Friday, January 19, 2007


One of the things that bugs me about capitalism as a whole and specifically my own desire to be a (wealthy) entrepreneur is the sneaking suspicion that none of what we in Western Europe and North America enjoy (things like liberty, justice, free-speech, democracy, the happiness of pursuit, cheap clothes and fast food) could be possible without those same things being denied to people elsewhere in the world.

I doubt very much that I’d enjoy living in Britain in the period between 1830 and 1860. This was a time when laissez-faire capitalism and pseudo-libertarianism was allowed to run riot. The government created a night-watchman state, and a few individuals enjoyed enormous personal wealth whilst the majority became repressed workers.

Fortunately for me social change over the period from 1860 and 1947 and onward resulted in much greater freedom from economic repression, with true universal suffrage, education, health, and welfare benefits.

It could be argued, however, that nineteenth century Britain was like a microcosm of today’s global economy. There are a few uber-wealthy individuals, a larger fraction of middle-class people (people of median income in Western democracies), and a vast body of people living in what I would consider to be appalling conditions in places like India or China, working their fingers bloody for twelve cents an hour.

William Gibson in reputed to have said “the future is here, just not yet evenly distributed”. IF I am to remain in my happy, progressive bubble that assumes that given a few decades every human on the planet will have a quality of life equal to that of a typical middle-class individual in Britain then I should at least ask why this hasn’t already happened.

What would I have to sacrifice (as a citizen of the UK) if every human being on the planet were to have my standard of living. I once did a test that calculated how many Earths it would take to supply everyone with the same luxuries as myself. It was slightly over two.

It is difficult, though – surely global GDP has gone up over the past several decades? And surely the average individual worker in now more productive than they would have been fifty years ago?

I genuinely believe that there is no reason we can’t all enjoy high(er) and equivalent standards of living and with better healthcare and a flying car to boot. Perhaps in a century all industrial production will be wholly automated. Human beings will just be the brains (and the substantially upgraded brains, at that) of the great clanking replicator of human civilization, which will begin a glorious and wonderful era in which highly civilized, intelligent, and well-equipped individuals will set off into the darkness of space in vast artificial worlds, to build even bigger artificial worlds around all the suns of the galaxy.

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