Closing Comments

This addendum was conceived as an update of an earlier discussion of political evolution, which on reflection was more of a statement of perceived problems rather than as an attempt to consider an evolutionary solution. Likewise, while a subsequent discussion entitled ‘Brave New Worlds’ attempted to widen the scope of the problems to include technology and its potential impact on social, economic and political institutions, its overall summation was not necessarily optimistic for the somewhat abstracted concept of a ‘wider majority’.

While it is still believed that the future will be defined by a classification of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, the scope of this division may yet depend on political decisions to be taken and therefore a ‘ new paradigm ’ might emerge. As such, this last discussion will attempt to outline this possibility without necessarily commenting further on its probability.

Note: It will be assumed that politics cannot be the panacea for all of the world’s problems in isolation of other factors, i.e. economic and social change being driven by technology. However, this aspect of the debate is addressed in the discussion entitled ‘Brave New Worlds’, where it is recognised that the ‘human condition’ might lead to undesirable outcomes, if self-interests are allowed to take precedence over wider collective needs.

Most of this addendum has been a commentary on other people’s ideas, which might initially be summarised before considering the possibility of some alternative direction. In the opening introduction, some reference to earlier discussions was made regarding the definition of political ‘governance’ as a process increasingly ‘imposed’ rather than ‘democratically agreed’ by some larger portion of the population. It was also suggested that this process was subject to all the problems that we might generalised in terms of the ‘human condition’ inclusive of the issue of IQ distribution  which has now become an issue of taboo in terms of political correctness. However, whether this issue is discussed or ignored, IQ has the potential to become one of the factors separating ‘winners’ from ‘losers’ in the future, if even only some of the predictions associated with AI automation turn out to be true. Such issues were then taken up in the commentary of Bret Weinstein’s video, which also discussed the ‘human condition’ and touched upon the ‘ technical fragility’ of some aspects of modern society. This was then followed by the Mark Steyn video that introduced the difference between ‘post-democracy’ and ‘popularism’, which then further questioned the motivation of a ‘democratic elite’ to protect ‘the people’ from unwanted change. The video also questioned whether the immediate future would be defined by ‘globalism’ or ‘nationalism’.

Note: The difference between ‘popularism’ and ‘populism’ is that the former implies any political doctrine chosen to appeal to a majority of the electorate, while populism is possibly better described as a philosophy that highlights the rights and powers of ordinary people in opposition to some privileged elite.

The next discussion then attempted to widen the perspective to include a broader view of geopolitics and, specifically, Michael Millerman’s review of Alexander Dugin, who many believed has acted as Vladimir Putin’s unofficial strategic adviser. While much of Dugin’s philosophy was rejected as being too backward looking, it did highlight a troubling aspect of nationalism, if cultural and religious traditions are used as an excuse and justification to impose traditional beliefs on others. While Dugin’s philosophy might be seen as a Russian perspective, the discussion of ‘freedom of speech’ was then used to highlight other cultural norms, i.e. both political and religious. While supporting the right to a freedom of speech, it was accepted that this right had to be used responsibly, although it rejected the subjective, and the somewhat arbitrary, definition of ‘unacceptable or offensive’ by any group simply because it might contradict an assumption of some political or religious ideology.

Note: Unfortunately, aspects of the reviews outlined above only appeared to support the probability of a path into the future defined by ‘Fortress World’ where problems may simply get worse. As such, powerful nation states may retreat towards authoritarian governance, both internally and externally, in an attempt to control aspects of the global economy for the benefit of their nation-state or some powerful minority. While the terminology may appear new, in reality ‘fortress world’ may only reflect human nature to protect what it has acquired in the present and aspires to obtain in the future.

While there are indicators that nation-states might still be heading towards the concept of fortress world, there is still the possibility of a new paradigm, which might lead humanity towards a better future. However, it is suggested that this new paradigm must still satisfy the human need to ‘protect what it has and aspires to obtain’ . If so, we might then proceed on the assumption that any new paradigm must facilitate greater economic success that provides an ability to address some of the wider problems in society, both at a national and global level. This said, it is probably too naive to assume that there will still not be ‘winners and losers’ in any future. Therefore, while trying to maintain a sense of realism, it will be argued that the main catalyst of change has to be predicated on economic success, possibly driven by technology innovation, which might then provide a greater ability to address some of the wider problems in society, both at a national and global level.

But what system might produce the greatest success?

At this stage, there is no obvious global solution, i.e. political or economic, beyond the possibly over-optimistic rhetoric of idealists. For the current state-of-play suggests that most nation-states are increasingly focusing on their own national self-interests, although there may still be a degree of mutual cooperation in some areas. Equally, how anybody defines ‘success’ in the scope of the question above may depend on whether they are a winner or loser in terms of the current wealth inequality that now exists in society. While the term ‘economic democracy  is not necessarily being forwarded as a solution, it does consider the balance between the necessity of economic competition and some further form of democracy in wealth distribution, which while aspiring to be more equitable, is not proposing that it has to be equal. As such, the term is only suggesting that economics should be made more democratic within the scope of society overall. Within this conceptual definition, self-interest not only has to be subject to some economic constraints, which might otherwise adversely affect the local community, but also aspire to take into consideration any wider effects on a global basis.

Do we need to be more honest about the scope of winners and losers?

In terms of society, we often talk of ‘ winners and losers’ , but when confined to the functioning of the economy, we might also need to consider the idea of ‘makers and takers’ in terms of production, profits and wealth. For these concepts also characterise the debate surrounding the definition of ‘value’ within any society. For within the scope of neoclassical economics, it is ‘price’ that defines ‘value’, while others argue that ‘value’ should define ‘price’. Whether either of these perspectives actually clarifies the issue might be debated. For example, we might recognise that ‘life’ has a value, which may not necessarily have a quantifiable price. We might also highlight a degree of ambiguity in ‘price’ and ‘value’ in the definition of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). For GDP is often described as a monetary measure of all the goods and services produced in a period of time within some region. However, in practical terms, a ‘monetary measure’ only reflects the current ‘price’ paid or earnt in some currency, which is then simply assumed to reflect its ‘value’, but where ‘price’ may be subject to changing supply and demand plus monetary inflation year-on-year. However, in comparative income terms, the value to the producer and consumer may not really change. We might also need to recognise that something which may initially appear to have no value may acquire value. For example, a ‘price’ can be assigned in terms of a business model that collects wastes or a tax-cost imposed on pollution such that the ‘price’ assigned then defines its ‘value’, at least, in economic terms. In contrast, the ‘value’ of happiness may not necessarily be a factor that can be quantified in any monetary system. Of course, if we cannot assign a ‘price’ to life, how do we quantify its ‘value’, which might lead to some very uncomfortable thoughts when considering the note below.

Note: While it will not be considered politically correct, we might have to accept that the ‘losers’ in the modern world are neither makers or takers and that their position in society is often a statistical reflection of their IQ in combination with other personality traits. It is accepted that this position is too simplistic, see issue of asset ownership outlined below. Unfortunately there are perceived problems associated with the idea of Universal Basic Income – see Alternative Forms of Income for further details. At this point, it is unclear how ‘economic democracy’ might better protect this section of society, other than to hope that some governments might have better finances to provide some form of living wage for those in long-term unemployment.

However, if we return to the issue of ‘makers and takers’ by simply defining the former as that part of society that supports the means of production that creates wealth, while the latter might be defined as that portion of society who acquire wealth based on ownership, rent or interest. We might try to characterise this issue in terms of a 1929 quote by Bill Haywood, where ownership defines the ‘takers’.

The mine owners did not find the gold, they did not mine the gold, they did not mill the gold, but by some weird alchemy all the gold belonged to them.

Of course, if value is only defined by price, then economics will assume ownership, rent and interest to have a value under the wider umbrella of financial services. If so, what was once described as unproductive income not only has to be seen as contributing to GDP, but also acting as a primary mechanism of transferring wealth between generations. From a historical perspective, ownership of the land and resources has now evolved into the ownership of the means of trade or production and now includes the abstracted ownership of information.

How has the information age come to change politics and economics?

Today, many of the top tech companies, e.g. Google and Facebook, have benefited from being allowed access to government funded research and development. These companies also profit from gaining access to data in the public domain, which if defined as personal data, they do not own. In this context, it is often governments that finance the greatest development risks by providing early financial support to companies that subsequently become heralded as champions of innovation and free-enterprise. However, as described, we might have to question the scope of the US as a nation populated by private entrepreneurial risk-takers overcoming the bureaucratic obstacles of governments to fuel economic growth. For, in reality, there may be a need for a rebalancing of the risk-reward relationship between public institutions and private enterprise, not only in terms of the tax paid by successful start-ups that then become major international corporations, but also in terms of equity retained by governments on any initial IPO offerings plus the issue of patent ownership in order that profits might be more equitably shared with the public at large, whose taxes effectively fund the government’s ability to invest in innovation.

Is this really a new paradigm?

In short, the answer is no, but it might point the way, if a collective partnership between government and industry became more successful in producing innovation in new emerging markets, which would then help better stimulate economic growth in terms of GDP. For this sort of collective partnership might help to balance investment and risks plus amortise investments over both the short and longer-term. In this respect, there may be a better recognition of the need to address long-term problems in society, which require innovative investment in multiple market segments, rather than the pursuance of short-term profits by corporations. Of course, it might be recognised that this approach may only be helpful in terms of a competitive advantage between nation-states, such that it does not necessarily address global problems. However, if this investment did lead to some better focus on problems, not just private profits and GDP, it might be of wider benefit in a global context. 

Where might the idea of economic democracy come into this?

Between 2003-2016, the fortune 500 companies spent $20 trillion in share buyback, i.e. 54% of earnings, and another 37% in shareholder dividend, i.e. 91%. We might also highlight a 10-fold increase in top executive pay over this time period in stark contrast to average wages, which have remained essentially stagnant, especially if the full effect of monetary inflation is taken into consideration. In this sense, we might question whether any concept of real democracy currently exists within politics or economics. In this context, we might see the need for the concept being called ‘economic democracy’ that seeks to support better economic growth, and sustainability, plus strives towards a more equitable distribution of wealth.

Can the inequality of winners and losers really be addressed?

The history of wealth distribution has always been defined by winners and losers, where wealth was originally acquired by conquest, i.e. a land grab. Over time, the land became a wealth asset in terms of farming followed by an increase in trade, i.e. merchant wealth. Later, wealth became defined by mechanised industry and production assets and finally augmented by the abstraction of information as another wealth asset. While the scope of wealth held in all the forms outlined has changed over time, it is true to say that ‘assets’ of almost any kind not only underpin wealth but also act as a protection against monetary inflation. In this context, we might come to understand why those sections of society, which never had the ability, or luck, to acquire assets of any real tangible worth, have remained the losers in the economies of the past, where the idea of democracy was absence or limited. While the idea of winners and losers, when measured in terms of wealth, is still very much apparent in most modern societies, i.e. on a global scale, we might hope that a move towards greater economic democracy would help many, if there was sufficient political will to overcome the human bias towards self-interest.

But is a new paradigm simply a wish rather than a goal?

It is possibly too naïve too simply assume that any democratic or authoritarian government will simply abandon its historical political, economic or even religious ideology, by which it has obtained and maintained its authority, unless its future survival is at increasing risk. Also, we should not under-estimate the inertia of the majority within a society to resist change, even when it has been a victim of an ideology that has led to the death of millions due to starvation. Likewise, even if the majority want change, it has to be recognised that both democratic and authoritarian governments have always had the power to subdue dissent within a population, either by suppressing the freedom of speech or by instilling fear, both real and imagined – see Information Control for wider details. Today, there are many examples where the majority have come to believe they are powerless to make change even though they have been oppressed, or even dying, as a direct result of political and economic decisions in which they have little to no participation. So, while there is scope and the possibility for improvements, whether this path will be taken is still far from certain.