Friday, October 09, 2015

The Man in the White Suit

The man in the white suit is about a scientist who invents clothes that never wear out and never need washing. It is from 1951 and deals Alec Guinness finds himself hated by all. Both the capital owning class who realise they will have no clothes to sell anymore. And the poor labourers who won't have work making cloth, clothes or washing them.

All these 1950s cloth making jobs have left Britain in the decades since. Hans Rosling pointed out that the washing machine in common use since then is one of the best invention ever for freeing us from drudgery.

Worry about how computers will get rid of all the jobs are common now. Race against the machine is one good book on the topic. But the washer women in The Man in the White Suit are not in Britain anymore. Though much of the clothes making has just moved country without making the people doing it much richer.

We now in Europe live the terrifying world imagined in the Man in the White Suit. Where you can clothe yourself in pennies for very little. Wash your clothes for little effort of money. And it is not that bad. Technological progress is not bad. As Stephen Hawking points out it is not the technology but who the benefits go to

If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.

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