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Is it Time to call “Capitalism” an Existential Threat?

Posted: Thu, January 10, 2013 | By: Khannea Suntzu



A few years ago I argued that rampant disparity in terms of affluence and poverty (or opportunity versus marginalization) in the world might be interpreted as an existential risk. In other words, a very large number of human beings might literally be pushed in to premature death by the combination of (a) disparity and (b) accelerating technologies. My point in 2007 was that technology is increasingly something that more rich people “purchase” (or invest in), and reap benefits from. So in effect I argued that at some point in the none too distant future technology might create products only for people who have money; lots of people would be without jobs and effectively unable to generate any meaningful income, and be displaced from the basic range of essential goods and services to literally survive.

This point was in some other form made by Jeremy Rifkin, Marshall Brain, Thomas Frey, Frederico Pistono and several others, and each placed the emphasis a little differently.

Essentially this is already happening. Millions of human beings die prematurely as a result of being unable to generate a sufficient income, and in some extreme cases these people starve to death, or otherwise live unacceptably undignified lives. Strikingly, we live in a world where this form of severe disparity does not bother the people in “developed” countries to a sufficient degree as to demand immediate action. It is worse – even very moral people around me will knowingly purchase articles that were made in third world nations under unambiguously severe conditions of slave labour, or severe exploitation. And nobody regards this as morally wrong. In fact many would offer arguments that this is a “good” thing.

My earlier argument didn’t include a range of secondary problems, such as resource depletion, the quickly encroaching state fascism in all “developed” countries (including the EU and US), the secession of rich people from society in to effectively a plutonomy, the collapse of biodiversity, the collapse of quality of goods in the western world (specifically food), global weirding and terrorism. My argument was about the combination of disparity and ‘exponentially advancing technologies’ (assuming the latter is actually occurring).

Fast forward to 2013. The occupy movement has come and gone. The Zeitgeist and Venus project movements have come and gone, and even serious and intelligent people I know wouldn’t even watch the informational videos of these movements, “by and large because they were busy”. I have shared in the last years a nonstop barrage of arguments that at least something is very wrong, and this could end up biting us in the ass as a planetary species.

My 2013 argument goes a little further. I would place the practice of capitalism itself in the spotlight, and argue that the kind of (flawed? Inconsistent?) Capitalism we have world wide today is in effect becoming an existential risk. In other words, IF this can be argued, should we ask as a technoprogressive (transhumanist/extropian,whatever) community what would be moral to say or do? We can all consent in the status quo and just bide our time and maximize our private opportunities, but the end point of “a complacency of the educated” might be a very bleak future indeed.

My question (and accusation) is fairly simple – Capitalism is introducing a very large number of failure modes in the functionality of the world, and yes we do have reasonable alternatives other than “latter day” Capitalism (I can offer you a few if you insist) that might be better than the mess we have today. Capitalism is causing massive problems, far more in number or complexity than I’d care list, and these consequences can very well be argued to cause massive (and absolutely unnecessary) human suffering and premature death well in our lifetimes (before 2050). What would be even worse, a functional collapse of western society (to say it in critical alarmist speech) has become thinkable just a few years ago, and in 2013 is regarded by many not just as plausible, but inescapable. I wouldn’t go as far, but we should avoid the more severe consequences, since we could, and the world has become very small. Apathy today might result in lethal forms of instability, mass-migrations and blowback just a few years down the road.

My question is very straightforward – can Capitalism be reasonably argued to be an existential risk, and if so, what action should we take to negate this risk?

And can we agree on any such action, or are we cast helplessly adrift?

This essay originally appeared in Khannea’s blog, HERE

Image: Ulf Rahmberg: Painting No. 21 (side A), 1970-73. Courtesy Moderna Museet, Stockholm.



Comments:

Capitalism isn’t the problem, it’s how people are. Capitalism is all about building your own legacy based on your virtues and values. It’s a little hard to express in words.

It’s about you performing the work to become successful in your life basically. It’s a sort-of economic darwinism, those who succeed are making themselves succeed, those who fail, fail on their own.
Thing is, countries are pushing to be so socialistic that capitalism is being pushed out of the picture or being reformed into unworkable ideals.

Socialism is a problem, as well as communism, due to how the successful people suffer for the benefit of less successful people.

Signs of this socialism growing can be seen in that big “Occupy Wall Street” protest. Less successful people were protesting rich people because… they weren’t as rich as them. If someone cannot succeed, then they simply cannot succeed. There is little I can really do about, or anyone could really do about it.

What can change, however, is providing food to the poor and having schools, such that the offspring of the unsuccessful may have a chance to succeed as well.

Capitalism continues to be demonized as this system of greed and hatred, when it’s really all about what you make yourself in the world.

If you create a communist system where there are no rich or poor people, money gains value but everyone loses money, and the people take on the suffering of all the poorest. It is unworkable, undesirable, and detrimental to transhumanism, as nobody would be able to afford to finance the technology or pay for its production.

Until such a time as money becomes worthless (which would be very far future, where anyone could have a personal planet or even solar system), actual capitalism is everyone’s best bet.

By ZombiezuRFER on Jan 10, 2013 at 8:06am

Last night as I was falling asleep I did a thought exercise which consisted of asking the question if the drive towards increased efficiency and productivity in the workplace continues apace, which will result in technological unemployment, increases at an exponential level from this point on, then what can we reasonably expect over the next decade?

My baseline number was 0.25% for year one, year one being this year of 2013.

That is the equivalent of about 375,000 jobs eliminated in the United States this year.

Next year of course this being an exponential exercise the number doubles to 750,000 jobs gone at the end of the year 2014; on top of the job losses in the year 2013.

Then from 2015 to the end of the year year 2020 we hit the elbow of the curve of the hockey stick and we can see roughly 30% of all jobs that exist today being eliminated via automation.

For years the capitalist mantra has been “X is not being done because there is no money/profit in it.”

I think that a time for a rephrasing of that philosophy is now in order and that our capitalist money/profit model has reached the natural end of its line.

And as such question should now be whether or not an undertaken endeavor is for the benefit of the general public regardless of nationality.

By Nyc Labretš on Jan 10, 2013 at 8:11am

Nyc, where did you get your numbers in your “thought experiment” because it looks kind of like you arbitrarily pulled them from nowhere.

Is this how the pricing mechanism works in socialism/communism?

By drmcrib on Jan 10, 2013 at 9:14am

@ZombiezuRFER:

Capitalism is everyone’s best bet? Really?

It’s not about ‘making yourself in the world.’ It is about maximizing profit and minimizing expenses.

When “expenses” are viewed as your employees’ paychecks, taxes or bringing your factories up to safety regulation, then capitalism becomes a horrid system.

Sure, you can argue that this is a human issue and not an issue of the system, but capitalism actually REWARDS people for being short-sighted and greedy /as long as they can get away with it/.

The human condition is going to be prevalent no matter WHAT economic system we choose. So if you’re banking on capitalism, then instill+uphold preventative laws which won’t allow OR reward employers for cutting corners or taking advantage of those who depend upon them.

There are similar methods we can use in each economic system to predict and prevent ways in which the more survivalist/exploitative aspects of our human psychology are curbed to allow for a cohesive society.

Capitalism is running rampant, is all. And those who make the laws are no longer making them for their constituents, but for people like the Waltons who help give the US “the best government /money/ can buy.”

By Vahouzn on Jan 10, 2013 at 2:32pm

“The occupy movement has come and gone”

No, it is lying dormant. Remember, the Arab Spring inspired Occupy then they and the other movements wound down—yet some other dislocations will emerge to inspire other movements.
What I want to repeat to the Pastor Alexes and their kind is that the world can be improved materially- but not morally. The Public’s expectation is so high, tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions think Jesus will Return and save us.

By Alan Brooks on Jan 10, 2013 at 3:35pm

I guess it’s not surprising such privlidged bourgeosie thought pervades in some of those comments. Capitalism will continue to extract resources and exploit and destroy life across the planet if left alive. It is the idividualistic and selfish economy that creates our social relations- creating what we consider to be ‘normal’ or, value(s). It is necessary to abolish class antagonisms if when these amazing technologies are available, they will benefit all humanity. The idea that people start equal or are lazy so they deserve to be poor or in jail is ignorant, idealistic, and arrogant.

Our communities and the majority of peoples and culture are exploited and destroyed- funneled into smaller and smaller pools of investors who plan according to their own ideals without connection or knowledge of histories or relating to them- not even questioning their actions. This is all based on ideology created over time from the capitalist socio-economic structure developed after feudal and chain-slavery production relations/forces and historical conditions. In heavy influence was emerging technologies that started uniting the world and gave monetary power to the merchant classes. In the same way that’s happening with our current tools of producing and distributing resources- we have the ability to abolish class antagonisms and with that- poverty, racism, patriarchy, hunger, unequal development and continue on to give immortality and collective expansion to all (+many more things!). This can all be achieved through the scientific practice of communism, and maybe anarchism.

Regardless history isn’t over, and capitalism didn’t just take hold over night—It will take the collective struggle and unity of international people to do this. Only in defeating capitalism can we realize an egalitarian society and culture where technology benefits everyone.

By michron on Jan 10, 2013 at 4:54pm

“My question is very straightforward – can Capitalism be reasonably argued to be an existential risk, and if so, what action should we take to negate this risk?
And can we agree on any such action, or are we cast helplessly adrift?”

Apology: didn’t rightaway answer the above. The answer to first question is yes, the second clause, I do not know; the third is no, we are not helplessly adrift. Only thing I’ve changed re what you go into in the piece is I don’t temporise as much with the old-fashioned (let’s please not term them conservative because there’s no longer anything being conserved)—I used to go along to get along yet not only is such outmoded, but it is also disingenuous to begin with. The anachronism is so obvious, I tell the old-fashioned “no more.”
No more bad (outmoded) politics, no more bad religion, and the underlying thinking has to change—here in the Midwest the outmoded thinking is right out in the open. Nature and other people, animals, are perceived as to be exploited to the full measure; the Bible backs them up on this: the Bible says to be fruitful and multiply, the Bible says to seek dominion over the Earth, the animals. However not in a gentle way; roughly 1000 BCE to the 1st century CE was a v. rugged time by today’s standards. The niceties of habeas corpus, consciousness raising, GLTB orgs., for example, were practically unheard of. Consciousness raising 20- 30 centuries ago is not comparable to today’s.
Politics, if possible, are worse than religion; incredibly predatory.. 21st century politics makes contemporary religion seem positive by gross comparison. Merely go to National Review and American Spectator sites to see how confused and predatory 21st century ‘conservative’ politics have become. They even admit their candidates for public office are “feckless”, but their ‘party line’, their schwerpunkt, has it that the alternative to their own policies are socialism, communism, Islamism/Islamicism, and the possible bankruptcy of Rightist magazines causing unemployment for underlings at the magazines.

Not to mention ‘Armageddon’.

Secession isn’t a bad idea anymore, here in America it is apparent oligarchs wont relinquish their grip without decentralisation. How can we continue in the giant US with an 18th century Constitution; with 19th century religious beliefs; 20th century economics? The emotions of the old fashioned is the worst of it, IMO: they sense all they have believed in their whole lives, most of their lives at least, is dissolving, and rather than look for the causes which they do not want to know much about, they lash out at socialists, feminists, communists, gays, Islamists—and how the Western World is decadent and threatened by the East and also a Fifth Column inside the West that is allegedly selling us out to the East and to domestic socialism, feminism, communism, homosexuality, Islamism.. even vegetarianism.

Most of all, even though they want the latest gadgets and medical advances as much as anyone, they don’t connect their own modernity with change in general; they vaguely think Providence and or, in some cases ‘Fate’, will protect them from whatever it is they as individuals, and in their collectivism, don’t want that will result from change.

Thus we have to tell them exactly what we think or we are as foolish as they are!

By Alan Brooks on Jan 10, 2013 at 8:01pm

I think what needs to be taken into consideration is that capitalism or any economic “ism” created today are distribution models to distribute concentrations of mass memetic value, wealth.  Wealth in our lives is manipulated matter that we exchange to others.  It’s still a primitive form of living, but it’s all we know.  The way at which we manipulate matter today has a finite limit because there’s only so much we can do until we don’t have the ability to create food anymore.  That’s the real existential threat.

Within an environment of abundance, such as Second Life, capitalism does fine because wealth is virtual.  One could argue that even the virtual world is material though because it exists through networks of material items, but it is much more efficient and stable.  I think we could all agree that virtual economies are much less of an existential threat.  Capitalism could work if nanotech and advanced biotechnology allowed for infinite resources and immortality.  That’s still just a dream, but possibly obtainable.

Modern day wealth is created by production of materials valued by memetics.  I’m generalizing a bit, but I would say that the majority of the world are still children.  We all like to play with toys.  Cars, houses, gadgets, and whatever.  It’s all about playing.  Why?  Why not?  I like playing!

The real threat is that the creation of wealth today relies on crude inefficient means of production that are still evolving.  I’m sure that in the future through trial and error efficient production of material wealth can be invented to create infinite material wealth at no cost using nanotechnology.  Maybe?  That’s the passing dream these days right?


relies on the idea of a source wealth.  Today’s wealth depends on mass distribution of material goods.

Capitalism is a particular system in wealth distribution.  So, to say that capitalism is an existential risk would be to say that the idea of amassing any sort wealth can be a threat to existence.

an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, especially as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.

By Karl Doerrer on Jan 10, 2013 at 11:47pm

First we have to clean out the witch’s brew (apology to Wicca) that is the modern mind: bad politics, bad religion, super-predatory economics; a bit of this, of that—a touch of Eye of Newt. The modern mind is more polluted than even the biosphere.

By Alan Brooks on Jan 11, 2013 at 10:05am

Beautifully written article, interesting comments. I think we can improve things by how we treat each other and ourselves. Love and compassion will see us through.

By Gerhard Dekker on Mar 14, 2013 at 9:27pm


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