The Greek word hamartia is often translated as “missing the mark.” It is often associated with an error in logic. It is a mistake or a misstep arising from a misunderstanding. It is a weakness or a failing rather than overt malice.
In classic Greek myth it refers to a character flaw which leads to the hero’s downfall.
For our purposes here we employ the term to describe those analyses of the societal effects of the rise of the robots which fail to grasp the underlying nature of the changes and the subsequent misguided proposals for how to deal with the consequences.
Take for example the increasingly popular call for some form of universal basic income to deal with the widely-anticipated rampant technological unemployment in the decades to come. Superficially this seems like a wise, maybe even radical idea — redistribute some of the value generated by the automated means of production to the unemployed masses to preserve aggregate demand and keep the economy going. But if administered incorrectly this hamartia could have dire consequences.
We could end up trapped in pathological inequality with a small group of elites controlling the progress of development for their own interests while we, the masses, subsist like dogs on the crumbs which fall from these master’s tables. Future generations could be doomed to a perpetual struggle to force these masters to pay their taxes. Political solutions would become illusory as these elites manipulate not only the game but the very field the game is played on. In short, if we are not careful, we could set in stone a severe exacerbation of the present situation.
The warning here is simple —
Do not attempt to preserve the old capitalist relations of production in the new era of post-capitalist means of production. Allow new post-capitalist relations to form which suit, and better serve, the new technological realities.
At the very least we must remain open to the possibility that those old relations of production, which served us so well under the old means of production, may not remain the most ideal set of relations under an entirely different regime. Old capitalist property relations must be rethought. New forms of distributed control and universal ownership must be explored.
It is well-acknowledged that capitalism is the greatest engine of economic growth and productivity that the world has ever seen. But we must challenge the assumption that it is the greatest system the world could ever see, or that the unnatural continuation of its system of property relations into an era of changing production relations is in the best interests of all mankind.
This is important. And this may be our one chance to get it right.