Sunday, September 16, 2012

No more isms!

Capitalism. Socialism. Communism.

Isn't it time we thought of something better? None of these things creates any kind of utopia. Most are based more on some kind of leap of faith than on hard science, where hypotheses are tested with facts.

There seem to be a lot of people who think we should all act like the elite in Ayn Rand's book, "Atlas Shrugged". Hello? Those characters were fictional. The author set things up so they couldn't lose. How many of the lead characters didn't own a factory, mine or other large company? What were their workers doing while they were remaking the world. Probably starving. They starved in the end, both workers and unfit leaders.

Then there's socialism. It seems like a more humane blend of communism and capitalism, until you look at older socialist systems. A socialist system needs armies of people to manage, mid-manage, sub-manage, over-manage, administer and control it. Often, these people can't be fired for any reason, certainly not incompetence. As time goes on, these systems grow. The method for determining one's grade in the hierarchy, it seems, is to count how many underlings they control. So, if I want to rise fast, I need to hire as many people under my control as possible, competent or not. The system grows. Instead of a simple system for processing a piece of data, it now must pass through a multitude of hands, all unfireable, none motivated to perform. Time passes. The bureaucracy grows, yet itself produces no revenue. It feeds on other sources, growing, cancerlike, sucking the vitality out of the system in which it resides.

Taxes rise to unreasonable levels, especially for the rich - who might work essentially nine months of the year for the government, amassing funds to be turned over to the Man.

Taxation may be necessary, but it needs to be balanced. It can't bleed the system in which it lives dry, nor can it leave the wealthy untouched to create a plutocratic aristocracy not subject to the same laws as the majority of the population.

Not that communism is any better, at least not the way it's been practiced. Everyone is equal, but for some reason there always needs to be a Communist Party. Was there ever a true worker-run communist system? I doubt it. A communist party needs people to run it. This leads to bosses and underlings, a typical hierarchical system. Inequality sets in. Bosses are superior to underlings. If the system is working, it's producing something. If it's producing something, there is a flow of wealth - something that somehow managed to get concentrated in the hands of party officials. Then, if you really want to muck things up, make membership in the Party revokable, where non-members lose all rights to whatever is distributed. VoilĂ ! An instant underclass, in a system that purports to give something to everyone according to their need.

Then there's that sticky part about reward. Everyone, no matter how much they produce, gets the same benefits. So, where's the incentive to work a bit harder, finish the production run today instead of tomorrow, finish later than your co-workers? Nowhere, unless people change their fundamental nature to value work for work's sake - but that would mean everyone would have to love what they do so much that the pay was irrelevant. Can this happen? Who would choose tasks? How would workers, tired of one set of conditions, choose another? Central control? The workers themselves?

What if everyone were an independent agent, valued for his or her skills? What if human resources were not based on a mechanistic, people-as-commodity mindset? What if everyone could somehow choose what to contribute, let some kind of free market determine its value, and link everyone to create a flexible and resilient system of labor and production?

I don't know how this could work - maybe local cells of people who accomplish tasks that when linked together form larger and larger systems. As technology advances, a day may arrive where small groups of people could manufacture or prototype just about anything. DNA sequencers, 3D printing, virtual component testing... these can all be distributed, shared and collaborated upon, since in the end they will all boil down to data transmission.

Could this work for politics? No more County Supervisors with hidden agendas. No more mayors, governors, presidents. Just groups of people linked across larger and larger scales, with no hierarchical concentration of power. Perhaps this would end in chaos, perhaps not.

We're already dependent on technology, so saying that these systems are too technology dependent would be ridiculous. If we're already dependent on technology, might as well admit it and put it to good use.

Imagine that there were no electrical grid for six months. No gas, because nothing could pump it. No refrigeration unless it were generated on site. No cell phones, television, major sports. No way to move food from one end of the planet to the other. Catastrophic. Yet, some think this could happen - all it would take would be a major solar storm to fry much of our capacity to generate and transmit energy.

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