With all the apparent doom and gloom of the first three parts of this article, you could be excused for thinking that I’m pessimistic about the world and where we are headed. I’m really not.
Its true that I think we’re standing at the watershed of a new age. In Western free enterprise economies, we’re seeing the emergence of mega-corporations that command massive monopolies over lots of critical economic areas and huge economic power. And we’re seeing the emergence of mega-rich private individuals. If the movies can be believed (Too Big To Fail) we’re seeing an age where a major national economy can find itself going, cap in hand, to a single private individual, seeking a financial bail out!
In recent times, we’ve seen the dismantling of the communist Soviet Union and its transition to a series of independent states. The communist model appeared to fail, in the very land that gave it birth.
I’m just an ordinary person; not an economist or a politician. But its my feeling that the communist model failed, not because it is ideologically flawed, but because of human greed and corruption. Communism, that glorious dream of an entire people working together for a common cause and sharing fairly in the fruits of their labour, is a beautiful ideal. But it seems a fact of human nature that the biggest turds inevitably float to the top of any cesspit. Goodness, it seems, is always trumped by evil, except in Hollywood movies. The Soviet system was corrupted from within.
In the thirty or so years since the Soviet Union was dismantled, individual billionaires have appeared in that part of the world. And I have to wonder what kind of honest enterprise would enable a person to become so financially powerful in such a short time. I assume that, back in the days of the Soviet Union, individual wealth of that kind didn’t exist.
In the Western democratic free enterprise economies, I think we are seeing the ultimate end game of private enterprise; like a gigantic game of Monopoly, but for real. For anyone unfamiliar with the once popular board game, the game ends when a single player acquires so much of the total assets within the ‘economy’ that the other players are bankrupted. Its one game where the expression ‘winner takes all’ is actually a description of the game itself!
I can’t speak of the current state of affairs in Communist China. China is currently the new economic powerhouse of the world but it is a nation that is evolving rapidly. Evolving into what exactly, remains to be seen. I don’t know very much at all about life in China. Its a mysterious culture that I have long admired for its apparent self sufficiency and integrity of purpose. Whether the chrysalis that is the new industrial China can emerge with its ideologies intact remains to be seen. But I doubt it. The very existence of abundance seems to bring out the very worst in us human beings. China is entering an age of abundance.
I think we have arrived at a critical point in human history. Soviet communism is in disarray (but I sure wouldn’t count it out anytime soon). China is in a state of rapid development and Western free enterprise seems to be reaching the conclusion of its cycle. Where do we go from here? The simple answer is that I have no idea. On the one hand, there are many aspects of the current state of things that I find quite frightening. But progress itself implies change. And change, at least in the fields of human experience, always comes at a cost. When you look back at how far we’ve come in recent years and how much change we’ve already witnessed ….. when you consider how many amazing events; how many astonishing scientific and industrial achievements we’ve seen …. and when you consider how rapidly the pace of all of this change and all of this development is speeding up ….. its impossible not to feel excited, even if a little apprehensive at the same time.
‘Growing pains’ seem to be a fact of human life, whether you are talking about individuals or nations or the globe as a whole. But through all of the terrible mistakes that litter human history, through all the violence and suffering, there seems to be some quality within the human spirit that always finds a way to move forward, to endure, to survive and to emerge as something more than what went before.
The pace of technological change is now mind boggling. New gadgets and new ways of making them better appear daily. The standard of manufacturing in just about any field you can name is improving constantly. The level of material wealth and the standard of living of ordinary people in the Western world is higher than at any previous time.
And its a fact that technology has freed a great many of us from the drudgery of manual labour. Where once a huge portion of society was engaged in and sacrificed to, the process of production, more than ever before people are free to pursue other endeavours ….. free to devote themselves to the business of discovery and development, free to create and to explore and to build. And what they are discovering, creating and building every day is making a better, more comfortable world for all of us. The common pool of human knowledge that benefits us all, is expanding constantly. These are exciting days to be alive. A little scary perhaps. But if you look back over human history, there don’t seem to be many times that weren’t scary, for one reason or another. Uncertainty seems almost to be our natural state and perhaps it is, in some strange way, a critical element in what drives us to progress and to discover.
Technology has freed so many of us to write symphonies, to create art, to explore science and philosophy, to achieve wonderful things in medicine, manufacturing and technology … where once we would have been too busy planting potatoes by hand and trying to survive through the winter! Whenever one human progresses, all of humanity wins. And the pace of that progress is now frenetic. Exciting days, for sure.
As we move forward into an unknowable future, I see an age for mankind that is pregnant with promise and potential. I’m not frightened of what we will discover. It excites me. I don’t lack confidence that we can move forward as a species, that we can continue to grow and that we will endure. We have, after all, endured so much in the past. The only thing I am fearful about are the lessons that yesterday teaches us about tomorrow. Mankind seems to be at his most noble and his most glorious in times of deepest adversity. The very worst that man can be seems to present itself in sharpest relief, in the presence of great abundance.
My fear isn’t that we won’t have enough tomorrow. Its that we have too much today. And if anything in creation is powerful enough to snuff out the glorious future of mankind, and to wipe away all that we have achieved, I reckon human greed is it. How do we find our way to a new tomorrow, where the world’s riches are distributed amongst its people in a way that affords a fair go for all?
I suspect that those of us who looked on smugly, feeling superior in our Western ways as Soviet communism came tumbling down …. were actually witnessing the baby being thrown out with the dirty bathwater. Any regime which is no longer seen to serve the people, will ultimately fall. And I doubt that so-called free enterprise will prove to be the beacon that mankind should follow into our uncertain tomorrow. I think that it will fall too. The concentration of more and more of the world’s wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer of its people is hardly a formula for the future. Obscene wealth by a privileged few and the inheritance of wealth by birthright, rather than merit, are both notions that I think are rapidly approaching their use-by date. Free enterprise is creating a new royalty, a new nobility and a new serfdom. All that was old is becoming new again.
I believe we will find our way forward to a bright new tomorrow. But like all human growth, I think its going to hurt. We will have to make changes, to travel down new and unfamiliar paths … it will be scary. But change is coming ‘ready or not”.
Andrew Caddle 2013-12-11
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Thank you, Andrew.