Sunday, February 23, 2014

To the Heart of the Matter

The tumultuous 20th Century came to a close in the giddy environment of the "internet boom". While the Web has caused some to be incredibly wealthy its real and lasting effect, me thinks, is that it has caused the demographic of informed people to surge. Of course, propaganda efforts have also been employed to sway the opinion and develop belief systems in the less intellectually gifted demographic but I think that though this demographic has the more votes it cannot match the power of the informed.

The internet still holds incredible promise to free us of the drudgery that evolved from the Corporatocracy. Meme's like this show up on a regular basis on my FaceBook news feed:

Clearly, many understand the inconsistencies regarding our well being, satisfaction, personal growth, and humanity of this situation and condition. The fact that the collective "we" continues on in a life arrangement that we find questionable is a topic worthy of examination.

I think the "we" needs a definition. I would suggest that ethnicity or religious affiliation is not who "we" are as discussed here. I think "we" are the heirs of a system of "property rights" that evolved in Europe beginning with the early Roman Empire but which really took off with the advent of Feudalism. The crazy thing is that in real terms, not much has changed.

There is a Meme going about in the Libertarian circles that I travel in that the early U.S. was an egalitarian and equalitarian place for people of European ancestry. Nothing could be further from the truth. More than half of the European colonists arrived in the Colonies as indentured servants. Their lives and living conditions were essentially the same as the those of the African slaves, though most would eventually regain their "freedom", if you want to call it that. The fact is that in 16th Century Virginia less than 50 families controlled all of the land and all of the power of the State. The meme that John Locke, the hero of Thomas Jefferson, was a benevolent, just, and impartial supporter of the idea that all men were created equal is hardly supported by the facts on the ground at the time. Locke was more of the "some animals are more equal than others" stripe.

But I digress.

The convoluted process that has evolved for defining "property", especially intellectual and abstract property, will needs be reexamined (me thinks it will happen one way or another) along with the brutal fact behind each violent war/nationalist/ideology death of the 20th Century - with all of these killings committed in the name of "national interests" but were really just the use of murder to aggregate oil, coal, copper, timber, land, water, etc... into the hands of the political masters of the time -  must be tallied on the "cost" side of the balance sheet. Yet that exercise seems never to be done precisely because all the individuals that paid that cost are dead. This is "Survivor Bias" at its finest.

The Web holds such promise in all of this. The idea that it is sill necessary for information workers to assemble in office buildings in order to labor effectively is being undone, much as the idea that students need to assemble at college campuses in order to study the Liberal Arts (of course this does not apply to car mechanics, for example. They will still have to commute to work in order to share in the capital goods required for the trade). The idea of working in a particular physical space for the purpose of earning enough to maintain the physical space (your home) you left empty that morning and to risk your life and limb traveling in a vehicle at speeds that the human body cannot withstand the force of (in a crash) as well as to pay for the maintenance of that instrument (your car) cannot be undone quick enough, me thinks. But it is being undone.

(Of course, for those that have only known one paradigm, the shift to a different paradigm (I can't believe I am using "paradigm shift" here... so 1980's of me) can be disorienting and stressful, especially since many special interest groups will use the media to scare the daylights out of certain demographics, but I think on the whole we stand to make real progress in the quality of our lives when compared to the lifestyle expressed in that meme photo above. How the banking and commercial mortgage system responds to the loss of the sunk costs of empty office space - many office buildings will simply become "stranded assets" and the mortgages and property taxes associated with these properties will simply go unpaid - will, I think, prove to be a very difficult problem to work out. Think about Detroit and apply that outcome to most of the office complexes in suburban America - and the impact to the banks of the loss of those mortgage assets as well as the secondary impacts, such as the local support businesses for those office parks.)

Think of what "capital" is in our system: "Capital" is an abstract license controlled by the establishment class and conferred upon those accepted by the establishment to aggregate and control the natural resources that make the "real economy" run. Simple as that. Want to dig a gold mine? Drill an oil well? Buy and operate a commercial fishing boat? Run a dairy farm? Open a "Technology Start Up"? You will need the permission and the approval of the establishment (they control the banks, venture capital, and hedge funds) in order to gain the "capital" required to do any of these things. The establishment exercises a number of methods to control who among the population is granted this "license":  Occupational and professional licenses. Bona Fides. Qualifications. Of course, Web entrepreneurs were not bound by these limitations and accordingly ran around these limits to construct their own "establishment", which is now being inculcated and assimilated by the original establishment. My sense is this is all for naught. The Corporatacracy's control mechanism of knowledge and information workers will be strained in the extreme when these people are no longer forced to commute to the office.

(There are 2 forces at work here: The Petroleum used to commute in that meme photo above is in permanent decline in the U.S., AND; technology is making commuting unnecessary for a number of workers.)

Once the umbilical chord from the "office" to the "employee" is cut, there will be no reattaching it. The "employee" will be free to make more than one "arrangement" for his or her skills, they will be paid more because without the expense of the physical plant of the office they will cost less  per unit of production, they will have more disposable income as the costs of business dress and commuting will decline, and they will have a great deal more free time because as anyone who has ever worked in an office as an "information employee" (or their support staff) knows only a few hours of each day are actually productive and the amount of time spent commuting is usually more than the time spent in productive work.

As the availability of transportation continues its inexorable decline there is lots of low hanging fruit to pick that will improve the quality of our lives immeasurably. The issue for the banking/financial system and those interested in expanding credit/money supply is that the demand for vehicles, retail space (think of the future of "retail" in this new world!), office space, a number of other commercial space types is going to go down like a rock in a pond, and with it the need for credit to finance that stuff (sh#!). While I think the financial system will shake, rattle, and roll I think that there is every opportunity for a better set of circumstances and arrangement as an outcome when compared to the current circumstances and arrangements.

(And it could very well be suburbia that goes valueless and the city office buildings are reconfigured as living space.)

Wealth, property, and capital will go through a period of redefinition. I am very curious to see how that turns out because I hope that this new arrangement and the expanded "enlightened class" will not tolerate the enslavement of many for the benefit of a very few. With a little luck, the increasing enlightenment brought to us by the Web will assist us in this endeavor.

I think (hope?) that the Web is the new "Vienna" where this debate will take shape rather than in the corridors and halls of the structures owned and operated by the establishment for the establishment, and; let us hope that we get this done without pulling a Ukraine, which, while quite possible is also completely unnecessary.


tweell said...

I can see the inner cities being repopulated as costs of energy rise, making the suburbs less viable. However... what about our present teeming masses? Information workers, programmers, gamblers (commodities brokers and traders) and the like require intelligence that the majority of people simply do not have.

Support staff (plumbers, repairmen, etc.) may not require high intelligence, depending on the job. Most do need a decent dollop of common sense, and there's also a finite number of jobs in this area.

Farming may absorb more people, as energy costs grow. Currently we are eating a lot of natural gas, fertilizer manufacturing uses natural gas as the main feedstock. As that gets too expensive, we will have to move back to a version of organic farming, which requires more farm workers. I suspect that this won't absorb that many people as a percentage of the whole, though.

So, where will Joe Sixpack be in this future? What we're currently doing isn't working, and I see less of a place in what you're talking about. Will he be in a tiny apartment, with no future, government bread and circuses, and government drugs to make the lack of direction palatable?

Greg T. Jeffers said...


I don't know WHAT, exactly, will become of the teeming masses.

Having traveled extensively in the back country of the Latin American Third World, I can tell you that people can be quite happy with a much smaller life. I was in a village a hundred miles outside of Cusco, Pero about 10 years ago. They had some electric in the village square (if you could call it that) but none outside.

What I saw was a population of middle aged men playing soccer (American men would have had a heart attack and blew out a knee) in the evening while the women socialized over the local tea and worked on fabrics. Kids were all over the place. Despite all of the coca tea, I did not see any evidence of serious addiction or alcoholism (I am sure it exists, but it was not evident).

I don't know what they did during the day while I was out hiking the Inca ruins... but my sense of it was that they worked as necessary and enjoyed their evenings socializing and playing.

I think that, eventually, American Joe Six Pack will stop drinking, drugging, and over eating and get on with the business of living. There is plenty for us to do.

Greg T. Jeffers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tweell said...

What you describe there in Peru is subsistence farming, with some minor trading. Joe Six Pack will have to be forced there, and Big Gov would rather force us to pay for him instead. Since Johnson and his Great Society started, we've had three generations that have done nothing but lived on government largess. And for you folks ready to call me racist, take a look at the Appalachian rural folks. They're worse than the inner city people, they have the land but mooch off the government.

How are your neighbors doing, the ones with a nice plot of land and no ambition to actually make it produce?

PioneerPreppy said...

Actually indentured servants fell a bit short of making up half the European immigrants. Most put indentured servants at about 49% of the total. For the first 100 years or so they were so desperate for colonist they transported em for free.

I don't think we can tell where the average American is going to end up finding themselves. The crunch to get where we are going to end up is going to change so many things my view at present is it won't be that much different than the middle 1800's. Between now and then what we are going to see happen might just give us nightmares if we knew about them today.

Just my take on it anyway.

Greg T. Jeffers said...

Tweel, your description of Appalachia fits rural Tennessee like a glove. South Florida, has its issues, too.

Cigarettes, Meth, Alcohol, Pot, and Obesity all mixed in with healthy dollop of anger/rage.

I love the natural beauty of the place. The culture is nothing short of repugnant.