Donald Trump has said that his net worth fluctuates based on several factors, including how he feels. He seems to assign an arbitrarily large value to his name as a brand, which is like if I claimed my net worth is $250 million and some change, because my blog has 250 followers at the moment and each one makes me feel like a million bucks. That’s not the way it works in the real world, of course. However, there’s a tiny smudge of truth behind Trump’s ridiculous claims. I doubt he’s aware of it, since Trump and the truth don’t seem to have any sort of relationship, but it’s there.
The truth is that value is an inherently subjective thing, much like morality and for the same reasons. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may remember an article I wrote back in 2014 in which I said “beauty is a relationship between the observer and the observed”. My basic premise is that the whole concept of value exists only in the minds of sentient observers, and it forms the foundation of beauty, morality, and other concepts that rely on making a judgment about the desirability of things.
So it’s true that feelings can affect value, since the value of an object is the amount of stuff someone is willing to give up for it. But you couldn’t feel that gold is worth $2 million an ounce and then expect to sell it for that price. Nobody would pay it because they know they can get it cheaper elsewhere. Which means that even though value is subjective, it’s not subject to the whims of a single person.
I have formerly framed the left vs right spectrum of politics as socialism vs capitalism, or collectivism vs individualism. But as I was pondering the fundamental differences between the far left and the far right, I thought of a different pair of words that might be more accurate: inclusive vs exclusive.
I don’t mean that people on the left never have problems with tribalism; I’m not talking about the people at all. What I’m talking about is the philosophies that form the basis of these different models of government. If we go back to the origins of socialism, we find that it was conceived as a social movement in which the tension between the elite ruling class and the workers reaches a breaking point, where the much more numerous working class overthrows the elite and implements a classless economic system characterized by social ownership and democratic control of the means of production.
Let’s examine that definition a bit. Social ownership is not the same as state ownership–in fact, the two are almost opposites. Since socialism was meant to involve the destruction of a state ruled by the elite, the citizens would be the ones owning things. Instead of having a privately-owned company that earns profits for rich shareholders, you’d have a publicly owned company that earns profits for the local citizens. The people are the shareholders of a socialist economy. The “democratic control” part is equally important, because entrusting management of a socially owned economy to a handful of elites would recreate the problem of capitalism. Socialism calls for decisions and management to be handled by the people themselves, and no state involvement is necessary, which is why socialist anarchists exist.
Despite being a libertarian (or a classical liberal), the only thing my political, social, and economic ideas have in common with right-wing libertarianism is a dislike of authoritarianism. It’s actually a very important piece of common ground, since almost everyone on the right seems to instinctively brand me an authoritarian simply for having socialist economic views.
In addition to claims that all socialist policies are authoritarian, I hear a lot of wishful thinking, terrible logic, and complete falsehoods from advocates of anti-government capitalist ideas. Let’s look at a few of those.
Recent developments in the fields of science and technology are proving that our exponential advancement continues. The artificial intelligence explained in this article shows that we’ve taken a very important step in a long-foreseen but little-expected direction. Noteworthy developments that will have similarly major consequences are quantum computing and 3D printing, the latter of which is probably as significant to manufacturing as the development of the assembly line.
It seems likely that AI and other technologies are going to force us into socialism if we don’t head that way in advance. The simple truth is that the time is coming when there will be so few jobs available for humans that linking a person’s ability to survive with their ability to obtain full time work will not only be dangerous for the economy as a whole, but terribly immoral. There aren’t a lot of options aside from socialism, and most of them don’t look good. Sure, it may take a few decades to make the transition, but let’s not pretend that what has worked in the past is always going to work in the future. When fundamental factors change, the strategy for reaching a goal must also change.
I know a lot of people who are so enamored with free market capitalism and individualism that they oppose any social programs to reduce poverty and fix wealth inequality. In previous articles about government I mentioned why extreme inequality is a problem. Some capitalists disagree that it’s even a problem, or if they do they blame the poor for not earning more money. But others think government interference is what causes economic problems, and an unregulated capitalist free market would fix wealth inequality. I believe this view is inconsistent with what we’ve actually observed in the past, and social programs are necessary to offset the inherent problems created by capitalism.
The main problem with capitalism is that it’s specifically designed to make use of greed. It’s actually not a bad concept, to direct our more negative human traits into producing goods. However, capitalism assumes this is the best way of running an economy, and therefore tends to promote and reward greed.
Perhaps it was the best at some point in the past, when humanity was more spread out and individuals were more dependent on themselves and their families. But over the last couple centuries, the exponential growth of technology has led to a much more populous world and very different ways of life. You could see this as analogous to a single cell joining with others to form a multi-cellular organism. We started as small tribes, then cities, then nations. Now almost all of humanity has been brought into a single tribe, if you base your criteria for tribal membership on the length of time it would take to communicate with any other member. Instantaneous communication and faster methods of travel have brought almost everyone in the world as close together as the population of a city, whether we remain divided into separate countries or not.
The word socialism elicits negative reactions from a lot of Americans. I think the widespread misunderstanding of the term is a relic of the Cold War era, as well as historical tension between right-wing capitalists and the far left. When one type of government ends up going bad, people are quick to blame the overall method and move to the opposite extreme, rather than considering the real cause of the problems. This results in an endless cycle of reactionaries who, in their zealous drive to fix what everyone else messed up, go too far and make another mess.
That’s the current situation in America. During the Cold War, in response to the threat from an authoritarian socialist country, America turned hard to the right and ended up handing over government power to large corporations. The solution to our problems is not more of the same crony capitalism that has shifted massive amounts of wealth, as well as most economic growth, into the hands of the rich. When a government has gone too far to the right, it needs to shift back toward the left.