A better nation?

“Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.”—Alasdair Gray

Inspiring idea … but what does a better nation look like? How does it work?

Read this.

In my post TechnoLiberation a few weeks ago, I rather vaguely proposed that the new political/economic paradigm would come up from underneath, that it would be predicated on enormous numbers of people using information technology to create new forms of interaction that worked for humans, that superseded the current models, rather than did battle with them.

Paul Mason’s new book, for which the article is a pre-publication taster menu, makes a much stronger, more detailed, and compelling case that the beginnings of this transformation are under way already – that the economics of information underpin all sorts of human initiatives, on a wide number of fronts, that offer tentative blueprints for ‘a better nation’ in the making.

A better nation – and one which people in technology can easily imagine that they are working in the early days of.

One thought on “A better nation?

  1. It’s an important discussion to be having. My interpretation is that the piece from the Guardian you linked is thought provoking but fundamentally misguided in one crucially significant way: the author is describing symptoms but treating them unfortunately as underlying causes. In actuality the conflict driving the emerging crisis is neither identified or appreciated there.

    There is a must read book a few years old that provides a useful new framework for understanding the interrelationship between political social and economic institutions and their consequences: “Why Nations Fail” by Acemoglu and Robinson. It’s a fascinating read that proposes a simple comprehensive theory that makes sense cross culturally and throughout human history.

    In essence the authors propose two kinds of political/economic systems, systems which are internally self reinforcing for better and also for worse. By far the most common of the systems is the extractive model in which most people and resources are exploited to exclusively benefit those at the top. In the extractive model the government is oriented towards maintaining monopolies, enriching select cronies and maintaining an exclusive grasp on wealth and power. In general this approach directly and indirectly suppresses innovation and economic growth. One reason for this is that innovation has a known destabilizing effect on wealth and power. The corollary to this is that innovation requires risk and initiative and people who are forced to pass upwards the fruits of their labor without deriving any benefit to themselves end up losing any motivation to innovate. Perhaps the most extreme example of this has been extractive societies where ordinary people did not even consider it worthwhile to learn how to read!

    The alternative model, which the authors link to beginning in England with the Magna Carta, is the inclusive model. In this system the role of the government is to level the playing field by breaking up monopolies, regulating markets to allow for innovation to be rewarded, and I would add also by providing a social safety net that includes health care and other mechanisms for ensuing the well being of most.

    In practical terms, the extractive model generates tremendous wealth for a select few but overall the economy stagnates and generates less wealth that the inclusive model. In contrast to this, in the inclusive model far more wealth overall is generated but this wealth is more evenly distributed and people are socially and economically mobile.

    I suspect that the current crisis embodies an unappreciated battle between those who would like to leverage emerging technologies to shift towards an increasingly extractive model, versus a more chaotic but still important effort to use emerging technology to promote a pluralistic and inclusive model. I believe that these issues are going to dominate life in the 21st century because of increased globalization, increasing global
    Populations, natural resource depletion and environmental degradation.

    For example manufacturing jobs have largely been outsourced from inclusive economic systems to extractive regimes, such as China and India. This is coinciding with internal shifts in once inclusive nations like the USA where median wages are now dropping and a select few are enjoying extravagant wealth. This is far from inevitable, but it is a challenge. I think in this respect it somewhat gets back to Marx, but what Marx failed to address is that innovation that rewards the common man can drive a capitalistic system in which all benefit.

    As a concluding example consider Russia: it was an extractive system under the Tsars. It remained an extractive system under the communists. Russia is still an extractive system today. Conversely, the fate of North Korea vs South Korea is essentially defined by this single issue: North Korea is stagnant because it is extractive while South Korea is successful because it is inclusive. I believe that in the USA and the UK it is critically important that we choose leaders committed to reversing the slide into an extractive model, otherwise the whole planet is basically screwed.


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