One of Amazons spheres...
One of Amazon's spheres... Charles Mudede

Hillary Clinton warned America not expect surprises or changes from Donald Trump. There is no other Trump than the one we see and hear all of the fucking time: the self-obsessed racist, liar, and pussy-grabber. That's it. He is what he is and he will remain that way until pennies are on his eyes. And so, his recent tweet attacking Amazon for not paying taxes and killing jobs is, of course, really about The Washington Post, which is owned by the CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos.


The Washington Post is fake news to Trump because, among other things, it often posts embarrassing leaks from the White House. Not much effort is needed to see that this tweet isn't about Amazon, taxes, jobs, or what have you. It is just about Trump, whose ego is so swollen that it can subsist solely on unearned praise.

But let's think about this for a moment: Is the spectacular growth of Amazon having a negative impact on American jobs?

The Seattle Times points out that it's not at this time. Indeed, just "this month Amazon held a nationwide job fair at various fulfillment centers intended to fill 50,000 open positions." But Amazon will certainly have a negative impact on jobs in the near future for two big reasons: One, Amazon only needs "about half as many workers to sell $100 worth of merchandise" as, say, Macy’s does; and, two, more and more of the jobs in its warehouses are being done by robots.


And here I have the opportunity to bring up something I recently found in a book by one of the greatest economists of the 20th century, Joan Robinson. The book is called Essays In The Theory of Economic Growth, which is supposed to be a supplement for her "excessively difficult" Accumulation of Capital. (Oddly enough, I found the former, the supplement, to be more difficult than the latter.) Essays was written in 1962 and has an incredible chapter, "Normal Prices," that concludes with a bit of science fiction about a future society where human employment "in organized industry has become vestigial."

The robots make everything in Robinson's economic model. There are robots in factories, those who make, operate, program, and manage these robots (and also those who give courses on machines and machine-learning in schools), and, ultimately, those who own shares of the firms that make robots, teach about robots, and operate robots. And what do the people who are not in the robot sector do? They are self-employed.

In this model, the ordinary citizen is an enterprising person who buys "consumer goods and equipment (hair-driers, washing machines, etc.) from the robot sector" and the "services of the self-employed." Robinson writes: "The self-employed resemble the peasants and artisans [of simpler times]... [F]or them, the distinction between saving and consumption never arise. They spend all they get, either in consumption or on equipment." There are no "inherited skills or natural factors of production" for the self-employed in a robot society. Nor do they need much of an education. All one has to do is wake up and be the boss of oneself.

As you can see, this looks like a society that has Amazon on one side (the robots) and Uber on the other (the self-employed). But it's not exactly that because Robinson's model contains two factors that are wrong: robots in factories and people in services. They should be removed and replaced with these factors: people and robots producing things in factories, and people and robots providing services in the self-employed sector. Make those important changes, and you have a better model of the future that's emerging in our late-capitalist times.