and mass joblessness — the Covid crisis shows we need to radically harness technology to remake our economy, now
Aaron Bastani is the author of Fully Automated Luxury Communism, published by Verso Books.
As the 2020s got underway, citizens around the world faced a panoply of crises: a broken economic model, political stagnation, climate change, and demographic aging. In isolation, each presents a historic challenge, necessitating a shift in social consciousness and a new political settlement. In combination, however, they pose an existential assault on our civilization. And this was before the coronavirus catalyzed the worst global downturn since the 1930s — making it clear we need a systems change: what I call Fully Automated Luxury Communism.
Before the virus, the neoliberal economic model was failing, with societies around the world experiencing low productivity and stagnant wages — something particularly conspicuous in wealthier societies. In both the United States and Britain, rates of homeownership have fallen over the last decade while poverty is ever more stark. The number of Americans on food stamps nearly doubled in the years after the financial crash of 2007 — and even now are historically high. The U.K., meanwhile, has seen millions use food banks just to get basic groceries — something unheard of even a decade ago. Importantly, the experience of poverty in the U.K. is increasingly defined by having a job rather than being unemployed, retired, or sick. For many, work no longer pays.
Then there is the climate crisis. Warming of two degrees this century, widely anticipated by the scientific community, could mean hundreds of millions of climate refugees by the century’s midpoint. A single degree warmer, however, and large swaths of the Amazon rainforest would disappear and the glaciers that supply clean water for a third of the planet, not to mention the Greenland ice sheet, would melt. Worse still, anything beyond two degrees will likely trigger a sequence of feedback where three leads to four, four to five, and so on. In a world six degrees warmer than today, the planet’s…