Conditions and Effects of the Evolving Electronic Economy on Labor
“But I think what surprised me as much as anything was not to find any stores on Washington Street, or any banks on State. What have you done with the merchants and bankers? Hung them all, perhaps, as the anarchists wanted to do in my day?”
“Not so bad as that,” replied Dr. Leete. “We have simply dispensed with them. Their functions are obsolete in the modern world.” (60)
Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, 1887
Edward Bellamy’s futuristic conception of commerce in the 21st century unintentionally created a surprisingly accurate representation of the emerging electronic economy. The use of computer technology and the internet is allowing the creation of greater corporate profit margins at the expense of labor. There is a clear march towards “seamless” electronic transactions that removes many established forms of traditional marketing and employment that have existed for centuries. Funded by corporations, government, and ironically by consumers themselves, the evolving wireless economy promises to accelerate consumption at a blistering pace with little thought about the need for labor to have viable forms of income to sustain consumption.
We are on the threshold of establishing global economic methods of manufacturing and distribution promoted by a capitalistic quest for profit that has not considered the far-reaching implications of dissolving existing methods of commerce or consequences of increased production. Capitalists have grandiose plans for increasing production and consumption at the expense of labor, but few plans for sustaining income for labor to support consumption. They have neglected to recognize or plan for the inherent flaws of capitalism that will have a tremendous effect on our future system of economy and society.
At this time, we can only postulate theories about the outcome of our transformation to a digital, global economy. The indicators, however, predict a continuation of trends that do not portray favorable situations for labor or to support a cohesive society. In his book Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy astutely envisioned future methods of transactions that are increasingly becoming our reality, and his description of contrast between old and new world commerce could not have been more clear:
“That must be a tremendous saving of handling,” I said. “By our system, the manufacturer sold to the wholesaler, the wholesaler to the retailer, and the retailer to the consumer, and the goods had to be handled each time. You avoid one handling of the goods, and eliminate the retailer altogether, with his big profit and the army of clerks it goes to support. Why Miss Letee, this store is merely the order department of a wholesale house, with no more than a wholesaler’s complement of clerks. Under our system of handling the goods, persuading the customer to buy them, cutting them off, and packing them, ten clerks would not do what one does here. The...