societal, structural, stepping stones

After my last post about the apparent appeal of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle… and a lively debate with my uncle, who claims the Obama administration is setting the USA up for socialism… I feel compelled to write more explicitly about my thoughts on the capitalistic system that exists today. For whatever reason, changing that system seems unfathomable to many people. That bothers me.

As long as I have been alive, and for as long as my uncle before me, the United States has been infatuated with capitalism – and Americans have benefited from it. We have been the winners, and the people making our cheap products have been the losers (at least arguably, and for a time). After being thoroughly exploited, most of these countries have gone on to have their own economic expansions, and so, perhaps capitalism actually helped them along. At any rate, capitalism is all about this cheap “stuff” we ┬áseem to so enjoy. It has always required human labor, and in many cases that labor has been cheaper outside the USA.

That’s all well and good, and most of that last paragraph isn’t too debatable. Capitalism, in pioneering new stuff (new technologies, too) has made the world a much less “boring” place. In the hunter-gatherer society I discussed in a previous post, you’d likely have a lot more time on your hands… but you would have far fewer ways to spend that free time. Maybe this is why capitalism and industrialization have made hunter-gathering an obsolete way of life. Maybe, among other things, people were just too bored.

All I really want to say about the relationship between hunter-gathering and capitalism is that the transformation from the former to the latter has been evolutionary. At some point in history, hunter-gathering seemed like a stellar social system, and out of it led agricultural systems… and eventually we had capitalism. (More free time breeds less free time, go figure… although it seems the trend hat been reversing in the past few centuries.) Now, few people would consider (or do consider) non-industrialized ways of life preffered ways of life.

Ok, so here is the issue a I have with capitalism. It has invented technologies that are on the verge of reinventing themselves. Artificial intelligence, robotics, computing in general – these areas emerged from a capitalistic system. (For which we should all be very grateful to capitalism.) However, once these technologies become relatively self-evolving, capitalism has a real issue on its hands. Namely, there will be very few jobs. Almost everything will be benefit from new technologies that can work faster and smarter than humans. Massive unemployment… not simply single digit, but high double digits. Then what?

Capitalism is very poor, in my opinion, at dealing with unemployment. Which is perhaps why socialistic legislation gets passed when unemployment gets too high. At any rate, capitalism’s success is going to cause real issues. Not just for the worker, but for the capitalist. The technology will be so cheap that it would make little sense for anyone NOT to have their own machines working for them. Every man a capitalists, every machine a laborer – errr, capital.

Some new system will have to emerge to deal with this. The system will have to deal with the sky-high unemployment, the serious possibility of resource depletion caused by an exponential increase in output, the social issues that will emerge (after all, this setup looks a bit like a new form of slavery). I posit that system is going is going to look a little more egalitarian than capitalism – dare I say, a bit more communistic or socialistic.

Machines will be exploited rather than people, and what’s so wrong with that? It is hard to comprehend now (for some people), but so too was our capitalistic system to the hunter-gatherers that necessarily came before us.

Some day, capitalism may look as disagreeable as picking berries six hours a day – but it will be remembered as a stepping stone. A system that bred technologies capable of furthering social evolution. Bravo!

On the verge of such a change we need not hold on so tightly to the system in which most of us are comfortable. Thank capitalism, and lets move on.

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