Provocation # 206. More on monopoly.
Last week I argued that the tendency of markets is toward monopoly and that the great monopoly – a combination of Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon – combined with government and military – would be a centralizing authoritarian regime of terrible nightares. Science fiction at its worst. Some argue that we are already there.
But there is another side to the story. Climate change.
First it is clear that few politicians are ready to propose actions that are strong enough to meet the reality of co2 and planet heating and the resulting migrations, food and health problems. They won’t make such policy proposals because the proposals would lower the competitive stance of their constituency by drastically lowering energy use. End of career.
Moreover, in a complex society an adequately strong policy would lead to massive resistance coming from many directions. The result is we cannot expect politics to leverage us into a new policy reality. Gridlock would emerge if the politicians tried, so they won’t, and we will get a resigned drift towards continuous heating not a all stopping at 2 degrees but accelerating. The Green New Deal is an example of a “radical” proposal that waffles by implying that the shift from the fossil economy to the green economy can be made without disruption. Impossible. Places of work would have to change , the heating and cooling of existing buildings rapidly limited, transportation vastly reduced – if we are to meet the 2 degree target – and 2 degrees will have painful consequences.
The mainstream consensus is converging on carbon tax. I think it just takes too long and hard to imagine how it works. Take a single household and work through the possible changes. Increased fuel costs would be paid for by tax rebates, and nothing changes? The oil companies seem to be managing the legislative and PR process with embedded desires of their own, not in the spirit of community well being.
So, seriously radical moves should be contemplated. Could the infrastructure created by a monopoly Internet provide the capacity to manage and impose readical solutions – massive work stoppage plus strong redistribution plus plus plus (to be determined) that could use the Internet to inform and manage and compel a completely centralized approach adequate to the climate change challenge? (The need course would be the participation of the world, not just the US. Imagine China, US, World Bank, IMF, and UN cooperating to impose an adequate approach).
This is in the context that elites have always dominated their societies and an elite is necessary to maintain continuity and cohere across complex societies. How they are educated, chosen and rewarded is not getting sufficient attention to create an elite adequate to the problems humanity faces in managing its relationship to the planet. Is economics part of that centralizing tendency as Mirowski among others suggests? Could it play a positive role as part of the new infrastructure? Can we get back to economy as estate management where the world is the estate and the goal is ualty of life?
I am for decentralization of projects with lots of experimentation, responding flexibly to emergent conditions with local imagination using the Internet to inform across local projects what works and what doesn’t. But this approach does not yield the coherence a realistically adequate and rapid approach would require, and many regions in the current world configuration are not capable of local sustainability -lack of food potential for example.
Do we hope that Googel, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and governments come together in a commonly managed project with police power to save the planet and the population, maybe even with an interesting culture?
This is written the spirit of provocation and hope that it helps provoke serious thought. Like most, I am surrounded by resignation or misguided wishful thinking.
My guess, BTW, is that what will actually happen will be a mix of decentralized and centralized approaches struggling against resignation. Lots to do.