I wanted to elaborate a little bit on some ideas from the Salon article from the other day, the one about service jobs being replaced by mechanization.
Some arguments have been made that all this means is that workers will stop being robots themselves and start being robot technicians or something. That is, generally speaking, new opportunities will open up where old ones have disappeared. Yes, that's true, but that's not the point.
Consider a feudal arrangement: rich landowners own all property, while peasants toil endlessly on land they do not own and have no opportunity for owning land themselves. In this arrangement, the landowners allow the peasants to subsist because owning all the land in the world does you no good if you have no one to work it.
With the advent of the robot worker, you don't need peasants anymore. (It's kind of ironic that agriculture is one of the most mechanized industries in the United States.) All you have to do is be rich enough to own capital and the robots to work it. Your workers become capital in a way they haven't been since 1865. This is more than just human workers getting priced out of jobs by robots. It is an ever accelerating decline in the ability of workers with few assets to get ahead and own capital (not consumer goods) of their own. And more fundamentally, it is a degradation of the ethical justification for capitalism: the doctrine of exchange for mutual benefit. How can you participate in the capitalist system if you have nothing to exchange?
This question has always been sort of ethically troublesome for capitalism, but at least you always had the sweat of your brow to offer.
--Melissa O, at 13:12