[If you don't like critiques of rampant capitalism don't waste your time reading this and complaining about it]
Just watched Maude Barlow, who heads the Council of Canadians—Canada’s largest public advocacy organization and who is also founder of the Blue Planet Project, give a talk on video at the time of the recent G20 conference. [You can watch the video-with transcript at the link. Thanks to Bhikkhu Bodhi for posting it on Facebook]
Her words got me considering what changes we are going to be forced to make in the future as well as some of the emerging trends. By we I mean people who are comfortable enough to have internet access to this post.
After I started writing this post I came across a piece at Raw Story called More and more Americans preparing for social collapse about the increasing survivalist movement and the fear and paranoia involved. We do need to consider more of a survivalist mode globally but out of awareness not some knee-jerk emotional fear reaction. Anyone who considers their little compound inviolable from environmental disaster, social upheaval or corporate stupidity and greed is massively overestimating their own capacities as well as underestimating the forces at play.
Then we have this from the science community Doomsday: How BP Gulf disaster may have triggered a ‘world-killing’ event about cracks in the ocean floor and giant methane bubbles that may be enough to end most life on this planet. Do we dance the Apocalypso yet? If it were to happen, and there was time, I know I would put on my favorite music and dance. Really. "Accepting the things we cannot change" and all that. But until that time I will carry on trying to find "The courage to change the things I can".
So… in case the end times are not immanently neigh, here are some thoughts on the points Maude brought up which I’ve quoted below. I’m just speculating on possible outcomes of some of these trends. I do like a good dystopian scenario to work with sometimes.
On the eve of this G-20 gathering, let’s look at a few facts. Fact, the world has divided into rich and poor as at no time in our history. The richest 2% own more than half the household wealth in the world. The richest 10% hold 85% of total global assets and the bottom half of humanity owns less than 1% of the wealth in the world. The three richest men in the world have more money than the poorest 48 countries.
Charity and philanthropy are further becoming industries unto themselves. At present Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Warren Buffet and others with obscene wealth are urging their elite peers to give away substantial portions of their wealth. This sounds very nice on the surface but there are huge problems with this kind of approach. Here is a partial list:
- Opt-in format. No one has to participate. And donors can leave any situation at any time. There is no binding contract, business or social, that mandates completion of projects. This is unlike paying taxes, also an opt-in for the wealthy in many cases, which are used for the maintenance of essential services, infrastructure, social safety nets, poverty alleviation, maintenance of civil order, management of natural resources and other assets, etc. I realize the tax system is faulty but at least there is some measure of accountability through court systems and elections and they are open to public scrutiny. Most charities are not that transparent and if set up offshore never will be.
- Choice of charities. These large charities can easily be manipulated to focus on the founder’s pet projects (ie. cryogenics, purple glow in the dark dog breeding etc.) which can be entirely useless. As can donations to various questionable charities.
- Decisions made for the many by the few. And those few are unelected and unaccountable to anyone. For example Warren Buffet pledged 31 billion dollars to the Gates Foundation. This foundation is one of the wealthiest in the world. Decisions are made by the founders as to what is supported. [I am glad they are taking on malaria though]
- Competition. Just as in the business world appearances of greatness, defined as bigness not social benefit, can be important in the charity world as well. When the endeavor is supposed to be about social benefit then bigness often becomes the foremost criteria of greatness. Consider highly competitive, driven business people in any realm. The characteristics that bring success in the business world such as drive, ambition, ego, control, greed and attention seeking will not magically vanish when business people get into the non-profit charity realm. Some of these may be sublimated in some way, that is less obviously expressed, but they will remain in some form.
- Charity as a business spin off. This makes the founders feel good and insures their names go down in history. Andrew Carnegie did it too in the last century. There are Carnegie honors, grants and libraries-he built hundreds of them. I’ve been to a Carnegie built library in Vancouver which is functioning as a library and community center. It is becoming increasingly expensive to maintain due to the age of the building. His name is on all of them, but there was no provision made for their ongoing maintenance, so many have disappeared.
Monopolies in the charity field present as much difficulty as do monopolies in the business world. It is the unelected few making decisions, and forcing decisions and their own solutions on world problems. Because they are unelected there is no accountability to anyone, not even shareholders as is the case of a business.
Additionally it appears to mitigate and even encourage further predatory capitalist practices with the excuse "A portion goes to charity". From this the tangential charity businesses, while working for non-profits, can become for-profit industries unto themselves. This includes such things as vaccine creation and distribution, goods manufacturing, private education and publicity, building contracting, supplies and materials and many more areas. None of these ancillary businesses are bound by the non-profit ideas that charity clients may maintain. So by setting up a huge charity, and related businesses to support it, the money goes from one pocket into the other with perhaps a small amount of trickle down benefit. It is a continuance of the self-sustaining business cycle.
This is not to say I am against charity. Far from it. But this kind of rich-(usually) white-guy superhero swooping in to save the unfortunate is not always all that it appears to be.
Here is more from the Guardian which illustrates some of the points I’ve made as well as further examining this kind of philanthropic phenomenon in other places. Forty US billionaires pledge to give away half their fortunes to charity
This is also relevant to ideas Slavoj Zizek has presented in here.
Fact, while those responsible for the 2008 global financial crisis were bailed out and even rewarded by the G-20 government’s gathering here, the International Labor Organization tells us that in 2009, 34 million people were added to the global unemployed, swelling those ranks to 239 million, the highest ever recorded. Another 200 million are at risk in precarious jobs and the World Bank tells us that at the end of 2010, another 64 million will have lost their jobs.
Self-employment. Day labor. Piece work. Temporary work. Part-time no-benefit jobs. That’s the kind of job non-security that’s impending.
Contrasting North America with Asia it can be noted that the majority of workers in Asia either run small businesses (including farms) and are therefore self-employed or do various types of temporary work for those small businesses. Sure people want government jobs, or jobs with big industries but competition for those is fierce.
Unfortunately in North America the regulations are such that starting a small business is really difficult and expensive. (I know because I’ve done it twice) This is the sector that is going to supersede giant industry as it continues to collapse and it would be a good idea to get prepared, by amending laws and tax codes in terms of making that economic transition easier.
Makers are people who make things. Do It Yourselfers. From cottage industry to independent creators there is a growing recognition that as individuals we can create much of what we need without reliance upon giant industry. In the article Make The Revolution by Anil Dash the author discusses one aspect of this DIY movement in the context of Maker Faires wherein people get together to exchange goods and information. It may not be a traditional social and economic revolution but it is growing. Governments will need to acknowledge that the more the corporations are affected by their own obsolescence.
On the other hand Garner Research has written up it’s predictions for the work and business world based on current trends. The give 10 significant changes that are already occurring. These changes are briefly-read the whole article for more explanation:
1. De-routinization of Work
2. Work Swarms
Swarming is a work style characterized by a flurry of collective activity by anyone and everyone conceivably available and able to add value.
3. Weak Links
In swarms, if individuals know each other at all, it may be just barely, via weak links. Weak links are the cues people can pick up from people who know the people they have to work with.
4. Working With the Collective
There are informal groups of people, outside the direct control of the organization, who can impact the success or failure of the organization. These informal groups are bound together by a common interest, a fad or a historical accident, as described by Gartner as “the collective.”
5. Work Sketch-Ups
Most non-routine processes will also be highly informal. … the process models for most non-routine processes will remain simple "sketch-ups," created on the fly.
6. Spontaneous Work
Spontaneity implies more than reactive activity, for example, to the emergence of new patterns. It also contains proactive work such as seeking out new opportunities and creating new designs and models.
7. Simulation and Experimentation
Active engagement with simulated environments (virtual environments), which are similar to technologies depicted in the film Minority Report, will come to replace drilling into cells in spreadsheets. This suggests the use of n-dimensional virtual representations of all different sorts of data.
8. Pattern Sensitivity
Gartner expects to see a significant growth in the number of organizations that create groups specifically charged with detecting divergent emerging patterns, evaluating those patterns, developing various scenarios for how the disruption might play out and proposing to senior executives new ways of exploiting (or protecting the organization from) the changes to which they are now more sensitive.
Hyperconnectedness is a property of most organizations, existing within networks of networks, unable to completely control any of them.
10. My Place
The workplace is becoming more and more virtual, with meetings occurring across time zones and organizations and with participants who barely know each other, working on swarms attacking rapidly emerging problems. But the employee will still have a "place" where they work. Many will have neither a company-provided physical office nor a desk, and their work will increasingly happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In this work environment, the lines between personal, professional, social and family matters, along with organization subjects, will disappear. Individuals, of course, need to manage the complexity created by overlapping demands, whether from the new world of work or from external (non-work-related) phenomena. Those that cannot manage the underlying "expectation and interrupt overloads" will suffer performance deficits as these overloads force individuals to operate in an over-stimulated (information-overload) state.
These two examples, of the maker in contrast to the “hive” which is the only way I can describe it may be the extremes of future possibilities. I think there will be a lot more creativity required in the formal business world and some structuring within the DIY focus. How these may come together and what forms they may take are anyone’s guess.
Living Standards, Urban Development and Property Ownership
By 2030, more than half the population of the megacities of the Global South will be slum dwellers with no access to education, health care, water, or sanitation.
Locally. Temporary housing, rental accommodation, ownership in the hands of out-of-town or off-shore landlords, empty buildings owned by those with interest only in the land value [ahem, sub-prime mortgage collapse anyone], with folks living in makeshift shelters outside are some of the things we will see increasingly in the global North as well.
This makes infrastructure planning tricky because of population shifts. Building new schools or other facilities are time-consuming projects.
Additionally, continuing outflow of populations to suburbs and exurbs will leave large deserted areas in city centers as businesses follow the populations. In areas with limited land bases such as Vancouver, Seattle or Hong Kong urban renewal of these spaces will have to be undertaken and are already in many instances. However in larger areas these satellite communities will become cities unto themselves. (see Suburban Sprawl and the Decline of Social Capital for more)
In either case there will be strain on the current infrastructure as new areas develop or are redeveloped and established areas age. Infrastructure includes transportation in terms of roadways and mass transit, water delivery and sewage removal and treatment, schools and recreational facilities. We are already hearing about "food deserts" in both the inner cities and older suburban areas wherein grocery stores and the like are not within walking distance and public transit is not reliable so amenities must be accessed by cars, which many don’t have. And mass transit tends to under serve these areas anyways because they are not areas of concentrated business.
Issues of taxation become contentious when new suburban areas become concentrated enough to declare city status or conversely when they become engulfed in a huge metropolitan area. Since infrastructure is what links these areas, people can feel either that the suburbanites are benefiting from an established tax base in order to build their infrastructure or that mid-city dwellers, with their aging infrastructure are benefiting from the suburbanites in terms of increased maintenance of facilities.
This essentially comes down to an economic tug of war and the losers tend to be those who pay the least or no property taxes (like renters), since they have the least amount of say in infrastructural development. Property owners can, by attending planning meetings, which they receive notification of, alter city planning in their local areas. There we see the force of the NIMBYs (Not In My BackYard) in action. Having received such notices (I own one condo-though others live in it with me, when I’m there), and attended such meetings on behalf of my strata council (I was an elected member on the planning committee) it was quite a revelation.
If you live in an underdeveloped neighborhood, or are a renter or are concerned about how your area is developing check out planning meetings at your local city hall. You would be surprised (or maybe not) at who’s running the show. Let’s just say it ain’t the mayor or city councilors.
Globally. While Maud discusses all these issues in the context of the Global South, there is a lot more that could be taken up in global terms. Anyone remember the concept of The Fourth World? The list of Fourth World peoples is getting longer all the time as territories are subsumed, refugees increase and local sub-cultural pockets of people seek recognition. Within the Three Worlds Theories developed either by Mao Zedong or by U.S. interests, this "Fourth World" is not even on the radar. And even when we elaborate that to the Seven Worlds Theory these millions of people again are not taken into account. The Fourth World refers to indigenous, nomadic and other "landless" peoples.
That is because these theories are all property, specifically territorially and increasingly corporately and nationalistically based. They require that those included both own and occupy a piece of land and that such land ownership is recognized by other "legitimate" land owners. Pretty cozy arrangement. With the Fourth World land ownership is the issue. Some, such as nomadic peoples don’t recognize the concept of land ownership (tribal groups), others have been displaced from lands (refugees) and more have been subsumed under the occupation of more dominant cultures which have replaced traditional land ownership statuses either with new schemes that favor the dominant culture (such as in Tibet), with statist or corporate schemes that deprive inhabitants of land owning status (in Brazil) or have outrightly removed peoples from their traditional lands to places of resettlement which they own only tentatively and these ownerships are not recognized as full ownership (aboriginal people).
So whether one is talking about slums in cities, wherein land ownership is minimized and people are marginalized or land areas the size of small countries wherein land ownership has been corporatized, recognition of ownership by the inhabitants has been minimized and the indigenous people marginalized, the same problems exist. And that problem starts with invisibility.
Here is a whole documentary website about invisible people in America. They don’t even get a "World" for them since they are the homeless. InvisiblePeople.tv
On the Question of Home Ownership
The ownership of property, real estate or to put it another way territory is one of the biggest questions that will arise in the future. Without ownership or even the possibility of ownership the vast majority of people will have little access to input in the systems that govern their lives.
I had a whole section about this based on a facebook set of conversations but I’ll put it into the first comment instead.
The questions of home ownership are very similar to questions of nationalism and citizenship. An ideological miasma.
[This post will be continued sometime in the future with stuff about environment, social stability, nationalism and related matters]
In the meantime listen to the music made by some folks I was once acquainted with. What’s said there is pretty much the point of the above.
The Northern Pikes-The Things I Do For Money
Acquaintances from years back in Saskatoon Saskatchewan.
The things I do for money, I’ll never understand
I used to be quite critical, but now I find I’m cynical
A lady with a starving baby miles away from me
No problems they’re just life and death
And what the hell is wrong with me
And everybody else
No questions asked
Just get receipts and write them off
Expenses – taxes are a ***** these days
Yet the lady and the baby starve
While waiting for a contribution in a UNICEF box
In a drugstore in this ugly little town
The things I do for money
I’ll never understand
The world is just a marble
In the palm of my hand
The palm of my hand
The palm of my hand
The things I do for money
I’ll never understand
The world is just a marble
In the palm of my hand
The things I waste my time on, I’ll never understand
I used to be quite practical, but now I find I’m tactical
I scrape and scheme and struggle hard
To get myself ahead
Have no concern for anyone but me