—an economic system based on private ownership of capital.
—they come in different shades of gray.
I wonder, as our civilization accumulates more data as a function of the information age (and beyond), then the capacity of what I call meta-vision comes into being? It may be similar to Dune’s idea of Prescience or the less useful stock-market predictions, in that “knowing the future” is a skill that has major advantages. The ability to predict future events based on an insane amount of information is not science fiction. Statisticians do it all the time. In fact, I remember my college poly sci days learning about how statisticians can be so accurate I actually felt an existential threat from that type of power. It’s not 100% accurate of course, but the craft is accurate enough that tens of millions of dollars can be spent on one project. Statistics used to predict future events is part of every industry today, especially politics, and every decade the practice gets better and better.
As corporations accumulate more capital, I think their potential for information dominance throughout society becomes more likely. They would have the money to pay for anything they wish to know. Didn’t Google just announce “quantum supremacy” (whatever that means) a few weeks ago? Aside from strong governments that can counterbalance mega-corporations, the only equalizer that I think could possibly compete with such power disparity is civil society, for a lack of a cyberpunk moniker. I refuse to use the phrase “the people” as if people who are apathetic, or co-opted, or belong to an opposing tribe don’t exist. Wikipedia, underground hackers, quality journalism, corporate activism, your USB device, are all examples of possible resistance to such over-whelming power. It’s not to say none of that can’t be compromised, but to be recognized. In politics you learn, people power can compete against monetary power.
INFORMATION IS POWER. What a simultaneously liberating yet horrifying maxim. Any rational actor would value more of it and the more powerful an entity becomes, there’s no less reason to limit the capacity for acquiring it. I think dystopian futures involve actors, probably mega-corporations, having such power disparity over the common man as to be no different that a totalitarian state. Can civil society prepare itself if or when, the state won’t act?
It is one thing to believe capitalism is the best game in town and another to believe capitalism is crap, but still the best game in town. I find myself in the latter’s dugout, finding reasons to play when many misunderstand the rules. But I will now attempt to bat with this post and hope to load at least one base.
Understanding the basic tenets of capitalism is really quite simple, until you pin the origins of its canons. For just one example, people may believe Adam Smith is the father of capitalism, but may be surprised to learn Smith never heard of it. The word “capitalism” or “capitalist,” does not appear once in Smith’s book The Wealth of Nations (1776). Instead, the word “capitalism” actually appears in the later half on the 19th Century and many attribute Karl Marx in coining the term. Therefore, Smith did not create an economic system inasmuch as he identified existing and efficient economic relationships and expounded those relationships….get this…for the benefit of mankind.
Just as surprising, Adam Smith writes about the short-comings of these relationships. Although he mentions the Invisible Hand, which is only briefly mentioned in his canonized and dogmatized Wealth of Nations, is a factor in how human society organizes its economics. Smith wrote an earlier book called The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), which talks about balancing the idea of self-interest with higher moral considerations, most pronounced is the idea of community and importance of sympathy. I doubt Adam Smith and Ayn Rand would have all that in common.
When people talk about the free-market, what they are really talking about are aspects of the market they benefit from and not an entire systemic set of principles that benefits everybody. It’s why commerce is not charity. The term free-market, which also does not show up in The Wealth of Nations, is a non-sensical term because markets are never free. But it’s a great marketing ploy to brand markets as a place for freedom. A place that government, which is one of the few great powers that can restrict corporate power, should keep it’s filthy dirty hands off. Ironic when government is by default the scoundrel but corporations and banks the scamp. It’s not to say governments can’t be a major problem in our economic affairs, they often are. But listen to narratives demanding unrestrained greed and you just might see that using bad governments is a hidden ball trick.
Of course market regulations can be stupid. But think about how free-marketeers talk about how unjust the government is to them and not who loses to their quest for profit. Free-market talk is a ploy to get people who don’t profit to back people who do, even at their own expense.