Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Communism Week: The Real Revolution of the Modern Age

Our age has been a great age of unimaginable novelty and "progress." But it has also been a great age of nostalgia and reaction, the eternal yearning for a lost Garden of Eden. It has seen cultural movements longing for the lost community of the village in socialism, and other movements returning to the old community bonds of blood and land in fascism. Meanwhile most of the rest of us have found refuge in the materialist, mechanical model of the world that rose to majesty in the last millennium and seemed to predict the movement of the heavens: the science of Galileo and Newton.

But even the mechanical world of substance and absolute space and time has fallen by the wayside, and this has precipitated a revolution in thought and deed beyond imagining. For we have now learned that the micro world of the "atom" and the macro world of the "universe" cannot be understood in terms of the familiar world of day-to-day life and the mechanical world of Newton, of ballistics and action and reaction.

Up until yesterday you could understand the flight of a cannon ball or the operation of a heat engine or the forces in a building structure from notions very near to daily life. Even the motions of the planets could be understood in these terms. But in the modern science of quantum mechanics, that undergirds everything from smartphones to laser lighting to electricity, the old concepts of daily life no longer apply. Energy is neither particle nor wave, yet its operations must be understood as a bit of both. The nearer you get to an elementary state the less you can consider things as anything other than a state function of probabilities. This would be intolerable but for the fact that quantum mechanics and its probabilities and uncertainties works, and not only works, but works miracles.

The impossible wonders of the quantum world are happily handled for us by intermediaries, the scientists, technologists, and businessmen that know how to unlock its wonders. They have provided us with interfaces, the light switch and the touch screen, that enable us to use these wondrous gadgets by actions common in daily life: the flip of the switch, the dab of the finger. And so we use the unfathomable world of the quantum state in daily life, even though the quantum world is indescribable and the kid transmitting her latest trivial act to her friends on Instagram knows nothing of its mysteries.

But there is another world that is just as unfathomable and indescribable. It is the world of the modern  economy, and the market economy is just as mysterious and indescribable as the world of the quantum. And yet the modern economy has poured riches unimaginable upon us, in the Great Enrichment of the last 200 years that, in the United States has increased personal income from $4 per person per day to $140 per person per day, all in "real" dollars. You could look it up.

We are all terrified by the implacable power of the market that has given us so much, and so we have deputized political leaders and their henchmen to pummel the market into submission, or at least something less frightening. Needless to say, they have done it very badly, and no wonder. Politics is division and distrust, yet the modern economy requires us all to engage in its global trust network, trusting anyone that can be trusted. Government is force, yet the modern economy requires us to be sensitive to the slightest economic breeze and trim our sails to its vagaries. System and hierarchy are domination, yet the market yields up its power to anyone that can innovate and serve the consumer.

We must accept the obvious. The tools and the culture of politics do not work in the modern market age. The more force, the more division, the more system, the more you get North Korea, or the Soviet Union, or Castro's Cuba, or the wreck of Venezuela. The modern economy and modern society must work on the foundation of what we might call the "market state function," expressed in its prices, and the willing surrender of everyone to its signals. But how do we neutralize the terror of the market, the helplessness we all feel as individual humans before the searing power of the market, and steer people away from the natural instinct to create a personal refuge from the terrors of the market.

Maybe the way to make the market work for all of us right in front of our eyes, in the smartphone and its applications. The cumbersome world of the taxicab is transformed when you create an application, per Uber and Lyft, that connect buyer and seller, resolve the higgling of the market into a simple offer of a price, and regulate all market participants through the operation of the 5-star rating system that enforces the market's culture of trust. The innovation of AirBnB allows individual householders to enter into the hospitality market with the same market reach as any global hotel chain.

Each of these applications includes three crucial features: First is the universal reach, instantly, to anyone with a smartphone and the app. Second is the payment method, integrated into the app, so that payment, and the whole complicated problem of billing and accounts receivable is not an issue. Third is the rating system that leans very hard on everyone to be trustworthy.

I suspect that, where the smartphone "app" is concerned, you ain't seen nothing yet. Its power lies in the way that it reduces the frightening complexity and terror of the marketplace to operations of daily life that anyone can understand and easily accept, the flip of the switch, and the dab of the finger, the shaking of hands.

The role of politics and government is to protect us from existential perils, and one of the existential perils is the terror of the all-powerful marketplace. Unfortunately, as vast human experiments have proved, from plantation slavery to collective agriculture to nationalized industry, politics cannot protect us from the existential peril of the marketplace; it only makes things worse. The most obvious example of this truth is the real live political and economic experiment of the last 65 years in Korea. From a land devastated by civil war we have today a socialist North Korea with a per-capita GDP of about $600 per year, and capitalist South Korea with a per-capita GDP of $27,500 per year. Case closed.

But we can implement interfaces with the marketplace to make it less terrifying. Indeed, we already have. So it only remains for each of us to lead, follow, or get out of the way of this beneficial enrichment, and abandon the false gods of politics as the way to bend the arc of history towards justice.

Because we can tame the terrors of the marketplace, not by the crush of the clunking fist or the divisive tricks of the politician, but by softening the terrors of unfathomable marketplace into the familiar actions of daily life that are programmed into us by human life down the ages.

And that is the real revolution of our time: that the terror of the universe and the market can be humanized into the familiar acts and operations of daily life. And yield up astonishing cooperation and prosperity for every human that believes and practices its protocols.

But how do we do this? I'm glad you asked.

Next up: My Perfect Plan to solve all our problems.

No comments:

Post a Comment