We're in for a wild ride. Exponentially accelerating technological, cultural, and socioeconomic evolution means that every year will see more developments than the previous one. More change will happen between now and 2050 than during all of humanity's past. Let's explore the 21st century and ride this historic wave of planetary transition with a confident open mind.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Multipolar World Means More Freedom

PART 2 of Threats to Freedom Series: Mechanization makes it more profitable for world's future oligarchs to switch from competing by force and financial exploitation of the third world to competing in industrial output and welfare provision

Recently, the global international situation changed from one of feudalism (with each feudal lord constantly trying to slaughter the other with full use of the vassal states and being polite and collegial in peacetime) to one of libertarianism. The former vassal states/serfs are now "free" to work for former masters who now style themselves as capitalists. Every small country in the world is "free" to dress how they like and do what they want with their body as long as they work for United States or European Union sponsored financial institutions.

Those countries that really want to make autonomous economic decisions are threatened by force, internationally ridiculed, or badly beaten up. We can see how ridiculous the situation would be if 200+ "sovereign" countries were actual people living in one neighborhood block. United States would just be the muscular mob boss loan shark with a crew of yes men. They would makes rounds down the street, slap people around, or drag them by the collar. Germany, England, and Japan would be the former mobsters who put away the guns (for the most part) and now try to be the corner store owners and minor loan sharks. They pay a bit of protection money to United States and tacitly support it to preserve the global system that benefits them. France and Russia (also former mobsters who got beaten up rather badly) are the ones who want America to weaken so there can be collective bullying of the world. They try to make conspiracies with Germany to that end since collective bullying and loan sharking would give them a larger share of the cut. India, China, and Brazil are too well armed to be bullied anymore and are just trying to stay out of business on the street for now. Everybody else is at the mercy of the colorful characters above for their wealth (if they don't want to lay there dying in the streets).

It's an intolerable situation internationally and intolerable domestically. Blatant use of force will have to come to an end since racketeering is inefficient and will exhaust society that practices it through logistical overextension. That has been the case for centuries and is especially true if the racketeer does not lead in making useful products. Recent American slide into a new economic depression has accelerated the process of multipolar world's reemergence. Rise of new global powers ( European Union, China) and perseverance of old regional powers (Russia, Turkey, Brazil, Iran, India, Japan), is raising macro level competition to new levels. The oligarchs ( that exercise control over most governments on the planet) cannot compete anymore by using force since it is now economically, physiologically, and politically suicidal. As such, interstate competition has to take the form of constantly raising the quality of life for citizens living inside. As much as it pains them, oligarchal elites can no longer throw the poor armed with bayonets at each other to gain greater market share.

The modern form of post-violence competition is also burning itself out. It has so far involved:

1) Overworking citizens by ideologically promoting economic libertarianism domestically, to other great powers, and within the post-colonial space. This increasingly resulted in wealthier workers growing poorer while competing with even poorer foreign workers for an increasingly shrinking and depreciating currency pie

2) Turning small nations into indentured servants (they way American former slave masters did to freed blacks in 1870s) by force. As discussed in part 1, the international community now respects states as independent autonomous decision makers. Of course that is only on paper since United States has used mass violence and coercion during the transition of countries from colonial slavery to post-colonial dollar dominated indentured servitude. Western powers are also freed from the expense of protecting their former subjects.

3) International financial manipulation of currencies, investments, and capital flows through IMF, WTO, World Bank. This allowed Western elites and their third world elite allies in creating wealth outflows from the third world and giving regional conspirators a share of the cut

older unipolar world concept: click to enlarge
The first method of competition in terms of reduction of state power by oligarchs ( to promote economic libertarianism and profitable indentured servitude within the general population) is also overextending itself. Many oligarchs have found out (like their ancestors in the late 19th century) that if you don't provide health care and other infrastructure for your indentured servants, the rich of other countries cut into your profits with time. Many of the American rich have recently seen their worker related health care costs rise dramatically and so decided to pass on the costs to the government. Obama even admitted publicly that health reform is needed because the American worker is becoming too expensive for domestic employers. Indentured servants ( who are overburdened by costs of living and whose incomes are reduced by competition and outsourcing), are bad for domestic consumer market and bad for foreign investment. A paradox is created in which economic libertarianism cuts costs in terms of paying people less but increases costs of privately provided infrastructure. Even if private sector mimics some third world countries in not providing any infrastructure or welfare, it finds that domestic consumer market is hurt and violent insurgency looms on the horizon. Libertarian economics also reduces tax revenue to support the military as a second type of competition.

Blatant use of military force was the cheapest path of least resistance to be used short term. The French, German, American, and British oligarchs in the 1970s and 1980s could care less that the new violent indirect loan shark method of exploitation is unsustainable. They had a wonderful pretext in the form of Soviet power to defend their financial interests. They has the cover of the constant cold war emergency to look the other way when America frequently engaged in international violence. Now that the cold war is over with nothing to replace it with, there is no justification for enormous military apparatus to shake down poor nations for money and resources. Military action, besides being unpredictably draining as Iraq has shown, also results in increasingly earlier blowback from various populations. This type of competition was the most effectively and widely used by United States and we have seen how it rotted and impoverished the general society. Japanese, Dutch, and German oligarchs now smirk at the price and inefficiency of huge conventional war machine over the cheaper way of worker training and healthcare provisions. They are able to keep their white collar workers productive and obedient tax payers and supporters of the status quo.

International financial structures such as the IMF provide a forum and platform for the world's rich on how to peacefully exploit the entire planet. These structures had a competitive function against communist backed international structures (such as Comecon) for courting third world power elites. Now Chinese and Russians want inside the exclusive Anglo-American/Western European dominated financial cartel and it is beginning to lose some of its purpose.

Since these methods are burning themselves out, we will see new forms of international competition rise. We will increasing see attempts by powerful interests to use government power to create a German style welfare state. Only such attempts stand to preserve as much capitalism as possible in the face of two immediate threats. The first is competition from foreign rich who are better able to exploit third world resources/the poor while remaining domestically productive with exports (such as the Chinese). The second bigger threat to international capitalist business as usual is the rapidly increasing mechanization.

Efficiency of assembly lines and technological production has multiplied many fold since the times of Henry Ford in the 1920s. From a purely non-ideological scientific perspective (in terms of resources, rates of production, energy expenditure, etc), the world is more than capable of providing a basic annual income to 9-10 billion people along with minimum level of schooling, shelter, food, pharmaceuticals, clothing, and basic technological gadgets. This has been true for some time now. Industrial machine production has become so efficient that even in 1960s Milton Friedman talked of minimum basic wage and scientists warned the president of rising mass unemployment becoming socially destabilizing and impoverishing in the future. The truth that nobody talks about is that a large bulk of humanity is no longer needed as workers. Mechanization (which accelerated its already breakneck pace with the computer revolution in the 1980s) is making far more first world workers obsolete than outsourcing. It is absolutely ridiculous for capitalist ideologues to suggest that by the middle of 21st century, most or even a third of 9 billion people will all work in advanced hypertechnological white collar jobs.

Nobody believes it.

Here's the scenario that economic libertarian internationalists actually describe for the future in hopeful optimistic terms. They want the world united under direction of a few financial institutions so capital can flow unhindered to smoothly create the flat world that Thomas Friedman talked about. Exponentially accelerating technological growth ensures that only a few million oligarchs need to employ a few dozen million super skilled white collar technocrats to oversee production and distribution. Then of course you need whatever corporate local branch staff not already replaced by robotics. The globalization proponents actually suggest that a planetary system (that doesn't need vast majority of people to work for it) will be able to constantly sell advanced products to most of the world's population at a profit!

Say it takes for example, an outrageous number of 10% of world's population to man the factories making the nanotechnology suits and flying cars and robotic assistants. Say it also takes 10% to fill the white collar positions of the planetary corporate structures to distribute and promote the goods. 80% of people not working are supposed to to buy the products and thus provide profit and wages to the 20%! Don't laugh. The fantasy being seriously promoted by many internationalist globalists. Most people are supposed to be each others bartenders, barbers, and juggler type entertainers. Yes, even with advanced college degrees. It is so logistically irrational that the world's people will reject the idea before the real starvation, violence, and hyper poverty begin. Global unification under such a corporate system is far more structurally and practically ludicrous than any socialist design envisioned in the 20th century.

Many of the world's political and corporate elites understand this and know that transition to post scarcity systems must begin at the top while they are still in control. That entails politically defeating internationalist free market oligarchs and using the government to provide vast safety nets for the armies of the unemployed throughout the Western world. That also entails pushing the government to take managerial control of strategic sectors of the economy such as car/ship/airplane production facilities as well as the land with natural resources. Agricultural land will also be taken (most likely utilizing the health pretext of making food products safer for consumption).

Of course the process in United States will rip its social and political fabric apart and it is likely the process will first be started and finished in Germany-France-Russia-China-Japan block. Once United States follows (hopefully without civil war or other violence), most societies on earth will become advanced welfare states that technology necessitates. Free market hold outs in South America will join once they see United States blatantly copying Russia in strategic asset seizure. Many countries will flip to this model not because they can now do so without facing American violence (or investment ruin) but because the former capitalist superpower now pushes the opposite. Following the transition by most leading countries, the increasing % of society that is unemployed due to mechanization will be able to receive a minimum income and goods stipend.

Such a transition is the only one that would allow most of the oligarchs to continue making a lot of money (and avoid violence and government seizure without compensation). Thus it will be done.

This is what was meant in 1950s science fiction predictions about people in the year 2000 working 1-3 hours a day or a couple days a week. Mechanization and gains in efficiency cut out most people from being needed for work. As such, the global unification will be taken by rich welfare states that keep the factories running by providing a minimum of material goods to themselves and all the peoples of the world. Of course natural resources are needed for that. We see how China rapidly acquired 60% of Africa commodity exports while becoming the factory of the world. Perhaps "free market with Chinese characteristics" is not a euphemism for them selling out but a long term strategy to become the backbone of a new world order. Only European Union has the assets to become a partner in such a system and European oligarchs will push it to do so. Then world's governments will trade natural resources in exchange for goods that are distributed to people for free. Anything less than that (such as violent preservation of the current free market/finance architecture) means mass suffering and turmoil the likes of which we haven't seen in over 50 years.

Lets make a full circle to why a multipolar world with EU (including Russia), China, and U.S. balancing each other creates more freedom. Since the only logical logistical system is a post-scarcity stipend for most people, the key aspect of autonomy is satisfied. When individual human beings are guaranteed a food/shelter/resource stipend, they can demand greater subnational sovereign rights from international bodies and their own governments. The national governments will devolve power to people below and to international/regional structures(that supervise resource/goods trade) above. Global authorities such as departments within the newly empowered UN and International Court of Justice can finally begin to fulfill their functions and charters.

Today's competition between regional powers involves exploitation and violence. Tomorrow's competition stands to take the form in which regional powers compete to produce the most quality goods to be distributed for free. It's very easy to come up with incentives for a few million meritocratically chosen technocrats needed to operate the systems. Neither currency nor overlapping service industry capitalism need to disappear to supplement 21st century solution to a looming crisis. World's resources will flow to those states that make the best use of them. The talented technocrats will still find a society that has the best assembly lines and resource management and get paid handsomely for their services. The rest will take a small step towards the universal goal of greater sovereignty and self mastery.

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