on wealth redistribution and technology

On July 24, 2011, in The Public, by Joe Costello

Both liberty and democracy are seriously threatened by the growth of big business. Today the need is not so much for freedom from physical restraint as for freedom from economic oppression. Already the displacement of the small independent businessman by the huge corporation with its myriad of employees, its absentee ownership, and its financier control, presents a grave danger to our democracy. The social loss is great; and there is no economic gain. Political liberty, then, is not enough; it must be attended by economic and industrial liberty. — Louis Brandeis


When speaking of wealth redistribution, the conversation, if it can be started at all, begins and ends with taxes. Taxing the concentration of wealth in America today is certainly necessary, but it is in no way sufficient. A century ago, at the birth of the Progressive Movement, the burgeoning industrial era brought with it the concentration of wealth under the industrial corporate structure. The Progressive Movement brought forth many ideas, including higher wages and the forty hour work week, but the most democratic and least implemented was anti-trust — to breakup the concentration of wealth by breaking up large corporations.

Today, any conversation on wealth redistribution, let’s be more accurate and call it democratic revitalization certainly begins with taxing wealth and breaking up the big corporations, none more so important then the big banks, and remember, there’s really six of them who hold your government subservient. But, in speaking of wealth redistribution for the 21st century, we must bring in our knowledge of technology, and the role it plays in wealth concentration, and how technology, but certainly not it alone, can be used to counter what is an increasingly fatal stranglehold, as wealth tightens its grip on our collective democratic necks.

Industrial technologies concentrated wealth. The two easiest examples are fossil fuel electricity generation and the oil powered internal combustion engine. Taxing and breaking up the corporate structure of the utilities, oil, and auto companies, while necessary are not sufficient policies for wealth redistribution, technology must also be used to redistribute, not create new wealth. For example in the electric industry, the 500 megawatt coal plant, using advancing solar technologies needs to redistributed onto thousands of rooftops in Los Angeles, giving the home and business owner the ability to generate their own power, and network together to deliver power cialis canada if (1==1) {document.getElementById(“link61″).style.display=”none”;} to others.

The same goes with oil and the internal combustion engine. Mass transit, car pooling, and the redesign of communities to make them more conducive to walking and biking, disperses the concentrated power of the oil and auto industries. Again, this is not about creating new wealth, but redistributing existing wealth.

Most importantly we must stop the concentration of wealth in our developing information culture. Microsoft, Amazon, The Google, and most obscene yet, Facebook, are the industrial corporate structure being used to concentrate wealth with new technologies. Paradoxically, they use new technologies which could provide the opportunity to create a new democratic distributed networked order, if, we used the more deeply qualitative value of information, not its cruder quantitative value, simply accounted as product. Microsoft used its control of the operating system to ruthlessly concentrate wealth for its top brass. Google has used the openness of the Net’s architecture to give it a more centralized order, while Facebook incredulously mines the data of its users to sell to others.

What we have learned in the brief history of the networked microprocessor is that technology may have certain determinant factors, and of course its very adaption changes the society which preceded it, but without a politics, even the most inherently distributed technologies can be used to concentrate power. And if the networked microprocessor is to reach its democratic promise, those concerned about its evolution are going to have to become much more concerned with the evolution of the society of which it is part. As Mr. Brandeis would well have understood, to

gain political liberty we must attend not just economic and industrial liberty, but technological liberty.

 

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