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Patanjali Sokaris

Pondering the universe


The oil of social mobility

Many, including many political parties, are focussed upon money as the solution to their problems, but is that the right way to view it?

Evolving to scale ^

In earlier times, people swapped goods or their labour for other goods. This bartering works well when what is being offered is of value to others.

Such earlier groupings had a pool of people to do most of the work, being either family members, or slaves obtained through force. These are basically 'captured' workers supported by their communal food gathering and construction skills.

However, bartering didn't scale up as people formed into bigger social gatherings and started travelling between groups. They needed a convenient, portable form of value, so that they could barter it for what they needed as they travelled.

Of course, there were a limited number of items that were small and universally valued enough to be used. Grains were used at first, but eventually particular amounts of precious metals became the norm, with special paper notes introduced later to enable larger values to be conveniently carried around.

Once value had been universally tokenised, people were less tied to their particular circumstances, and could, if they had accumulated enough token value, shift to another location. People didn't have to associate only with those they could barter with. That enabled social mobility on a much larger scale.

The use of money allowed whole societies to change, so when the industrial revolution occurred, the 80% of people on the land could rapidly adapt to being the 80% who worked in factories.

Reaching the limits ^

The problem with the whole scheme is that some wanted much more token value than they needed for a comfortable life for themselves and their families.

Some were, and still are, so attached to accumulating worth, that they became dependent upon having lots of workers who were so desperate for their own survival that they would sacrifice their own health.

When a few can accumulate massive amounts of wealth at the expense of the health and social mobility of so many, that is a sign that the system is not working for society as a whole. It is like a cancer that feeds on the body so much that it kills it.

The real problem is that so many people accept this situation. Of course, many are lured with the promise that they too can have the benefits of this system, so willingly submit themselves into the entrapment of a mass belief system that survives through systemic disenfranchisement of most in favour of a very few.

Now we are faced with the fact that rampant accumulation of wealth has resulted in not only a huge amount of poverty, but consumption of resources that threatens the earth itself.

Changing our thinking ^

Unfortunately for us, the earth has a recourse that doesn't require us to exist, but we need it to remain as is, so something has to change, and that must be us.

We have to examine why we value people receiving such excess wealth at the expense of so many. Why do top business leaders receive such monumental remuneration when they obviously are not really worth that?

Money, like countries, is basically a pyramid belief system that requires all of us to believe it for it to exist. If too many stop believing in it, the stage is set for revolution.

Now, revolutions tend to be a rather simplistic solution, and due to typically relying upon a hero figurehead, tend to result in a new government centred around them, rather than the people that most of their supporters thought would benefit. That opens the door to rampant corruption, and one just has to look at Robert Mugabe as an example of going from a hero to bleeding the country.

Typically, most economic models have been been relying upon there being no limits on growth, and thus no limits on money making. But when we start approaching, or even exceeding, the resource limits of the earth, or its capacity to accommodate our excesses, there needs to be another model.

One such model may well be donut economics, which basically requires that all economic activity ensure that it is within the capacity of both the earth and people. That sets the ring-pass-not -- well two of them -- beyond which we cannot afford to stray.

It is this type of thinking that needs to permeate into the consciousness of everyone on this planet, and that will reset our expectations and aspirations to be more realistic, and thus be a lot less strain on us and the planet.

Repairing the system ^

Trying to change the negative effects of systemic problems requires identifying what leads to them, and that seems to come about because of two fundamental problems with how our current economic systems work.

All companies have executives that exercise day-to-day power, and a board that overseas the enterprise's strategy direction and regulatory compliance.

That all sounds quite reasonable, but in a democracy, it is obvious that it concentrates power in the hands of very few, but also a few that are not elected by those they have most power over, namely their employees. Karl Marx noted this over a century and a half ago.

This means that most people in a democratic society are at the economic mercy of a very few. Of course, we could vote for government policies that require a far more democratic form of company structure, like cooperatives, but that highlights the second problem.

The very few have huge resources to lobby governments to avoid changing the company power structures as well as promote such ideas to the general populace via their ownership of mass media. That means that people are constantly fed information that favours the current societal power structures, but also sabotages any political will to try and change the power balance.

This propaganda is not a low key operation, but has been bank-rolled by billionairs, such as the Koch brothers, for over 40 years, basically by promoting the idea that governments are not competant to manage society's needs but that entrepreneurs and free markets are.

They have popularised the idea by appealing to the greed of people, promising that policies like flat low taxation and sales taxes remove impediments to their being able to improve their financial situation. What is avoided is the reality that such policies, while providing very modest financial improvements to middle classes, overwhelmingly favour the rich and severely disadvantage the poor. These have directly contributed to wealth inequality.

While technology has enabled some to break into the largely inherited billionairs' club, they have readily taken on the processes that ensure their continued privilege at the expense of large swathes of society.

Of course, billionaires have been seen to be great philanthropists, but as Anand Giridharadas points out, while their contributions seem significant, the disparity in wealth is getting larger, and that is mostly because their efforts are not shifting the power imbalance that keeps those they are helping from significantly changing their economic status.

Also, the same exploitative billionaires or their paid subordinates, supposedly through their business prowess, have been placed in charge of many government programs, further cementing their power monopolies and disenfranchising their nations' citizens.

This is a concerted ideological takeover of democracy to embed power into the hands of the few, using all instruments of commerce and government to prevent people from deciding their own futures. This concentration of power and money into the hands of the few has severly limited the access most people have to enough money to be able to have the society that allows the social mobility that money promises.

The solution is pretty simple: truly democratise business. That then moves the power from the few to those immediately affected. They will not tend to sacrifice their workforce and outsource jobs to another country. They will tend to provide livable wages. They will not pay their executives exhorbitant salaries and bonuses.

In a democracy, we still have the ability to change the fundamental power relationships that create wealth disparity, but that requires us to elect those few who are not beholden to the vested rich. We have to resist their misdirecting temptations to be selfish, and choose what benefits us all.

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