[p2p-research] Dystopia in the Outlook Section

Kevin Carson free.market.anticapitalist at gmail.com
Tue Aug 11 06:55:12 CEST 2009

  Sent to you by Kevin Carson via Google Reader: Dystopia in the Outlook
Section via Ezra Klein by Ezra Klein on 8/10/09

Sunday's Outlook section had two pieces outlining pretty dystopic
scenarios. The first was a back-to-the-land manifesto from someone
who's building a self-sufficient farm in rural New Mexico in order to
protect against the inevitable chaos of peak oil and resource wars and
trade disruption and general technological collapse. I've never really
understood that thinking. If humanity goes all state-of-nature, having
a lush and self-sufficient farm is as likely to make you a target of
the desperate many as a member of the privileged few. If trade doesn't
survive peak oil, property rights probably won't do any better.

The second piece is by Gregory Clark, and it outlines something I worry
quite a bit more about. Technological change, he says, will only
accelerate. Whatever worries you had about outsourcing to China and
India, that's "may be only a brief historical interlude before the
great outsourcing yet to come -- to machines." In recent years, wages
for America's unskilled have stagnated, and there's no real reason to
think they'll pick up. "We may have already reached the historical peak
in the earning power of low-skilled workers," Clark writes, "and may
look back on the mid-20th century as the great era of the common man."

"How do we operate a society in which a large share of the population
is socially needy but economically redundant?" Clark asks. "There is
only one answer. You tax the winners -- those with the still uniquely
human skills, and those owning the capital and land -- to provide for
the losers." Clark doesn't argue in these terms, but his conclusion is
that only socialism will be capable of saving capitalism. "In the end,"
he writes, "we may be forced to learn to live in a United States where,
by stealth, 'from each according to his ability, to each according to
his need' becomes the guiding principle of government."

Melancholy Elephants, a story by science fiction writer Spider
Robinson, explores this topic pretty effectively. I thought his
treatment was really profound when I was young and now think it's
didactic and overly blunt. But it's still smart. Sort of like a Kilgore
Trout novel. Robinson argues that we'll need some way to preserve human
dignity in an economy when human beings are fundamentally unnecessary.
As such, a large portion of the population will live on subsidies and
handouts but register as professional artists. They won't be
professionals in the sense that their work will earn money, but in the
sense that they'll be able to lay claim to a pursuit that gives their
life meaning and their days structure.

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