Toppling The Lords of Wall St., Main St., and Penn Ave.

Here we are.  A system in perpetual crisis.  Less and less able to accomplish basic functions.

A system being led by an economic and political leadership increasingly divorced from reality.

A self-aggrandizing leadership unable to do anything but engage in exercise of complex futility (political – healthcare/national insecurity) or fantasy (economic – the shadow banking system).   A complexity made worse by applying technological patches/fixes/solutions to a system in decline.

However, that isn’t where it ends.  Humanity has more in store for it than bureaucracy and markets can make possible.

Something new is coming and its arrival distorts the current system.

In the economy, we saw it arrive with Internet companies.  Companies that carry within them, the seeds of what it takes to run the current economy with a fraction of the people it takes today, and do it better.   Companies able to delivery services to billions with only a couple of hundred employees…

These companies arrived with a bang, with valuations in the stratosphere.  Valuations that continuously fund wave after wave of companies in the same mold.  Companies that want to replace entire industries.

We’re seeing this right now with the arrival of bitcoin.  Unable to attack the financial industry directly due to a thicket of legal, regulatory, and political barriers, an alternative was found.  A financial transaction system that runs and funds itself.  And, as we’ve seen before, continued waves of innovation are being financed by the massive and growing valuation it is receiving.  

What is the industry in the cross-hairs?  One answer is retail banking and everything associated with it.  The goal being the replacement of nearly everything being done today with an infinitesimal fraction of the people and overhead used today.

To a casual observer, this may appear like a natural extension of the capitalist system.  More of what we’ve experienced in the past.  A creative destruction renewing and replacing defunct industries, with the rewards flowing to the innovators building these replacements.

That would be the wrong conclusion.  If you dig deeper, it’s clear that this is much more.  The current system is actually funding its demise.  It’s doing this by richly rewarding the people that turning its current functions into a mere feature of something new.

So, even though the entrepreneurs in tech start-ups, as well as the people in the ecosystems surrounding them, may have been embraced by Wall Street, Main Street, and Pennsylvania Avenue, they are different.  As different as the early modern capitalists were from the feudal lords they eagerly bought titles from, at the very same moment they were bankrupting the aristocracy.

They are creating something new, and that new system is what the new American Dream needs to drive forward.

29. January 2014 by John Robb
Categories: Ideas | 28 comments

Comments (28)

  1. John says: “…A self-aggrandizing leadership unable to do anything but engage in exercise of complex futility (political – healthcare/national insecurity) or fantasy (economic – the shadow banking system). A complexity made worse by applying technological patches/fixes/solutions to a system in decline…”

    Stocks down 5% from their highs, FXs in turmoil and Emerging Markets set adrift in a worsening financial storm. The Fed’s threat to taper their money printing has caused a global train wreck. I’m not sure we can make it to the new paradigm before the “leadership” lose control of the situation.

  2. “I’m not sure we can make it to the new paradigm before the “leadership” lose control of the situation.” I totally concur with this sentiment. I keep worrying John’s book here, which is a fantastic idea, still might be too little or too late or both, in supplying a blueprint for achieving his optimistic vision. The sheer magnitude of the elite’s incompetence and greed (which powerfully augments their stupidity and cluelessness) is humanly hard to comprehend, but one can predictively infer from the fact of its incomprehensibility a correspondingly gigantic implosion resulting from their cumulatively gigantic greed and incompetence.

    • So true. I think we can pull it off, fighting off the people that want to flip the boat in the meantime may be our biggest challenge.

  3. “Companies that want to replace entire industries.”

    Let’s say that a significant number of companies do replace entire industries. What happens to the people formerly employed by those industries? How do they make a living when there are simply not enough jobs to go around? And with all of these unemployed people, who then will buy the products and services from the companies that “replaced entire industries?”

    In other words, do we end up with an economy that becomes so efficient and productive that there’s not enough demand to absorb that efficiency and productivity? Perhaps these are dumb questions, but I’m just trying to figure out how all of this stuff ends.

    • I think the answer to that is we don’t really know long term. What we do know is that it is already happening. And just in case you are thinking somebody should do something about it. There isn’t a human being on the planet that can stop it from happening, because we no longer control technological progress. We’ve effectively been captured by the process and there is no off switch.

      So the question really changes from “What happens to the people formerly employed…” to “what happens to you as everything changes around you”. We have to adapt to the changing technology or become peripheralised, pushed into the autonomous zone (eg. look after yourself without support from mainstream society). Although I think that eventually as little as 10% of the population will remain in the existing system, with the other 90% being relocated to the peripheral zone.

      And this isn’t something in the future, this is happening now, today. Just look around, you can see it happening. Hence why I believe John’s forthcoming book is of importance.

    • Big Jim,

      There’s something that will replace it and I’ve got a bead on it.

      As you point out. The problem often is finding a way to prevent people from being so selfish/pigheaded during the transition period that they cause an explosion of misery.

      JR

  4. Hey John,

    I followed this link from you Ouroboros post. Do you think there are parallels that can be drawn between the cannibalizing snake and the evolutionary theory of the Red Queen?

    The faster we run and innovate the faster the world turns with us, an escalating arms race going nowhere?

    • That’s the perspective from our humanocentric view point. But from the point of view of technological evolution everything is as it should be. Its achieving take-off speed and moving into the interesting part of exponential growth, where its doubling becomes significant.

      It’s a bit like the catalyst asking the reaction where this is leading :)

    • Jack,

      Interesting idea. Red Queen: the faster you adapt, the faster the competition adapts. I wrote about it once and was actually asked to review a paper for Nature on it. http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2009/08/the-us-globalization-and-the-red-queen.html

      I’ll write up something on this.

      JR

    • The faster we run and innovate the faster the world turns with us, an escalating arms race going nowhere?

      http://bitcoinviews.com/the-bitcoin-mining-arms-race-heats-up/

      Flickinger has spent more than $20,000 on these rigs and on a slower model that runs from the basement. They operate continuously, cranking out enough heat to warm the house and racking up $400 a month in electric bills.

      Battle Royale
      Koomey’s Law vs. Jevon’s Paradox
      on the cliffs of Fukushima
      :)

      • ;-> Basically, we’re seeing increasingly efficient computing cycles thrown away in order to replicate the function of the current global transaction system (to eliminate the managerial overhead that represents 99% of the costs of running it and the archaic rules that prevent it from evolving).

  5. “Although I think that eventually as little as 10% of the population will remain in the existing system, with the other 90% being relocated to the peripheral zone.” Burgundy, who is going to pay to house and feed the 90% in the periph zone, those whom Kissinger called the “useless eaters”? Jamie Dimon, Bill Gates ( a eugenics fan), Lloyd Blankfein? I kind of doubt it.

    • who is going to pay to house and feed the 90% in the periph zone,

      Cliff, sorry to butt in, but why can’t the 90% house & feed themselves?

    • Cliff, they will have to make their own arrangements. And if you are not in the top 10% now, that probably means we will have to make our own arrangements. Which is basically where John is taking us. Hopefully.

  6. phish, the 90% won’t have work and salaries to house and feed themselves – the whole point of what John has been saying vis-a-vis smart technology. Am trying to be utterly, if brutally, realistic about the implications.

    Burgundy: I understand that, but it’s far from clear to me as yet what the alternative will be. Eagerly awaiting further installments of John’s book that tells us.

    • Cliff, I forget to mention. When I say relocated, I don’t mean physically relocated, as in rounded up and removed, that’s not the way it works. More of a virtual relocation, where the person is reclassified within the system and access rights revoked. It’s more likely the 10% will be the ones moving their physical location.

      Initially people will be on benefits of some kind (eg. John’s basic income idea) along with temporary work (eg. taskrabbit, etc.) or leveraging their assets (eg. Lyft, AirBnB) which will allow them to get by. But as climate change degrades their environment and infrastructure, resource restraints lead to shortages and a global financial crash disrupts access to goods, services and money (eg. benefits, pensions, savings, etc.), then things will begin to get much tougher.

      Once people reach that point, they will need to create a new economy, autonomous from whatever exists of the old economy. They will need to rely on innovation, new methods and their own resources. And presumably a new American Dream. :)

  7. I think John Micheal Greer effectively addressed where 90% of the population will turn in his recent blog, “A Bargain With The Archdruid” http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/ in which he outlined the harsh truth we all must face. That the future will be little like the past. His suggestions amounted to three words. Conservation, decentralization, rehumanization. By which he means that we must learn to conserve our remaining resources, decentralize our hubs of control and decision making, and turn to human muscle power again to grow our food and manufacture our tools. The exact opposite of what the Lords Of Finance and Governance are currently doing. I think he has a point.

    • Yes but surely you realize that the Archdruid is a propagandist — a somewhat nutty but highly skilled black magician. His posts should be viewed as incantations, which make use of mantras and images to skillfully manipulate the minds of his readers.

      All of the Archdruid’s main points are bogus and refutable if you do some research; one is reminded of Paul Erlich’s history of failed predictions. Are you not just a bit suspect when an obvious reactionary who pines for a return to some magical, medieval world that never was prophesies on scientific matters? Greer’s agenda is apparently to brainwash people through repetition of lies and to produce a self-fulfilling prophecy, not to discuss the future objectively.

      One thing Greer understands very well, though, is that there is intense weltanschauungskrieg being waged over the future course of civilization. This debate is largely a rehash of the one that occurred 40 years ago (a period Greer seems mentally stuck in). The refutations of the Limits to Growth crowd and the reactionary-doomers are mostly the same as they were then. Once people grasp that Earth is not a closed system, that the universe is not out of reach, we are not stranded on an Easter Island planet and must helplessly await our demise, the entire debate becomes moot.

      What is needed is a renewed spirit of boldness, can-do ambition and optimism, not more useless, doom-and-gloom fatalism. The next decade may prove difficult, but we should pull through, and within twenty or thirty years, the sight of men on Mars, asteroid mines, large scale green energy and other wonders will once again ignite humanity’s faith in the future. That, to me, is the real American dream.

      • Actually, on a basic thermodynamic level, the earth’s biosphere (as well as humanity) is a “dissipative system.” We take energy from the outside, use it to become better at doing so, and expel it as waste. That’s it. Everything else is a byproduct.

    • Ray,

      Industrial society is already obsolete. We’re in the midst of replacing it, not saving it.

      JR

  8. It’s already over…by the demeanor and observed behavior of the ‘haves’, it’s clear they’re at the point of ‘minimizing their losses’.

    In the states, it’s all about demographics.

    This year, people born at the ‘peak’ of the baby boom hit 55…and a quick look at the statistics shows that this group has the highest percentage of long-term unemployment.

    They’ve lost their ‘peak earning years’.

    Why? Because the social security system’s been ‘gamed’ to last longer, not ‘funded’ to last.

    ‘Real Power’ doesn’t want this generation to work; or avail themselves of the social safety net put in place for them.

    This is just one aspect of how the ‘over 40′ crowd is being marginalized.

    Ask anyone who’s under 27, and they’ll tell you they’re doing just fine and everything’s great.

    They haven’t hit their peak earning years…they’re not yet 5 years vested in some company-matched ‘ponzi scheme’ retirement program (401k, IRA)…company ‘promises’ aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

    It’s all about getting the work done with as few people as possible, and at the lowest rate possible; and it’s been that way for a while.

    And we all funded it when we allowed those same corporations to use the internet (built and paid for with our own tax money) to import work products from China and India – TAX FREE.

    This is the reason for the growth in disparity between the very rich and everyone else.

    This is where the current catch phrase “not everyone has to go to college” is coming from: the very rich.

    They want their own kids to ‘inherit’ their management job with the big corporation in Reagan’s ‘ideal’ vision for America: two classes – the very rich who own and/or manage companies, and the unrelated poor who work for them for increasingly stagnant wages.

    Sound familiar?

    These are the same people importing slaves from latin America to work as domestic help on their private estates…jobs ‘mericans don’t want to do…’.

    It was over for America when we stopped enforcing our laws…when we allowed big money to buy as much political influence as it wanted…when we ignored the flood of poor latins pouring across the border…and when we allowed highly trained engineers and technologists to be terminated for no good reason, other than ‘the company needs to be more profitable’.

    It was in the process of ending during the mass exodus of human resources – many of them highly qualified – from private sector jobs, to ‘government’ jobs that paid less, but offered more security.

    And in many cases now, even those jobs aren’t secure as the current administration ‘barters’ a downsize in government for political concessions from the far right.

    When this country failed to see this loss of jobs and job security as a bigger threat to our national security than ‘al Qaeda’ – which I always saw as ‘no threat’ or a simple one to defeat – the handwriting was on the wall; in big, bold letters.

    SCREW THE MIDDLE CLASS OUT OF EXISTENCE.

    It was over for the ‘American Dream’, when high-paying middle-class jobs could be made redundant by all those unemployed engineers in India…at 1/10 the cost.

    It was over when the same companies that were laying off ‘Americans’ were petitioning the government to let MORE foreign workers in under H1-B and L-1 visas…during the worst of the economic meltdown.

    They even have a democratic president – one accused of being too ‘liberal’ – parroting their rhetoric, with rationalizations that “we need these people to remain competitive”.

    Competitive?

    Competition for what? What competition is there?

    There’s no big money being swung around for anything, much less international competition for it.

    Now, it’s every man for himself…until the Chinese demand ANOTHER 10% of our economy, then the wealthiest of the wealthy will get us into a war with them, rationalizing the need for such in pure ‘Dickensian’ fashion; ‘…to relieve us of the burden of the wretched masses…’.

  9. How can I purchase ads on your site?

    I started a small business that builds machines that do desktop manufacturing.. I don’t have a lot of cash., but I do have a crazy idea, and am doing it.

  10. @Steve. You just don’t get it do you?

    First of all you talk about the haves and have nots. This is a pure envy game.

    Then you talk about social security and how people are losing their benefits. Social security government programs are not the natural order of things. Those are the real ponzi schemes. You express outrage over company pension plans yet the government scheme of the same ilk is sacrosanct. You don’t even realize that social security is abnormal and not just.

    Then you express outrage that others are not paying the taxes you expect them to pay. Just who are you to talk about taxes being good? We got freedom to leave your tax schemes behind. It’s as if you were from a 14th century cult member engaging in violence because people say that your religion is not peaceful.

    I would say that it is YOU Steve who is the dinosaur stuck in the status quo. Innovate or beliefs behind. It was NEVER your right to a so called middle class job working for some other guy. It IS your rot to do it for yourself.

    Stop whining about the ‘other’ guy and fix thyself.

  11. If you want cooked food and light at night, root for Prometheus and not the Eagle . . . or the Vulture.

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