The starting idea is that capitalist economies naturally put massive power in corporate hands.
To try and grasp how massive that is, George Soros himself says that he is incredulous at how people believe him to be an expert in everything, just because he has made so much money playing the markets.
There’s something in our genetic programming that kowtows to power, and power is money. So this unbalance in power isn’t just about Washington lobbyists, it’s an insidious effect that runs far, far deeper.
When people are dying of typhoid, then Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ worked great. Industrial production allowed everyone to achieve his or her basic needs – sufficient food, physical shelter and security etc.
When no one’s dying of typhoid, and everyone’s basic needs are met then it seems as if the ‘invisible hand’ from industrial production offers diminishing returns.
But, people still fall back on this argument all the time. That some mystical process means that aggressively pursuing personal profit will produce a better world. But, now that equation seems irredeemably broken.
Unchecked pursuit of personal profit has led to massive global setbacks.
So, why should a previous thriving effect diminish and apparently reverse? Industrial production produces tangible goods (‘stuff’). When you reach a point of diminishing returns from being able to buy better ‘stuff’ then you have reached the end of receiving extraordinary benefit from it. This economic mode is no longer suited to our needs.
So if we’ve got all the ‘stuff’ we need, what does society need to advance now?
Well, OK, that’s a big one I guess. Truth is, no one can really be sure until after its happened.
Even so, plenty of people at different times and using different language have all pointed in the same direction. That is, that what we need now is a shift from ‘stuff’ to relationships.
For a while, it was the information age. ‘Knowledge workers’ ruled, but that’s lost a bit of traction. Somehow it feels right, but not quite complete. The online evolution, is taking us rapidly from a deluge of knowledge/information to a deluge of expanding relationship possibilities.
When you’ve got all the physical stuff you need, then what’s left to develop is mental, social or spiritual – all of which depend crucially on relationships.
The industrial economy was given a serious boost along the way, because it offered people the opportunity of power and money.
The big ‘drawback’ of this next stage in our evolution is that so far, everyone’s struggling to see how they can capture power and money through it.
Advocates claim that power isn’t primarily through money anymore, but through influence and reputation. That hyperlinked individuals are the new power brokers. Which has produced relatively few billionaires so far…
So can this hippie ideal take off or is social connectivity doomed to become ‘value-add’ option in the sales package? Just another piece of marketing spin product in the industrial economy?
Well, I am a hippie. I believe that the real driver behind the ‘invisible hand’ of the industrial revolution was simply people’s desire for security and health. The capitalist leaders synonymous with it are or were its (highly satisfied) beneficiaries, not its master.
The driver behind the success of the web, equally, is not the transformative prowess of individual ‘social entrepreneurs’, but the collective desire for improving the basic human condition. In other words, individuals can get on board but they don’t have the power to stop it.
This time round that driving desire is unavoidably social – where before it could be individual. Now, whatever way you look at it, you are reliant on connections with others. It unavoidably recognises our global, national, local, familial and collegiate interlinking.
Galbraith suggested that corporate power no longer automatically serves the public good (as discussed). That, therefore, a countervailing power of organised citizens, for example user communities, trade unions etc. is necessary to keep society moving forward.
And that is exactly what we are seeing organically evolve as people express their desire to be listened to.
So, I believe that this is a radical shift in the tectonic plates that lay under our society and economy. I am optimistic that my hippie ideals will be satisfied. However, I am also pragmatic that change will take many, many generations and will be opposed. It’s all just human nature after all.