Controlling the Masses

In the distant past, humanity survived in the natural world by grouping into small hunter-gatherer tribes. However, even at this early stage, we might imagine that the majority of people within these tribes were subject to decisions taken by a ‘chief’ or ‘tribal elder’, a process that might be described as authoritarian or something slightly more democratic. Over time, the structural sophistication of hunter-gatherer tribes evolved into larger settlements in the form of villages, towns, cities and eventually nation states. Despite the scope of this change, the issue of ‘controlling the masses’ has remained central to those in power, such that corresponding change also took place in the structural institutions that facilitated this control.

Note: From a historical perspective, monarchies and religion were initially the foundations of many powerful institutions, which were increasingly capable of controlling the masses. However, with the perspective of hindsight, we might also reflect on who were the beneficiaries of this control.

As the timeline of developments moved into the 20th century, the scope of the institutions that exercised control over society had expanded in scope to become an increasingly complex and interconnected network of social, economic and political structures over which the wider population had very little reciprocal control. As such, it might be argued that the developing idea of democratic control ‘by the people, for the people’ has always been limited, if not an illusion created and maintained by those actually in power. We might attempt to illustrate the imbalance of power as shown in the diagram top, taken from the discussion entitled the Money Flow Model  although we might immediately simplify the details as shown bottom.

In the model top, we see that the concentration of monetary flows exists between government, industry and banks, not with the people, such that these institutions also represent the concentration of power. In the simplified overlapping Venn diagram bottom, industry and banks are merged to represent the economy [2] of a nation-state, which still interfaces [12] with the government and the wider society [13]. While the descriptions of the overlapping regions [12], [13] and [23] are simplistic, it might still be argued that the central goal [123] of any nation-state is stability. However, while most governments seek stability in order to maintain control, the means by which this might be achieved in the 21st century will now be the focus of the rest of the discussion.

Note: As discussed in ‘Brave New Worlds’, technology has the potential to fundamentally change the nature of society in terms of its political, economic and social institutions. However, the underlying desire to control the masses has remained a central objective of those in power and those who seek power. One of the key ways this might be achieved was discussed under the heading ‘Information Control’.

The links in the note above provide some details of various Social Credit Systems now being developed in many nation-states around the world. While the focus of such developments are often considered in terms of authoritarian governments, there is now a growing danger that so-called democratic governments might seek similar levels of control through the development of a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) combined with Universal Basic Income (UBI).

Note: While both CBDC and UBI might provide some wider benefits to society at large, the following video links possibly highlight some of the dangers by which these systems might be abused – see ‘How financial freedom dies’ and ‘The case against Universal Basic Income’. However, while you must judge the arguments being presented in these videos for yourself, the following discussion is an attempt to consider some of the more negative implications.

As the previous introduction has suggested, history questions those in power beyond their motivation to protect their own self-interests. Of course, in the modern world there are a multitude of interests, which expand into the social, economic and political sectors of society. While it is too simple to assume that these interests are always orientated towards financial gain, the idea that money equates to power cannot be ignored. All powerful institutions, whether economic or political in scope, require money to operate and influence others to support their goals, such that increasing the top-down control over the monetary system might appear both advantageous and necessary.

So, how might a CBDC system be implemented?

Initially, the idea of a CBDC system might be marketed on its positive attributes, such as ease of use and lower cost to society at large, where such a system might be universally accepted as a safe and trusted means of payment. However, while a CBDC system might be introduced alongside an existing cash system, it is clear that some might see the benefits of removing the option of cash payments within a society. If so, the central bank, as a branch of government, might then gain access to potentially all transaction information within the economy of a nation-state related to either a corporation or individual.

Note: Without access to any other form of payment, a CBDC system would allow the government to audit the financial activity of both corporations and individuals in order to automatically assess the level of taxation to be paid. Likewise, a CBDC might also reduce the role of private banks to act as the intermediaries of government monetary and fiscal policy, especially when considered in conjunction with quantitative easing (QE) and UBI schemes.

While the links in the note above provide more detail, for the purposes of this discussion, we might reference the simplified model right, which makes reference to both QE and UBI. As a very broad generalization, government revenue is based on a multitude of different forms of taxation plus the potential of the central bank to offer QE as an additional option. As another generalization, UBI schemes are often described as providing a basic income to everybody without any conditions, although the economics of these schemes in terms of government revenues has to be questioned. Either UBI payments will be too small, such that means-tested benefits are still required or have to be so high in order to cover all basic living costs that most governments will struggle to sustain UBI payments without QE. However, if we put the affordability issue to one side, the purpose of UBI might be seen in terms of a necessity, where consumer spending is required to maintain the economy, which also has implications on jobs and taxation revenue. While the details of this model appear economically questionable, the primary issue of this discussion is how governments might exert ever more control over their population in the 21st century.

Note: If we combine the ideas of QE and UBI with the potential development of a CBDC system, we might come to understand how governments might develop a system that increasingly mirrors the capability of a social credit system. In such systems, any individual or corporation that deviates from a given political policy might have their CBDC accounts frozen such that they can be forced to comply with any government mandate.

How might such an idea be developed?

Clearly, in the case of China’s social credit scheme, nobody was asked whether they agreed with the imposition of such a scheme. This scheme already extends the idea of controlling its population by not only freezing credit accounts, but by being able to restrict access to all forms of public transport using mass surveillance and facial recognition databases. Also integrated into this system is not only criminal records but also any misdemeanours like traffic violations, paying fines and being drunk in public. There is also a suggestion that the system might record whether somebody visits their elderly parents or whether they have been fired from a job and why. The ultimate goal of this system has apparently been expressed as allowing the “trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.” Of course, the definition of ‘trustworthy’ would be defined by the government, such that many authoritarian governments around the world might be attracted to this ‘ambition’, although it is unclear that any population at large would agree to this level of control over their daily lives. Of course, the worry is that they will not be asked even in democratic societies.

But surely, such an idea would not be implemented into any systems in developed democracies?

Possibly many people who live in what were perceived to be developed democracies might now be more questioning of their governments after the Covid Pandemic – also see 2022 Analysis for later details. While the details of these discussions is  beyond the scope of this essay, the agendas of two organizations might be cited, i.e. the Gavi Alliance and the ID-2020 alliance, where the goal or mission statement of this latter organisation might need to be questioned further.

Identity is vital for political, economic, and social opportunity. But systems of identification are archaic, insecure, lack adequate privacy protection, and for over a billion people, inaccessible. Digital identity is being defined now and we need to get it right.

If we consider the call for mandatory vaccinations, typically instigated by groups with self-interest agendas as cited above, we might realise the temptation and ability of an extended CBDC system to impose any given government mandate by simply freezing a person’s credit account until they comply. In part, the Canadian government imposed similar account restrictions on those who participated in the opposition to mandatory vaccines for truck drivers, while similar mandates were attempted in many other developed democracies in terms of the threat of job termination and travel restrictions without proof of vaccination. While the rights and wrongs of these mandates is not being debated at this point, they may clearly illustrate how future developments may increasingly seek to control the masses. 

Note: While the idea of a democracy conceptually allows a population to vote out a government, the scope of choice is limited, if only two political parties have a realistic chance of winning a majority vote. In many cases, the public is simply reduced to an observer of opposing rhetoric grounded in political ideology, where public policy can be further compromised by the lobbying of powerful interest groups.

While this discussion is not advocating support for authoritarian governments, it is still questioning whether democratic governments will be immune to the temptation to acquire more control over its population through future technology developments. While beyond the scope of this discussion, future developments in AI and robotics may come to further question how many in society will have any constructive role, if only faced with long-term unemployment supported by UBI. In this respect, both authoritarian and democratic governments may see the danger of economic collapse causing increasing instability in society, such that governments may seek the imposition of ever more draconian control over its population.

Aldous Huxley: This concern with the basic condition of freedom, the absence of physical constraint, is unquestionably necessary, but is not all that is necessary. It is perfectly possible for a man to be out of prison and yet not free, to be under no physical constraint and yet to be a psychological captive, compelled to think, feel and act as the representatives of the national State, or of some private interest within the nation, want him to think, feel and act.