The Prognostication Game

by rsbakker

Daily Aphorism: When you look at markets in terms of bargainers with disparate bargaining power, the right wing argument starts to sound like: The best way to ‘free’ the little fish is to take the muzzles off the sharks.

It’s a good thing the World Cup only comes around every four years. My guess is that genuine fans are simply numb to all the theatrics, but to someone with a hockey sensibility, it is the sport of whiners, wimps, and fakers. I want to be a fan, but…

Otherwise, I thought it might be fun to play the prognostication game. The Globe and Mail had a small capsule piece on how Intel, with the backing of the insurance industry, is designing a ‘black box’ for vehicles that does everything black boxes do for aircraft: record various driving data, as well as provide video of both the interior and the exterior of the vehicle. This got me thinking about the kinds of techno-commercial monitoring we can expect in the future. Wearing clothes that can be contacted and tracked by the manufacturer. Working in stores where bio-metric surveillance systems track your expression. And so on.

The Globe and Mail also had a piece by my favourite right-wing ideologue, Neil Reynolds. A true one-trick pony, he almost always presents some pro-market, anti-government argument, without ever explaining how corporate bureaucracies larger than many democratically elected national governments, are doomed to do everything better. If he ever talks about power at all, let alone in it’s coercive sense, it’s the power of government. Well, today, he talked about something different. This time, instead of discussing the way government undermines economic prosperity (for the few), he decided to talk about the way democracy is ultimately destructive of economic prosperity. Of course, he never pauses to ponder why almost all prosperous nations also happen to be democratic nations, and social welfare oriented ones to boot. The idea is that democracy leads to pandering to the electorate, leads to fiscal irresponsibility, leads to insolvency, leads to social unrest. He cites Greece a couple of times, perpetuating the myth–lie might be the better, word–that it was the largesse of the Greek social welfare system that brought them low (Greece is actually middle of the road as far as entitlements in European nations go).  

I probably found this more troubling than I would have otherwise, simply because I finally got around to watching Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story, which also happens to be a dogmatic propaganda piece.

But much of what Moore discusses, he does not need to gerrymander or skew. After 25+ years of the new economy, with fantastic economic growth where the middle-class gets nothing except job insecurity, mountainous debt, and the retirement of retirement, the wealthy have become fantastically wealthy–which is just to say, fantastically powerful. And they have been flexing those new muscles. The scary fact is that there’s more than a few people like Reynolds out there, people who think democracy is getting the way of business. Powerful people.

So, given this new social order, and given the new technologies both here and around the corner, the question is, does democracy stand a chance? The institutional design of modern democracy hearkens back to far different social circumstances. Why should we expect them to be anything other than dysfunctional as their environments slip beyond the grasp of their adaptations? When will the techno-fascistic coup happen, and what form will it take? How will resistance be possible in an age of specialized AI and universal surveillance? Will the internet feed the possibility of resistance, the way it seemed to in Iran (for a while at least)? Or will it simply prove another engine of irrationality, as it has become for vaccines, for instance.

Personally, I think the American system, which shrewdly divides the legislative from the executive, is probably the most robust form out there. Here in Canada, as in Weimar Germany, we’re simply one election away.