Confronting the Future

Despite the recent economic troubles brought on by man’s recent orgy of greed in the housing market it is beginning to look like everything will be ok. You know, man will live to tell other tales. We aren’t going to sink into a terrible malaise, not solely because of the housing crash. I don’t have a lot of faith that the experience will have taught anybody anything, however. I don’t even think it will be as instructive as the Great Depression, which did change people’s habits, frightening them off of borrowing and causing behavioral changes down to weird things like tinfoil scrap keeping. No, people are still going to go for the first get rich quick scheme or instant fame delivery mechanism that comes along.

People are sheep. They behave in very predictable ways. The trick, I think, is to use those things in implementing solutions that work for the common good, not to excoriate the people for wanting what comes naturally. Yeah, I wish above all things that suddenly everybody could achieve enlightenment upon waking tomorrow, but it’s not happening and if we want tomorrow’s world we need to realize that.

There are two things looming on the horizon, seemingly bound to happen at some point in the Twenty-First Century, that really bother me. The first is the end of cheap oil. The second is the advent of artificial intelligence. The one, peak oil, looks like a game changer in terms of its destruction of easy answers to everyday problems. Before oil slaves did a lot of the work that the energy derived from oil does now. In the aftermath of the end of cheap oil it looks like every other form of energy, although still cheaper than slaves, will be a lot more expensive than cheap oil is now. The second, artificial intelligence that works in the world we know, is problematic for similar reasons. It will do something that has never been known. It will concentrate the labor factor of production into the hands of a relative few. It’ll do this because machine labor that works properly will always be cheaper than human labor that does the same.  Imagine a fully automated Taco Bell or McDonalds, down to the receipt of money and the making of the food, not a single person working there at all. I think you can see that if it gets to a level that mundane it will get to just about every other level as well.

To see what to do in response to what is coming it might be wise to look at Capitalism and try to find a way to change it. You have to admit Capitalism has been very good for mankind. In its very scientific method like approach of succeed (develop, market and organize properly) or die it has caused untold success to bloom. If we want a similar kind of experience going forward, in the face of the kind of concentration of the labor factor of production that might be coming, however, something will have to change. Really, if you look at it honestly, the change has been prophesied for some time. How long has it been that business schools have been talking about stake holders as a means to describe those with something on the line when it comes to the activities of a corporation, as opposed to merely reveling in the concept of the corporate shareholder being king? Oh, sure, delivery of value to shareholders is on every CEO’s lips, but what they usually mean when they say that is the class of shareholders who think mainly like them, not some kind of average of what the collective will of all shareholders might boil down to.

To this end it might be wise to see the corporation as something that, the ownership of which, might ought to be more properly split up, even down to recognizing lines of antipathy. To a certain extent this exists today in the existence of preferred stock, but that is perhaps not a real hint of what must come. Preferred stock may pit one class of shareholder, those that want control or a guaranteed return against the larger group of common stock holders, but they don’t pit management against any shareholder group. It’s precisely this that I suggest.

I think it’s time to consider an ownership model that breaks shares down into groups that naturally vie for their own interests, and have to learn how to get along with each other for the enterprise to succeed. To wit, there ought to be a group of shares, say 10% of all shares (voting and otherwise) because that is the level of ownership that the bottom whatever it is percentage of us on the economic scale, yeah, the 99% of us on that bottom, usually own. That small number of shares ought to gain their only source of income from 10% of the pool of monies available for dividend payouts to all shareholders. Out of their available amount of income to receive all executive bonus payments ought to be derived. The 10% gets to vote. Each shareholder in this group will have a scale to vote against, the top of it being what they would have received if they gave nothing to the executives, the bottom of it being what the executives, who are now not allowed to own stock in their own corporations themselves, recommend be given. The greedy will vote for the most for themselves. The wise will wonder if the executives aren’t playing them with the number given. The foolish will cave into whatever the prevailing wisdom says to do. In the end the actual number would be an average of all the results.

In this new class of stock is a place for all the parts of economic society damaged beyond repair by what is coming to find refuge. It is a place to find either a grand bargain that can save mankind all kinds of tragedy or see chaos behind the scenes. It beats food riots in the streets.

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