Global ‘Society’ — The Better-Off Everyone is, the Better-Off Everyone Gets.
The biggest currency society puts to the capitalism table is better reverse engineered by the question; what if everyone on earth woke up and decided they won’t earn, would businesses and governments survive? Probably not, but would anyone survive then? Yes. Who else survives without earning? Animals. But the difference between us and animals isn’t just the brainy ability to create value but mostly to cooperate to survive.
Turns out in the information era, the design of the ‘markets’ forces us to reward intelligence billions of times more than we do cooperation. Create an intelligent product today and tomorrow you’re a billionaire, while 18 million people die annually because of preventable poverty related issues, while miles and miles Amazon burnt down. It’s why Exxon Mobil accurately knew of the effects of burning fossil fuels on the climate but chose to adamantly business as usual to maximize shareholders value, it’s the reason we go to war, terror, violence, protest etc.
Cooperation is the invaluable asset society invests into creating products and services. If inequality is increasing, violence and terror, protests, climate disasters, immigrations, species extinctions etc it’s because the market isn’t designed with cooperation in mind. We aren’t cooperating enough on the battlefield — the market, so there is friendly fire.
We are tending to animal markets of now ‘survival for the intelligent’. If it’s the heart, the current design of the market is pumping most blood to the brains and far less blood to the other parts including itself- and soon the brain will send signals to legs , no answer, liver no answer, kidney, heart and that’s it.
And this isn’t far fetched, our very brainy scientists have warned of an irreversible chain reaction of catastrophic events if no radical action is taken within the next decade — which starts next month.
It’s obvious the radical action has to be redesigning the markets to be more cooperative and distributive. This means bringing ‘planet’ and ‘society’ closer to the consumers and away from the self-interested social-middlemen. Which in turn means diverting ‘planet’ and ‘society’s share of wealth directly to ‘planet’ and ‘society’ right before it goes it crosses the point of no return.
Cooperation is one way, we cooperate to create billionaires but aren’t cooperating to build a flourishing society, to lift people out of poverty, to have a flourishing environment, biodiversity, and climate. Here are two indispensable inputs into ‘value creation’ that characterise society’s cooperation.
It’s 3,000 BC, and Steve Jobs has to build an iPhone. Since Jobs says “we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” He would have to summon future genius ghosts of Egyptians to invent the first alphabet, wait thousands of years for Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans to improve it to what we have today. Along the way summon ghosts of Indians and Arabs to develop the current numeric system, wait for the invention of paper and ink by Egyptians and Chinese, invention of Algebra, and calculus by Persians, Arabs, Indians, and Europeans, Italians to invent electricity, Russians, and English to invent and improve the periodic table, Einstein to invent E=MC2, several world cultures to develop and perfect mining technology, the German and Americans to invent the first programming languages, the English and Americans to invent the first computer and Internet, and billions of scientific, social, business, advertising, agricultural and economic inventions in between.
A core feature of this infinite goldmine of knowledge creation and accumulation is that every new invention builds on a previous one from everywhere in the world. It’s probably the case that we would still be hunter-gatherers if we didn’t cooperate on a global scale.
So, compared to the time it took to accumulate this knowledge, Steve Jobs would have died around 20 days before reaching his dream. But within less than 5 years he was able to harness the civilisation and knowledge that a ‘global society’ built over 5,000 years to build a billion-dollar product and company.
And this is the hidden little dirty secret of our current knowledge economy. The markets or Businesses forget that without this 5,000-year knowledge goldmine generated by the global society, they wouldn’t create the advanced products and services and certainly wouldn’t be worth billions.
The spirit for creating this knowledge wasn’t but to improve societies. For example, Algebra was originally invented in Baghdad to offer practical answers for land distribution, rules on inheritance and distributing salaries, the original Mesopotamian alphabet to track debt and surplus commodities, etc.
Today this knowledge goldmine is mined and processed into thousands of billion-dollar companies and ultimately 2,604 billionaires as of 2019 creating polarised social and economic inequalities. Worse still to squeeze every last resource from the earth while guzzling CO2 and other pollutants to make the planet inhabitable for the very society and biodiversity it was intended to flourish. To centralise wealth, resources and power, control, infringe on privacy, incite wars and organised violence, and every bad thing we see today around the world.
So, for businesses to appropriate this knowledge, generate wealth and centralise it is to hold society hostage to the very knowledge it helped create.
Every year, cargo carriers move over 11 billion tons of clothes, electronics, grain, vegetables, cars, oil, etc around the world. Like millions of others, I buy server space, ebooks, digital ads from google, facebook, courses from around the world and other digital products/services. The global market is well established today — we hardly think twice where our fruits, toothpicks or slippers come from.
In Uganda and certainly many developing countries, the side of the roads importing goods are busier with loaded trucks of imports and as a result have fallen lower than the export side. Apart from Agricultural products, you struggle to find anyone using local garments, electronics, auto-motives, and other everyday products.
Without the global market, countries would be worse-off — unemployment, lower incomes, etc. Poor markets mean lower incomes and unemployment not just for themselves but even for rich markets. Alex Tabarrok puts it well, “if China and India were as rich as the United States is today, the market for cancer drugs would be eight times larger than it is now.”
The circular benefits from our shared ‘knowledge’ and ‘markets’ are, therefore, an imperative for us to develop them, to make planet, societies, people flourish and not ignore them in favour of toxic overdosed self-interest.
The Ownership Dilemma
From capital goods, investment decisions, to production, ownership defines Capitalism. Yet thinkers have never resolved the problem of individuals obtaining ownership rights in what is initially owned by all people. So, the default scheme is that businesses attain 100% ownership of exploiting resources owned by all people.
The disadvantage with this is that planet and society cannot have a claim where they own 0%. But what we have now is an ownership scheme where appropriation makes businesses far well off while making planet and society worse off — read ExxonMobil and the attention economy for example.
The US’ 14th Amendment says “…no person’s life, liberty, property can be infringed without due process of law.” Businesses, were gradually granted “person” status under the law. Planet/Society need to attain this same status to flourish. They have the biggest financial burden, but they have to rely on donations and self-interested social middlemen.