The big disadvantage of using a human to make things is that you not only have to pay him sufficient food energy for the 8 hours a day he works for you but also for the energy he spends for the other 16 hours a day. In the case of a robot you only need to feed it with the same amount of energy it actually uses when working for you.
If the product that both of the above make is the same, and if the materials they use are the same then the profit that is made per item when you use a robot is the cost of the energy difference. This is the fundamental basis of all economics — yet you would never know it when reading a text book on the subject.
What the text books are much more concerned about — obsessively so since the extraordinary experience of the industrial revolution when mass consumer markets came into existence — is the number of products that can be made. The more of any particular item that you can make, according to the rubric of economics, the lower the unit costs and thus the higher the profits that can be made.
Yet this might only be a passing phase. There could come a time when every person has his own robot that would make him whatever item he desired. The profit that could then be made is if your robot is more efficient and thus uses less energy — at less cost — than someone else’s robot.
This will never happen for one simple reason. Mind you, in due course, it could easily be the case that such robots could be made — let’s face it, we are relentlessly pushing our way in that direction. The reason why it will never happen is nothing to do with the robot. It is that each of us, when working in isolation, become mentally deranged within days. We all have a strong genetic need to be working in groups with others. We’re not bacteria, we are human beings, an intensely social animal.
But there is no reason why, in the future, we should not be living and working in groups of maximum satisfaction and stability — which many scientists of human nature now put at about 150 of all ages (increasingly known as the Dunbar number) — but able to trade with other groups anywhere in the world.
Each group wouldn’t be trading products — and thus having to transport them — we’d be trading software over the internet. Each group would be able to make all the products it needs in situ, but if it also wanted the very latest version of any particular product then it would trade for the latest software from another group.
There is just one fly in the ointment. In order to prevent in-breeding and the acquisition of genetic handicaps within the group the girls, when of a certain age, would want to survey many young men beyond their own brothers and cousins. They would want to congregate. And young men, as anxious to have sex as the young women are to have children, would also want to congregate. Also those of both sexes with unrequited intellectual interests would also want to congregate with many more others.
In the past many hunter-gatherer groups and pastoral families solved the congregation problem by meeting once or twice a year in grand jamborees. Today, we have had cities. In fact, we’ve always had cities ever since civilisation began. Cities, particularly university cities, have always be attractive for partnering purposes and, for some, mentors for their skills and experience.
And, in those future years, some of the economist academics — or hopefully long before then — will be writing the really relevant books which concentrate on the energetics of economics and not be so obsessed with mass numbers of consumers and production runs.