The most radical change in the human condition since agriculture is well underway.. The network-data driven economy has changed our most basic assumptions. Past “isms”, feudalism, merchantilism, and industrialism, were merely evolutions of agriculture, founded on the presumption of scarcity; our planet was a zero-sum game, with finite acreage and resources. But networked-data makes scarcity a myth – winners are no longer defined by control of atoms but of bits. And the dirty little secret of our new age is that it is a new age. So as wealth and opportunity blanket the planet, the wealthiest opportunists seek to make their advantage permanent.
When we set aside rhetoric, we can see the depth of change. Pick any problem, today there is a solution. We may not like the answers, often at odds with our ideology, but they clearly exist. What US city lacks enough food to feed every individual? There are none. What justification is there for a health care system that locks people out of preventative treatment, while tax payers pick up the tab for much more expensive acute care when disaster predictably strikes? How can we rationalize the inability to come up with a few billion dollars in hurricane relief, while we spend trillions destroying Iraq? Some solutions are hard, others obvious and easy, but no one can deny our capacity to solve these problems. Only our will remains in doubt.
Aggressive competition made sense when there was one fixed-size pie (the planet) to be divided among all. In those days, might made right. But it makes no sense at all in an open-ended world, where wealth is created from thin air and the size of the pie is limited solely by imagination. Iraq and Vietnam prove conclusively that might is irrelevant versus determined human will. Not only are we connected electronically to every neighbor, our economy is co-dependent on people we oppose. In such a world, everything is negotiable except cooperation. Whether we like it or not, we can’t force anyone to do anything whatsoever, over the long haul.
Republicans used to accuse Democrats of social engineering, and redistributing wealth. Once they took control of all 3 branches of government, their first order of business was using the tax code to redistribute benefits to those at the top! Changing the rules helped the wealthiest Americans shift painlessly from atom to bit-based wealth. Bankruptcy laws were changed to benefit banks – in the middle of a housing bubble, ensuring the banks could benefit as people went upside down on their loans. Copyrights were extended for the benefit of corporations, counter to the very idea of copyrights. They re-engineered the armed forces to funnel billions of tax dollars to the Vice President’s “blind trust”, AKA Halliburton. Now Democrats are getting in on the act too… Diane Feinstein introduced legislation to restrict our fair use of digital media like MP3s and digital movies – the intent is to drive consumers back to the artificial limitations of 1960s technology, cassettes, for the benefit of powerful companies and contributors in her home state of California.
It’s time to insist that those at the top accept the change that’s already happened. Stop beggaring the planet for the benefit of winners, and admit once and for all there’s plenty to go around. No one needs to be impoverished to eliminate poverty. No one needs to go hungry to cease hunger. No one needs to lose a dime to treat aids in poor countries. Really! C’mon… if India makes it’s own AIDS drugs, and gives them to people who can’t afford branded products, or Grandpa fills his prescription in Canada, who really loses? This is reality.
We’re being rolled by our leaders and their real constituents, those who paid to get them elected. The world has changed, deeply and irreversibly. So we have to change the dialog in our country once and for all. That means we have to stop listening to the excuses, and start demanding solutions. When blow hards start blowing their old wind, stand up and ask the questions they don’t want to answer. When they spew zero-sum nonsense, point to Bill Gates, the richest man in the history of the planet, whose empire is built on imagination. I believe we must recognize where we stand before we can begin to move forward.
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